Category Archives: Adventure

Crack in Power Plant Armor leads to Gaping Hole in Logic

Sometimes when something is written on paper, it becomes carved in stone (I should copyright that phrase — oh.  as soon as I click “Publish” I will).  I saw a flaw in Power Plant logic one day in November 1994.  Corporate Headquarters for the Electric Company in Oklahoma had decided that they needed very clear job descriptions for their Job Announcement program.  We had just completed a downsizing a few months earlier and two electricians were asked to determine what prerequisites someone would need to be able to do their jobs.  My first thought was… “Is that really a smart way to go about this?”  Just think about it….  You are asking someone who just survived a downsizing to determine what it would take to replace that person with someone else…. Can you see the flaw in this logic?

It was decided that in order to be hired as an electrician, you had to have the following prerequisites:   A technical degree in an electrical field.  A minimum of five years experience as an industrial electrician.  Have a technical knowledge of how to walk on water.  Able to swing from tall buildings using a four size 2 conductor cable.  Have extensive experience bending conduit.  Able to work in confined space manholes.  Can bend a one inch diameter stainless steel rod with bare hands.  Black Belt in Six Sigma.  Able to explain the meaning of each color on a resistor.  Not afraid of heights.  Willing to shovel coal. — Yep.  that’s what it requires to do my job.

I knew right away this wasn’t going to be good.  We would never find someone who can both walk on water and was willing to shovel coal.  If we ever had to replace an electrician, it would be darn impossible.  This wasn’t only true for electricians.  Every type of job in the company was given similar treatment.  I had been an electrician for 11 years at that point, and I didn’t even meet the minimum qualifications.  If I had left the company and tried to apply for a job at our plant as an electrician, I would have been turned away at the door.

Whatever minimum requirements were written down did not only apply to outside applicants.  This was required of employees applying through the internal Career Announcement Program (CAP) as well.  In other words, I never would have been able to join the electric shop from the Labor Crew as I did in 1983, with only a scant understanding of what it takes to be an electrician.  It wasn’t until a few years later that this occurred to anyone.  The minimum requirements were relaxed a little.  That was when the training program was put in place to take High  School graduates and above and allow them to train at the plant for a particular skill as I described in the post:  “Power Plant Train Wreck“.  The rest of the company had to live with their own minimum requirements.

The results of asking the employees what the minimum requirements should be for their own jobs, HR had painted themselves into a corner.  I knew why they did this.  It was because they had lawsuits in the past where someone was hired over someone else, and they thought they were more qualified for the job.  So, specific requirements for each job needed to be created…. Actually…. I think this is the opposite of what should have been done.

If I had my druthers, I would have approached this from the opposite direction… let me continue with my story and you will see why.

I started getting my degree in Management Information Systems (MIS) in 1997 at Oklahoma State University.  I was going to graduate from the business school in May 2001.  In the fall of 2000, I had only 6 credit hours (or two more classes) left.  I had started in 1999 applying for IT jobs in our company.  Many times I was asked by people in the IT department to apply for specific job openings.  I had worked with a lot of them, and they would have liked for me to work for them.

Unfortunately, at that time, here was the minimum requirements for a Software Developer:  You had to have one or more of the following:  A Bachelor Degree in Computer Science… OR Bachelor Degree in MIS with at least 9 hours of computer languages (I had the 9 hours of computer languages)… OR Bachelor Degree in a business or technically related field with 18 hours of computer science courses including 9 hours of computer languages…. OR Associate Degree in Computer Science with 9 hours of computer languages and 2 years of software development experience….. OR 8 years of directly related experience such as development in C, C++, ABAP, Visual Basic or Cobol.

Software Developer Career Announcement

Software Developer Career Announcement — Yeah.  I kept a copy….  Actually  I have a stack of about 20 job announcements where I applied.

It was that last requirement that I thought I could use.  Especially since I was well on my way to earning the degree.  I had many years writing code in Visual Basic and C.  I had taken a Cobol class already, and studied ABAP (which is used in SAP) on my own.  So, along with almost having my degree and working with IT for more than 8 years, I applied for these jobs.  Every time I did, HR would kick the application back to me and explain that I didn’t meet the minimum requirements so I was not able to be considered for the position.  Not until I had my degree in my hands.  The HR Director said that all the work I had done with IT didn’t count because I was doing it as an electrician.  She said her hands were tied.

In November 2000 the University had a career fair for students applying for IT or business careers.  So, I attended it.  It was in a large room where each of the companies had setup a booth and you walked around to each booth as the various companies explained why it would be nice to go work for their company.  They explained their benefits, and when they were done, they asked you for your resume (prounounced “rez U May” in case you’re wondering) if you were interested.

Before the career fair, I had gone to lectures on how to go through the interview process, and I had read books about how to create a good resume.  I had bought books on these subjects and read them.  Here are three books that came in useful in my job hunt:

Books to help find jobs by Marin Yates

Books to help find jobs by Martin Yate.  I attended his lecture about how to go through the interview process

So, here I was at a job fair dressed in a nice suit I had bought in Oklahoma City at a high end Suit store.  I had studied what color shoes, belt and tie to wear.  I had a stack of my carefully designed resumes in hand.  My wife Kelly had given me a professional haircut the night before, and I had even washed behind my ears.

I had quickly changed into my suit in the bathroom in the office area at the Power Plant.  I quickly took the elevator down to the ground floor and stole out to the parking lot to drive the 30 miles to the Job Fair.  No one saw me leave, except Denise Anson, the receptionist.

I made my way around each aisle of booths, carefully considering each company.  I was not really interested in working as a consultant where I had to do a lot of travelling.  After all, I had a family.  I gave my resume to many companies that day, and later I had interviews with many of them.  It felt very strange as a 40 year old acting as a kid in school handing resumes to companies.  I really just wanted to stay at the Electric Company where I had worked for the past 19 years.

Then I spied the booth I was really curious to visit.  It was the Electric Companies booth.  The company where I worked.  I saw a group of students walk up to the booth and the young man from HR began his speech about why it would be great to work for the Electric Company.  I stood toward the back of the small crowd and listened.  It was weird hearing him tell us about the benefits of working for the company.

The Director of HR was standing next to him.  She was the person that kept rejecting all of my job applications through the internal job announcement program.  I waited patiently thinking… I could come up with better reasons for working for the best Electric Company in the world.  He never mentioned once that the best employees you would ever find in the entire world worked just 30 miles north on Hwy 177 at the big Power Plant on the hill.  That would have been the first thing I would have mentioned.

I waited until the young man completed his speech and then asked the students if they would like to give him their resumes.  I stood there, not moving, but smiling at the young man from HR.  After everyone else left, the man turned to me and asked me if I would like to give him my resume.  I replied as I handed him my resume by saying, “I’ll give you my resume, but I don’t think you can hire me.”

He replied, “Sure we can.” as he glanced down at my resume.  I continued, “See… I already work for the company.”  The young man brightened up and said, “I thought I recognized you!  You work at the Power Plant just north of here!”  I said, “Yeah.  You were the leader at my table during the Money Matters class.”  “Yeah!  I remember that!” He replied.

“Sure, we can hire you!” He replied.  I said, “No.  I don’t think you can.  You see.  I don’t meet the minimum requirements.”  Then I turned my gaze to the Director of HR who was now staring off into space…  The gaping hole in logic had suddenly become very apparent.  She replied very slowly…. “No… I don’t think we can hire you.”  The young man (I think his name is Ben), looked confused, so I explained….

“You see Ben… you can take resumes from all of these college students and offer them a job for when they graduate, but since I already work for the company, I have to have my degree already in my hand before I meet the requirements.  I can go to any other booth in this room and have an interview and be offered a job, but I can’t find an IT job in the company where I work because I don’t meet the minimum requirements.  Seems kind of odd.  Doesn’t it?”

I continued…. “Not only that, but the Electric Company has paid for all my classes to get my degree and 75% of my books.  I have only 6 more hours after December, and I can’t find a job with my own company.  I will probably have to go to another company that is guaranteeing a job when I graduate.  Does that make sense?”

Application to be reimbursed for summer courses in 1999

Application to be reimbursed for summer courses I took in 1999 — notice how cheap school was back then.  Also notice that I crammed 10 hours into one session of summer school.

The HR Director was still staring off into space.  She knew as soon as I opened my mouth who I was.  She had personally signed each rejection letter to me.

So, what had happened?  It had happened a few years earlier when the employees were asked what the minimum requirements should be for someone to be hired for their jobs.  That led them down a path of closed doors instead of opening up opportunities.

Here is what I would have done instead… I would have done what other companies do… Minimum Requirements:  “Team Player.  Able to work well with others.  Demonstrated an ability to learn new skills.”  — Who wouldn’t want an employee like that?  Sure.  Add some “Desired attributes” on the end like: Able to bend conduit.  Able Walk on Water, etc.

I had spent about an hour at the career fair handing my resume to potential employers before I left.  I drove back to the plant.  On the way back to the plant I was having this sinking feeling that I was not going to be able to stay with the Electric Company.  I can’t describe how sad I was at this thought.

I couldn’t just stick around at the plant hoping that once I had a degree in my hands that I would be able to move into the IT department.  For all I knew, our own plant manager could have been telling HR that I couldn’t leave the plant because I was the only person that worked inside the precipitator.  I had been flown around the country to interview with different companies who were now offering me jobs.  Those offers wouldn’t still be there if I waited until I graduated, so I had to make a decision soon.

I knew that the Plant Manager Bill Green kept asking the Supervisor over Maintenance about my degree because Jim Arnold would ask me from time-to-time, “What’s that degree you’re getting again?”  I would say, “Management Information Systems” in the Business College.  Jim would go back to Bill and say, “Oh.  You don’t have to worry about Kevin leaving.  No one wants someone with that degree” (Yeah.  Heard that from someone that heard it first hand).

When I arrived back at the plant, I walked in the entrance and hurried to the elevator.  I waved at Denise as I quickly walked by the receptionist window and quickly went into the men’s room to change back into my jeans and tee-shirt and work boots.  No one else saw me.  I returned to work with Ray Eberle in the Print Room to work on SAP.  Ray asked me how it went…

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

I told Ray about my adventure and my encounter at the Electric Company booth.  Ray came to the same realization that I had on the way back to the plant… I wasn’t going to be able to stay with the company.  I was going to have to move on…

Power Plant Millennium Experience

I suppose most people remember where they were New Year’s Eve at midnight on Saturday, January 1, 2000.  That is a night I will never forget.  Some people were hiding in self-made bunkers waiting for the end of the world which never came, others were celebrating at home with their families and friends.  I suppose some people went on with their lives as if nothing was different that night.  Not my family.  My wife and two children spent the night at the Power Plant waiting to see if all of the testing we had performed the last two years had covered all possible failures of the Y2K scare.

A small group of Power Plant Men had been chosen to attend a party with our families in the main conference room at the Power Plant.  All the food and drinks were supplied by the company.  Our Plant Manager, Bill Green was there.  Children were given the opportunity to rest in some other room as it reached their bedtimes.

Two years before this fateful night, the company was in full swing preparing for the Y2K computer disaster that had been foretold by those who knew that many computer systems only used two digits for the year instead of all four.  so, when the year 2000 rolled around, it would suddenly show up in the computer as 00, which didn’t compute as a year in some systems. After all, you can’t divide something by 00.  Suddenly, the time between events that just happened before midnight and those that happen just after midnight are 100 years apart in the wrong direction.

The coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma was completed in 1979 and 1980, so, my first thought was that by that time, computers were far enough along to know better.  The Instrument and Controls Power Plant Men along with the Plant Engineers decided that the best way to check their systems was to change the clocks on the computers one at a time to just before midnight on New Year’s Eve and see what happens.

I thought that was a pretty ingenious way to go about testing the computer systems.  By changing the clock on each system one at a time to New Year’s Eve and watching it roll over to the new Millennium, you learn right away if you have a problem, and you have contained the disaster to one system at a time while you test it.  By doing this, it turned out that there was a problem with one system at the Co-Generation plant at the Continental Oil Refinery 20 miles north of the plant.

I wrote a post about the Co-Generation Plant in a previous post: “What Coal-fired Power Plant Electricians Are Doing at an Oil Refinery“.  When it was discovered that the computer at the Conoco Oil Refinery Power Plant would crash on New Year’s Eve, it was decided that we would just roll the clock back to 1950 (or so), and we wouldn’t have to worry about it for another 50 years.  The thought was that by that time, this computer would be replaced.

This was the original thought which caused the Y2K problem in the first place.  No one thought in the 1960’s that their computer systems would still be operating when the year 2000 came around, so they didn’t bother to use four digits for the year.  Disk space was expensive at that time, and anything that could save a few bytes was considered an improvement instead of a bug.

My wife wasn’t too pleased when I told her where we were going to spend New Year’s Eve when Y2K rolled around, but then again, where would you rather be if a worldwide disaster happened and the electricity shutdown across the country?  I would think the Power Plant would be the best place.  You could at least say, “I was in the actual Control Room at a Power Plant watching them throw the switch and light up Oklahoma City!”  Besides, we usually spent New Year’s Eve quietly at home with our kids.

Even though we were fairly certain everything had been accounted for, it was the unknown computer system sitting out there that no one had thought about that might shut everything down.  Some system in a relay house in a substation, or some terrorist attack.  So, there we sat watching the New Year roll in on a big screen TV at one end of the break room.  Children’s movies were being shown most of the evening to keep the young occupied while we waited.

I thought that Jim Arnold, the Supervisor over the Maintenance Department, wanted me in the break room at the Power Plant so that he could keep an eye on me to make sure I wasn’t going to be causing trouble that night.  Jim never really trusted me….  I suppose that was because strange things would happen when I was around.  Of course, I would never do anything that would jeopardize the operation of the Power Plant, but that didn’t stop me from keeping Jim guessing.

No.  Not really.  I was there because I had a way with computers.  I was the computer go to person at the plant, and if anything happened to any of them, I would probably be the person that could whisper it back into service.  Also, if for some reason the Generators tripped, I was a switchman that could open and close switches in the substation and start the precipitator back up and run up to the top of the boiler if the boiler elevator broke down and get it started back up.

Except for my natural affinity for computers, any of the electricians in the Power Plant could do all those other things.  I think there was just a little “prejudice” left over about me from when Bill Bennett our past A foreman used to say, “Let Kevin do it.  He doesn’t mind getting dirty”  (or…. he likes to climb the boiler, or…. he likes confined spaces, or… Kevin likes to stay up at all hours of the night working on things… I could go on… that was Bill’s response when someone asked him who should do the really grimy jobs  — of course… to some degree…. he was usually right).

I was actually a little proud to be told that I was going to have to spend New Year’s Eve at the Power Plant.  I had almost 17 years of experience as a Power Plant Electrician at that time, and I felt very comfortable working on any piece of equipment in the plant.  If it was something I had never worked on before, then I would quickly learn how it worked… As I said, all the electricians in the plant were the same way.  It was our way of life.

At 11:00 pm Central Time, we watched as the ball dropped in Time Square in New York City.  The 10 or so Power Plant Men with their families sat in anticipation waiting…. and waiting… to see if the lights went out in New York….  Of course you know now that nothing happened, but we were ready to jump into a crisis mode if there were any reports of power failures across the country.

You see…. The electric grid on the east side of the Rocky Mountains is all connected together.  If the power grid were to go down in one area, it could try dragging down the rest of the country.  If protective relays in substations across the country don’t operate flawlessly, then a blackout occurs in a larger area than just one particular area covered by one electric company.

When relays operate properly, a blackout is contained in the smallest area possible.  There was only one problem…. Breakers in substations are now controlled by remote computer systems.  If those systems began to act erratic, then the country could have a problem.  This did not happen that night.

There was a contract worker in the engineering department at our plant who was at his home in the country during this time hunkered down in a bunker waiting for the end of the world as was foretold by the minister of this church.  He had purchased a large supply of food and water and had piled them up in his shelter along with a portable generator.  He and his family waited out the end of the world that night waiting for the rapture.  He told me about that a few months later.  He was rather disappointed that the world hadn’t ended like it was supposed to.  He was so prepared for it.

After 11 pm rolled around and there was no disaster on the east coast, things lightened up a bit.  I decided to take my son and daughter on a night tour of the plant.  So, we walked over to the control room where they could look at the control panels with all of the the lights and alarms.  Here is a picture of Jim Cave and Allen Moore standing in front of the Unit 1 Control Panel:

Jim Cave with Allen Moore

Jim Cave with Allen Moore

Then I took each of them up to the top of the Boiler where you could look out over the lake at night from a view 250 feet high.  The Power Plant becomes a magical world at night, with the rumbling sounds from the boiler, the quiet hissing of steam muffled by the night.  The lights shining through the metal structure and open grating floors.

From the top of the boiler, you could look south and see the night lights from Stillwater, Pawnee and Perry.  Looking north, you could see Ponca City and the Oil Refinery at Conoco (later Phillips).  The only structure taller than the boilers are the smoke stacks.  There was always a special quality about the plant at night that is hard to put your finger on.  A sort of silence in a world of noise.  It is like a large ship on the ocean.  In a world of its own.

Power Plant at sunset

Power Plant at sunset across the lake

We returned to the break room 20 minutes before midnight, where our plant manager Bill Green and Jim Arnold tested their radios with the Control Room to make sure we were all in contact with each other.  I had carried my tool bucket up to the break room in case I needed to dash off somewhere in a hurry.

This is an actual picture of my tool bucket

This is an actual picture of my tool bucket

We felt confident by this time that a disaster was not going to happen when the clock rolled over to midnight.  When the countdown happened, and the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 counted down, We cheered “Happy New Year!” and hugged one another.  I think both of my children had dozed off by this point.

Bill Green called the control room.  The word came back that everything was business as usual.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  We waited around another hour just to make sure that nothing had shutdown.  By 1:00 am on January 1, 2000, Bill Green gave us the Green Light.  We were all free to return to our homes.

I gathered up my two children and my wife Kelly, and we drove the 25 miles back home to the comfort of our own beds.  When we went to bed early that morning after I had climbed into bed, I reached over and turned off the light on my nightstand.  When the light went out, it was because I had decided to turn it off.  Not because the world had suddenly come to an end.  A new Millennium had just begun.

When Power Plant Ingenuity Doesn’t Translate

There are various reasons why “outsiders”  might look at Power Plant Men with a certain degree of uncertainly.  It could be because their worn jeans are permanently stained with coal dust.  It could be that they use a language that only seasoned mechanics, operators and welders understand.  I think that the main reason that Power Plant Men remain a mystery to many outsiders is because their Power Plant Ingenuity doesn’t always translate into viable solutions outside the plant grounds.

This is best illustrated by sharing another in a series of “Walt Oswalt Stories”.  I may be able to squeeze two Walt stories into one.  If you haven’t read the earlier Walt Oswalt Stories, then maybe you should take a break first and read these two posts: “Mr. Frog’s Wild Power Plant Ride” and “Power Plant Trip Leads to a Game of Frogger“.   Now let’s see how this story goes….

Before I share more of the life and times of Walt Oswalt, let me just preface the story with a few factors that influence the lives of Power Plant Men at the plant, that lead to occasional confusion when they move beyond the Power Plant Boundary.

I suppose that most Power Plant Ingenuity springs from the need to perform tasks that others would consider impossible.  In order to perform these feats of magic, Power Plant Men develop a 7th sense where they have a canny ability to think outside the box.

I can’t say for sure when I first came face-to-face with this type of thinking, but it was probably the first day I ever worked with a Power Plant Man side-by-side.  Various people with completely different backgrounds were hired to work on thousands of pieces of equipment that were each designed by people with incredible imaginations.  In order to fix, repair or operate some of this equipment, the most obvious solution was usually not the best solution to be found.

Let me give you a for-instance…

When I relayed the story about when there was a large explosion just below the Turbine Generator that was followed with an oil fire hot enough to melt the roof off of the building, (see the post:  “Destruction of a Power Plant God“), the shaft on the Main Power Generator was going to be warped because the turning gear was not able to run, mainly because all the cables feeding everything no longer existed…

Unit 1 Turbine-Generator

Unit 1 Turbine-Generator

If the generator warped, it would have cost the Electric Company (or their Insurance Company) a lot of money to replace as well as month of lost revenue.  In order to save the generator, Charles Patten thought of using cans of STP Oil Treatment to lubricate the bearings while manually rotating the turning gear.

STP Oil Treatment

STP Oil Treatment

As Operators and Charles and some other brave souls worked throughout the night to turn the generator by hand, the fire department fought the fire that was only a few feet away.

Charles Patton

Charles Patten

Such bravery and ingenuity can not be celebrated enough.  The life time salaries of Charles’ entire crew wouldn’t have amounted to as much cost as Charles Patten saved the company through that one act of bravery.  The only reason we came to know about this was because someone passed it up the line to someone who cared enough to share it with others.  Usually great feats of magic goes on every day, just not on such a grand scale.

The reason I’m sharing this with you is because after years of service at a Power Plant, the Men and Women become so accustomed to doing the impossible, that the word “impossible” is usually not in their vocabulary.  In other words…. “Everything has a Solution.  That seems to be the Power Plant Motto…. and management might add… “Everything has a Safe Solution”.

The problem is that “Power Plant Solutions” don’t always translate into the world beyond the Power Plant.  I don’t mean that Charles Patten went home and tried STP Oil Treatment when he washed his dog…. remember… this is a story about Walt Oswalt.

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt had worked many years at the Power Plant in Mustang, Oklahoma before being offered a job at the new Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma by Orville Ferguson.  Orville had asked Walt to move north to work at the new Power Plant because he knew that whatever task you gave to Walt, he would figure out how to “get-er-done”.

As with many Power Plant Men at the plant, when Walt went home in the evening, it wasn’t to go lay back in a chair and drink a beer.  Not right away anyway.  First he had to do some farming…. After all, even though a Power Plant Man’s salary paid the bills, making a little extra never hurt anyone… or so it was thought anyway.

It turned out that Walt had a new barn put on his land that was the admiration of his neighbors.  A nice shiny new metal barn… this is not a picture of the actual barn… This is just a metal barn I found on Google images to illustrate my point:

New Metal Barn

New Metal Barn – envy of the neighbors…

As you know from my previous posts (if you read them…) that one of Ray Eberle’s best friends was Walt Oswalt.  So, Ray would go over to visit him often since he lived just down the road.  On one particular day when Ray came by for a visit he found Walt loading square bales of hay in his shiny new barn.

Square Bale of hay often used by Power Plant Men to feed their cattle

Square Bale of hay often used by Power Plant Men to feed their cattle

Now, be careful… or you might learn something….  Ray noticed right away that Walt was laying the bottom layer of hay flat as shown in the picture above.  This might not seem like such a bad thing to an amateur like me or you, so let me explain…..  The floor of the barn was dirt.

So, as tactfully as Ray could muster the words, he asked Walt… “Don’t you want to set the bottom bales of hay on edge so the wires don’t rust from the moisture that comes up through the ground?”  — You see… the bale of hay is held together by two or three metal wires going around the bale.

Ray was concerned that the wires would rust and then the bottom bales would fall apart when it came time to move them later in the winter when they were needed.  If you just rotated the bale onto it’s side, then the wires would go around the bale instead of under and over the bale.  This was common practice in a world of which I am totally unfamiliar… – but learning.

Walt Oswalt replied with one of his most favorite phrases:  “I have that all figured out.”  He explained why he wasn’t worried about the wires rusting with this explanation….  Now put on your thinking cap and see if you can follow along with this logic…

This is Walt’s explanation:  “You see… I happen to know that salt absorbs moisture, so before I put the bales of hay in the barn, I covered the entire floor with salt.  That way the salt will absorb all the moisture and the wires won’t get wet.”

I know how Walt could come up with such a fantastic idea as this… after all, he had come up with some doozies at work in order to do the impossible, so why not think outside the box (or the barn in this case) to come up with a solution just so that you can lay your bottom bales of hay wire-side down…

Maybe he had an argument about this at a bar one day and decided to prove that you don’t “always” have to put the bottom layer on their side… because if you think about it, it’s just as easy to lay them on their side as it is flat.  I know that salt is cheap, but gee whiz… sprinkling salt all over the floor of your brand new shiny metal barn in order to lay the bottom row of hay flat…. I’m just not seeing it… but then… I’m not Walt.

Within two months, Ray went to visit Walt and his shiny new barn only to find that the walls of Walt’s new barn now looked like this:

uh...hmm...

uh…hmm…

The bottom of the barn had rusted completely away around the entire barn.  Walt’s neighbors were no longer envious of Walt’s new barn.  In fact, I think some non-power plant neighbors were probably even unsympathetic to Walt’s circumstance.

I guess Walt didn’t consider the other feature that salt displayed…. That salt corrodes metal… Especially when wet… The entire bottom layer of hay in the barn was useless.  The wires had all corroded away and it was a mess.  Ray really felt bad for his friend.  What could Ray do, but show his support for Walt.

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

Fast forward another couple of months….. Ray Eberle drops by Walt Oswalt’s house for a visit again only to find that the rusted out barn now looks completely new again….  “What Happened?”  Walt explained that Jerry Osborn came over and fixed the barn…..  I suppose it’s time to introduce another one of the “True Power Plant Men” of his day… Jerry Osborn.

Jerry Osborn

Jerry Osborn

As with many true power plant men, Jerry Osborn could fix just about anything he ever laid his hands on.  Sometimes that was all he had to do… Lay his hands on it and nod a little and the pump would start running again…. sometimes it was so eerie it even startled Jerry.  Jerry Osborn had a way of nodding his head much like Jerry Mitchell, only a somewhat younger version.

Whenever Walt backed himself into a corner, all he had to do was call up Jerry and he would show up and patch things up.  Jerry was sort of like Walt’s Guardian Angel.  Jerry was a master carpenter, sheetrocker, mechanic, and observer of mankind.

Though some people thought Jerry was lazy on the job, because he kept himself clean like Jerry Mitchell used to do (see the post:  “A Power Plant Man Becomes an Unlikely Saint“), the truth was that when it came to helping your neighbor, Jerry would always come through.

Ray was standing there admiring the shiny new barn when he noticed that Walt was pacing off some squares in the barn, so he asked him what he was doing…

Walt said, “Oh.  I’m going to turn the barn into a stable.  I’m just pacing off how I am going to place the stalls.  Ray watched for a few minutes as Walt walked back and forth in the barn…. Ray noticed that Walt wasn’t writing anything down so he asked, “Aren’t you going to write this down so you can remember it?”

Walt replied, “Nope.  I have it all right here,” pointing to his head.  “I’ll remember it.”  Ray was becoming a little concerned, because he knew that Walt wasn’t the best with figures, and he also wasn’t the best with using a saw, or a hammer and he especially wasn’t the best at building a barn full of stalls…. Ray began to wonder when Walt would find time to build stalls between his weekly heart-attacks.

Ray thought he was going to find a total mess when Walt called him to come by and look at the new stalls in his barn.  When Ray walked in the barn, he was totally amazed.  The stalls looked like they were done by a professional stall installing service (if there is such a thing).  Ray told Walt that he was really impressed that Walt had built such terrific stalls.

Walt explained that all he had to do was tell Jerry Osborn what he wanted and Jerry built the stalls!  How is that for service?

I know this is a small picture, but let me show it to you again….

Jerry Osborn

Jerry Osborn

This story began as just another Walt Oswalt Story, but as usual with Walt, there is always something else that pops up when talking about Walt.  The first Walt Oswalt story I wrote shortly after Walt had died.  When I went to write the second Walt Oswalt Story, I found out that Vance Shiever (the husband of Linda Shiever the Plant timekeeper) had died that very week (only a year earlier).

I didn’t have a picture of Jerry Osborn, so, I Googled Jerry and found that he had died on February 27, 2014.  This is the picture on the memorial site for Jerry.  It seems that the Power Plant Party is growing in heaven faster than I imagined.

Let me tell you a little more about Jerry, since I have not mentioned him in many posts so far…

As you can tell by the way Jerry was taking care of Walt, he was a considerate man.  I never had much to say about Jerry because Jerry never spent much time talking about himself… as a matter of fact, Jerry didn’t spend much time talking at all.

When Jerry was a foreman, he would stand guard over his crew in a silent vigil watching them work.  This bothered some of those that worked for him, because they thought that he was either “bird-dogging” them while others thought that he should be pitching in and giving them a hand.

I had another take on Jerry.  When I watched Jerry watching his crew, I had the feeling that he was looking out for them some way.  Sort of “praying” for their safety in some way.  I mentioned above that I looked at Jerry as Walt’s Guardian Angel.  I think he was doing the same thing with his crew.

As I said, Jerry wasn’t much for words.  When he spoke, it was because he had something to say.  He was the type of Power Plant Man that I knew so well…  The type that leaves a first “Bad Impression” (see the post: “Power Plant Art of Making a Bad First Impression“).  I could see right through that facade.  Jerry wasn’t the grumpy old fart he wanted you to think he was.  He was the one looking out for your back.

Rest In Peace Jerry, and now that Walt has joined you, take care of him up there, and try to keep him out of trouble…. you know that Walt is “worth his salt!”

A Window Into the Power Plant Man Bedroom

It is not clear how many heart attacks one Power Plant Man can have.  Walt Oswalt probably had a heart attack on a monthly basis, but rarely let anyone know about it.  Ray Eberle dropped by Walt’s farm one day to visit and found Walt out in the pasture passed out next to his combine as if dead.  When Ray began following the ABC’s for safety he found that Walt was still breathing.  Upon reviving him, Walt just said that he was tired and decided to take a nap.  Ray knew that he had just had another heart attack but didn’t want to admit it.

The best way to revive Walt at this point, we found, was to say out loud that we were going to take him to the hospital in Ponca City.  At that time, no one would be caught dead going there…. or maybe they would.  At least when they were discharged.

Walt had a different way of looking at the world.  It was probably brought on by a combination of being a long time Power Plant Man and being partly insane… in a likable sort of way… if you already have a good sense of humor.  If your sense of humor is lacking, then Walt may have appeared annoying.

Either way, Walt bounced between one adventure to another.

One day Ray Eberle, who considered Walt a dear friend, dropped by to visit Walt (which was a common occurrence).  When Ray walked into the living room of Walt’s double-wide, he found two coffin-like boxes laying in the middle of the floor.  Ray asked Walt why he had two wooden coffins laying on his living room floor, half thinking that maybe Walt was thinking ahead and found a deal on a couple of cheap coffins on the Internet.

Walt explained that the two boxes contained a marketing tool that was going to be the key to his success.  Walt decided to open one of the boxes and show Ray instead of trying to explain his new idea, so he took a pry bar and pried open the lid on one of the wooden coffins.  In all of Ray’s imagination, he had not figured on seeing what he saw when the lid was lifted from the box.

Carefully stacked inside the box were 50 high dollar pool cues.

Pool Cue

Pool Cue

Walt pulled one of the pool cues out of the box and showed Ray that each one was carefully engraved with the following words:

“Walt’s Excavating and Dirt Movers – Why go anywhere else when Walt can cheat you just the same?”   Then it had his phone number.

Walt explained to Ray that all he had to do was go down to each of the bars in the Morrison and Pawnee areas and hand out these pool cues to everyone, and before long, everyone in town will see his advertisement because “Everyone shoots pool and drinks beer.”

Ray looked at the satisfied look on Walt’s face as he was explaining his new business adventure and replied, “But I don’t shoot pool and drink beer.”  Walt said, “Yeah, but everyone else does.”  Walt also added that people will think that the part about “cheating you as good as anyone else” is a joke…. but it isn’t.

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

Ray was curious as he examined the very expensive pool cues and the fine engraving, so he asked Walt how much each of these pool cues cost.  Walt explained that since he had ordered 100 of them, he was able to get them at a discount of $75 each (or so.  I don’t remember the exact cost).  I do know that this added up to $7,500 worth of pool cues that Walt was going to give away for free.

Walt’s dream was that his tractor with the scoop shovel and dirt grater was going to be busy all over the county leveling roads and moving dirt.  Ray watched as Walt’s wife walked through the room with a slightly disgusted look on her face as she glanced over at the two coffins on the living room floor.  Ray decided to keep quiet until the storm had passed.

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

When Ray was telling me this story, I wondered how many times Walt’s wife had a heart attack.

On another occasion, Ray Eberle went to visit with Walt after work.  Walt invited Ray into the kitchen to have a drink of water.  Ray was admiring the new carpet Walt just had installed in the house.

As they sat there talking, Ray noticed that a complete window frame with the glass already installed was next to the kitchen table leaning against the wall.  Since Walt didn’t mention the window frame right away, Ray finally asked, “Walt, what are you planning on doing with this Window?”

A window like this, only new

A window like this, only new

Walt explained that he bought the window on sale and since he wanted to put another window in kitchen, he bought it.  Ray looked around the kitchen and wondered where Walt could possibly add a new window.  He wasn’t sure where Walt could add a window.  So, knowing Walt, he figured that the fastest way to find out was to ask….

“Walt, where in the kitchen are you going to put the window?”  Walt pointed to the wall directly behind Ray where there was a blank white wall.  “I’m going to put the window right there.”

Ray saw a flaw in this logic immediately, but decided to wait 30 seconds or so in order to check his logic with reality, just to make sure he wasn’t mistaken…. when he was sure, Ray replied, “But Walt…. Isn’t your bedroom on the other side of that wall?”

Without pausing Walt said, “Yeah.  I want to be able to see what’s happening in the kitchen when I’m in bed.”  Ray’s right hand slowly grabbed the edge of the table in order to steady himself, so that he didn’t spill the glass of water in his left hand.

At this point, Walt ensured Ray that he always wanted to have a window right there as he reached into a kitchen drawer and retrieved a claw hammer.

Claw Hammer

Claw Hammer

Walt walked over to the wall and said, “I am going to put that window right here… and using the claw on the hammer, he began tearing a hole in the sheet rock.  Ray, a little shocked backed off to give Walt room as he began destroying the wall in the kitchen.

Sheet rock was flying all over the new carpet, and Ray noticed that as Walt was attacking the wall, he was grinding the sheet rock dust into the carpet even further as he walked on the fallen bits of chalk.  Before long there was a gaping hole in the wall, more in a circle than the square hole that would be needed to mount the window.  Sheet rock fragments were all over the kitchen table, floor and spilling out into the living area.

About this time Walt’s wife returned home from work.  She took one look at the disaster in the kitchen.  Ray thought that she was either going to cry, have another heart attack or… well, some other kind of attack….  So, Ray thought it would be a good time to go home to see his own wife Barbara.

Ray said his quick goodbye’s and skedaddled through the front door amazed at the sudden destruction of the wall in the kitchen and the new carpet.

Ray decided not to visit Walt for a few days, just to let things “work themselves out”.  Finally when Ray came over for another visit with Walt, when he entered the living room and looked toward the wall in the kitchen, he could see that there was no window mounted in the wall, and the entire wall was back to the way it was before anything had happened.

A little confused, Ray asked Walt, “What happened to the window you were putting in the kitchen?”  Walt explained that when he went to put the window in the wall, he broke the glass, so he decided not to put a window there after all.  So, he asked Jerry Osborn if he would patch the wall up.

I mentioned in the last week’s post that Jerry Osborn was one of Walt’s “Guardian Angels”, see the post:  “When Power Plant Ingenuity Doesn’t Translate“.  He was the one that would clean up after Walt’s experiments.  Walt was always thinking outside the box.

Walt’s wife walked into the living room with a cheerful satisfied look on her face, “How are you doing today Ray?”, she asked, as she sat down on the couch.  Ray thought he knew how the window was broken.

One of Walt’s other ventures had to do with miniature ponies.  Walt had decided that even though he had no experience in the “miniature pony” arena, he had read up about the business on the Internet and decided that just by looking at a picture of a miniature pony on the Internet, he could tell if a pony was a keeper or not.

Much like his purchase of the truck in Chesapeake Bay (see the post:  “Mr. Frog’s Wild Power Plant Ride“), Walt decided to buy some miniature ponies from someone in Louisiana, sight unseen.  Before long, Walt owned some miniature ponies, and was in business.

Miniature Pony by Andrew Fuller

Miniature Pony by Andrew Fuller

Ray knew Walt really was in the miniature pony business the day he walked into Walt’s house and there in the middle of the floor in the living room were two large wooden boxes, that looked like two coffins.  Can you guess what was in them?

Walt couldn’t wait to show Ray his new batch of pool cues.  He pulled one out of the box, and there written on the side it said, “Walt’s Miniature Ponies, Why buy from someone else when Walt can cheat you just the same.”  Walt explained, “You know Ray… Everyone shoots pool and drinks beer… well, except for you.”

Rest in Peace Walt, and thanks for the great adventures!  The Power Plant Men of North Central Oklahoma wouldn’t have known what to do without you!

Power Plant Final Presentation

August 16, 2001 was my final day at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.  I had stepped onto the plant grounds May 4, 1979, 22 years earlier.  Now I was leaving to change careers and moving to Round Rock, Texas to work for Dell Computers.  During my final day, a going away party was held in my honor by the Power Plant Men and Women that I had the privilege to work alongside during the past 22 years.

A few minutes before the party began, I slipped into the office bathroom/locker room and changed into a navy blue suit and tie.  Combed my hair.  Put on black socks with my shiny black shoe.  Grabbed my briefcase and headed for the break room.  When I walked in the room, it was packed full of Power Plant Men and Women all waiting to say goodbye to one of their family.

Many wondered who it was that had joined their party of one of their own.  Who was this person in the suit and tie?  Ed Shiever told me later that he didn’t even recognize me.  It wasn’t until I reached out and shook his hand that he realized that his was Kevin Breazile.  The same person he had known since he was a temp employee working in the tool room.

When the Power Plant Men finally realized that I was the person they had been waiting for, they broke out in applause as I walked around shaking their hands.  I would have broke out in tears if I hadn’t been thinking about what a great person each of them had been over the many years we had known each other.

I made my way to the front of the room where I had set up a computer and hooked it to the big screen TV.  I had a special surprise waiting for them.  One that would temporarily change the plant policy on going away parties after I was gone.  I had prepared a special PowerPoint presentation for them.

I set my briefcase next to the computer on the end of the table acting as if the computer had nothing to do with the party.  Then I stood there as the “going away” part of the party began.

It was typical for people to stand up and tell a story or two about the person leaving, so Jim Arnold (the Supervisor of Maintenance and part time nemesis) was first.  He explained how I had been working on SAP for the past three years creating tasks lists that are used to describe each possible job in the plant.

He turned to me and asked me how many task lists I had created in the last 3 years.   I replied, “About 17,800”.  Jim said that this boggled his mind.  It was three times more than the entire rest of the company put together.

Jim made a comment about how he wasn’t sure he would want a job where you have to dress up in a suit and tie.

Andy Tubbs stood up and presented me with my 20 year safety sticker and a leather backpack for working 20 years without an accident, which was completed on August 11, just 5 days before.  I had worked four summers as a summer help, which counted as one year of service, then I had completed 19 years as a full time employee that very same week.

I worked 20 years without an accident

I worked 20 years without an accident

I like being roasted, but that didn’t really happen.  A few other people told some stories about me, that I can’t recall because I was busy thinking about the PowerPoint presentation.  I had memorized my entire script, and the presentation was pretty much automatic and timed, and I had to keep to my script or pause the presentation.

Then Jim Arnold asked me (Bill Green, the Plant Manager was gone that day visiting the Muskogee Plant) if I had anything I would like to say before I left…. That was the cue I had been waiting for.  I replied, “Actually, I have a PowerPoint presentation right here, and I hit a key, and the TV lit up….

I will present each of the 26 slides below with the comments I made during each one.  Since many of the slides are animated, I will try to describe how that worked as I made my presentation… so, hang on… this is going to be a lot of slides….  I broke it down into about 45 pictures.  The Script is what I said for each slide:

Slide 1

Slide 1

Script:

Remember when Mark Draper came here for a year and when he was getting ready to leave he gave a presentation about where he thought we were doing well, and how we could improve ourselves?

I thought that since I have spent 20 years with you guys I might be able to come up with a few comments.  Especially as opinionated as I am.

 

Slide 2 part 1

Slide 2 part 1

Script:

In 1979, I came to work here as a summer help.  The plant was still being built and I was really impressed with the special quality of people I met and looked up to.

Slide 2, Part 2

Slide 2, Part 2

Script continues as these three pictures slide in:

Like for instance there was Sonny Karcher and another was Jerry Mitchell.  It has been a while since I have seen these two guys, and I know that Jerry has passed on, but this is the way I remember them.

And of course Larry Riley was there.

Larry was the one I worked with back then that seemed to know what was going on.  I will always consider him a good friend.

When I was on Labor Crew I would call him “Dad”.  He would never own up to it.  He said I was never the same after I fell on my head when I was a kid.

I used to get real dirty when I worked in the coal yard right alongside Jerry Mitchell.  He would stay perfectly clean.  He told me that I knew I was good when I could keep myself clean.  —

Well.  I have found a better way to do that.  And once again I would like to thank OG&E for paying for my education.

I encourage all the new guys to seriously consider taking advantage of the free education benefit.

Slide 3

Slide 3

Script:

Then of course there was our Plant Manager and Assistant Manager back then.

This is how I remember them.

 

Slide 4 part 1

Slide 4 part 1

Script:

After hiring on permanently as a janitor in ’82, and getting on Labor crew in the spring of ’83.  I was able to get into the electric shop in November 1983.

I vividly remember my first day as an electrician.  The first thing I worked on, I shorted it to ground.

Slide 4 part 2

Slide 4 part 2

Script continues as Charles Foster’s picture slides in:

With no prior experience as an electrician I was allowed to join the electric shop.  Charles Foster was instrumental in getting me into the shop, and I am grateful.  As everyone knows, Charles is a long time friend of mine.

For years and years Charles would tell the story about how he fought tooth and nail for me against the evil Plant Manager and His diabolic Assistant who wanted me to be banished to the Labor Crew for eternity.

Not too long ago I told Charles that if he hadn’t pushed so hard to get me into the electric shop, I probably would have left OG&E and went back to school years ago ( like my mom wanted me to do), and made something of myself long before now.

Slide 5

Slide 5

Script:

These are the electricians that were there when I first joined the electric shop.  These are the only ones left.  I think we started out with 16.

The electricians were always a tight knit group.  It amazed me to see a electricians who couldn’t stand each other sit down and play dominos three times a day, every day, year after year.

Jimmie Moore joined the shop some time later.

And of course.  Bill Bennett was around back then.

When I arrived in the electric shop I was 23 years old and I replaced Diana Brien as the youngest electrician in the shop.  As I leave, I am almost 41 years old, and I am still the youngest electrician.  As I leave, I relinquish the title back to Diana Brien who once again will be the youngest electrician.

As a side note…. I don’t know why I forgot about Ben Davis.  He reminded me after the presentation… I don’t know how… Here is a picture of Ben:

Ben Davis

Ben Davis

Slide 6 part 1

Slide 6 part 1

Script:

I suppose you all remember what happened on February 15th, 1985.  The day we refer to as “Black Friday”.  The day that the “Drug and Theft” ring was busted at Sooner Station.  That was the day that a very dear friend of mine, Pat Braden, whom everyone knew as a kind easy going person turned out to be some evil leader of a theft ring.

Slide 6 part 2

Slide 6 part 2

Note:  As I was saying the above statement, This mummy walked across the slide…

Slide 6 part 3

Slide 6 part 3

Note:  Then Barney slide across in the other direction…

Script continued:

Well.  I know better than that. I will always remember Pat Braden with a smile on his face.  Mickey Postman, I know you would agree with me about Pat and just about everyone else who knew him well.

It has been 16 years since this took place and the company has gone through a lot of changes, but don’t ever think something like this couldn’t happen again.

Slide 3

Slide 3

Note… The hammers come in and stomp the images off the slide….

Slide 7 part 2

Slide 7 part 2

Script:

Then there was the first Reorganization.  The old people retired on October 1st.  That was the end of the Moler and Waugh regime.

Slide 7 part 3

Slide 7 part 3

Script:

At first we thought we were all on vacation. Our new plant manager came in the first meeting with us and told a joke.

We all looked at each other and wondered, “Can plant managers even do that?”

I’m sure you guys remember Ron Kilman.  Bless his heart.

Slide 8 part 1

Slide 8 part 1

Script:

The second part of the first reorganization allowed people without jobs to find a position in the company over a 8 month period.

Slide 8 part 2

Slide 8 part 2

Note:  Pictures of Scott Hubbard fly in along with the words:  “Hubbard Here!”  then each one disappears leaving this:

Slide 8 part 3

Slide 8 part 3

Script:

That is when Scott Hubbard joined the electric shop.

Scott and I drove to work together for a long time and we became good friends.

I’ll miss Scott when I leave.  I’ll remember that “Hubbard is Here”, while I’ll be down there – in Texas.

 

Slide 9 part 1

Slide 9 part 1

Script:

Do you remember the Quality Process?  They said it was a process and not a program because when a program is over it goes away, and a process is something that will always be here.  — Yeah right.

Note:  While I was saying this, the screen all of the sudden went dark as I kept talking… I could tell that people wondered if I realized that the presentation had suddenly disappeared….

Slide 9 part 2

Slide 9 part 2

Script:

This is all we have left of the Quality Process.

Note:

When I said the line “This is all we have left of the Quality Process”  pointing my thumb over my shoulder with a look of disappointment on my face, the room suddenly burst out into cheers and applause as they realized that the blank screen represented the current state of the Quality process at the plant.

Slide 10 part 1

Slide 10 part 1

Script:

The first reorganization was done in a somewhat orderly manner.

They retired the old guys out first and brought in the new management, then they informed those that didn’t have positions and gave them time to find a job before they let them go.

Note:  The sounds of gun shots were barely heard from the computer speaker, as splats occurred on the slide until it looked like this:

Slide 10 part 2

Slide 10 part 2

Script continued:

The second reorganization.  Well.  It was a massacre.

It was a very lousy way to do this, and very humiliating.

Note:

Jim Arnold at this point was about to jump out of his chair and stop the show, so I was quick to go to the next slide…

Slide 11

Slide 11

Script:

With the redesign came another Plant Manager.  One of the first things I remember about Bill Green was that one morning I was stopped at the front gate and given a 9 volt battery for my smoke detector.

I took the battery home and put it in my smoke detector, and – guess what? – The battery was dead.  And I thought, “Oh well.  These things happen.”

Well a couple of years later, there was Bill Green handing out smoke detector batteries again.

I checked it out and sure enough, it was dead also.

 

Slide 12

Slide 12

Note:  As I was talking during this slide, the marbles dropped in and bounced around then at the end the hat and moustache landed on Bill Green.

Script:

 

I am just wondering. I want to test out a theory I have.   How many of you was given a dead battery?

—  OK, I see.  Just the trouble makers.  I understand.  It all makes sense to me now.

Second Note:  Bill Green had a jar full of marbles and each color represented a type of injury someone has when they do something unsafe.  Most of the marbles were blue and meant that nothing happened, the other colors represented increasingly worse injuries.  Two marbles in the jar signified fatalities.

The numbers went like this:

Out of 575 incidents where someone does something unsafe, here are the consequences:

390 Blue Marbles:   Nothing happens

113 Green Marbles:  A First Aid injury

57 White Marbles:  A Recordable Accident

8 Pink Marbles:  Up to 30 days lost work day injury occurs

5 Red Marbles:  60 or  more lost workdays injury occurs

2 Yellow Marbles:  A Fatality occurs

Slide 13 part 1

Slide 13 part 1

Script:

The Maintenance workers are the best people I know.  Everyone one of them has treated me with respect, and I consider each of you a friend.

You are the people I will miss.  Not the coal dust, not the fly ash. —  Just the people.

Note:  Over the next set of slides, I showed the Power Plant Men I worked with… I will show you a couple of pictures of some slides to show you the animation that I had slide in and I’ll explain them.. I didn’t say much during the following slides.  They flashed by fairly quickly:

Slide 13 part 2

Slide 13 part 2

Note:  The circle with the slash over Bob Blubaugh represented him being recently fired… The story around this is on some of the last slides… and was a tragedy.  The military cap landed on Randy Daily (in the lower right) because he was an Army Medic and was always in charge when it came to safety.

Slide 14 part 1

Slide 14 part 1

slide 14 part 2

slide 14 part 2

The donut flew up to Danny Cain because if there was ever free food somewhere, Danny would find it… Especially if they were donuts.

 

Slide 15 part 1

Slide 15 part 1

Slide 15 part 2

Slide 15 part 2

The words “Huh, Huh?” flew to Jody Morse, because he had the habit of saying something and ending his sentence with “Huh, Huh?”

Slide 16

Slide 16

Slide 17

Slide 17

Note:  That was the end of the pictures of the Maintenance Power Plant Men….  I didn’t have pictures of the Operators, and they weren’t at the party…

Slide 18

Slide 18

Script:

Without these two, you wouldn’t get paid, and you wouldn’t get parts.

I agree with what Jerry Osborn said about Linda Shiever.  There isn’t anyone out here that can do the job Linda does every day.

Slide 19 part 1

Slide 19 part 1

Script:

The maintenance foremen have treated me with respect and I would like to thank all of you for that.

Note:  Then Jim Arnold flew in:

Slide 19 part 2

Slide 19 part 2

Script:

I realize that you have to do certain things some times because there is someone looking over your shoulders directing every move you make.

Note:  At this point, Jim leaned forward in his chair to get a better look… wondering if that was his face on this picture of God…

Slide 20

Slide 20

Script:

Yes, Jim Arnold does take care of us, and we know that he doesn’t want to retire and leave us to fend for ourselves.

Note:  There was a policy where you could retire once your age and years of service added up to 80 years.  Jim Arnold’s added up to 100, but wouldn’t retire.

Slide 21

Slide 21

Note:  Still talking about Jim Arnold:

Script:

Therefore he has devised a plan in case of an untimely death.

So don’t be smilin’ too big!!

Slide 22

Slide 22

Note: Still talking about Jim Arnold….

Script:

He will be able to direct the plant operations from his heavenly throne.

So don’t worry.  He is NOT going away.

Second Note:  At this point the PowerPoint presentation locked up on the computer… I had to shut down the presentation and restart it, and quickly go back to the next slide… I remembered the Alt-F4 closes the active application, so I was able to do this within about 15 seconds.

Slide 23 part 1

Slide 23 part 1

Script:

Do you remember when Bill Moler decided that you had to wear a hardhat to go fishin’ in the discharge?

He said it was because he wanted everyone to be safe.

As you can see, this made Johnny Keys rather upset.

Note:  As I was speaking, Hardhats dropped onto the people:

Slide 23 part 2

Slide 23 part 2

Script:

Some bird might fly overhead and  drop something on you.

Everyone knew the real reason.  He didn’t want anyone fishing out there so he was making it more difficult to do that.

He used “Safety” as an excuse.  Because of this, he lost credibility when it came to safety issues.

Slide 24

Slide 24

Note:  The Hard hats disappeared and Cell phones and pagers dropped down as I said the following:

Script:

When you start making policies that use safety as an excuse, but it isn’t the real reason, you lose your credibility.

Second Note:  At this point, Jim Arnold was jumping up from his seat… You see, Jim Arnold had fired Bob Blubaugh a few months earlier because Bob carried a cell phone with him when while he was working.  Jim told him he couldn’t use his cell phone during the day.  When Bob refused to stop carrying a cell phone Jim Arnold fired him for insubordination.

Today that seems crazy as everyone carries cell phones.  Jim’s excuse was that carrying a cell phone was not safe, though he couldn’t exactly explain why.

That’s why Jim jumped out of his chair… I thought it was over, and I had two more slides to go….  So, I quickly clicked to the next slide… and Jim sat back down…. whew….

Slide 25 part 1

Slide 25 part 1

Script:

I would like to say goodbye to Doug Black.  I have been blessed to have been able to spend time with you the past three years.

Note:

Then Doug slid off the slide leaving a picture of Toby:

Slide 25 part 2

Slide 25 part 2

Script:

I would like to say goodbye to Toby, you have been a good friend, and I’ll stay in touch.

Note:  Then Toby slid off and Ray Eberle’s picture was left:

Slide 25 part 3

Slide 25 part 3

Script:

Ray, I had to hide this picture from you, because you sat next to me as I created this presentation.  I just want to say that the last three years we have spent working on SAP have meant a lot to me and you will always be one of my best friends.  Thank you.

Slide 26

Slide 26

Script:

With that I will say “Good bye” to all of you.  Thank you!

Note:  This is a picture of Jim Arnold and Louise Kalicki stepping off of Air Force One.  I super-imposed their faces over Bill and Hillary Clinton.

This is the end of the presentation….  With that I was ready to leave the plant and begin the next stage of my life.  I will explain more in the post next week.

After I had left, I heard that when the next person had a going away party, Bill Green announced that PowerPoint Presentations are no longer allowed during going away parties!

The Heart of a Power Plant

I was considered the one that “got away”.  Power Plant Men don’t normally leave the Power Plant to go work somewhere else unless they are retiring, being laid off, or for some other compelling reason.  I freely walked away of my own accord August 16, 2001.  I left a job where I could have worked until the day I retired to step out into the unknown.  But… that was the way I had arrived on May 7, 1979, 22 years earlier.

Just as I had driven onto the plant grounds those many years ago, unsure what I was going to encounter, I was now leaving the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma to change my career and become an IT programmer for Dell Computers in Round Rock Texas.  When I arrived my first day at the plant, I had no idea what I was stepping into…  The day I left I was in the exact same boat.

The Intake is just to the right of this picture across the canal

The Intake is just to the right of this picture across the canal

So far, I have gone through my life accepting whatever happens as something that happens for a reason.  With that in mind, I have the belief that whatever the future holds, I just need to hang in there and everything will work out for the best, even though it may not seem like it at the time.  Let me tell you about this experience….

I had accepted the job offer from Dell early in January.  My start date had been set for June 4, 2001.  They were giving me $3,000 for moving expenses to move down to Round Rock when I finished college in May.  I was being hired as an undergraduate college hire.  I would be starting at a slightly smaller salary than my base salary as an electrician.

Dell-Logo

I was taking a considerable cut in salary when you consider the overtime that an Power Plant electrician racked up in a year.  I figured I was starting at the bottom of the ladder in my new job, where I was pretty well topped out at the plant with no opportunity to advance in sight.  Maybe in a few years my salary would catch up and surpass what I made as an electrician.

For about 10 weeks, we drove down to the Austin area and look for a house on the weekends.  It became apparent soon after our house hunting began that the cost of houses was somewhat higher than they were in Stillwater Oklahoma.  We finally had a contract on a house in Round Rock, just 10 minutes away from the main Dell campus.

While we were looking for a house in the Round Rock area, we kept hearing on the radio that Dell was laying off thousands of employees.  The Internet bubble had burst and the drop in sales of computers was taking a toll on the company.  Every time I called the recruiter, I would find that they had been laid off and I had been assigned a different recruiter.  This was disheartening to say the least.

Here I was in a perfectly secure job as an electrician at the Power Plant and I was leaving it to go work for a company that was in the middle of laying off employees.  My wife Kelly and I had been saying one Novena after the other that we make the correct decision about what we should do, and we had chosen Dell Computer.  It just seemed like the right place to go.  So, we decided to just go along with it.

We prayed the Infant Of Prague Novena every day that we made the right choice.

The Infant of Prague is a statue of Jesus as a Boy in a Church in Prague in the Czech Republic

The Infant of Prague is a wax statue of Jesus as a Boy in a Church in Prague, Czech Republic

I gave the plant a 3 month notice that I would be leaving in June.  We had timed the purchase of the house in Round Rock for Friday, June 1.  I would start work the following Monday.  Dell was going to send me my moving expenses on May 4th, one month before my job would begin.

On the morning of Thursday, May 3rd, our realtor in Stillwater called and said she had a contract to sell our home in Stillwater and was going to head out to our house for us to sign.  I had stayed home that morning for that reason.  We were expecting her to arrive at 9:00 am.

At 8:30 I received a call from Dell computers that went something like this….. “Kevin, I am calling to inform you that your offer for employment has changed.  Your first day will no longer be June 4, but will be August 20 (2-1/2 months later).  The good news is that you still have a job with Dell, it just doesn’t start until August.”

Since I was expecting the moving expenses the following day on May 4, I asked the recruiter about that.  He said that since my start date was moved to August, I wouldn’t receive the moving expenses until July.  I told him that I was in the middle of buying a house in Round Rock and that I was counting on that money.  He said he would see what he could do about that.

I hung up the phone and looked at Kelly who was standing there watching my face go from a normal tan to a red glow, then an ashen color all in the matter of 20 seconds.  I explained to her that Dell said I still had a job, but it wouldn’t start until August.

The Realtor was going to be arriving in about 20 minutes for us to sign to sell our house.  Everything was in motion.  It took Kelly and I about 5 minutes to discuss our options before we decided that since we had been praying to make the right choice, we were going to go with this new development.

I called Louise Kalicki, our HR supervisor at the plant and told her that Dell had moved my start date from June 4 to August 20, and I wondered if I could stay on the extra two and a half months.  I was surprised that she had an answer for me so quickly, but here is what she said, “We can keep you on until August 17, but after that date, we will no longer have a job for you.”  I thanked her, and hung up the phone.

Our realtor arrived with the contract for us to sign to sell our house with five acres.  When she walked in the kitchen, I told her what had just happened 1/2 hour earlier.  I could see the sick look on her face after she had worked so hard for so many months to find a buyer for our house.  Here I was telling her that Dell was postponing my hire date.

When I came to the part about where we decided to go ahead with our plans and sell the house and move to Round Rock, I could see all the tension that had been building up behind her ever increasing bulging eyes suddenly ease off.  We signed the papers and our house was set to be sold on June 29.  I had to swing a loan for the month where I bought the house in Round Rock and I sold my house in Stillwater (and hoped that the house was actually sold on time).

A few hours later I received a call from the Dell recruiter saying that he had pulled a few strings and I was going to receive my moving expenses the following day.  The following week after that, the recruiter that had helped me had been laid off as well.

When my final day had arrived on August 16 (I was working 4 -10s, and my last work day that week was Thursday), I was given a going away party (see the post “Power Plant Final Presentation“).  The party was over around 1:30 and I was free to leave.

I said my goodbye’s to my friends in the office area and went down to the electric shop to gather up the rest of my things and leave.  Scott Hubbard asked me if he could trade his Multimeter with me since I had a fancy True RMS Multimeter and he was still using an older version.  So, I traded him, and picked up my tool bucket and headed for the parking lot.

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

As I approached my car, I could see that Diana Brien was out there waiting for me to leave.  She gave me a Chocolate Chip Cookie the size of a pizza and said she wanted to say goodbye to me and tell me that she had enjoyed being my bucket buddy all those years.  I told her I was going to miss her and everyone else in the shop.

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

With that I climbed in my car and drove away.

When I was selling my house outside Stillwater, I thought that the thing I was going to miss the most was the wide open spaces where we lived.  Our house was on a hill in the country overlooking the city of Stillwater.  We had an Atrium in the living room where you could sit and look at the city lights at night and watch thunderstorms as they blasted transformers around the town.

I was moving into a neighborhood where the house next to ours was no more than 15 feet away.  I thought I’m really going to miss this house….  I thought that until the moment I drove out of the parking lot at the Power Plant.

Then it suddenly hit me….  What about my family?  What about all those people I have just left behind?  When am I ever going to see them?  The thought of missing my house never entered my mind from that moment on.  It was replaced by the great pain one feels when they pack up and walk away from their family not knowing if you will ever see them again.

My heart was still back there with the Power Plant Men and Women I left behind.

The seven hour drive from the plant to Round Rock Texas was a blur.  I knew that I had just closed one door and stepped into an entirely new world.  I didn’t even know if I would like being a programmer when it came down to it.  I had always just been a hacker and I knew I had a lot of holes in my knowledge.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to be any good at my job.

To make that long story short, I have never regretted my move to Round Rock Texas.  I have just gone with the flow knowing that whatever happens, it happens for a reason.  After 12 1/2 years working at Dell, I changed jobs again to work for General Motors in their IT department where I am currently working with the Onstar team.

My friends at Dell asked me the past few years… “Are you going to write about us like you do with the Power Plant Men?”  My reply to that question was “I don’t know… Maybe I will.  I haven’t thought about it.”

That was the same thing I told Sonny Karcher the first day I arrived at the Power Plant and he asked me what I wanted to do when I graduated college.  I told him. “I don’t know.  I was thinking about becoming a writer.”  His next question was, “Are you going to write about us?”  I replied, “Maybe I will.  I haven’t thought about it.”

Letters to the Power Plant #1 — Working at Dell

After I left the power plant and went to work for Dell on August 20, 2001, I wrote letters back to my friends at the plant letting them know how things were going.  This is the first letter I wrote.  Keep in mind that at the time, I didn’t intend on it being posted online when I originally penned this letter.

8/30/2001 – Working at Dell

Sooner Plant employees,

I thought I would drop you a line and let you know how things are going in Round Rock Texas.

First, and most importantly.  I have learned how to drive like a Texan.  I regularly and randomly swerve into other lanes.  I pass only when there is a yellow line.  I fly through yellow lights, (one note — I never noticed before, but at 98 miles an hour, when a yellow light turns red, it actually looks orange for a millisecond as it flies over your head).  I fall asleep while waiting at red lights, and only wake up just in time to watch the green turn to yellow.  To keep myself from getting bored, I play with the turn signals by turning them left and right and watching the little green arrows on the dashboard turn on and off.  I can tell everyone else on the road is getting into what I am doing, because they keep cheering me on by honking their horns.  It is really a friendly atmosphere on the road down here.  People wave a lot.  There is a lot of team spirit.  They keep indicating that “We’re number one” with their hand gestures!   — They have all made me feel real welcome.

Second.  In Austin, I finally figured out why there are so few trees.  It usually goes for a month or two without any rain, and then all at once it floods the whole countryside.  It is only then that you realize that everyone ELSE has built an Ark in their backyard.  — As you see them lifting up over the roofs of their houses.  On Monday we had 5 1/2 inches of rain in about an hour.  Today I think we’ve had another 4 inches.

Which reminds me.  They also have all the mailboxes down at the corner where you use a key to get your mail.  I thought it was for security, but it is really so they can secure the mailbox to keep them from floating down the river.  I wondered why the neighbors had strings tied to the mailbox post, but it all made sense to me when the jugs on the end of the strings were floating in the temporary river, and the neighbors went floating by in their arks checking their jug lines for fish.  These guys take advantage of every opportunity to get the best out of every occasion.

There are many other ways I have adapted to Texas life, but I will save that for another day.  Let me know how things are going up there.  I’ll write to you later.

Kevin Breazile

Programmer/Analyst

Letters to the Power Plant #2 – Everything is Fast in Texas

After I left the power plant and went to work for Dell on August 20, 2001, I wrote letters back to my friends at the plant letting them know how things were going.  This is the third letter I wrote.  Keep in mind that at the time, I didn’t intend on it being posted online when I originally penned this letter.

9/7/2001 – Everything is fast in Texas – Dell Update

Hello everyone at Sooner Plant,

I miss you guys, when I find time to stop for a moment to get a drink of water, (from my sponge that I use to wipe the sweat from my brow).  I am finally receiving my computers and stuff for my cubicle.  I have been using a borrowed laptop from my manager up to now.  I have two computers with two keyboards and monitors.  I use both of them at the same time.  — They are made by Dell by the way.  — Since Compaq went out of business –  🙂  .   With two computers I am able to program in two computer languages at the same time.  On one computer I may be programming using C++ while on the other computer I am using JAVA, or composing an ASP page for the intranet.  This is great!!!   The next thing they are working on for us programmers is to put on headsets that connect directly to our brains so we can write programs in our sleep.  I can’t wait!!!  All these years I have been dreaming about all sorts of programs, and now they will finally be captured and made into something useful.  — Things like:   Birthday Phantom 2.0 !!!!

Note to Reader:  To learn more about the Birthday Phantom, see this post:  Power Plant Birthday Phantom.

It is interesting to work in a place where security is such a big issue.  You wouldn’t believe how many companies would like to know what Dell is doing.  All sorts of security measures are taken to ensure that spies aren’t infiltrating our environment.  Not only do they check all of our e-mail (like this letter), but they also filter out everything that is flushed down the toilet or spoken in a restaurant.  There are actually spies from other companies that sit in restaurants and listen to Dell employees out to lunch.  How do we know?  Just say, “Do you know what my manager told me today?”  And you will see people in nearby tables stop talking and lean in your direction.

The reason is similar to Sooner Plant’s position of being the best plant in the country.  Dell is able to sell computers cheaper than any other computer company in the world,  and only they know why.  The secret to their whole success is  ******SECURITY VIOLATION******** THIS PORTION OF THE E-MAIL HAS BEEN DELETED BY DELLSECURE—-IT CONTAINED PROPRIETARY INFORMATION.  ******SECURITY VIOLATION********   Isn’t that neat?  Who would have thought that the solution would have been so simple.

Well, I have to go, two big bouncer types just showed up at my cubicle tapping their feet with their arms crossed across their chest, and for some reason they don’t look too happy.   —  Did  I say something wrong?????

Write to you later,

Kevin Breazile

Programmer/Analyst

Letters to the Power Plant #3 – Learning new things at Dell

After I left the power plant and went to work for Dell on August 20, 2001, I wrote letters back to my friends at the plant letting them know how things were going.  This is the third letter I wrote.  Keep in mind that at the time, I didn’t intend on it being posted online when I originally penned this letter.  So please ignore the bad grammar and the overuse of the word “Got”, “Get” or “Gotten”.

9/17/01 – Learning new things at Dell

Dear friends,

I have been learning a lot of new things at Dell.  I spend half of the day in “bootcamp”, ( a place where we learn a different computer language each day), and I spend the other half of the day working in my cubicle.  They are teaching me a lot and I am grateful.

I found out today that I have been teaching them a lot too, without realizing it.  When I first moved in my cubicle, I didn’t have a chair, so I did the most obvious thing.  I went out to my car and got my tool bucket.  I placed it in my cubicle and sat on it while I worked.  It wasn’t until today when I received a chair that I found out that people around here don’t sit on tool buckets while they work.  — They told me that I would have gotten a chair a couple of weeks ago, but that they were so intrigued by my use of a five gallon bucket that they thought they would hold off giving me a chair so they could study the benefits of working while sitting on a bucket.

Many of my cubicle mates have shown an interest in my style of writing code (that means, programming).  They haven’t seen anyone splice code fragments together using wire nuts and a pair of strippers before.  One guy down the way asked me what brand of dikes I liked best because he was going to go out and buy some after he saw me trimming some clip art with mine.  Of course I told him that there was only ONE brand of dikes — Kleins.

I have also taught my fellow computer nerds the benefits of butt splices when copying and pasting computer code.  With a good pair of crimpers and some electric tape, copying and pasting takes on a whole new dimension.

At first they thought I was just joking when I whipped out my electric tape and started wrapping up my code into a three-tier business model.  Their first response was, “What kind of Duct tape is that?” (actually, I think they said, “Duck Tape”).  I showed them how a properly wrapped piece of code wouldn’t short out the program causing it to crash.

They have shown me a few things too.  I had to go get a can of skoal and keep it on my shelf.  Whenever the monitor overheats, I whip it out, squish it around in my mouth for a few seconds and spit in the back of the monitor, and voila!!!  (voila is french for,  “There it is”).

They have also taught me that keeping a cowboy hat in your cubicle is a useful tool.  Whenever someone yells, “Hey You!”, the first thing you do is toss your hat up over the cubicle, just in case someone is shooting a rubber band across the room.  It is an old cowboy trick.

I call it a room, but where I work is really about the size of 4 basketball courts.  Cubicles as far as you can see.  Being tall is a great advantage (which I’m not).  It changes your perspective from being in a maze to being in a wide open prairie.  I think I saw Dilbert (or is it Dellbert?) working down on the far end the other day.

It is good to hear from you guys, I’ll talk to you soon,

Kevin Breazile

Programmer/Analyst

Letters to the Power Plant #4 – Trying to Recuperate

After I left the power plant and went to work for Dell on August 20, 2001, I wrote letters back to my friends at the plant letting them know how things were going.  This is the fourth letter I wrote.  Keep in mind that at the time, I didn’t intend on it being posted online when I originally penned this letter.

9/21/01 – Trying to Recuperate

Dear Dell Customers,

I have spent most of the day trying to recuperate from yesterday (Thursday).  I went to work yesterday without a clue as to what I was getting into.  Our Manager made our team go out to eat lunch at some fancy Mexican restaurant where we ate so much food that we could hardly move.  Then he forced us to eat Dessert!!!   We had to sit on hard wooden chairs for over two hours!!!  Then he dragged us over to some Adult Arcade called “Dave & Busters”.  It reminded me of a grown-up Chucky Cheese’s.  Then he gave us these cards that allowed us to play arcade games for the rest of the afternoon.  It was exhausting!!!  I kept playing a Star Wars pinball machine until I couldn’t move my arms anymore, and my socks were all soaked from perspiration.  All night I kept dreaming about these metal balls flying back and forth hitting bumpers and lighting lights, and sounding alarms and Luke Skywalker kept saying, “May the force be with you”, and Darth Vader kept saying, “I AM your father.”  This place had pool tables and a couple of bars, and as I have found, in Texas, everyone drinks beer and shoots pool.  And here I am without a pool cue (Walt?).  Finally, late in the afternoon we left and played bumper cars all the way home on the freeway.  — Yes.  Managers can be cruel.  He called it “Team-Building”.

Note to Reader:  To learn more about Walt Oswalt and Pool Cues, see this post:  A Window Into the Power Plant Man Bedroom.

I was just beginning to recuperate this afternoon when these guys from Baskin-Robbins set up a couple of tables right next to my cubicle and started dishing out ice cream to everyone that came by.  They had a whole table full of toppings and a bunch of different flavors of Ice Cream.  —  Since they were right at the entrance to my cubicle, I had to keep eating more and more, so as not to insult them.  Now I’m not sure how I’m going to make it out to my car to go home.  I can’t even push my chair back away from my desk because the wheels are embedded in the carpet.  Next to our cafeteria (which is run by Marriott), there is an exercise gym.  I might try to hobble over there and work off some of this stuff before I attempt to go home.  I feel out of place in there.  It’s full of muscle-men types like Gene Day.  I think I’ll pass.

I have seen other means of torture at our Manager’s disposal around our building.  Just out back there is a volleyball pit where employees are herded in and compelled to compete against each other by knocking a ball back and forth which causes perfectly ordinary folks to throw themselves in the sand while others urge them on and tell them “Good Job”, and “Nice Try” and they clap their hands and hoot and holler and do high fives.  My bootcamp friends (those that started with me), keep scheduling basketball games, and I ask them, “Are you the Manager?  Who made you in charge of torture this week?”  Then I sneak back to my cubicle where I can boot up my computers and relax in a swirl of program code and e-mail heaven.

It has been a rough week, but today is Friday and the weekend is here.  Finally, a chance to lay back and take it easy.  —  Oh no, Kelly (my wife) just called….. We’re going out tonight!!!…………………….

Your Friend,

Kevin Breazile

Programmer/Analyst