Category Archives: Death

Power Plant Quittin’ Time

At a Power Plant, three things are certain:  Death, Taxes and Quittin’ Time.  Nothing can stand in the way of any of these three activities.  The only time Quittin’ time might change is on a Friday afternoon just before it is time to go home and you hear the Shift Supervisor paging one of the foremen or the Maintenance Supervisor.  Then you know that Quittin’ time is likely to change at the spur of the moment.  Not eliminated, but only delayed.  I suppose we try doing that with Death as well.  I have never tried delaying Taxes before.

After the downsizing at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma in 1994, a lot of things had changed.  As an electrician, I was now working on a cross-functional team with Charles Foster as my electrical bucket buddy.

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

The rest of my team had different skills.  Some were Instrument and Controls, others were Welders, Machinists, Mechanics and then there was Alan Kramer, our foreman.

Alan Kramer

Alan Kramer

The new way we received work orders (we called them Maintenance Orders or MOs) was from our new Planners.  There were two people responsible for figuring out our work for the week.  That was Ben Davis and Tony Mena.  I don’t have a photo of Tony, but here is Ben.

Ben-Davis

Ben Davis

I have talked about Ben Davis in a number of past posts, as he was my mentor when I first became an electrician.  I always looked up to him as a big brother.  And, well, he treated me as a younger brother… but always with more respect than I deserved.  Tony on the other hand was originally hired to be on the Testing Team when I was on the Labor Crew.

I still remember Monday, July 18, 1983 watching Tony Mena and the rest of the new Testers walking around the plant following Keith Hodges around like baby quail following their mother (at least that was the way Ron Luckey described them as we watched them from the back seat of the crew cab as we drove past them).

The men and woman on Labor Crew had felt passed over when the new testing team had been formed because no one on the labor crew had been considered for the new jobs even when we met the minimum requirements (which was to have any kind of college degree).  So, even though it wasn’t fair to the new testing team, we had an immediate animosity toward them.

After the first downsizing in 1988, Scott Hubbard had moved to the electric shop and I quickly learned that not all testers were rotten, job stealing chumps.  Actually, none of them were.  They never had anything to do with who was chosen for the Testing team.  That came from above.  If you are interested, you can read the post: “‘Take a Note Jan’ Said the Supervisor of Power Production“.  Scott and I became like brothers when he joined our team.

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

After the first downsizing, the testing team was reduced down to three people, Tony Mena, Richard Allen and Doug Black.  I don’t have a picture of the first two, but I do have one of Doug:

 

Doug Black

Doug Black

After the second downsizing, the Testing team was eliminated.  Scott had become an electrician seven year earlier, Doug Black moved into the Engineering Department.  Richard Allen became an Instrument and Controls person and Tony Mena became a Planner along with Ben Davis.  We had two other planners Glenn Rowland and Mark Fielder (who later traded with Mike Vogle to become a foreman).  Glenn and Mark spent their time planning major outages, where Tony and Ben did more of the day-to-day stuff.

Tony Mena no longer had anyone to carpool with, so he asked me if he could carpool with Scott and I.  So, we agreed.  We told Tony that it was important to be on time, because we didn’t want to be late arriving at the plant, and we definitely didn’t want to be late going home (which was much more important).  Tony agreed that he would be on time.

Quittin’ Time at the plant is a very important and orchestrated event.  It begins a half hour earlier when everyone returns to the shop and cleans up and puts their tools away.  Then they go into the foremen’s office and fills out their timecards for the day.  This includes adding each of the maintenance orders we have worked on during the day and how many hours on each.

The next step is to grab your lunch box and go stand by the door to wait until the exact second that it is time to leave.  When that happens, a steady stream of Power Plant Men pour into the parking lot, into their pickup trucks (and other vehicles) and head either north or south down Highway 177 toward their homes.  Some stopping along the way for a beverage at the corner convenience store.

The Power Plant Men have Quittin’ Time down to a honed art form.  Each stroke of the brush is carefully orchestrated.  Scott and I went to perform our part of the ballet where the vehicles all backed out of their parking spaces in chaotic unison and quickly perform the three lines out the end of the single lane on the south side of the parking lot.

However, when we arrived in our car, Tony was no where to be found.  As we received concerned looks from Randy Dailey and Jerry Day, as they pirouetted around us, wondering why we weren’t taking our turn in the Parking Lot Tango, all we could do was shrug our shoulders and watch as the dance went on without us.

Finally about 10 minutes past Quittin’ Time, Tony came walking out of the shop apologizing for being late.  We told him that was all right as long as he didn’t make a habit out of it.  We were pretty peeved that day because this meant that we had 10 less minutes that day to spend with our families.

We were even more peeved when the same thing happened the next day.  We didn’t wait 10 minutes.  After 5 minutes we went into the maintenance foremen’s office and found Tony still working away on his computer trying to finish up his work.  We told him he had to leave right now!  He said he hadn’t realized it was time to go.

Nothing is worse than a delayed Quittin’ Time when it isn’t for a legitimate reason.  Tony didn’t have a wife and children at home so he didn’t feel the urgency that Scott and I felt.  So, I figured I was going to have to do something about this.  We weren’t going to tell Tony that he could no longer ride with us, because we knew he needed the company as much as we did, so I came up with a different plan.

The next day at lunch I wrote a program on the computer called “Quittin’ Time!”  Here is how it worked:

It would load up on Tony’s computer when he booted it up, so he didn’t have a choice whether it ran or not.  It showed up in the Task Bar at the bottom.  It said: “Quittin’ Time in: 7:45:35”  for example and it would count down each second.  Then it would count down all day until Quittin’ Time.  There was no visible way to turn it off (Power Plant Men had yet to learn about the Task Manager as this was Windows 3.1).

You could click on Quittin Time in the Task Bar and it would open up a small box in the middle of your computer with the time ticking down, but there was no red X in the corner to shut it down.  There was only a minimize underscore that would put it back in the task bar.

I had added a small feature in the dialog window.  In the lower right corner, there was a little slash sort of hidden in the corner.  If you clicked on that, it opened another dialog box that let you set the actual time of day for “Quittin’ Time”.  So, if you had to leave early, or later, you could adjust your Quittin’ Time.

Here was the clincher with the Quittin’ Time program.  It was not enough to just show Tony that it was Quittin’ Time.  This program had to force Tony to shut down and go home.  So, when it was 15 minutes before Quittin’ Time, a Big Yellow Window would open up on top of any other work and would flash on and off that it was “15 minutes before Quittin’ Time!  Time to Finish your Work!”  Tony could close this window.

Then when it was 5 minutes to Quittin’ Time, another big yellow window would open up flashing 5 minutes before Quittin’ Time!  Finish your work now!” and it would beep at you 5 times. Tony could close this window.

At one minute until Quittin’ Time, all heck broke loose on the computer.  A big red window would open up and the computer would start beeping continually.  The flashing Window could not be closed.  It would say:  “Less than One Minute To Quittin’ Time!  Save all your Work!”  The words would continually flash as well at the red background while counting down the seconds and it could not be stopped.

At “Quittin’ Time” The Red Box would say “QUITTIN’ TIME!”  and the computer would lock up beeping continuously as loud as that little beeper(the internal speaker) could beep (this was a 386 PC).  At that point, the only thing you could do was hit the power button and shut your computer off.  I wish I had some screen shots to show you.  Maybe I’ll find my old code and recreate it and take some and add them to this post later.

Needless to say, the first day I added this program to Tony’s computer, he didn’t heed the warnings.  When the computer went crazy, he tried saving his work, but ended up losing a little of it before the computer completely locked up on him.  He came out to the parking lot on time, however, he wasn’t in the greatest mood.  We were.  Scott and I were smiling.  We were going to be home on time, and best yet, that day, we were included in the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” being performed by the pickup trucks that day in the Parking Lot.

The best part of the Quittin’ Time program came later.  After about a week, Tony (who now left work on time every day) asked me if I could add something to the Quittin’ Time program.  He wanted to know if I could make it so that he would remember to eat lunch.  He would get so involved in work that he would miss his lunch entirely.  So, I added a “Lunch Time” Feature to the program as well.  He could adjust his lunch time using the same option window that opened when you clicked on the little slash in the lower corner of the Quittin’ Time window.

When I added the Lunch Time feature, I also added an Internet Feature that would go out to Yahoo Stock Quotes and get the Daily Stock Quotes for all of our 401k Mutual Funds and our company stock and at 3:40pm CST would pop up a window with the day’s stocks, so you could see how the Mutual funds in your 401k did that day. — Nothing better than watching your retirement plan grow each day.  Yahoo posted the Mutual Fund updates for the day around 3:30pm, so Tony would be the first person each day to get the latest Stock news for our Mutual Funds.

Tony Mena was known as Planner 4 later when we moved to SAP because that was the username he used.  Ray Eberle used to say to me, “We always want to keep Planner 4 happy!”  Later this year, I will go into various ways we kept Tony happy, or confused… or well… on his toes anyway.

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Power Plant Security Guard Finds Fame Amid Mass Murder

I stayed home one Wednesday morning because I was going to be a guinea pig at the Stillwater Medical Center that morning while some nurses were being certified to give PICC lines.  That is, when they insert a catheter in a vein in your arm and thread it all the way up to your heart.  In order to be certified, you had to actually perform this procedure 2 or 3 times on a live vict…. uh…. subject.  My wife Kelly had coaxed me into this position with promises of Chicken Cacciatore.

PICC Catheter

PICC Catheter

Anyway.  I was able to sleep in that morning.  So, I had just risen from bed a few minutes before 9:00am in time to say goodbye to my daughter Elizabeth, who was on her way to Kindergarten.  Kelly was taking her.  I didn’t have to be ready to go to the hospital until 10:00.

I watched from our front atrium as my wife drove down the gravel driveway to the dirt road and turn right out of sight.  As I walked back to our bedroom to take my shower, I heard and felt a rumble.  To me it sounded like a semi truck had just pulled into our driveway.  This was not too impossible, as our country neighbors would use our drive sometimes if a big truck needed to reach their barn.

I thought I would see what was going on, so I returned to the living room and looked out of the window.  There was no truck.  Then I thought that the rumble felt more like an earthquake than a truck.  I used to live on the main highway through Stillwater (Highway 53, also known as 6th street) before moving out to the country, and I knew the difference between an earthquake and a semi truck.

I returned to bedroom and continued on my way to the shower.  When I was finished, I walked into the bedroom and flipped on the TV.  I thought I would see if there was any news about the earthquake on the news.  Instead, for the next two hours I sat on the edge of the bed glued to the television as tears ran down my face.

At the time that I felt the earthquake, one of the Instrument and Controls Technicians at our Power Plant was talking to someone in our Corporate Headquarters in Oklahoma City.  There was the sound of a large explosion and the person on the other end said there had been an explosion and they had to go, and the phone went dead.  The Corporate Headquarters building is one block south of the Federal Murrah Building.

This was the morning of April 15, 1995.  Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the bombing.  I lived about 50 miles as the crow flies from the Federal Murrah Building in Oklahoma City.  At 9:02 a.m. the earthquake I had felt was from the Murrah Building Bombing at the time when 168 people were killed by the blast.

Murrah Building before the bombing in 1995

Murrah Building before the bombing in 1995

As I sat watching the events unfold a yellow 1977 Mercury Marquis was driving north on I-35 toward Kansas.  There was one anomaly about this car.  The license plate on the back was not properly attached.  As the car passed exit 186, the driver could see the Charles Machine Works off to the east manufacturing Ditch Witch trenchers in Perry, Oklahoma.

 

Ditch Witch Trencher

Ditch Witch Trencher

A Power Plant Security Guard at our plant, who as his second job (because working at a Power Plant would of course be the first and foremost job), was also a member of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol was on duty that day keeping the public safe.  As he watched the flow of traffic the crooked license plate on the yellow car caught his attention.  As was customary for officer Charlie Hanger, he proceeded to pull the car over.

Oklahoma State Trooper Charlie Hanger

Oklahoma State Trooper Charlie Hanger

The man that stepped out of the car was Timothy McVeigh, the person that left a truck bomb in a Ryder truck parked in front of the Murrah Building 90 minutes earlier:

Timothy McVeigh

Timothy McVeigh

After informing Officer Charlie that he had a weapon in the car, Charlie Hanger arrested him for carrying a concealed weapon.  The rest of that part of the story is history.

 

Timothy McVeigh's Getaway Car

Timothy McVeigh’s Getaway Car

At the Power Plant, some referred to the Security Guard Charlie Hanger as “Deputy Fife”.

Barney Fife played by Don Knotts in the Andy Griffith Show

Barney Fife played by Don Knotts in the Andy Griffith Show

It was said that he was the type of law enforcement officer that would arrest his own mother for jaywalking.  What are the odds that Charlie was in the right place at the right time and had decided to pull this one car over?

Charlie Hanger said that the main reason that he pulled over Timothy McVeigh that day was because of Divine Intervention.  God had placed him in the right place at the right time.  This is a common occurence for those who worked at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.  God had placed them at the right place at the right time.

If you lived anywhere around Central Oklahoma that day, then you know as well as I, that there was a lot more that went on, than Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols setting off a truck bomb.  For those who watched the story unfold, we remember perfectly well that other unexploded bombs were found as the rescue effort began.  Everyone was pulled off of the site several times while bombs were diffused, and the Whitewater files pertaining to the investigation into Hilary Clinton (which just happened to be stored in the Murrah Building) were quickly removed from the scene never to be seen again.

Oklahomans would tell you that the Conspiracy theory that makes the least sense is that the truck bomb is what brought the Murrah building down.  Survivors that worked in the Murrah building had seen men doing things to the pillars in the parking garage below the building days before.

Aerial view of the Murrah Building after the bombing

Aerial view of the Murrah Building after the bombing

If the truck bomb had destroyed that much of one of the most reinforced building in Oklahoma City, then it was the biggest and strangest truck bomb in history.  It was interesting to watch how much effort was put into stopping investigations into the Murrah Building bombing.  Even going so far as having a company from the Main Stream Media buy out KFOR TV station and quickly shut down the Murrah Building Bombing investigation by Jayna Davis.

Anyway…  if you are interested in what I was watching during those first few hours, before the media rewrote the story, watch this documentary.  I encourage you to watch these all the way through:

Here is a video from KFOR News about the Ryder truck bombing:

Here is a video about Jayna Davis’s investigation and Timothy McVeigh’s connection with Al Qaeda:

Another video about the Murrah Building Bombing Conspiracy:

Just about everyone that lived around Oklahoma City at the time of the bombing was affected by the Oklahoma City Bombing.  Here are some of my stories:

When Kelly came home, she told me that she had heard what happened on the radio.  She called the hospital and some of the nurses had headed to Oklahoma City to help out with any medical needs.  The PICC Line certification had been cancelled because the nurses and other medical professionals were all going to go help out.  Kelly went to the hospital to fill in, because they were shorthanded.  I told her that I would pick up Elizabeth from Kindergarten at noon.

After I picked up Elizabeth, I took her to the police station.  We had been planning on going there that day, since I was taking the day off work and she said she would like to see the Police station just to see what it looked like.  So, I figured we would go down there and ask for a tour.

When we arrived at the Stillwater Police Station, the front door was locked.  I thought this was odd because it was the middle of the day.  I could see people inside, so I knocked on the door.  Someone came and opened the door and asked what we needed.  I told them that I was wondering if it was possible for my daughter to have a tour of the police station.  They were glad to show her all around.

Because of the way the person answered the door, I realized right away that they were in “lock down” mode because of the Murrah Building bombing.

My brother, who today is a U.S. Marine Colonel worked as the Executive Officer for the Marine Corps Recruiting office in the Murrah building in 1994.  I had visited his office a year earlier.  He left the previous June.  Greg’s replacement, who was a father of four children, just like my brother was killed that day.  The officer who first recruited my brother happened to be visiting that morning from Stillwater, was left blind.  My brother felt responsible for the officer’s death because he had encouraged him to take his place when he moved on.

Colonel Gregory T. Breazile

Colonel Gregory T. Breazile

One of the first two friends I had when I went to College was Kirby Davis.  He worked as a journalist in the Journal Record building across the way from the Murrah Building.  I met him one day by accident in September 1996 when I was working in Oklahoma City for the electric company.  He was walking down the street during lunch.  I had just visited the memorial fence at the Murrah Building site.  I was still choked up by my visit to the fence when I saw him walking from across the street.  I told my friend Mike Gibbs that I would see him later, I just saw an old friend of mine, and I wanted to go talk to him.

Memorial Fence at the site of the Murrah Building

Memorial Fence at the site of the Murrah Building

I was surprised when I asked Kirby how he was doing and he replied that he was devastated.  I asked him what had happened and he told me that the day the Murrah Building was bombed, his entire life had been ruined.  At that point, I decided that even though my lunch hour was just about over Kirby needed to talk.  So, we found a bench in a small park by his office and for the next hour he explained to me what had happened.

Even though the Journal Record building had been damaged in the bombing, that wasn’t what had destroyed Kirby.  It was what happened in the aftermath.  Here is the short story of what he said to me.

After the bombing occurred, rescue teams came from all over the country to help clear the debris.  Kirby’s wife went to work at the Convention Center where they were housing the rescue workers to help serving them.  While she was there serving the rescue workers, she became romantically involved with one of the workers.  The result of this was that she divorced Kirby and moved away.

I walked with Kirby back to his office at the Journal Record and said goodbye to him and returned to work.  I continue to pray for Kirby and his family.  I ask that those of you who read my blog and are so inclined, please say a prayer for him as well.

As I mentiioned, tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing.  I think we should all take a moment to reflect on how in times of trouble like this, when evil seems to be having its way and tragedy is all around, God sends men like the trooper and Power Plant Guard Charlie Hangar.

Power Plant Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day came a week early for the men at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma in the year 2000.  Instead of the scheduled May 14th Mother’s Day, the Power Plant Men gathered in the First Baptist Church in Pawnee Oklahoma to say goodbye to their Power Plant Mother Saturday, May 6, 2000.  That was the day that Juliene Alley, our Power Plant Mother was laid to rest.

You might think that a woman welder spending her time at a Power Plant welding tubes in the dark insides of the boiler during overhaul, or crammed up inside a bowl mill where the air you breathe can be as hot as 160 degrees Fahrenheit would fit the image of a broad shouldered tough woman that you wouldn’t want to meet in an Alley at night.   This in no way describes Juliene.  If I had a picture of Juliene, you would see a woman of small stature with a slightly worn countenance and a humble but confident expression with a slight smile that had been etched permanently  into her face from years of being content with whatever lot in life she had been dealt.

I am not able to say what her life was like before she arrived at the Power Plant in 1985 one week before her 34th birthday.  I know she had one son named Joseph Alley and she had been married to a man named Red.  For me, her life began when I first met her at the tool room waiting to get a tool from Bud Schoonover.  She was being treated with extra care by her welding crew.  They were very protective of her at first.  My first impression was that she was kind and soft spoken.

I didn’t work around Juliene for quite a while.   I don’t even remember if she had worked her way through the Labor Crew as we were required when I hired on at the plant.  I worked with Juliene only after the last downsizing when we were on the same cross-functional team in 1994.  By that time, the welders referred to Juliene as their “Mom”.

I never heard an unkind word come from Juliene.  It may have happened immediately following a Power Plant Joke had been played on her, but since it never would have occurred to me to play a joke on her, I only ever heard kind words from Juliene.  I’m sure her son  Joe could tell us more about that.  Juliene spent a lot of time working with Ed Shiever.  They were about the same height and it seemed to me that the two of them were paired often to work the same jobs.

Ed Shiever 15 years later

Ed Shiever

The title “Mom” wasn’t given to her as a ceremonial title just because of her gender.  When I watched Juliene with the welders, I could see and hear that she treated each one of the welders as if she was really and truly their Mother.  I have heard her scold them, put them in their places, and even calm them down when they needed to be put in “time out”.

Juliene did not die unexpectedly.  She died from a failing liver that lasted over many months.  It seems to me that her son Joe married his sweetheart Shauna a little earlier than intended so that it was in time for his Mother to attend the wedding in September 1999, eight months before she passed away.  The last time I talked with Juliene was when someone at the plant had called her in the hospital in Oklahoma City from the tool room telephone.  When I walked in the tool room to get a part, someone asked me if I wanted to speak with Juliene.

When I talked to her, I could tell that she was trying to be pleasant in spite of the knowledge that she only had about a week or two left.  I told her I would be praying for her.  She asked me if I knew where she could find a new liver.  I think I said something like, “I don’t have a spare one myself, but these machinists here are pretty good, maybe we can have one of them whip one up real quick.”

I have mentioned one of Juliene’s sons, Joe.  I have also mentioned Ed Shiever, who was a Power Plant Son to Juliene.  Here are some of Juliene’s other Power Plant children:

Noe Flores

Noe Flores

George Clouse

George Clouse

Robert Sharp

Robert Sharp

Mickey Postman

Mickey (Pup) Postman

Robert (T-Bone) Grover

Robert (T-Bone) Grover

Rod Meeks

Rod (Junior) Meeks

Robert Lewis

Robert Lewis

Kerry Lewallen

Kerry Lewallen

Chuck Morland

Chuck Morland

Dave McClure

Dave McClure

Earl Frazier

Earl Frazier

Bill Gibson

Bill (Gib) Gibson

With Ed Shiever, that makes over a dozen Power Plant Sons.  I’m sure there are others.  (If any others would like to be added, let me know, and if I have your pictures, I’ll post them here).

I attended Juliene’s funeral ceremony at the First Baptist Church in Pawnee on May 6, 2000.  The church was crowded that day with Power Plant Men.  Some had come from other Power Plants in the state to say goodbye to the Power Plant Mom we had all come to love.  Her Power Plant Sons stood up front and said their departing words to Juliene and to share their memories.

I have said in one of my early Power Plant Posts that each time a True Power Plant Man or Woman left the Power Plant that the character of the Power Plant would change.  The gift that Juliene Alley gave to the maintenance shop for many years was one of calm and civility.  I watched the welders over the years, and some of them began their Power Plant career with a less than “savory” attitude about life.  Over the years, I think the affect of having Juliene constantly in their lives tamed the welding shop to mold them into the respectable, caring, fine Power Plant Men that they became.  When Juliene left us that day at the Church, she left her character behind in her Power Plant Sons.

In memory of their Power Plant Mother, no character was lost from the Power Plant the day Juliene departed to tend to other pastures.  Eight months to the day of Juliene’s death on January 3, 2001, Joseph Edward Alley, her son, joined the ranks of Power Plant Men as he came to work at the Power Plant.  The joy of having the actual son of Juliene working in the plant was a reflection of how much we all loved his Mother.

Joe Alley with Juliene's new grandchild

Joe Alley with Juliene’s new grandchild

As you can see, Juliene’s family continues to grow.  Tomorrow we will be celebrating Mother’s Day.  Today, on Saturday, I remember back to Saturday May 6, 2000.  The day we celebrated our Power Plant Mother’s Day a week early.

Dynamic Power Plant Trio — And Then There Was One

I began writing this Power Plant blog on January 1, 2012.  The reason I did was because the first Power Plant Man I had met at the plant my first day on the job was Sonny Karcher and he had recently died.  I had always led Sonny to believe that someday I would be a writer and I would write stories about the Power Plant Men.

When Sonny died on November 11, 2011, and Saint Peter gladly welcomed him through the Pearly Gates (as they needed someone special to mow the grass on the green pastures), Sonny realized that I had never really intended to set the wonderful stories of great heroes of Power Plant Fame down on paper.

Sonny being Sonny, made sure to send messengers (of sorts) to me reminding me of the commitment I had made to him many years earlier (in 1979) to spread the Wisdom of Power Plant Men to the rest of the world.  What could I say?  I had told him when he asked if I was going to write about the Power Plant Men that “maybe…. I hadn’t thought about it…”  I knew that was just as good as a commitment to Sonny.

My very first Power Plant Post was about Sonny and how that first day on the job as a summer help opened up a whole new world to me full of wonders that some take for granted in the Power Plant Kingdom (see the Post “In Memory of Sonny Karcher – Power Plant Man“).

During the very first job I ever did with Sonny and Larry Riley, I went to the tool room to obtain a list of tools that to me sounded like the first of many Power Plant Man jokes that were to be played on me… As it turned out… there really was a tool called a “Come-along” and a soft choker and 3/4 box ends (who would’ve thunk it?).

When I went to the tool room to ask for these tools, as I walked up to the counter I came face-to-face with a tall bear of a man.  He had a grin on his face as he stood there at the gate to the tool room.  I would say he was a big man… bigger than Daniel Boone, who was also said to have been a big man (according to the song about him).

Bud Schoonover was his name.  When I asked him for the tools waiting for the joke to begin, he handed me each tool one-by-one as I asked for them.  As I left the gate carrying a load of tools in my arm I said, “Thanks Bud.”  He grinned back at me as if he knew…..  I wasn’t sure exactly what he knew, but he looked at me as if he did anyway.

That first encounter with Bud may have seemed relatively insignificant, but I have always remembered that moment as it is etched firmly in my mind.  I didn’t know it at the time that over the years Bud and I were going to become great friends.

I suppose that some day when I’m old (oh!  I’m almost there now!), and I can’t remember what stories I have already told to my grandchildren, if I ever have any, or to the person standing behind me in the line at the grocery store, I will tell them over and over again about the first time I ever met Bud Schoonover.  I will tell them that story as an introduction to all the other stories about Bud that I love to tell.

In past Power Plant Posts about Bud Schoonover, I have often said that there was something about Bud that reminded me of Aunt Esther on the TV Show, Sanford and Son, only a lot bigger, whiter and more male.

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

The reason was  that Aunt Ester had the same squint as Bud, and she would protrude her chin out the same way as Bud when he was telling you something important.

Tonight when I was eating dinner with my parents at the Olive Garden in Round Rock Texas, I asked them “Do you remember Bud Schoonover?”  My dad immediately said, “Yeah!  I remember Bud Schoonover!”  Not that he had ever met Bud in person…  He had only heard about him off and on for the last 36 years.  Everyone in my family knew Bud Schoonover.

Tonight I told my parents that Bud Schoonover died the Wednesday before last on May 27 (2015).  They were surprised to hear that.  My mom said, “How old was he?” (a common question asked by older people… I have found).

I had always talked about Bud as he was when I knew him, which made him seem timelessly younger.  I told them he was 76.  “Oh.  He was young” answered my 80 year old dad.  “Yeah Dad… He was.”  I responded.

I have written many posts where I talked about Bud Schoonover these past 3 1/2 years.  A couple were pretty much solely dedicated to spreading Bud’s special Wisdom about the rest of the world… as Sonny Karcher insists to this day…  My first post about Bud is called “Carpooling with Bud Schoonover“.  This is one of the first posts I wrote after talking about Sonny Karcher and Larry Riley, as Bud Schoonover has always been one of my favorite Power Plant Men of all time.

Last September I wrote a post called “Elvin Power Plant Tool Room Adventures With Bud“.  This post relays a number of my favorite stories about Bud.  The most endearing story is the one where Bud would never let you check out a tool or supply if it was the last one left.  It would crack me up the entire day when I would go to the tool room to get some supply only to have Bud tell me that he couldn’t let me have it because he only had one left.

As a new 18 year old summer help in 1979, Bud Schoonover offered me some advice that I decided to take.  As I was sweeping the floor of the Maintenance Shop near the tool room one day, Bud waved me over, and he said, “Let me tell you something.”  “What is it?” I asked.   He said, “Maybe it’s not such a good idea to wear a shirt that says ‘Kiss Me I’m Left Handed’ at a plant that’s just about made up of all guys (my sister had bought that shirt for me).  I decided that maybe he was right about that.  I couldn’t get away with it the way that Betty White (I think that was her name), another warehouse worker could when she wore the shirt that said, “Eat Your Heart Out! I’m married!”  That was Bud… looking out for me right from the start.

I mentioned earlier that Bud and I were destined to become good friends, and we did just that.  For three years from May 1986 to May 1989 we carpooled together with Dick Dale and Jim Heflin.  The Carpooling adventures came from the 750 round trips Bud Schoonover, Jim and Richard and I took to and from the Power Plant each morning.

Each day carpooling with Bud was special to me.  Three years may not seem like a long time in a person’s life, but we actually drove together around 750 days in those three years.  Each day.  Four larger men all crammed into one car.  My poor Honda Civic could hardly move when the four of us were in the car.  My gas mileage went from 40 miles per gallon down to 30 with all of us in the car.  — It’s true.  A 1982 Honda Civic 1300 would go 40 miles on a gallon of gas!

A 1982 Honda Civic

A 1982 Honda Civic

750 days of talking to Bud Schoonover, Dick Dale and Jim Heflin (well, Jim left after two years to try his luck somewhere else). Bud, Jim, Richard (I always liked calling Dick Dale, “Richard” though everyone else called him Dick) were the Dynamic Trio.  The three of them were the best of friends.  Each day as they drove to work I felt like I was a fifth (or a fourth) wheel invited to a family get together.  You couldn’t find three brothers closer than Bud Schoonover, Dick Dale and Jim Heflin.  They had carpooled together before I showed up in 1986.

I rarely think of any of these three men without thinking about the other two.  I picture them together all climbing out of my Honda Civic in the parking lot at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma after we had driven the 20 miles from Ponca City to the plant all crammed in my car.  It always reminded me of one of those circus cars that pulls into the tent during the show and a bunch of people come pouring out and you wonder how did all those big guys fit in that little car.

Clown Car found on Google Images

Clown Car found on Google Images

Last year I wrote a post about Dick Dale (see the post “Dick Dale and the Power Plant Printer Romance“).  that post begins with this sentence…. “When I first moved to Ponca City I carpooled to the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma with Dick Dale, Jim Heflin and Bud Schoonover.”  I wonder how many times my parents and my children (and my coworkers) have heard me begin a story with that sentence….

My daughter thought for many years that the one year in 1993 at the Christmas Party in Ponca City when Bud Schoonover dressed up as Santa Claus, that this Santa was the real one!  She told me on the way back home to Stillwater that she could look in Santa’s (Bud’s) eyes and tell that this Santa was the “Real Santa Claus!”  She was always so happy to have actually met the real one when everyone else just met Mall Santas.

In actuality, Bud was so shy when the Children came up to sit on his lap and tell him what they wanted for Christmas that he could only smile and look down at them with tears welling up in his eyes.  I remember when he looked over at me standing by as he was listening to my daughter.  He had nothing but love in his eyes.

In the story about the Printer Romance I mentioned that Dick Dale died on Christmas Day in the year 2008.

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

Now I am writing a post about the second person of the Dynamic Trio that has finally found their peace and are once again joined together as family.  Richard and Bud I know you are together again.  I know because today the two of you asked me to look for Jim Heflin, the third brother in your Power Plant Family.

So, before I sat down to write this post this evening, I opened Facebook at Bud’s and Richard’s urging and searched for Jim Heflin.  I don’t know how many there were, but there were a lot of Jim Heflins.  I didn’t know what Jim would look like since I hadn’t seen him for the past 27 years.  After scrolling down a few pages of Jim Heflins, one person caught my eye….  Could this be Jim?

One way to find out…. I looked at Jim’s friends, and sure enough….. There was Brenda (Bulldog) Heflin.  This was my long lost friend.  The last of the Dynamic Trio.  Still alive and still with the same eyes…..

You see… over the past years, I have written stories about Jim Heflin too…. See the post “Power Plant Adventures with Jim Heflin”  I have described Jim as giving you the impression of a friendly Hound Dog….

The Splittin' Image of Jim Heflin

The Splittin’ Image of Jim Heflin

Well, here is the Facebook picture of the Jim Heflin I found tonight.  I know it’s him.  He has the same eyes that used to roll around when he would walk up to me to pat me on the back and tell me some words of wisdom….

 

Jim Heflin

Jim Heflin

I have missed my friend Jim Heflin, along with Bud and Richard until today.  Now I feel like I have them back again.

Why did Richard and Bud want me to find Jim?   They wanted me to tell Jim that they are back together again after all these years.  I think they also wanted me to reach out to Jim for another reason as well…. Well… I’ll see about that…. How about it Jim?

I sent Jim a Friend request.  That sounds real funny to me.  To send a “Friend Request” to someone that I have held close to my heart since the first day I met him in May 1980.

Maybe some day Jim and I will be up there with Richard and Bud and we can go for a ride together….. I can see us now all crammed in that Fiery Chariot.  Bud telling us about the weather report…. “Sunny”… of course….  Jim staring out the window up at the sun trying to pull up a sneeze (as Jim would sneeze in sunlight some times)… Richard and I rolling our eyes at each other as the Chariot comes to a halt in the middle of the stars because some school bus full of little angels has stopped and put out the Stop Sign three clouds over…. — Sonny Karcher, out in the Green Pastures on his tractor mowing the grass smiling at me for finally writing these stories…

From now on, I will keep to the straight and narrow so that one day I can be up there with my friends.  All the True Power Plant Men that have gone before me.  For now, I will just remember them….

Let me just end by saying, “Way to go Bud!  I Love You Man!”

Bud Schoonover

My friend forever – Bud Schoonover

Power Plant Marine Battles with God and Wins

One thing I learned while working with Power Plant Men is always expect to be surprised.  I just didn’t quite expect one September morning in 1996 to have a Power Plant Engineer sit down next to me and tell me about the day when he decided to brutally murder his wife.  The eight Power Plant men sitting in a circle with their backs to each other working on computers all turned their chairs around and listened intently as Mark Romano, a Power Plant Engineer poured out his soul.

I had first met Mark Romano five years earlier at the Muskogee Power Plant when I went there for three days to be trained on how to troubleshoot the telephone system we used at the Power Plants.  It was called a ROLM system.  I gathered that Mark had coordinated the training and was sitting through the class as well.  The name of the course was “Moves and Changes”.  What a great name for a course on how to work on a telephone system.

A ROLM Phone Computer

A ROLM Phone Computer

Mark was a clean cut engineer from the power plant in Mustang Oklahoma.  He had just been hired by the Electric Company and was the type of person that you immediately liked because he seemed to have a confident stature and smile.  The look in Mark’s eyes was a little wild as if he was mischievous, which also made him an instant candidate to become a perfectly True Power Plant Man.  I didn’t know at the time that Mark had been in the Marine Corps.

The day that Mark decided to reveal his deep dark secret he was the coordinator of the SAP project the 8 Power Plant Men were working on at Corporate Headquarters.  To learn more about that project see the post: “Do Power Plant Men and Corporate Headquarters Mix?

SAP Logo

SAP Logo

It was clear when Mark entered our over-sized cubicle that day that it was specifically because he had something on his mind that he wanted to share.  Even though he began telling his story directly to me, after the rest of the Power Plant Men had turned their chairs and were sitting there in silence with their jaws dropped and their mouths open in astonishment, Mark stood in the middle of a circle sharing his story with all of us.

The story began ten years earlier when Mark was a U.S. Marine.  He was on an extended mission in Central America on some covert missions.  I figured it had something to do with Oliver North and El Salvador, but Mark didn’t go into that much detail about the actual mission.  He just mentioned that he had been out of pocket for some time while he was away on this particular tour of duty.

Marine Corps Flag

Marine Corps Flag

While sitting on the military plane flying home to Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City, a suburb of Oklahoma City, he was anxious to finally see his wife again.  He hadn’t seen her for a long time and was looking forward to coming back home.  The anticipation of returning home grew the closer he came to his destination.

As Mark disembarked from the aircraft families of Marines poured out to greet their Heroes who had put their lives on the line and their families on hold while protecting and serving their country.  Wives and children were hugging the Marine soldiers as Mark walked through the crowd looking around frantically for his wife.  He was searching for his wife who was not there.

I don’t remember the details of the story at this point, but I believe that Mark took a cab or a friend drove him to his home in Oklahoma City.  When he arrived home he met his wife at the door that told him that she had basically left him.  She had found someone else and Mark was no longer welcome in his own home.

I think at this point Mark went to temporarily stay at another soldier’s home while he worked out what exactly he was going to do with his life.  He didn’t really come back to a job waiting for him.  He had always been a Marine.  Mark has served his country in a covert war in a distant country that didn’t exactly measure up to Mark’s idea of “defending America from the Halls of Montezuma to the Shore of Tripoli” even though the “Halls of Montezuma” may not have been too far away from where Mark had been deployed.

Out of a job, a wife that had waited until he was on the front doorstep of his house to tell him that she had left him, and no where to go, Mark began to spiral down quickly.  The first stage of grief is denial.  Mark could not believe this was happening.  After serving his country, he comes home and finds that his wife has kicked him out of his own home. How can something like this be happening?  Just fall asleep on this couch and maybe when I wake up, it will all turn out to be a big mistake.

The second stage of grief is Anger.  This is a necessary stage in order to go through the process of grieving.  Sometimes we can process our anger quickly and move onto the next stage of grief toward healing.  Other times, Anger can become overwhelming.  Feuds can begin.  Wars between nations.  Husbands can murder wives.  An all consuming hatred can take hold which leads only to death.

This was where Mark’s grief had left him as he sat on the couch at his friends house.  He had nothing left in the world.  Nothing but Anger.  Sitting there staring at the wall of the apartment while his friend was at work, a plan began to take hold in Mark’s mind.  The plan centered around one thing…  Revenge.  Complete and total annihilation.  Murder and Suicide.

As if on auto-pilot Mark waited until the opportune time when his friend was gone.  Then he gathered his equipment, put on his khaki’s and put his assault rifle in his car.  He had planned his route.  He was driving to the neighborhood just down the street from his house, where he was going to park the car.  Then he was going to proceed through the neighbor’s backyard and attack from the back door.  He was going to kill his wife and then himself.  He was on the last mission of his life.

With all of his equipment ready, his car parked, ready to begin his assault, he stepped out of the car and onto the curb, ready to make his way across the backyard, suddenly he heard the quick burst of a siren from a police car and over a police car speaker a police man yelled, “Stop Right There!”  Instantly because of his experience in the Marines, Mark ducked down behind a transformer box that was right next to him.

A Transformer like this

A Transformer like this

The Police were waiting for him!  How could this have happened?  He hadn’t told anyone about his plan.  Maybe his friend had figured it out.  However the Police had figured out his plan, they were there now 50 feet away in a police car.  Mark decided that he would just have to go down right here.  This was it.  No one was going to take him alive.

A Policeman jumped out of the car, gun drawn… Mark prepared to leap up and begin shooting…  In the next few seconds… Mark was laying behind the transformer dead.  Pierced directly through the heart.

Just as Mark stood up to shoot the policemen, the officer ran around the car away from Mark.  He ran up into a yard on the other side of the car where he confronted someone who had just come out of the house he was robbing. Mark quickly ducked back down behind the transformer.

The officer had not been confronting him at all.  He was arresting someone who had been robbing a house.  He hadn’t even seen Mark!

Mark sat crouched behind the transformer and the sudden realization that he had just come face-to-face with God became clear.  Suddenly all the anger that had built up disappeared.  God had stopped him in his tracks and instantly pierced his heart with Love.

Mark laid there as if dead for some time while the arresting officer drove away with his prisoner.  When Mark finally stood up, he was no longer the Mark that had been alive the past 25 years.  This was a new Mark.  Some would use the phrase… Born Again.

In that one instance when Mark ducked back down behind the transformer, he relived the moment that Saul experienced on the road to Damascus.  In a flash he had come face-to-face with Jesus Christ.  The new Mark put his gear back in his car and drove back to the apartment and began to live his new life as if it was day one.

Sometimes it is when there is nothing left that you find everything.

Mark finished telling the Power Plant Men his story by saying that now he lives each day as if it is precious.  He has been saved for some purpose.  He lives with God in his heart.  I think we were all turning blue because we had forgotten to breathe for the last five minutes of Mark’s life story.  We finally all breathed a sigh of relief and felt the love that Mark had for each of us as he looked around the cube.

So, what did Mark do after he returned to the apartment back in 1986, ten years before he told us this story?  He decided to enroll in college at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater Oklahoma, where I lived.  He obtained a Mechanical Engineering degree and went to work in 1991 for the Electric Company at the plant in Mustang.

I wondered if he ever thought about the fact that he went to work for the same company that owned the transformer that Mark ducked down behind the day he fought his battle against God and Won.

A company engineer had decided one day years earlier while helping to plan a neighborhood that they needed to place a transformer right at this spot.  We make decisions each day that have consequences that we never know.  He never thought… “Yeah.  Place the transformer right there.  This will be needed some day by someone who needs to have a one-on-one with God who will convince him to be an Engineer for the very same company.

Mark has kept in touch with me through the years.  He sent me an e-mail around 2004 when I was working at Dell telling me that he had decided to obtain his pilot’s license.  He felt as if he should pilot an airplane.  He was even thinking about leaving the electric company to become a full time pilot.

A few years later, he became an FAA Licensed Private Pilot.  He sent me an e-mail that day letting me know.  Mark is now listed in the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airmen Certification Database and was recognized by the FAA on September 18, 2013 as a pilot that sets a positive example in the Aviation Business Gazette.

When Mark was telling us of his life and death experience, I was having flashbacks of a similar experience that had happened to me when I was in High School.  I bring this up only to mention that when I had come to the point where I had lost everything in my life, even my own sanity, I came face-to-face with a friend who pulled me out of it in an instant.  Only, it wasn’t Jesus Christ, as it was in Mark’s case.  It was a friend of his.  Saint Anthony.

St. Anthony of Padua

St. Anthony of Padua

Saint Anthony picked me up that one day when I was at the end of my rope, and since that time, I have felt the same joy in life that Mark experiences.  I believe that “coincidence” is a word we use to explain things that seem too unlikely to happen on purpose.  Some of us think that nothing is a coincidence.  Everything that happens has a purpose.

Some may say it was a coincidence that the exact moment that Mark stepped out of the car and a policeman yelled “Stop Right There!” to someone else….  Yeah.  I’m sure that happens all the time…

I didn’t wake up today knowing that I was going to write this story about Mark.  Before last week’s post about my friend Bud Schoonover, who died the previous week, I had told two stories about our experience in Corporate Headquarters where Mark Romano had been our project manager.  So, I thought, “Is there anything else about our time there that I could write about, and the story that Mark had told us had come to mind.

It was only at the end of the story that I thought about how Saint Anthony the “Finder of Lost Items” found me in the woods that winter day.  Saint Anthony’s feast day is today… June 13.

I thought it was fitting that Mark Romano became a pilot.  I think it has to do with his desire to be close to God.  To be soaring like an eagle close to the “heavens”.  Here is Mark’s LinkedIn photo:

Mark Romano

Mark Romano

 

Power Plant Saints Go Marching In

When I think back about the Power Plant Men and Women that I worked with for the 20 years I spent working at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, I still see them as they were back when I first knew them.  I was able to see them come to work each day willing to give all they had in order to keep the plant running smoothly.  I would find out sometimes that behind their stoic behavior of heroism was a person bearing enormous pain.

I will not go into the private lives of each of the Power Plant Men and the personal struggles in their lives beyond those that we all shared at the plant.  Some were bearing such enormous pain that all the Power Plant Men and Women shared their pain.  Others bore their pain in silence leaving the rest of us oblivious to the grief as they sat next to you in the truck or beside you tightening bolts, or checking electric circuits.

I remember a time when one of my best friends seemed to be acting short tempered for a while.  I figured something was eating at him.  Finally after almost a year he confided in me what had been going on in his personal life, and it broke my heart to think of the pain this person had been experiencing all along, while I had been annoyed at his quick temper.

It is an eye opening experience when the person I talked to every single day at work is being torn apart with worry and I didn’t even have a clue.  Well, the clues were there only I was too blind to see.

I began this post on a rather ominous note because one of the great Power Plant Men of his day, Larry Riley, died this past Wednesday, June 24, 2015.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about my Power Plant Friend Bud Schoonover passing away.  (See the post: “Dynamic Power Plant Trio — And Then There Was One“).  I mentioned some of the special times we had while we carpooled back and forth to Ponca City, Oklahoma.  I knew Bud was getting along in years, so when I heard about his death, I was not surprised.  I immediately pictured him back together again with Richard Dale, our travelling companion.

On Wednesday night when I was contacted by a number of Power Plant Men and Women who all wanted me to know right away that Larry had passed away, I was suddenly hit with a wave of shock.  I was overwhelmed with grief.  I broke out in tears.

Larry had been important to me from the very first day I worked in the Power Plant.  I worked with Larry and Sonny Karcher before I worked with anyone else.  My original mentors have both passed away now.

Of the 183 Power Plant Stories I have written thus far, the story about Larry Riley was one of the first stories I couldn’t wait to tell others.  You can read it here:  “Power Plant Genius of Larry Riley“.

Through my first years at the Power Plant Larry was there looking out for me when he had no other reason to do so than that he cared for others.  Some pseudo-Power Plant Men mocked him secretly for being a noble person.  Others didn’t have a clue what lengths Larry went to help out a person in need.

Since Larry’s death I have heard a couple of stories that Power Plant Men wanted to share with me about how Larry helped them out when there was no where else to turn.  Stories I heard for the first time.  I encourage any Power Plant Men who knew Larry to leave a comment below about him.

Larry was one of those people who used to bear his pain in secret.  He did the same thing with his love for others.  I had mentioned in the post about the Genius of Larry Riley that “…he performed acts of greatness … with complete humility.  I never saw a look of arrogance on Larry’s face.  He never spoke down to you and he never bragged about anything.”

Though Larry did his best to conceal it, there was always a hidden sort of sadden about him.  Since he had the wisdom and knowledge well beyond his years when he was only 24 years old, I figured he must have had a rough childhood that caused him to grow up quickly.  He was humped over as if he carried a burden on his back.  I thought maybe his sadness grew out of that experience.  Of course, I was only guessing.

Larry Riley 20 years after I first met him.  He has a much newer hardhat in this picture

Larry Riley 20 years after I first met him

After I first posted the story about Larry Riley, I was told by a Power Plant Man that Larry had been forced to accept an early retirement because he had a drinking problem.  The Plant Manager was kind enough to let him retire instead of outright firing him, which would have caused him to lose his retirement benefits.

When I heard that Larry was no longer at the plant and under what circumstances he left, my heart sank.  The sadness that Larry Riley had been trying to hide all those years had finally caught up with him in a big way and his world came crashing down.

I know that I am more like an “armchair observer” in the life of Larry Riley.  There were family members and friends that I’m sure were devastated by Larry’s downfall in a lot more ways than one.  Where I sit back and idolize the Power Plant Men as heroes, others are down in the trenches coming face-to-face with whatever realities happen in their lives.

Where others may look at Larry as a failure for developing a drinking problem that brought him to his knees, True Power Plant Men know full well that Larry Riley has a noble soul.  He has always been meant for greatness.

In the post about my last day on the Labor Crew, I wrote the following about Larry, who was my foreman while I was on the Labor Crew (see the post: “Last Days as a Power Plant Labor Crew Hand“):  “…Most of all, I knew I was going to miss Larry Riley… Larry was a hero to me.  I love him dearly and if I had ever had an older brother, I would have liked someone with the character and strength of Larry Riley.  He remains in my prayers to this day.”

I know I am not the only person that remembers Larry the way I do.  When Larry died this past Wednesday, as soon as the Power Plant Men found out, several of them sent me e-mails, and reached out to me on Facebook to let me know.    I think some of them wanted me to share Larry’s greatness with the rest of the world through this post.

As I felt the outpouring of grief from the Power Plant Men, I was overwhelmed by their sorrow.  I happened to be sitting alone in a hotel room in Detroit, Michigan when I first found out.  My phone kept buzzing (as I had it on vibrate) as one-by-one Power Plant Men sent messages letting me know of Larry’s death.  I could feel the sadness hanging over my phone like a fog.

As each message buzzed my phone, my sorrow over Larry’s death grew until I had to just sit on the corner of the bed and cry.  I have never felt more sorrow over the death of a Power Plant Man than I did for Larry Riley.

As I pictured Bud Schoonover meeting up again with Richard Dale after Peter open the gate for him, I pictured Larry Riley somewhat differently.  I envisioned him walking down a dirt road by himself.

In my mind this is what I saw:

As Larry walks away from me down the road humped over with bad posture, struggling to take each step, in pain from the cancer that killed him, seemingly alone, he pauses suddenly.  From the distance in my vision, I can’t quite tell why.  He turns to one side.

Almost falling over, as he walks like an old man to the edge of the road where the ditch is overgrown with weeds, he stumbles down into the brush.  Thinking that Larry has had a mishap, I move closer.

Suddenly I see Larry re-emerge.  This time standing more upright.  Alongside Larry is another Power Plant Man.  I recognize his gait, but his back is turned so I can’t tell for sure who he is.  He is much bigger than Larry.  Larry has his arm across the man’s back holding him up as the other Power Plant Man has his arm wrapped around Larry’s neck as Larry pulls him up onto the road.

The two continue walking down the road toward the sun rising on the horizon.  The Saints Go Marching On.

This is the Larry Riley I knew.

His funeral service will be held on his 61st birthday, July 3, 2015.

I know that those who really knew Larry will take a moment of silence to remember him.  Not for the sorrow that he felt through his life as I originally felt when I heard of his death, but take a moment of silence to remember a great man.  One who secretly inspired others toward goodness.  A man who went out of his way to lift up someone who had fallen along the side of the road.  My personal hero:  Larry Wayne Riley.

How Many Different Power Plant Man Jobs?

In the morning when a Power Plant Man drives through the gate at the plant, with the boilers and smoke stacks looming ahead of them, they know that whatever lies ahead for them can be any one of over 20,000 different Power Plant Man Jobs!  Yes.  That’s right.  There are over 20,000 separate jobs that a person can be assigned on over 1,000 different pieces of equipment.

Power Plant at sunset

Power Plant at sunset

The bravery brings to mind the “Charge of the Light Brigade” (by Alfred Lord Tennyson), where “…All in the Valley of Death rode the six hundred”… only there were about 44 He-men and Women to repair whatever was in need of repair that day.  And as in the commemorative poem about the Battle of Balaclava where “… Cannon to the right of them, Cannon to the Left of them Cannon in front of them… Into the Jaws of Death, Into the Mouth of Hell Rode the Six Hundred.”  Or 44 in the case of the Power Plant Men and Women.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

The Charge of the Light Brigade

It is true of the bravery possessed by True Power Plant Men and Women as they go about their daily quest for perfection.  Unlike the Charge of the Light Brigade, who through an error in the command structure was ordered to perform a suicide mission, Power Plant Men go into daily battle well prepared using the correct tools, Safety Gear, Clearance Procedures and the knowledge of how to perform any one of the 20,000 jobs that could be assigned to them on any given day.  (wait!  Did I just create an extremely long run-on sentence? — No wonder I could never get an A in English class!).

As Lord Tennyson Memorialized the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 by writing the poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, one day when I showed up to work during the spring of 1998, I was assigned a similar task at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.  “What’s that you say? Similar to writing the Charge of the Light Brigade?”  Yeah.  You heard me.  I was given the job of chronicling each and every task that a Power Plant Man or Woman could possibly ever perform at the Power Plant.

For the next three years, I spent 50% of my time at the plant sitting in front of a computer in the Master Print Room (where the master blueprints for the entire plant are kept) entering each task into the program called SAP.  You may have heard me mention this program before.

SAP Logo

SAP Logo

We had started using SAP a year earlier at the Electric Company.  The benefit of using this product was that it connected all of the functions of the company together into one application.  So, as soon as a Power Plant Man took a part out of the warehouse, it was reflected in the finance system on the Asset Balance sheet.  When our time was entered into SAP, the expense was calculated and charged to the actual piece of equipment we had been working on during that day.  It gave us a lot of visibility into where and how the company was spending their money.

This became even more useful if we were able to tell SAP more and more about what we did.  That was where Ray Eberle and I came in.  Ray was assigned to enter all of the Bill of Materials for every piece of equipment at the plant.  I was assigned the task of entering all of the possible jobs that could be performed at the plant into SAP.

I entered jobs into a section called “Task Lists”.  When I created a task about a specific job, I had to tell SAP all about how do perform that job.  This is referred to as “Expert Data” in the world of Enterprise Software. (sorry to bother you with all these boring technical terms).

Each task had to include any Safety Concerns about doing the job.  It included a list of instruction manuals for the equipment that needed to be repaired and where to find them.  I had to the include the Safety clearance procedure that needed to be performed in order to clear out the equipment before working on it.

The Task also included all the parts that could be used to fix the equipment if something was broken along with the warehouse part number.  Then I would add a list of tools that would be used to perform the job.  This would include every wrench size, screwdriver, soft choker, come-along, pry bar, and nasal spray that might be needed for the job (well, you never know… there could be job that required the use of nasal spray).  Ok.  You have me… I only threw that in there because I found this great picture of Nasal Spray on Google Images and this was the only way I think of to show it to you:

Nasal Spray

Nasal Spray

Finally I would list each of the steps that a person would take to fix the equipment they were assigned to repair.  This was a step-by-step procedure about how to perform the job.

My first thought when I was assigned the job of chronicling every possible job a Power Plant Maintenance Man could perform was “Great!  I will get to work on the computer!  Everyone will be glad to help me with this task as it will make their lives easier!”  Well… After I began the task of collecting information about the jobs, I unexpectedly found a lot of opposition to the idea of listing down each of the steps that a Power Plant Man performed to do their job. — Can you guess why?

Well… Yeah.  It’s true that I have an annoying personality, and sometimes I may come across as unpleasant, but that wasn’t the main reason.  Here is what happened….

When a Maintenance Order was created, one of the planners, Either Ben Davis (Planner 3) or Tony Mena (Planner 4) would flag the work order as needing a Task created for that particular job.

Ben Davis

Ben Davis

I would pull up the list of work orders and start creating the task list for that job.  I could tell who was assigned to it, so I figured I would just go up to them and ask them how they were going to fix the equipment.

I remember going up to the first person on my list (Earl Frazier) the first day and explaining to him what I was doing.  I asked him if he could tell me the steps to replacing the tail roller on belt 18 in the Surge Bin Tower.  His response was, “Why should I tell you?  You will just put all of that into the computer and then when you have described how to do all of the jobs, they can just get rid of us and hire some contractors to do our jobs.”

A conveyor Drum Roller similar to the one on the coal conveyor belts

A conveyor Drum Roller similar to the one on the coal conveyor belts

Oh… I hadn’t thought about that.  It seemed unlikely, because there is a big difference between having a low wage contractor working on something and a dedicated Power Plant Man.  There just isn’t any comparison.

In order to write up the task for this job, I just waited until the men were up in the Surge Bin Tower pulling the roller off of the belt, and I went up there and watched them.  I took notes of all of the tools and equipment they were using, and asked one of them the steps they were taking to get the new roller up to the tower, and how they were taking the old one out, etc.

Ok… I wasn’t going to do this… but I can feel your anticipation clear from here while I am writing this, that you really want to know what kind of tools it took to pull the roller from the Surge Bin Tower Conveyor belt….  Here is a list of just the tools needed….  just warning you… reading this list of tools just may cause you to drop whatever you are doing and drive out in the country to your nearest Power Plant and apply for a job…. just to warn you… if you don’t think that would be good for you, you may want to skip this next paragraph.

One 9 Foot Extension Ladder.  Two 1-1/2 ton come-alongs, and one 3/4 come-along. Two large pry bars, a 15/16 in. and 3/4 inch sockets, an air or electric impact wrench (to be used with the sockets).  An 8 foot step ladder.  One can of WD-40.  a 3/8 in. screwdriver.  Oxygen-Acetylene tanks with Torch, a Welding machine, two 8 ft. 2 by 4’s (that’s two pieces of wood).  A hammer, a 1/8 in. wrench.  One small pipe wrench.  One hook to hold up the roller.  Three extension cords, with adapters for the coal-handling safety plug-ins.  One 4 in. electric grinder.  Two 6 in. C Clamps and four 6 ft. Steel Chokers.

I decided that I would make things easier for myself up front by working on all of the electrician maintenance jobs first since I knew how to do most of those already.  So, I spent the first year almost solely working on Electrical and Instrument and Control jobs.  I could easily write the task lists for these, because I new all of the steps.

For instance… If I needed to take a clearance on the A Tripper Drive motor, I knew that the breaker was on the Motor Control Center (MCC) 13B Cubicle 1C already.  I didn’t have to even look that one up. (I often wondered what they were thinking when they put Tripper B on MCC 13B Cubicle 2B.  Why not put it in the same place (1C)  on the next Motor Control Center?  It would make things less confusing  — Just things I think about when I’m sitting on my “thinkin’ chair”).

Power Plant Thinkin' Chair

Power Plant Thinkin’ Chair

Some tasks were short and easy.  Others were novels.  Take “Elevator is Malfunctioning” Maintenance order.  I included all sorts of troubleshooting tips for that one.  I even drew a sort of diagram of relays showing how they should be picked up and dropped out as the elevator went up and down…   When the elevator was going up, I put in a table of relay positions like this (U means the relay is picked up, D means it is dropped out).  Those names at the top are the names of the relays.

Elevator DA UA HS 2LC LR LRD LRU
At Rest D D D D U D D
At Start up D U D U D D D
Running Up D U U U D D D
Slowdown up D D D U D D D
Slowdown 2 up D D D D D D U
Slowdown 3 up D D D D U D U
At Stop up D D D D U D D

I wrote a similar one for when the elevator was going down.

Anyway….I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Ray Eberle and I worked together side-by-side for most of the three years while I was writing the task lists (see the post “Tales of Power Plant Prowess by Ray Eberle“).  After I had written a number of novels about different Electrician jobs in the form of task lists, I began working on the general maintenance tasks.

After a while the Mechanics came around and saw the benefits of the task lists.  I remember one of the men who had been the most vocal about not telling me how to do his job (yes.  Earl Frazier) came up to me after I had written a task list about changing out the number 2 conveyor belt gear box and he asked me to add another wrench to the list.  He said, that they had to go all the way back down the belt at the coal yard, drive back to the shop and retrieve the wrench, all because they hadn’t taken it with them the first time.  I added it in a heartbeat and he left smiling.

Earl-Frazier

Earl Frazier

Every once in a while I would run across a Maintenance Order where I could be somewhat creative.  For instance, I had to write a task list about how to inspect the railroad tracks and right-away from the plant to where the tracks entered the town of Red Rock, Oklahoma about 5 miles away.

After explaining how the person connected the railroad truck to the tracks and drove on the tracks toward the growing Metropolis of Red Rock (population 282).  I explained about how they were to make sure that all the wildlife was being treated well.  I also said that when they arrived at Red Rock, they should go into the feed store and build up our public relations by striking up friendly conversations with the “locals”.

After completing over 10,000 different task lists…..  I had begun to get into a routine where I felt like my creativity was becoming a little stifled.  Then one day, Ray Eberle suggested that when I’m writing my task lists, I should think about how Planner 4 (Tony Mena) would like to see something a little more exciting than the usual…. “this is how you fix this piece of equipment” task list…

One day I remember writing a task list about something called a “Sparser Bar”.  A sparser bar is something that sprays water at the bottom of a sump to stir up the coal when the pump is running so that it doesn’t build up or maybe on a conveyor belt for dust suppression.  Anyway… One of the tasks I needed to write was for a person to “create a new Sparser bar”.

An iron pipe like this with holes in it

An iron pipe like this with holes in it

I wish I had the exact Task List that I wrote.  I know that many years later, Ray Eberle sent me a copy of it when he ran across it one day, but I don’t have it readily available, so I’ll just go by memory (until someone at the plant wants to print it out and send it to me).  I don’t know… I may be able to write a better one now…. let me see….

Here are the instruction:

  1. Cut a one and a quarter inch pipe 30 inches long.
  2. Drill 1/8 inch holes along the pipe so that you have exactly 24 holes evenly distributed across the pipe leaving at least 3 inches on either side of the pipe.
    1. If you accidentally drill 23 holes, then you should add an extra hole so that you end up with exactly 24 holes.
    2. If you drill 25 holes, then you should discard the pipe and start over again.
    3. Note:  Do not drill holes that are larger than 1/8 inches in diameter as this will be too big.  If you drill holes bigger than 1/8 inches, then discard the new sparser bar and begin again.
    4. Another Note:  Do not drill the holes smaller than 1/8 inches in diameter.  If you drill holes that are smaller than 1/8 inches, then obtain a 1/8 inch drill bit and use that to increase the diameter of the holes that you have drilled.
  3. Once you have exactly 24 holes in the new Sparser Bar, then rotate the pipe 30 degrees and drill 24 more holes in the exact same positions as the holes that are now 30 degrees from where you are going to drill the new holes.
    1. Note:  Do not drill the second set of holes at a 40 degree angle from the first set of holes as this is not the correct angle.  Only drill the holes at a 30 degree angle from the first set of holes.
    2. Also Note:  Do not drill the holes at a 20 degree angle, as this is also not the correct angle from the first set of holes.
    3. Caution:  If you find that you have drilled the second set of holes at an angle other than 30 degrees, please discard the sparser bar and begin again.
  4. Once you have exactly 48 holes (count them… 24 + 24) in the sparser bar, thread both ends of the pipe.
  5. After you have threaded both ends of the new sparser bar, put a metal cap on one end of the sparser bar.
    1. Note:  Do Not under any circumstance put a metal cap on both ends of the sparser bar as this will render the sparser bar useless because there will not be any way to attach the sparser bar to the water line.
    2. Caution:  If you find that you have accidentally put a metal cap on both ends of the sparser bar, then remove the metal cap from one end (and only one end) of the sparser bar so that it can be attached to the water line.
  6. After you have completed creating the new sparser bar with two rows of 24  1/8 in. holes each at an angle of exactly 30 degrees, then using a medium pipe wrench attach the new sparser bar to the water line.
  7. Align the holes on the sparser bar so that they will have the maximum desired affect when the water is turned on.

See?  Only 7 easy steps.  I think Tony Mena said he fell asleep trying to read my “Sparser Bar Task List”.  I seem to remember Ray Eberle telling me that Tony said, “Kevin’s a nut!”

So, I have one more story to tell you about writing task lists, and then I will conclude this post with the proper conclusive paragraph….

At the plant, every piece of equipment had their own “Cost Center”.  This came in handy when you were looking for spending trends and things like that.  The structure of the cost center was like this:  SO-1-FD-A-FDFLOP   — I just made that up.  It’s not a real cost center… I just wanted to show you the structure…. The first two characters SO represent the plant.  The following “1” represents the unit.  We had 2 units.  The FD represents a “functional area” like “Force Draft Fan.  The “A” represents the number of the piece of equipment, like A or B or C, etc…. depending on how many there are.  The FDFLOP is the piece of equipment.  In this case it might be a Forced Draft Fan Lube Oil Pump.

I’m explaining this apparently boring aspect of Power Plant Life, because I made an attempt to make it a little more interesting. Here is what I did…. The Ultra Clean water that goes in the boilers and are used to turn the turbine are stored in a couple of large water tanks in front of the main power transformer.  The code for their functional area just happened to be: “AM”.  So, when you were creating a task for working on a piece of equipment on the first of the two tanks, the Functional area would look like this:  SO-1-AM-A…..

See where I’m going with this?  It looks like it is saying… “So I am a….”  This quickly reminded me of Jim Arnold, who was the Superintendent of Maintenance.  The guy that had assigned me to write all of these task lists in the first place.  He always seemed like he was king of the jungle, so I thought I would have a little fun with this….

I created a completely new Functional Area Cost Center for this water tank for a non-existent piece of equipment…. I called it the “Gould Outdoor Detector”.  So, when I created the Cost Center string, it looked like this:  SO-1-AM-A-GOD.  For the Gould Outdoor Detector.  — I know… I was being rotten.

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

Then using this cost center (that looked like “So, I am a God”), I created a Task List called:  “How to be Superintendent of Maintenance”.  I added a lot of steps to the task about how you can humiliate your employees and over work them, and kick them when they are down, and stuff like that.  I don’t remember the details.  Anyway, that was a lot of fun.

I created task lists up until the day before I left the plant.  At my going away party Jim Arnold asked me how many task lists I had created in the last three years… the count was something close to 17,800 task lists.  Yeah.  That’s right.  I wrote over 17,000 descriptions of Power Plant Man jobs in three years.  Our plant had over three times more task lists in SAP than the rest of the entire electric company put together.

You can see that I was proud of some, like my the novel I wrote about Elevator Maintenance.  You can also tell that working side-by-side with Ray Eberle kept us both entertained during those years.  We were the best of friends when I left.  I don’t know how many times I just about passed out because I was laughing so hard while we worked together.

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

If I were to write Power Plant Tasks today, I think I would write the ones that aren’t assigned to a Maintenance Order… they would be more like “How to be a True Power Plant Man”.  It would be a novel that would describe the tremendous character of each and every True Power Plant Man and Woman that I learned to love during my stay at the “Power Plant Palace.”

Suppressing the Truth about Power Plant Coal Dust Collection

Some of you may be aware that an empty grain silo can explode if the dust from the grain is allowed to build up and an ignition source begins a chain reaction that causes the entire grain silo to explode like a bomb.  I haven’t heard about a grain explosion for a few years.  Maybe that is because a lot of effort is put into keeping the silo clean.  Think of how much easier it would be for a coal dust explosion.  After all… we know that coal when turned into a fine powder is highly combustible.

When you are covered in coal dust from head-to-toe day after day you seem to forget just how explosive the coal dust you are washing down can be.  Our coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma was concerned after our downsizing in 1994 that by eliminating the labor crew from the roster of available Power Plant Jobs, that the operators may not be able to keep the entire coal handling system free from coal dust.

The plant had already experienced a major explosion the year before (in 1996) the “Dust Collector Task Force” was formed (See the post: “Destruction of a Power Plant God“).  It was clear that the question had been asked by those concerned, “Are there any other areas in the plant that could suddenly explode?”  Two electricians were asked to be on the Dust Collection Task Force. Jimmy Moore and myself.

Jimmie Moore

Jimmie Moore

We had a salesman of our Dust Collector come to the plant and train us on the proper maintenance of the dust collectors that were already in place. When he arrived he showed us a video that showed examples of plants that had explosions caused by coal dust.  Here is a picture I found on Google of a coal dust explosion at a power plant:

Power Plant after a coal dust explosion

Power Plant after a coal dust explosion

We heard a story about a coal plant where the explosion began at the coal yard, worked its way up the conveyor system, blew up the bowl mills and threw debris onto the main power transformer, which also blew up.  Ouch.  We thought it would be a good idea to do something about our coal dust problems.  Stopping an ounce of coal dust is worth a pound of explosives… as the saying goes.

The Instrument and Controls person on our team was Danny Cain.  He had become a Power Plant employee a year before the downsizing and had been at the plant for about four years at this point.

Danny Cain

Danny Cain

When we began looking at our dust collectors, we found that the dust collectors on the dumper had been rusted out over the past 18 years since they were first put into operation.  the reason was that they were located down inside the dumper building below ground where they were constantly exposed to coal and water.  I hadn’t seen them actually running for years.  They were definitely going to have to be replaced with something.

Okay class… I know this is boring, but you have to learn it!

We had some fairly new dust collectors on the crusher tower and the coal reclaim, but they didn’t seem to be doing their job.  They used instrument air (which is clean, dehumidified air) in order to flush the coal off of some bags inside.  When they were installed, new instrument air compressors were installed in the coal yard just to handle the extra “instrument air” load for the dust collectors.  The very expensive and large dust collectors just didn’t seem to be doing anything to “collect” the dust.

Dust Collector System

Dust Collector System

You can see that the dust collector is very large.  You actually have to climb on top of them to change out the bags inside.

When the dust collector sales man came to talk to us about dust collection, in the middle of his “Proper Maintenance” speech he happened to mention something about…. “…and of course, if you don’t have the air pulse set at exactly 32 milliseconds, the dust collector isn’t going to work at all.”  “Wait!  What did he say?”  What pulse?”

He explained that Instrument air is puffed through the collector bags with exactly a 32 millisecond pulse at a predetermined interval.  If the pulse is longer or shorter, then it doesn’t work as well.  The idea is that it creates a ripple down the bag which shakes the dust free.  We had been studying our dust collectors in the coal yard, and the interval had been completely turned off and the instrument air was constantly blowing through the dust collectors.  This guy was telling us that it was just supposed to be a quick pulse.

Everyone in the room looked at each other with stunned silence.  The salesman just looked at us and said…. “It’s right there in the instruction manual….”  pointing his finger at the page.   We thought (or said)… “Instruction manual?  We have an instruction manual?”

We said,  “Class dismissed!  Let’s go to the coalyard after lunch and see about adjusting the “pulse” on the dust collectors.

In order to measure a pulse of 32 milliseconds, I needed the oscilloscope that I kept out at the precipitator control room to measure the “Back Corona” when trying to adjust the cabinets to their optimal voltage.  I ran out to the precipitator and retrieved it and brought it with me to the coal yard along with my tool bucket and my handy dandy little screwdriver in my pocket protector:

A pocket protector is a must for electricians and computer nerds who need a place to keep their small tools.

A pocket protector is a must for electricians and computer nerds who need a place to keep their small tools.

When we arrived at the crusher tower where the two long belts sent coal to the Power Plant 1/2 mile away, one of the belts was running.  coal dust was puffing around the equipment making the room hazy, which was normal.  Water hoses were kept running on the floor trying to wash at least some of the dust down the drain.  This was a typical day in the coal handling system.  Coal dust everywhere.

I opened the control cabinet for the dust collector and hooked up the oscilloscope.

I used an Analog oscilloscope like this until we were given a new Digital one where you could zoom in and do all sorts of neat things.

I used an Analog oscilloscope like this until we were given a new Digital one where you could zoom in and do all sorts of neat things.

When we arrived there was no pulsing.  The instrument air was on all the time.  So, I flipped a switch which put it in a pulse mode.  The pulse time was set up to the maximum setting of about a minute (that meant that when the pulse turned on, it stayed on for a minute).  As I was playing with the controls, three of the task force members were standing up on the walkway between the two belts watching the discharge from the dust collector (you see, after the dust collector collected the dust, it dropped it back onto the conveyor belt just up the belt from where the coal dropped onto the belt).  Nothing was coming out of the chute.

As I adjusted the setting down from one minute to one second, I had to keep changing settings on the oscilloscope to measure how long the air took to turn on and off.  When I finally had the pulse down within 1/10 of a second (which is 100 milliseconds), then I could easily measure the 32 millisecond interval that we needed.  I was beginning to think that this wasn’t going to really do anything, but I remembered that I had seen stranger things on the precipitator controls where the difference between a couple of milliseconds is like night and day.

When the pulse was down to 35 milliseconds I looked up toward the conveyor system because I heard a couple of people yelling.  They were running down the walkway as coal dust came pouring out of the dust collector chute causing a big cloud of dust to puff up.  We all ran outside and waited for the dust to settle.  We felt like cheering!

We were practically in disbelief that all we had to do was adjust the pulse of air to the right millisecond pulse and the dust collector began working.  This meant a lot more than a working dust collector.  This also meant that we needed only a fraction of the instrument air (literally about 1/20,000) than we had been using.

In other words.  The new Instrument Air Compressors at the coal yard that had been installed to help boost air pressure at the coal yard since the installation of the dust collectors were really never needed.  And all this was done by turning a screwdriver on a small potentiometer in a control cabinet.  It pays to read the manual.

a small Power Plant potentiometer like this

a small Power Plant potentiometer like this

Along with some rewiring of the controls to the dust collector system, and a redesign of the apron around the dust chutes by Randy Dailey and Tim Crain, the coal handling areas became practically dust free as long as regular preventative maintenance was performed.

Tim Crain

Tim Crain

Randy Dailey, known as Mr. Safety to Real Power Plant Men

Randy Dailey, known as Mr. Safety to Real Power Plant Men

That is, everywhere except for the coal dumper.  This is where the coal trains dump their coal into a hopper which is then carried on three conveyors out to the coal pile.

A view of the coalyard from the top of the Smoke Stack

A view of the coalyard from the top of the Smoke Stack

You can see the conveyor going up to the building right next to the coal pile.  That is from the dumper which is the small off white building next to the fly ash silos.  The crusher tower is the tall thin building at the end of the long belts going up to the plant.

We still had a problem with the dumper.  The cost of buying new dust collectors and putting them outside where they wouldn’t be so quickly corroded by the harsh environment was “too costly”.  Jim Arnold, the maintenance Supervisor made that clear.  We had to come up with another solution.

Without a dust collector, the solution was “Dust Suppression”.  That is, instead of collecting the dust when it is stirred up, spray the coal with a chemical that keeps the dust down in the first place.  This was a good idea, except that it had to be turned off for three months during the winter months when it could freeze up.

A company called Arch Environmental Equipment came and talked to us about their dust suppression system.

Arch Environmental

Arch Environmental

They showed us something called:  The “Dust Shark”.

Dust Shark by Arch Environmental

Dust Shark by Arch Environmental

The dust shark sprayed the belt on the side with the coal and scraped the bottom side in order to make sure it was clean when it passed through.  This was the solution for the dumper.  It also worked well at other locations in the plant where you could use it to keep the area clean from coal when the coal was wet from the rain and would stick to the belt.

The task force was considered a success.  I have two side stories before I finish with this post.

The first is about Danny Cain.

Danny was a heavy smoker.  He had a young look so that he looked somewhat younger than he was. He had been born in July, 1964 (just ask the birthday phantom), so he was 33 during July 1997 when we were working on the task force, but he looked like someone still in college.  Whenever he would pull out a cigarette and put it in his mouth, he suddenly looked like he was still in High School.

I told Danny that one day.  I was always one to discourage people from smoking….  He seemed a little hurt, and I said I was just calling it like I saw it.  He was standing outside the electric shop smoking one day, so I took the air monitor that I used when I had to go in the precipitator and asked Danny if I could borrow his lit cigarette for a moment.

Confined Space Air Monitor

Confined Space Air Monitor

I put the butt of the cigarette up to the intake hose for the monitor about long enough for a puff and then I handed it back to him.  The monitor measures the amount of Oxygen in the air, the amount of explosive gases, the amount of Carbon Monoxide and the amount of H2S gas (Hydrogen Sulfide, an extremely toxic gas).  The monitor, as expected began beeping…

What we didn’t expect to see was that not only did the Carbon Monoxide peg out at 999 parts per million, but the H2S went out the roof as well.  In fact, everything was bad. The Percent explosive was at least 50% and the oxygen level was low.  It took about 5 minutes before the meter measured everything clean again.  Danny didn’t want to see that.

I said, “Danny?  Carbon Monoxide Poisoning!  Hello???!!!”

When we were on the Dust Collector Task Force, at one point we had to program “Programmable Logic Controllers” (or PLCs).  I had been to an Allen Bradley school a few years earlier where we had learned the basics for this.  Here is my certificate from 9 years earlier…

PLC Training Certificate

PLC Training Certificate

When Danny and I sat down to program the controller, it became clear that he expected the programming task to take a couple of weeks.  He started out by drawing some high level logic on the white board.  I said… “wait… wait…  let’s just start programming the thing.”  He told me that wasn’t the way we did things.  First we had to figure out the entire program, then we would program it.

The PLCs we were going to program were just some small ones we had bought to run the dust sharks and the dust collectors… Here’s one like it.

MicroLogix PLC like we were programming

MicroLogix PLC like we were programming

I told Danny when I program something I find that its a lot easier and quicker if we just program it as we understand the requirements and then that way we can test it as we go.  Then when we figure out what we need, we will be done.  In fact… it took us 4 hours and we were done… not two weeks.

End of the Danny Cain Side Story…. On to the second side story… much shorter….

I think it was March 2003 (the power plant men can remind me)…. a year and a half after I had left the plant, the Coal Dumper blew up.  It was the middle of the night, a coal train had finished dumping the coal about an hour earlier.  No one was in the dumper at the time and the entire dumper exploded.    The roof of the dumper, as I was told, was blown off of the building.  No injuries or deaths.  The “Dust Shark” Dust Suppression system had been turned off because it was winter.

I suppose that the insurance company ended up paying for that one.  I don’t know.  This is what happens when you say that it is too expensive to replace the dust collectors and instead you buy one of these:

Power Plant Feather Duster

Power Plant Feather Duster

Mr. Frog’s Wild Power Plant Ride

I woke up from a dream this past Wednesday where I had just insulted a young lady who had cancer treatment by calling her “baldy”. In the dream I was attempting to be funny, but as soon as I said it, I knew I had crossed the line of common courtesy. I acknowledged right away that “I shouldn’t have said that”, and rose from my chair to go find whoever it was so that I could apologize. In my dream I was never able to find the person, though I thoroughly searched whatever restaurant-factory-office building we were in. You know how thing are in dreams.

I preface this post with that thought because someone may take offense to the title I have chosen today. So, let me just say that this is a story about someone that has been the source of constant conversation in my family for the past 30 years. Though I never refer to him as “Frog”, that is a title reserved for one of this man’s best friends. It is an expression of friendship bestowed upon Walt Oswalt by Ray Eberle.

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

Ray Eberle is the most amazing storyteller of our time.  He captivated Power Plant audiences for the past 40 years up until the day he recently retired.  I have heard hundreds of stories by Ray, but none of them were ever said with more compassion and humor than the stories that Ray Eberle would tell me about our fellow Power Plant Man, Walt Oswalt.

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

I used to think that Walt’s parents name him Walt so that it would be easy for him to spell his entire name.  Once he learned his first name, he just had to add an OS to it, and he could spell his last name.  Well, actually, his full name was Walter Lee Oswalt.  But whose counting?  I also thought that OD McGaha (prounounced Muh Gay Hay) was in a similar situation, because OD simply stood for OD  (prounounced O-D or Oh Dee).   Not to forget Dee Ball.  I’ll bet all of these guys could spell their names by the time they graduated the third grade.

Look closely at Ray Eberle’s picture above, because if you look closely into his eyes you can see that back behind those orbs, thousands of wonderful stories are packed in there waiting to be told.  I don’t know if I have mentioned this in a post before, but Ray looks just like my grandfather when he was younger.  I think I mentioned that to Ray one day.  Since those days when we used to sit side-by-side working on the computers in the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, I have loved Ray with all my heart as if he is a member of my family (see the post:  “Tales of Power Plant Prowess by Ray Eberle“).

Even though this post is about Walt Oswalt, I am spending an unusual amount of time talking about Ray, because the stories I am about to relay are told through the eyes of Ray.  I have already passed on some stories about Walt in other posts, so I will focus on those stories about Walt experienced by Ray.  I will only scratch the surface today, as it takes some time to absorb the universal significance of each story.  If I flood you with too many  Walt Oswalt stories at once it may cause confusion.  I appreciated the fact that Ray didn’t lay all his Walt Oswalt stories on me in one sitting for this very reason.

Ray Eberle began his stories about Walt by telling me about going over to Jimmy Moore’s new house.  Jimmy had just moved into a new house outside Morrison Oklahoma not too far from Ray.  Ray described how nice the property was at the time.  It was a picture perfect piece of property.  The surrounding fields were pristine giving the feeling of peace when you looked around.

Jimmie Moore

Jimmie Moore expression after moving into his nice house

Note the Sparco notepad in Jimmy’s pocket.   A Power Plant Electrician Necessity, just like the notepads I always used:

My Power Plant Sparco Wirebound Memo Book

One of My Power Plant Sparco Wirebound Memo Books

Just when Ray was soaking in the perfection of Jimmy’s new property, dreaming that he could have found such a great spot, Jimmy mentioned that Walt Oswalt bought the property across the road.  Ray’s response was “Frog bought the land across the road?  Oh no!”  Not wanting to upset Jimmy, he didn’t say anything else, but he was thinking it….  You see, Walt is sort of a “junk collector”.

I have always been a junk collector myself, as you may have figured out by the fact that I still have a notepad left over from Christmas 1995.  Actually, I could take a picture of the Sparco notepads I have kept from my time at the power plant and it would look like this:

My personal collection of used Power Plant Sparco Notepads

My personal collection of used Power Plant Sparco Notepads

So, I was a note taker…  Each page of these notepads are filled with work order numbers, part numbers, phrases I heard, Things Gone Right, Things Gone Wrong meeting notes, Meeting schedules, tools needed, and sometimes just thoughts that came to my mind.  I am mentioning this because I have this common bond with Walt.  We both like to collect things that others see as “junk”.

Ray was worried that after Walt moved in across the road that the Beatrice Potter Meadow was going to change into Fallout 3  terrain (well, my phrases, not his, but I think you can picture what I am saying).  From what I understand, this is what happened.  — This by the way is not a Walt Oswalt Story.  This has been more of a Jimmy Moore story.

I have been waiting so long to actually write down a Walt Oswalt Story that I actually find it hard to bring myself to put it down on virtual paper, but here goes….

Here begins the first Walt Oswalt Story:

In the mid-90s the Internet was something of a new phenomenon.  I had taught most of the Power Plant Men how to use the Internet (excluding upper management)  as you can read in the post:  “Power Plant Quest for the Internet“.  One person who immediately saw the benefit of using the Internet beyond looking up indecent pictures or connecting with clandestine online “Match.com” experiences was Walt Oswalt.  Walt saw “business opportunity”!

So, follow me on this story, because Walt stories can become complicated on paper because I can’t talk using my hands.  I may need some help from Walt’s son Edward, since he played a major role in this one…

One day, Walt and Ray were talking and Walt told Ray that he was looking at buying a dump truck.  Let me just show a picture of a dump truck, even though I don’t know the specific truck Walt had in mind.  I just know the approximate size:

A Ford Dump Truck

A Ford Dump Truck

Let’s just suppose that it is a truck like this….  anyway, Walt explained to Ray that he could buy the truck he wanted up in Wichita one hundred miles away.  However, Walt wasn’t going to do that.  He had found the same truck on the Internet for sale for $500 cheaper near Virginia Beach, Virginia, 1,400 miles away.

Ray asked, “But isn’t it going to cost you more than that to have the truck shipped to Oklahoma?”  “Oh, I have that all figured out.  I’m going to go pick it up myself.”  He went on to explain that he and his son (this is where Edward enters the story) were going to drive non-stop to Virginia Beach and pick it up.  They won’t have to stop because they can trade off driving while the other rests.

A Flat Bed Trailer

A Flat Bed Trailer

So, a marathon trip for 2,800 miles was planned.  Walt had a trailer attached to his truck to bring the new truck back… Though I’m not sure why the thought that they could just drive the new truck home wasn’t considered (or flying out there and driving the truck back, but then, that would cost more than the $500 they were saving by buying the truck)….  The plan was that they would load the truck on the trailer and haul it home.  Maybe it was so that they didn’t have to stop because they could swap off driving if they were only driving one of the two trucks.

Two members of the Oswalt family took off for the East Coast one Friday evening.  They arrived early Sunday morning at the place of business where they were going to purchase the truck.  From what I understand, the business was closed, (being Sunday, and all), so they called the owner and told him they were there to pick up the truck.  After waiting a few hours, the truck was purchased, and Walt and Edward were on their way back home.

A couple of days later, Ray noticed that Walt had made it back home, so he went over to his house to see how he managed.  Obviously, after travelling 2,800 miles in four days, the two were bushed, but the new truck was finally home.  While Ray was talking to Walt about his trip, he happened to notice that the back of the dump truck was loaded with blown out tires.

“Hey Walt, what’s up with all the tires?” Ray asked.  “Oh.  Those.” Walt replied….  “Well, the trailer wasn’t really big enough to carry this much weight, so we kept blowing out tires on the trailer when we were coming home.”  They must have blown out more than 20 tires driving home.  So, it seems to me that this turned out to be a pretty costly savings of $500.

I would leave this story at that, but after a couple of trips to Los Angeles and back from Round Rock, TX, I have to say that spending countless hours with your family in the car where there is nothing to do but to talk to each other is an incredibly priceless experience.  Once, my son Anthony and I drove the same distance, 1400 miles non-stop from Los Angeles to Round Rock without stopping and we talked the entire time.  I would say it is an experience worth a million bucks.

The night before last, I received a message on Facebook from a Power Plant Technician, Doug Black.  He wrote:  Sooner retiree, Walter Oswalt passed away on September 30, 2015.  Walter will be laid to rest at Yukon Cemetery with a grave service on October 23, at 2 p.m.

Doug Black

Doug Black

I looked up Walt’s Obituary, and it seemed to me that there was one phrase missing from the description.  It said that “Walt had went to work for OG&E in Mustang Oklahoma and later retired from the OG&E plant in Redrock…”  I didn’t see the words, “Power Plant Legend” mentioned anywhere in the Obituary.  It should be mentioned, because that’s exactly who Walt Oswalt is.

I may not have had the benefit of sitting in a truck with Walt for 20 hours at a time, but I was able to work one-on-one with Walt one day for 19 hours straight on a Saturday when we were on “Coal Cleanup” that had turned into a job repairing conveyor belt rollers.  During that day, while I was a young man of 20, I went through the motions directed by Walt to remove and install rollers on the number 10 belt up toward the top.

Coal conveyor carrying coal to the coal silos from the coalyard

Coal conveyor carrying coal to the coal silos from the coalyard

I didn’t have much of a clue about what I was doing, but I had placed all my confidence in Walt.  I felt the entire time as if Walt was keeping me safe in a potentially unsafe situation even after being awake for 19 hours.  So, I have a little knowledge of what the road trip was like that Walt and his son Edward took “There and Back Again.”

It may seem that Walt had made a bad decision to make the Internet Purchase of a truck 1,400 miles away in order to save $500, but I think that God helps us along some times by sending us down a path that seems a little foolish, only to force us into a benefit we would not otherwise encounter.  I keep Walt in mind whenever things like that happen to me today and I thank him for keeping me from being disappointed with those times in my life.

Now that Walt has met his maker, I’m sure that Walt is sitting there with Jesus Christ reviewing not only Walt’s life, but also Ray Eberle’s retelling of Walt’s story.  Walt may now be surprised to find that moments that he thought were rather insignificant to anyone but himself have actually been spread to others across the world.  As I mentioned in the post about Ray Eberle, a few years ago, CEOs of large companies across the U.S. were all learning about the “Wisdom of Walt”.  Some day I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the Walt Oswalt Stories have become required reading in Oklahoma Schools.

Rest in Peace Walt Oswalt.  We all love you.

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

Power Plant Families Experience Pain

If I were to create a list of each time a tragedy occurred in the life of the Power Plant Men and Women of our plant, it would be quite long.  Most of the tragedies go unnoticed because when a Power Plant Man enters the front gate, an attempt is made to leave the rest of the world behind so that their full attention can be focused on returning home safely at the end of the day.

Sometimes the tragedy is too much to put aside.  Sometimes the tragedy is so devastating that the entire character of the person is shaken.  Sometimes it is only one’s Faith in God and in the fellow Power Plant Men that the heart is kept beating.

Just as in a small town like Mayberry (from the Andy Griffith Show), everyone knows everyone’s business in a Power Plant.  This was true when I worked as an electrician in the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.  There were some people you were closer to than others, but whenever there was a tragedy in anyone’s life at the plant, everyone felt the pain.

In everyone’s life, there is always a loss of loved ones.  This is expected in most cases.  When someone’s Mother died, we knew that a certain amount of grief would be felt.  Those weren’t “tragedies” per se, unless the death was unexpected or caused by an accident.  Power Plant Men know that death is a part of life.  They would be there to comfort each other during those times.

The most devastating tragedy that one can imagine is the loss of a son or a daughter through a tragic accident.  In this post I will focus on two times when I worked at the Power Plant when True Power Plant Men lost their sons through a tragic accident.  I bring up these two events because I wish to share the grief that was felt by the entire community at the time.  I think this is important because times like this help define the character of everyone involved.

Ron Hunt was born November 2, 1948.  He graduated from Ponca City High School in 1966.  He had a number of jobs before being hired in 1981 at the Power Plant as a mechanic.  After working at the plant for almost 20 years, one day his crew had to work late into the night to repair the Number 2 Conveyor Belt.

Ron Hunt

Ron Hunt

Some time around 2 am, when the work was almost done, the counterweight for the belt that weighs at least 5 tons, that had been welded in place to keep the weight off of the belt while they were working on it, was being cut loose in order to put the belt back into service.  At this point the entire crew had been working for over 18 hours without much of a break.

The counterweight, which is used to keep the the belt tight, was bolted to the railing so that when the plates were cut off the weight wouldn’t fall.  Ron Hunt was standing on the counter weight working with the others to cut the weight loose.  As the plates were cut using blow torches, the weight gave way, and dropped.

The bolts that were used to hold the weight in place had not been tightened.  After working 18 hours, and not being mechanical engineers who understand the importance of tensile strength in bolts that are tight as opposed to bolts that are loose, the group of men didn’t know that the loose bolts didn’t have the strength to hold the weight in place.  Especially if the weight dropped an inch before hitting the bolts.

Because of this circumstance, the weight fell to the ground with Ron standing on top of it.  As it fell, Ron scraped his leg causing a serious gash down the side of his leg.  He was rushed to the hospital, where after a couple of months he was able to report back to work at the plant.

Not long after Ron Hunt had returned to work, one afternoon, his son was driving a Coca Cola Truck, or some other beverage truck from Ponca City down Highway 177 toward Stillwater.  About 5 miles after passing the plant where his father worked, as he was approaching the railroad tracks that go through Morrison Oklahoma, a train suddenly appeared from behind the tree line.  The lights on the railroad crossing turned on and the arms began to lower.

As most Power Plant Men that lived south of the plant knew, whenever a train was approaching that particular crossing, the warning light and the arms didn’t start coming down until the train was almost at the crossing.  Many of us had the experience of trying to come to a fast halt when suddenly the light turned on while we were within 100 yards of the tracks and a train suddenly appeared from behind the trees.

This is what happened to Ron Hunt’s son that day.  The truck was not close enough to the tracks to avoid hitting the crossing arms that suddenly dropped down, and was too close to the tracks to stop a truck full of product.  Skid marks were left where the Ron’s son had desperately tried to stop the truck in time.  Unfortunately, he was not able to stop before crossing the railroad track directly in front of the train.  He was killed in a fiery crash as the engine of the train derailed.

For weeks on the ride home from work, when we approached the railroad track, we would see the railroad investigators working on the accident.  Each day, as we crossed the tracks we were reminded of the tragedy.  We would think about what Ron Hunt was going through.  We could only imagine what Ron was going through.

Jim Kirkendall worked in the Coalyard from the first day he arrived at the Power Plant, March 19, 1979.  This was just a month and a half before I showed up my first summer to work as a summer help.  The plant was still under construction, so I met Jim when I would go to the coalyard to work with Gary Michelson or Jerry Mitchell when we were filtering all the oil in the plant through the blotter press.

An Oil Blotter Press Similar to the one we had

An Oil Blotter Press Similar to the one we had

Jim has red hair and reminded me of an English detective, much like Philip Jackson who played Inspector Japp in the British TV series “Poirot”:

Philip Jackson playing Inspector Japp in "Poirot"

Philip Jackson playing Inspector Japp in “Poirot”

Jim Kirkendall experienced such a tragedy one day that the entire plant was stunned into sorrowful silence when they learned what happened.  The day was June 10, 1998.  When his son was late coming home that day in Morrison Oklahoma, Jim went out to look for him in the pasture where he had been baling large bales of hay.

Large Round Hay Bale

Large Round Hay Bale

As Jim approached looked out over the pasture, he could see the tractor with the baler attached, and the bale of hay that was still attached was on fire.  As Jim quickly approached the baler, he found that his son Jim Aaron had been caught in the baler and had been baled up in the round bale that was on fire.

I don’t know how anyone can remain alive after coming across a scene where your very own 17 year old son has been killed in such a way.  I think the grief alone would have been so suffocating that I would have died right there on the spot.  Somehow Jim survived this experience.

I bring up both of these tragic events today, because in order to understand the bond that exists between the Power Plant Men and Women who have worked side-by-side at a Power Plant for many years, it helps to know that when tragedies like these occur, the entire group of Power Plant Men is changed.  Even though the events themselves are tragic, the resulting change in the character of the plant is improved.

Times like these have taught the Power Plant Men and Women who they really are inside.  It turns out that they are all men and women of great compassion.  They joke about it at times with Safety stickers like this:

The phrase was: 'Cause I Love You Man!

‘Cause I Love You Man!

This hard hat sticker expresses the bond that exists within the Power Plant family more than it was originally intended.  After Randy Dailey gave me a stack of these a few years after I left the plant, I have kept these stickers handy to remind me of that bond.

I was reminded of this bond this past week when Ben Davis reached out to me to let me know that Ray Eberle’s wife Barbara passed away the previous Friday.  I knew that Barbara was very ill, and that Ray has been by her side almost constantly for the past year caring for her, so I was not surprised by the news.

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

Ray’s nickname for me is “little buddy”.  I follow his family on Facebook and up until the very end when Barbara was very sick, whenever she would post something on Facebook it was very positive.  A proud grandparent.

I left the plant over 14 years ago.  Yet, what happens in the lives of my Power Plant Family is just as important to me today as it was the day I left.

I know that Ray grieved when Barbara died, but I also know that he had a feeling of joy at the same time.  His wife Barbara had been struggling with her health for a long time.  Ray knows that now her life is finally fulfilled.  No more pain.

Ben Davis sent me an e-mail shortly after he learned about Barbara.

Ben Davis

Ben Davis

Not because I asked him to keep me informed about Power Plant News.  He told me what happened because we are part of the same family, and we share each other’s joys and sorrows.

Even though Ray has been retired for the last few years, he is still as much a part of the family as I am, and I have been gone for 14 years.

I suppose some day in the not too distant future, everyone I know from the Power Plant will have retired or passed away.  Some day there will even be a video online of the entire plant being destroyed as it is bulldozed under to make way for newer technology.  The lives of these brave Power Plant Men will not be forgotten.

The lives of the Power Plant Men are etched into eternity.  Not because they pushed countless electrons down wires to light up houses, but because of the bond that exists between them.  Because the love that Power Plant Men and Women have for each other is the type of Love that comes from God.