Category Archives: Life

Interview Adventures of a Power Plant Electrician

Back in November 2015 I wrote a post about how in November 2000 I realized that I was probably going to have to leave the Power Plant because I was not able to apply for an IT job in my own company.  You can read about it here:  Crack in Power Plant Armor leads to Gaping Hole in Logic.  A month later I wrote a post about how I was moving to Round Rock Texas to work for Dell:  The Heart of a Power Plant.  I thought it would be interesting to describe my experience interviewing with different companies.  The difference between companies was very noticeable.

One of the first companies I interviewed with was ABF, a trucking company.  ABF stands for “Arkansas Best Freight”.  The headquarters was in Fort Smith, Arkansas.  After my first interview they asked me to drive to Arkansas for a second interview, which I did on my day off (as we were working 4 – 10s at the time, we had some weekdays off).  I took my wife Kelly and the kids with me and made a trip out of it.  They fed us a lunch and paid for my driving expenses and they drove us around town.  I think I was more interested in the nearby Nuclear Power Plant than I was ABF.

ABF Freight

After it was all said and done, they decided not to hire me.  They were looking for someone younger who wasn’t such a troublemaker.  — I had explained how I wrote the program that wrote the script language for GLink so the foremen could take their work home and still do their mainframe work.  You can read about that here:  Power Plant Men Take the Corporate Mainframe Computer Home.

I think it was when I described the Birthday Phantom application to them, that they became a little wary.  After all, it did end up sending emails to the user from themselves announcing that it was someone’s birthday that day.  — 10 years before Facebook came around and now does the same thing.  You can read about that story here:  Power Plant Birthday Phantom.

When they sent me a polite rejection letter telling me they decided not to hire me, I wasn’t surprised.  Kelly was relieved, because she wasn’t looking forward to a possible move to Arkansas.  Even though I wasn’t surprised, Kelly was.  She figured anyone would want to snatch me up if they had the chance.  When she asked me “What’s the deal?” I just replied, “I don’t know.  I think they want someone younger they wouldn’t have to pay so much.”  We just breathed a sigh of relief and moved on.

Another company I wasn’t too excited about was DST Systems in Kansas City.  They housed the Mutual Fund transactions for all but a couple of the Mutual fund companies in the US.  I had grown up in Missouri and I had a lot of Italian relatives living there.  I had spent a lot of time there.  The company flew me up there and put me in a nice hotel for the night.

DST Systems

Then the next morning they gave us a tour of their data center that is inside a cave on the south side of Kansas City, 5 miles from my Aunt Ginny’s house.  They were real proud of the fact that their data center contained 70 Terabytes of data!  That’s funny to think about today.  Just a couple of years later, Dell’s data warehouse had over a Petabyte of data, or 1000 Terabytes.

After the tour of the data center in the cave, (where I was more impressed by their back up generators, since they looked like the ones we had at our power plant) they drove us downtown and interviewed. me.  — When I say “Us”, I mean the other college students applying for the jobs.

I had heard that they liked to ask you technical Java questions, so I was prepared for their question, which was, “If you needed to do this, this and this, how would you write the code in Java?”  My response was, “Do I need to know Java on the day I start the job?”  They replied, “No, we will teach you the way we write Java”.  — I already knew that was the case before the interview.  That’s why I asked that.

Then I said, “I took Java a year and half ago in an accelerated summer course, and made an A in it.  I haven’t used Java since, so I don’t remember the exact syntax, but there is how I would write the code….”  — They offered me the job, but the pay was too low.

The one company all the IT students wanted to work for was Williams Communication in Tulsa.  They held a reception in one of the new buildings on campus in the evening, which I attended.  I talked to a couple of classmates from the last couple of years that had gone to work for them and were now helping to recruit new employees.

Williams Communications

They told me that during the interview they were on the lookout for people who came to the interview very prepared.  They didn’t want to hire them, because they figured that their answers weren’t necessarily “honest”.  I found this rather confusing.  I was going to be well prepared for the interview, and now they are telling me that they want me to act as if I wasn’t.

So, the next day during the interview when they came to the point where they asked, “Do you have any questions?”  I responded by asking, “When someone attends a meeting at your company, do you expect them to be prepared to discuss the topic at hand when they show up, or do you prefer they just go to the meeting unprepared and make it up on the fly?”

When they replied that they expected the person to be prepared for the meeting (which I knew they would), I asked, “When I was preparing for this interview, I talked with some of the recruiters that I knew because they were in my classes in the past.  They told me that during this interview you are looking for people that are prepared for this meeting.  If they are, then you don’t want to hire them.  How does that make sense if you expect them to show up for a meeting prepared but not an interview?”

The two young guys interviewing me looked a little embarrassed and just shrugged their shoulders.  Needless to say, they didn’t offer me a job.  The following week while I was in various classes, I heard others talking excitedly about being offered jobs with Williams Communication beginning when they graduate in May.  This was the company a lot of students wanted to go to work.  They evidently gave a lot of perks to their employees.

Many of the students going to work for Williams, had arranged to moved to Tulsa at the end of school.  They had hired over 200 students.  A couple of people had already moved and were commuting to class.  Then the news hit the fan (so to speak).  Williams Communication was in financial trouble and they were not only not hiring the students they said they were going to hire, but they were laying people off.  I considered myself lucky to not have been offered the job 6 months earlier.

I had a similar “scare” during the first week of May when Dell, (who had been laying off a lot of employees all spring — This was the Millennium Internet bust) called to tell me that they were moving my start date from the beginning of June until August 20 as I discussed in the post linked above, “The Heart of a Power Plant”, so I knew what some of the students were going through.  My problem was that I was in the middle of selling my house in Stillwater, Oklahoma and buying a house in Round Rock, Texas at the same time.

I had an interview with Wal-Mart and they offered me a job.  The pay wasn’t that good.  Before I even considered whether to accept it, I went to a “social” where they had a meeting to explain what working for Wal-Mart would be like as an IT employee.  While they were talking, one of the people giving the presentation recognized someone in the room and asked her if she would like to stand up and tell how it was last summer when she worked there as an intern.

Wal-Mart

The young girl stood up and walked to the front of the room.  She looked around at the Wal-Mart representatives and smiled.  Then she looked at the audience of eager students waiting to hear about all the great things about working for Wal-Mart.  Then she spoke.  She hesitantly said, “Well (pause).   I cried a lot.”  The room burst into laughter.

The Wal-Mart recruiters were as surprised as everyone else.  They asked her to explain.  So she told us that one day she went to run a job on the mainframe and when she did, she shutdown all of Argentina for about 30 minutes.  They informed her that they lost millions of dollars in that time.  She said that no one told her that you weren’t supposed to run jobs like that during working hours.

I knew exactly how she felt.  I had tried compiling a program on our mainframe at the Electric Company one day just for fun, and a little while later someone from the IT department called the Power Plant wanting to speak to Kevin Breazile.  — Yeah.  I had locked up the mainframe until the program finished compiling.

They asked me if they could kill the job.  I told them “Sure!”  This was after I had been scolded by Tom Gibson, our Electric Supervisor after the plant had been contacted by the President of the company because I had sent something to everyone’s printer and messed up all the billing, payroll and work order jobs.  See the post Power Plant Customer Service Team Gone Wild.

Then came Boeing.  I was interviewing for a job in Wichita.  When they found out that I was both an IT person and an Electrician they offered to hire me right on the spot.  They asked me to give my 2 week notice and they would move me to Wichita where I could start as soon as possible.  They said that I could work on fighter planes, both wiring them and programming them.  This was very tempting.

I told the recruiters that I would like to get my degree before I would leave the electric company.  After all, they were paying for my classes.  I only had 6 more hours after the current semester, and if they wanted to talk next semester, I would be willing to discuss it with them then.  They said that if I went to work for Boeing I would receive a $3,000 bonus when I receive my degree, if there was some way to make that work.  That was the last time I heard from them.  My wife wasn’t too keen about moving to Wichita anyway, so, I took that as a good thing.  Although….

I also interviewed with Koch Industry in Wichita and they did interview me on-site (twice).  When they offered me a job I told them that the pay was not enough.  Then they called me back a few weeks later and I went up to interview again. This time with their pipeline switching team.  It turned out that they were using a system called “PI” that we used at our Power Plant.  I mentioned this in the post:  Power Plant Control Room Operator and the Life of Pi.  By that time I had the offer from Dell and Koch said they couldn’t pay me what I was asking.

Koch Industries

An interesting thing happened when I was on site for the interview.  That morning they had found one of the Koch Industry employees brutally murdered in his home (I think I watched a Forensics Files many years later about this murder).  This had unnerved the employees and they were sort of on “lock down”.  They didn’t really want to advertise that, but when the recruiter was having lunch with me in their cafeteria, she mentioned it to me.

JD Edwards was a competitor with SAP at the time.  I had an advantage when I interviewed with them, because I had been working on SAP for the past 3 years.  They flew me to Denver and I stayed in a nice hotel just across the parking lot from their office.  By this time, I was used to flying with a few other 4.0 students who had been offered jobs from the same companies I had.  Some who ended up working at Dell when we were all said and done.

JD Edwards

While I was in the interview and they found out that I knew the SAP Maintenance Module and worked for the company that had worked with SAP to develop it, the person interviewing me became excited and left to go find another person to come into help with the interview.  JD Edwards wanted to develop their own Maintenance Module and since I knew both systems (as I had taken a computer course in school where we worked on JD Edwards’ One World application), They were eager to hire me.

They offered me more than any other company, but when I looked at the cost of living in the area around their office (which was not far from Columbine High School), I told them they would have to go higher.  They went back and forth with me, but couldn’t come up to where I would accept their offer.

As a follow-up to this story…. In the year 2005, I went to Denver for some training with Kronos, our timekeeping system.  I ended up staying in the same hotel where I stayed when I interviewed with JD Edwards.  Their building was just across the parking lot.  It was abandoned.

JD Edwards had been bought by Oracle a couple of years after I interviewed with them, and they just liquidated their IT department in Denver.  So.  I dodged a bullet with that one.

The same thing happened with Sprint.  This was another company a lot of students were interested in.  They had a nice campus in Overland Park Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City.  I began the interview by joking around with the recruiters who were older people like me.  I told them where they could find a nice place to eat dinner and other stuff like that.

Sprint

They didn’t like my answer to the question, “Who is Sprint’s number one competitor?”  I told them, “Technology”. They asked me to explain, and I told them that in one day a new technology can come out and make their company obsolete.  They didn’t seem to like that answer.  I know they were looking for the answer, “AT&T and T-Mobile.”  Like I said, I wasn’t too eager to move to Kansas City.

Sprint didn’t offer me a job, but they did offer it to another older student who was eager to move to Overland Park in May.  I suppose he eventually did.  Then in 2003 when I was in another training class in Overland Park for Kronos, I met up with my best friend of all time Jesse Cheng.  While we were driving around town we passed the Sprint campus where my friend from class would have worked.  The campus was abandoned.  Jesse said they closed it about a year before.  — Whew. Glad they didn’t offer me a job there.

My favorite interview story is this:  I interviewed on campus with Fleming Foods.  A Supermarket chain in Oklahoma City.  Many of the people on the board of directors of our electric company were also on the board of directors for Fleming Foods.  After the first interview I received an email stating that my next interview was going to be in Oklahoma City on the Monday afternoon two weeks from then.  I immediately responded and said that I had a prior commitment during that time and would not be able to attend the interview (I had a test in one of my classes during that time), and I asked if they could reschedule the interview.

Fleming Foods

I didn’t hear back from the recruiter to reschedule the interview.  The next time I received an email was the Friday before the Monday when the interview was scheduled.  It reminded me to show up for the interview and gave instructions as to where to go, etc.  When I received the email, I immediately wrote and told them that as I had already indicated, I would not be able to attend the interview on Monday due to a prior commitment, and I had asked if the interview could be rescheduled.

The recruiter wrote back saying that it was very inconsiderate of me since a lot of trouble had been put into scheduling the people for the interviews and  that valuable time would be wasted by important managers if I didn’t show up for the interview.  — I thought….. “Wow.  This is a great way to inspire students to come and work for Fleming Foods.”  So I responded…..

I said this:  “In my past experience I have found that the culture in the HR department generally reflects the overall culture of a company.  I thank you for showing me the culture found at Fleming Foods.  First of all, you totally ignored my response when I indicated two weeks ago that I would not be able to attend the interview by not responding and not attempting to reschedule it.  You have shown me that Fleming Foods is not a company that I would want to work for.  Please cancel the interview and do not try to reschedule it.  Thanks again for the heads up.”

I went to work for Dell in the end.  The Post “The Heart of the Power Plant” linked above tells the story about moving down to Round Rock to work for Dell.  As Paul Harvey used to say, “Now you know the Rest of the Story”.

Dell

Letters to the Power Plant #32 — Tough Questions at Dell

After I left the power plant and went to work for Dell on August 20, 2001, I wrote letters back to my friends at the plant letting them know how things were going.  This is the thirty second letter I wrote.

05/09/02 – Tough Questions at Dell

Hello Dear Sooner Friends,

I hope all is well with you guys.  I understand that the units are up and running and everything is going well. (Is that an overstatement? —  I think not).  It has finally turned into summer down here.  Today I had lunch with my fellow Bootcamp escapees (I mean “Bootcamp buddies”).  We went out and ate at a Mexican Restaurant right down the street from the Manufacturing plants.  We could almost hear those little elves tinkering away a few blocks down making computers for all the little boys and girls around the world.

I’m in a pretty good mood today.  I was just given a new project to program stuff in Oracle.  Since I haven’t done that before, this will be a great new learning experience.  I have started learning a new database language called PL/SQL.  It is similar to SQL (pronounced “See Kwul”), which I already (sort of) knew, but it’s different.  This project is similar to other projects that I have done before, but it is also different.

Oracle is somewhat like a SQL Server database, but it is different.  Actually, I feel like I’ve said this before, only different.  As a matter of record, the difference between each difference is the same type of difference that I’ve experienced in the past…. only different.  There.  Now I have said it, and I will repeat this later if you didn’t understand it the first time, only I will repeat it different.

Have you noticed that sometimes I seem to get stuck in a loop, and I have to struggle to get out of it?  I think part of that has to do with the way a programming language is structured.  When you write programs, it is common to write a loop where the same thing is done over and over, only each time the same thing is done, it’s done different (I mean, it’s done on a different set of data).

So you see, in programming, part of the program does the same thing over and over, only different.  — Just like I said the sentence prior to this sentence that starts “So you see…”.  It was the same as the sentence before it where it starts “When you write programs….” only different.  Luckily in programming you must always include a way to jump out of the loop so you aren’t perpetually stuck doing the same different thing over and over for ever.  In letter writing however, I have to include a jumping off point also, which I will call…. “the end of the paragraph”.

Whew.  I am glad I was able to get out of that.  I felt like I was looping so fast, my chair was starting to spin around — which was not only making me dizzy, but also making it extremely difficult to type.

Well.  Guess what?  Do you guys remember when our IT department spent the day at a place called “Reunion Ranch”?  The place where we went and played around all day playing all sorts of games in the hot sun?  Well.  Now the whole I/T All-Hands meeting will be held there in a couple of weeks.

We’re not just talking about the 500 people that were at the last one.  We’re talking about 3,000 I/T people all together in one place playing all sorts of stuff.  —  I think they should change the name from “Reunion Ranch” to “Geekville” at least for the day that we will be there.  I think I’ll bring my laptop so that I can program neat stuff while I’m waiting for our team to do “Tug-o-war”.

I received an e-mail yesterday telling me that I was on a particular team with a bunch of people I don’t know.  We are going to compete against other teams made up of people that also don’t know each other.  —  I can see that this is going to be real fun.  —  No one is going to know the names of the people on their teams, so everyone will be calling each other Kevin all day long, (since that is the most popular name at Dell).

I can see it now.  My head is going to be whipping around all day at every utterance of “Kevin!”  And my voice will be heard amidst the countless other Kevins saying, “Huh?” Whenever someone says “Hey Kevin!”  —  I’m thinking of changing my name to “Dave” for just that day.  I’ll just tell my team that my name is Dave, and so if you want to talk to me, don’t call me “Kevin”, just call me “Dave”.

Only I’ll probably forget that my name is Dave, so I’ll just sit around all day thinking that everyone is ignoring me and doesn’t want to talk to me, and I’ll feel that I’m being left out of all the fun.  Which may make me feel aggressive enough to try to knock my Vice President in the Dunk Tank.  (He’s so tall, if he fell in the Dunk tank, he would probably never get his head wet.  He would just stand up).  And everyone would be yelling, “Go Dave!!!   Go Dave!!!

Then I would remember that I told everyone my name was Dave, and then I will feel like a goof for thinking I was being ignored, and I will begin to feel foolish.  —  So what should I do?  Get a sore neck and keep my name Kevin for the day, or change my name to Dave and feel foolish?  —  Tough Questions at Dell.

Life used to be so simple.  Now…. It’s different.

Good to hear from you guys.  Someone needs to tell Gene Day that he should stop pouting and write.  Linda, Since the Birthday Phantom said his birthday is on the same day as yours, — You can tell him.  After all.  He’s your twin  (Only 30 years older).

Your friend from Dell,

Kevin James Anthony Breazile

______________________

Kevin J. Breazile

Customer Experience / Warranty Cost

Dell Computer Corporation

(512) 728-1527

Letters to the Power Plant #29 — Dell’s Directions to Reunion Ranch for All-Hands Meeting

After I left the power plant and went to work for Dell on August 20, 2001, I wrote letters back to my friends at the plant letting them know how things were going.  This is the twenty ninth letter I wrote.

4/11/2002

Hey Guys,

This is just a quick note:  Do you remember that I said that in Texas, they like to have a number for all the roads.  Here are the directions to Reunion Ranch from where I work:  Take I-35 north, then turn Left on 29, then right on 183 then right on 3405, then left on 255.    —  See!!!  What did I tell you?  If you want to see for yourself, you can go to http://www.reunionranch1.com .

Just another note:  I-35 is an Interstate Highway (as you already know).  29 and 183 are Highways (HWY).  3405 is a FM (Farm to Market) road, and 255 is a CR (Country Road).

Texas Trivia.  Isn’t it fun?

Kev

______________________

Kevin J. Breazile

Programmer Analyst II

Dell Computer Corporation

(512) 728-1527

Letters to the Power Plant #27 — Another Friday at Dell

After I left the power plant and went to work for Dell on August 20, 2001, I wrote letters back to my friends at the plant letting them know how things were going.  This is the twenty seventh letter I wrote.

04/05/02 – Another Friday at Dell

Dear Friends from Sooner,

Here it is, another Friday afternoon in Dellsville.  Not much has been happening today.  Next Friday we are spending the whole day at a place called “Reunion Ranch”  There is a poster just outside my cubicle about the place with a Reunion Ranch balloon stuck to it.

Some guy dressed up like a cowboy came around yesterday and pasted the balloon on the poster, and said, “Howdy!!  Are you going to the party next Friday?  I told him I was planning on it.  Then he said, “Well, Pardner, I’ll be a lookin’ for ya.”  Then he sauntered off, with his spurs a clankin’ and his chaps a-swayin’.

The poster says that they have all sorts of fun stuff to do there.  They have canoeing, and a beach, and a bunch of games, like Horseshoes, and softball, and basketball, and Indian Tepees, and Pony rides, and miniature golf and wagon rides, and trolley rides, and an obstacle course (this whole thing sounds like an obstacle course if you ask me), and a whole bunch of other things too numerous to mention.

We are supposed to spend the whole day there, just playin’ around and eatin’ BBQ.  They told us not to eat dinner the night before, because they want us good an hungry, so we can really enjoy ourselves.

Anyway,  like I said, not much has been happening today.  I have been doing bug fixes on a program that I helped modify, and now our customers are testing it out.  When they find a problem with the program, they write us a detailed description of the problem, and we go through the program code, and find out why it’s doing what it’s doing, and then fix it, and then test it again to make sure it works.

Anyway, like I said, not much has been happening today.  I have been writing a screenplay for the commercial that our team is making for the “Team Commercial” contest for next week.  —  All the teams are in a contest about who can make the best 30 second commercial about their team.

I wrote the thing, and we have been gathering up props to film it.  Then we’ll edit it on the computer.  The whole thing has to be on the computer when we submit it.  —  We have to drive around town and film stuff for our commercial.

It’s due next Wednesday, so we really only have next Monday to finish filming it, then edit it on Tuesday, so we can turn it in on Wednesday.  The big prize for the winning team is a two foot tall stuffed Mr. Potato Head that the team can display in their area of cubicles!!!  —  And of course the prestige of winning the contest.

I’m afraid that since my cubicle isn’t too decorated, that if our team wins, they will vote that I keep the Mr. Potato Head in my cubicle for the next year until the next contest comes around.  —  We are competing with over 35 other teams, so the likelihood of that happening is quite slim.

Anyway, Like I said, not much has been happening today.  I also finished planning for my next project which is starting on Monday.  It’s a project where I have to upgrade a bunch of software that is really shaky.  Whenever anyone does anything with this software it quits working.

So our team decided that they would let me do the upgrade for it, because no one else had time to try to upgrade it, only to have it fail, and then have our business partners all upset because the application doesn’t work anymore.  So, I start that on Monday.

Like I said, Not much has been happening today.  This is the first time I’ve had to sit down and write a letter to you guys all week.  My manager just popped in his head around my cubicle and looked at his watch, like I was crazy for still being here, (since this is Friday afternoon, and it is just about 5 o’clock).

I get the hint.  —  A couple of weeks ago, (the Friday before last), he invited our team out for a beer at a Mexican Cantina.  We sat around and ate nachos and drank beer and I listened to all the “Old Timers” tell stories about the “Old days” when things were very different at Dell  — Like 9 years ago when Dell was still a young company.  After a while I thought my wife and children would be wondering where I was, so I went home.

Anyway.  That’s what’s been happening here.  How are things up there?  It’s good to hear from you guys.  I hope everything is going well with everyone.

I’ll write soon,

Your Friend and Dellite from Austin,

Kevin James Anthony Breazile

______________________

Kevin J. Breazile

Programmer Analyst II

Dell Computer Corporation

(512) 728-1527

Letters to the Power Plant #26 — Spring time at Dell

After I left the power plant and went to work for Dell on August 20, 2001, I wrote letters back to my friends at the plant letting them know how things were going.  This is the twenty sixth letter I wrote.

03/27/02 – Spring time at Dell

Dear Sooner Friends,

The other day I had to go over to the manufacturing plant to show someone a program I had written.  While I was there, I was able to look out across the manufacturing floor and watch them building servers.  It was quite an experience.  It reminds me of what I used to think of when I thought of Santa Claus and his elves making Christmas presents for all the Children in the world.  —  This was one of the many manufacturing plants, churning out servers as fast as they could.

Tomorrow we are having a get-together with a couple of other teams for lunch.  We are supposed to play Pictionary, and get prizes and eat ice cream.  Then on Friday, we are supposed to take the day off and go to a team builder.  We are going to go Bowling, then lunch, then go to a movie.  We are going to wait until Friday morning to decide what movie we want to go to.  —  So you see, the rest of this week sounds like it could really be hectic.

I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. —  You know.  It’s like the Friday night before a Christmas weekend, when a big freeze happens and the unit trips for some unknown reason, and you end up spending your whole Christmas holiday trying to get the unit back on.  You know.  The same thing that happens at Thanksgiving, and Easter, and …..

Oh, and this week is probably going to be twice as disastrous.  Not only are we having an all-day team builder on Friday, but this is also Easter weekend!!!  —  I wonder if Dell is anything like OG&E.  I have spent the last three Easters at OG&E working on Easter day.

I’ll keep you posted and let you know if all of the sudden one of my programs goes hay-wire and causes the manufacturing floor to come to a grinding halt, so that I have to come out and work in the cold and the rain, and the coal dust and the fly ash with my fingers freezing as I try to tape up a piece of program with cold stiff electric tape in order to get the program back online as quickly as possible so that we can start making computers again.

Anyway.  I’ve never played Pictionary, so that will be a new experience.  It has been years since I bowled, so that will be an embarrassing experience.  I hope I bowl better than I play horseshoes.  One time I was playing horseshoes with Diana Brien, and her family, and I believe, that once I threw a horseshoe so wildly that it actually ended up behind me!!  —  I wonder if she remembers that.

For more information on how I play horseshoes visit the following post:  What Do Power Plant Men in Central Oklahoma Do for Recreation?

I hope I can do better with bowling.  — I’ll let you know.  —  At least if I get it in the gutter, I know I won’t hurt anyone sitting behind me.  —  And to think we were talking about going Golfing instead!!  That would have been a hoot.  I probably would end up breaking someone’s window in their house with a wild golf ball —  Or maybe even the club.

Well,  I’ll let you know how it goes.  How is overhaul going?  Are you about to wrap things up?

Your Friendly Dell Representative.

Kevin James Anthony Breazile

______________________

Kevin J. Breazile

Programmer Analyst II

Dell Computer Corporation

(512) 728-1527

Power Plant Janitor John Fry Standing Guard as Floors Dry

Favorites Post #19

Originally Posted 11/14/2014

John Fry had a peculiar way of standing in front of the bathroom door in the electric shop after he had mopped the bathroom floor as he waited for the floor to dry. It was as if he was a sentry on duty in front of the Buckingham Palace in London because he would stand so still. I would amuse myself by picturing him dressed in the red Beefeater uniform standing at attention at the bathroom door at a coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.

 

Guard at Buckingham Palace

Guard at Buckingham Palace

Only John wasn’t carrying a rifle, he was holding his broom handle. He would hold the handle of the broom so that it was parked just behind his right ear. His head would be slightly bent forward and the expression on his face was one of deep thought.

John didn’t speak much. I wondered if he had ever been a guard or a soldier. It would have had to been during the Vietnam War if he had, given his age. He was born in 1947.

I always admired John who was doing the job I used to do when I was a janitor at the plant when I had first become a full time employee after four years of working as a summer help. Like the tourists in London, I would do subtle things to try to distract John from his stalwart sentinel position without actually talking to him. I didn’t think it would be fair to actually use words, because John, being the polite person that he was would break out of his guardian stance to say “Hello” or answer a question if I had posed one.

One day while John was standing watch over the wet bathroom floor, I silently came up alongside him with my own broom and I put the handle behind my ear just like him and tried to stand with the same interesting posture John used. I stood there for a few minutes waiting to see if John would respond to me.

There was something peaceful about standing next to John meditating on the water evaporating from the tiles behind us. The wooden handle placed behind the ear, pressed up against the side of the head added a sort of stability.

He just continued standing watch. He may have had a slight smile, I’m not sure. When John smiled, it was usually very subtle. It was more in the eyes than on the mouth and since I was only looking out of the corner of my eye, I couldn’t really tell. I didn’t wait until the floor completely dried before I left. I still had to be an electrician, and I only had a few minutes to spare before I had to continue on my way.

The other interesting feature about John was that he didn’t turn his head. It was as if he was wearing an invisible neck brace. So, when he walked by, if you said “Hi John”, he might put up one hand as a slight wave, and mutter “Hi” back, but he wouldn’t turn his head toward you, unless he happened to be coming straight in your direction. He was generally looking at the floor a few feet in front of him when he walked. He would walk sort of hunched over as if he was looking for a small lost item on the ground.

I took this to mean that John had some sort of surgery on the vertebrae in his neck that fused them together so that they were immobile preventing him from looking this way or that. He was built like a boxer and looked the part, so I would imagine that in his earlier days, John was in a boxing ring exchanging blows with someone until he had to stop because of the injuries to his spine that could only be mended by fusing his neck into a permanent position of a Buckingham Palace Guard.

It was a pastime of mine to imagine what the Power Plant Men did before they ended up spending their days creating electricity for half the state of Oklahoma. That was until I had the opportunity to ask them and find out what they really did. As I mentioned, I pictured John Fry as a boxer before he became the bathroom Beefeater.

I pictured Johnny Keys as being someone who lived in the Arkansas Ozarks making Mountain Dew from a still up in the hills before he became a machinist.

Johnny Keys

Johnny Keys

You would understand that image better if you had seen him before they disallowed the wearing of beards on the plant ground. When Johnny had a beard he looked more like this:

Like this, only younger and with a shorter beard

Like this, only younger and with a shorter beard

I don’t even want to mention the number of Power Plant Men I pictured as used car salesmen before I knew them better. Ok. All right. I won’t tell you their names, but one of them has the initials: “Gene Day”.

There were a number of Power Plant Men that looked like they were Sergeants in the Army or Navy. Some that come to mind are

George Dunagan:

George Dunagan

George Dunagan

Steve Blansett:

 

Steve Blansett

Steve Blansett

Randy Dailey:

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

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

and Jim Arnold.  Well, I thought of Jim as more of an Admiral:

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

Then there is the group of Mad Scientists. You know the type… They look so normal, but you can tell that in their spare time they are playing with chemicals, or coming up with new Physics equations in order to puzzle those fortunate enough to take a college Physics course….

Before I knew what this group actually did for a living before they arrived at the plant, I immediately thought…. Mad Scientist:

Byron Hoeltzel:

 

Byron Hoeltzel

Byron Hoeltzel

Jasper Christensen:

Jasper Christensen

Jasper Christensen

Charles Foster:

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

and lastly Merl Wright:

Merl Wright

Merl Wright

 

Then there was the group of people that looked like they were in a Hard Rock Band. They were easy to categorize since they all wore dark glasses…. Or maybe they did that because they worked in the welding shop…

There’s Larry Riley:

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

Larry Riley on 2nd Guitar

Dave McClure:

Dave McClure

Dave McClure on Drums

Earl Frazier:

Earl Frazier

Earl Frazier on lead guitar

Kerry Lewallen:

Kerry Lewallen

Kerry Lewallen on Bass Guitar

Noe Flores:

Noe Flores

Noe Flores on Trumpet

George Clouse:

George Clouse

George Clouse lead singer

and Junior Meeks:

Rod Meeks

Rod (Junior) Meeks stumbling around in the background

Ok. Maybe in their spare time, they also doubled as a biker gang.  Or maybe there was a special sale on those glasses at Wal-Mart.

Then there was the more simple jobs… For instance, Danny Cain probably worked in a donut shop (which coincidentally… I did):

Danny Cain

Danny Cain

And also Coincidentally, Danny always liked Donuts.

Then there was the all around nice looking guys who would serve you in a restaurant or bag your groceries like Mike Gibbs:

Mike Gibbs

Mike Gibbs

or Brent Kautzman that reminded me of one of those guys that modeled fancy shirts in a J.C. Penny’s Catalog:

 

Brent Kautzman

Brent Kautzman

Ok…. I think you get my point…. Sort of like the songs I would hear whenever I was around these guys like I had discussed in the post “Power Plant Music To My Ears” I also categorized the Power Plant Men into various previous jobs… Larry Riley used to say that it was a good idea for me to not be idle because when I was, I would come up with the goofiest (my word, not his) things to do. I suppose he was right.

Anyway, I want to get back to John Fry. You see… my thought about John being an ex-boxer that could no longer box because of a neck injury gave me a sad feeling when I looked at John. I never really knew if he was married, though I didn’t think so. I knew he had a younger brother that lived in Stillwater, while John lived in Ponca City. Besides that, John’s life was a mystery to me.

So, today when I decided to write about John, I looked him up online to see what I could find. I found that he had died at the age of 58 years old on May 10, 2006 while working as a Warehouse Inventory Clerk. I couldn’t find an obituary. It seems that the Trout Funeral Home that handled his funeral either didn’t keep records that far back, or they just didn’t have anything to say about it.

I learned that the Sunset Baptist Church had a service for John but I couldn’t find anything about his funeral there either. Actually, I couldn’t even find the cemetery where he was buried. There is one John Fry in the IOOF cemetery in Ponca City, but I am not able to tell if that is him or not. It seems to me that John, whose brother had died 4 years earlier may have been alone.

I wish I knew more. Maybe someone at the plant can fill me in. Maybe I have the wrong John Fry and John is still around.

As a terrific Power Plant Man Janitor who held his post each day while the floor was drying, I want him to receive the honor that he deserves. I want him to know that there is a group of men that honored his service, loved him deeply and respected his life. If I had his picture, I would display it here. The only picture I have is the one I carry in my memory.

Addendum:

About two weeks after I wrote this post last year, John Fry’s daughter Amy ran across this post and left a comment.  I have included that below:

Comments from the original post:

    1. Paul H. Lemmen November 15, 2014

      Reblogged this on A Conservative Christian Man.

        1. Amy Fry December 6, 2014

          thank you This is about a great strong and christian man my Dad!!! God bless you all!!

    1. Amy Fry December 6, 2014

      This is about my Dad, Thank you for writing this about him. It brought back many memories about my Dad, many from out there at OG&E power plant when we would go fishing or I would pick him up from work. I am really speechless about someone writing about him and I am grateful to you for sharing your memories by writing about him in the newsletter/blog. I could not sleep tonight so I googled my dad’s name and I found it. Who ever wrote this my email is fryamy72@yahoo.com please feel free to contact me I would would greatly appreciate it!!!

    1. reverendhellfire January 3, 2015

      Perhaps I can explain your cleaner’s behaviour.
      From my own experience (Religion and Poetry alas don’t pay the rent, so it’s contracting-cleaning as a sideline for me.) I would suggest he’s probably guarding his newly mopped floor so some thoughtless swine doesn’t walk over it before it’s dry and ruin his work.
      I use to have this ongoing war at one job with this passive-aggressive office-drone who’d deliberately walk over my freshly mopped floors to get my goat (yes, lets all pick on the lowly cleaner, shall we?) One day I cracked, handed her the mop with the words, “All yours, lady, clean your own filth” and walked out and never came back.

      That’s the good thing about my work, I have half a dozen contracts at any one time so I don’t need any of them and if they give me the shits I can quit.
      Anyway, enjoy your page, fellow worker.
      (just don’t walk on my wet floor)

        1. Plant Electrician January 3, 2015

          That’s a great point Reverend. As a former janitor, I totally agree.

  1. reverendhellfire January 3, 2015

    Oh and thanks for noticing the work we cleaners/janitors do. Too many take it for granted

The OSHA Man Cometh

Favorites Post #17 (posted in no particular order)

originally post 8/23/2014

I suppose when you are a Plant Manager, the last person you want to see at your Power Plant doorstep is the OSHA Man!  That’s exactly what happened on Thursday, March 10, 1994 at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.  He was not paying a social call.  He was there to conduct an investigation.  One in which I was heavily involved.

In my post from last week, “Tragedy Occurs During Power Plant Safety Meeting” I described a near death accident where a contract worker was engulfed in fly ash in a precipitator hopper.  The accident was on all channels on the 5 o’clock news in Oklahoma City.  The press was there when the Life Flight helicopter arrived at the hospital where they interviewed the flight crew.  The OSHA office in the Federal building a few blocks from the Electric Company’s Corporate Headquarters had quickly assigned someone to the case.  Armed with all the authority he needed, he began a full investigation of the accident.

The day before Gerald Young, (the OSHA Man) arrived, I had done some investigation myself into the accident.  I was trying to figure out exactly what had happened.  Why had someone who thought that he had emptied out a hopper so much so that he climbed inside, had suddenly become engulfed in ash?  Where did this large volume of ash come from, and why did it decide to suddenly break loose and fill the hopper at the particular moment when James Vickers had decided to climb into the hopper?

The plant has a similar electrostatic precipitator, only ours is twice as long

Our Precipitator was longer than this one, but you can see the hoppers on the bottom

Larry Kuennan, the lead engineer had asked me to show him the hopper from the inside of the Precipitator, so he could have an idea of what took place.  I told him he needed to put on a fly ash suit and a full face respirator in order to go into the precipitator.  After we were all suited up, I took him on a tour of the inside.  A sight few people have had the chance to experience.  I could write an entire post just about the experience…. Oh…. maybe I already have.  See “Moon Walk in a Power Plant Precipitator

This isn't me, this is just some other fortunate soul I found on Google Images

This isn’t me or Larry, this is just some other fortunate soul I found on Google Images

The hopper we needed to investigate was not at the edge, so, we had to squeeze our way around a few beams in order to see the hopper where the accident took place.  When we arrived, I explained that when I had first inspected the precipitator, I had found that the ash had piled up five foot above the bottom of the plates because the feeder wasn’t feeding properly.

So, I had figured that when they were vacuuming out the hopper, the ash that was lodged between the plates (that were 9 inches apart) must have still been there when James climbed into the hopper.  Something had caused the ash to give way all at once.

Larry and I climbed down between the hoppers where we could see the bottle racks underneath the plates.  The bottles are 30 pound cast iron anchors in the shape of the old style milk bottles.  They are used to keep the tension on the wires, which are the electrodes that are normally charged with up to 45,000 volts of electricity when the precipitator is online.

When we sat down to look at the four bottle racks, I noticed right away that one rack of bottles was about a foot and a half lower than the rest of the bottle racks.  This didn’t make sense to me at first.  I couldn’t think of any way that 176 wires and bottles would be lower than the rest of the wires in the hopper.  It was a paradox that took a while to soak in.

When we left, Larry Kuennen made a statement I will never forget.  He said, “Until now, I thought that Plant Electricians did nothing but twist wires together.  I never thought they worked on things like this.”  I replied, “We work on anything that has a wire connected to it.  That includes almost everything in the plant.”  He replied, “Well, I have a new appreciation for Plant Electricians.”

It wasn’t until I returned to the electric shop and heard Scott Hubbard’s recount of the accident (again).  Scott and his crew was working on the roof of the precipitator when the accident happened.  He said that when the accident happened he heard a loud bang.  Sort of like an explosion.

I told him what I had found inside the precipitator.   This could only mean one thing….  An electric insulator on the roof of the precipitator that held up the wires on that bottle rack had broken.  When that happened, it fell the foot and half causing all the ash that had been lodged between the plates to be immediately jolted loose, engulfing James Vickers who had just climbed in the hopper below.

After lunch, Scott went up on the roof and opened the portal on the tension house that housed the insulator that held up that row of wires.  Sure enough. The three foot by 3 inch diameter ceramic insulator had broken.  Something that had never happened at the plant up to that point.   A tremendous load must have been put on this insulator, or it must have been defective in order to just break.  These insulators are designed to hold up to 10,000 pounds of weight.  the weight of the bottles and wires altogether weighed about 6,000 pounds  add another 1000 pounds for the beam attached to the insulators on the top of the plates.  This meant that at least 3,000 pounds of ash was pressing down from the ash above in order for it to just pull apart.

An insulator like this only 3 foot long

An electric insulator like this only 3 foot long

There was only one person that the OSHA man Jerry wanted to speak to when he arrived at the plant (other than to arrange things).  That was me.  I was the acting foreman in charge of the operations in, on and below the precipitator when the accident happened.  I was also just a regular hourly employee, not so “beholden” to the company that I would participate in any kind of “cover-up”.

The first thing OSHA Jerry wanted to see was the inside of the precipitator.  So, I procured a respirator for him, and we climbed up to the landing where one enters the precipitator through side doors.  The first thing he did when he arrived at the door was take out a measuring tape to measure the height of the door.

I hadn’t thought about it until that moment, but a new set of OSHA regulations had  a new set of Confined Space regulations 1910.146 that dealt specifically with confined spaces.  It had gone into effect on April 15, 1993.  Here we were almost a year later.  I had always treated the precipitator as a  confined space, so I had always checked the air quality before I entered it.

So, I asked OSHA Jerry why he measured the size of the door.  He said, he was checking if the entrance was “restricted” or “limited”.  This was the requirement of a Confined space as stated in OSHA regulation 1910.146.  I asked him how small does an entrance have to be to be restricted?  He said, “Well.  That’s not clearly defined.  We could enter the precipitator by bending over and stepping in.

That was the first time I thought that maybe the precipitator itself may not really fit into the strict definition of a confined space.  The hoppers do for sure, but does the precipitator?  Hmm….  I wondered…. I still do come to think of it.  The hoppers were definitely confined spaces by definition… “any space with converging walls, such as a hopper…..”

Oh.  I forgot to describe OSHA Jerry.  He reminded me a little of the guy who was a sidekick in Cheers named Paul Willson:

Paul Willson in Cheers

Paul Willson in Cheers

Actually, he looked so much like him that I thought of him right away.

When we were done inspecting the precipitator, we returned to the front office where we went to Tom Gibson’s (our Electric Supervisor) office.  He closed the door and locked it.  And he began to interview me by explaining that anything that was said in this room would be held in confidence.  He explained that I could speak freely and that the Electric Company could do nothing to me for telling him the truth.

I thought… Ok…. um….  I have always been known for speaking my mind (maybe a little too much), so he wasn’t going to hear anything that I wouldn’t personally tell the Plant Manager, Ron Kilman to his face.  Just ask Ron.  I’m sure he would agree that I was pretty open about anything that popped into my mind.

Ron Kilman

Ron Kilman – Who wouldn’t want to be honest to a nice guy like this?

He asked me if I had been trained about the OSHA Confined Space regulations.  I responded by saying that we had a class on it one day where we went over our new confined space requirements.  That consisted of reading the company policy.  I knew that I needed to have a hole watch, and I needed to check the air before I went into a confined space.

Confined Space Air Monitor

Confined Space Air Monitor

We checked to make sure there was 20.9% oxygen, that there was less than 10 parts per million Carbon Monoxide, less than 5 parts per million H2S (Hydrogen Sulfide) and that there was less than 5% explosive vapors.  OSHA Jack wrote everything down.

Actually, while I was talking, Jerry asked me to pause often because he was writing everything I said word-for-word on a yellow notepad what I was saying.

While we were talking, I asked him a few questions also.  I asked Jack how he decided to work for OSHA.  Where he had come from (Kansas.  Wichita, I think).  How long he had been working for OSHA.  Did he enjoy his job…..  At times, I could get him to digress and tell me a story about his life.

As we continued with our interview over this grave accident that almost resulted in the loss of someone’s life, I was busy making a new friend.  By the time he had asked me everything he needed to know, I knew all about how he had grown up in Kansas, and how he had gone from job-to-job until he had ended up in front of me… interviewing me.

When we had finished the interview, he explained to me that this was an official document that contained all the answers to the questions he had asked me.  He said that this would be private and that the Electric Company would not be able to ever see what I said unless I wanted them to see it.  I asked him if I could show it to them.  He said he would give me a copy of it, and I could do whatever I wanted with it.  He asked me to sign it.  I did.

Page 1 of the statement I signed

Page 1 of the statement I signed

I took Jerry to the copy machine in the front office where he made copies for me.  When he handed them to me, I shook his hand.  I told him I enjoyed talking to him.  I also told him that I wished him well.  I showed him to the elevator, and he left the plant.  I made a copy of the papers that I had signed and went directly to the plant manager Ron Kilman’s office and gave him a copy of the document I had signed.

Ron asked me how it went.  I told him that it went fine.  Here is everything we talked about.  I had nothing to hide.  It did amaze me that OSHA Jack thought I might want to “spill the beans” about something as if we were treated like peons where the King had total rule. — I guess he didn’t know that Eldon Waugh had retired in 1987.

From there, I went to Bill Bennett’s office.  Bill Bennett was our A Foreman.  His office was across the hall from Tom Gibson’s office where I had been interviewed for the previous 3 hours. —  Yeah.  3 hours.  OSHA Jerry didn’t know Shorthand.

Bill asked me how the interview went.  I said it went fine.  He said that Ron and Ben Brandt had been worried about me because the interview had lasted so long.  Bill said he told them, “Don’t worry about Kevin.  He probably has this guy wrapped around his little finger.  He’s probably using his ‘psychology’ on him”

I always loved Bill with all my heart.  He knew me too well.  I told Bill that I knew OSHA Jerry’s life story by the time we were done.  Bill smiled…. just like this:

Bill Cosby trying to look like Bill Bennett

Bill Cosby trying to smile like Bill Bennett

I smiled back at Bill.  I returned to the Electric Shop to continue with Unit 1 Overhaul.  After all.  That was my “real” job.  I put on my fly ash suit, my full face respirator, and my rubber boots and returned to the innards of the precipitator to continue where I had left off.  I had a lot to think about as I scanned the Precipitator plates and wires in the dark with my flashlight safely strapped around my neck.

Comment from the original post

Ron Kilman August 23, 2014

Great story! And good job interviewing OSHA Jack.
When the OSHA (EPA, OFCCP, EEOC, etc.) Man cometh, whatever was scheduled for that day (week, etc.) was suspended and you do whatever he/she wants. Cost to implement changes was not a factor and permanent effects on plant efficiency or employee morale were of little importance either. At 67 (with increasing arthritis) I’m reminded of OSHA’s “help” every time I have to use both hands to start my recip saw (one to pull the trigger and the other to push the “safety” switch), or when I have to re-start my lawnmower every time I empty the grass bag.

Comment from a repost

Jill Holmes 

ESPs are nasty places to have to hang out. We had a guy who was severely burned by flowing ash from a bottom hopper–due to this and some other unrelated health complications which occurred during his absence, he was never able to return to work. For some reason he thought the hopper was empty but it wasn’t and when he opened the door, the ash poured out like water and severely burned his legs. Your story reminded me of the incident. I can’t imagine the impact of being nearly completely engulfed in hot ash. It is a miracle that the man survived.

Indian Curse or Brown and Root Blunder

Originally posted on February 18, 2012.

I worked at Sooner Coal-fired power plant about a month during the summer of 1979 before I heard about the Indian curse that had been placed on the plant before they started construction.  It came up by chance in a conversation with Sonny Karcher and Jerry Mitchell when we were on our way to the coalyard to do something.  I was curious why Unit 1 was almost complete but Unit 2 still had over a year left before it was finished even though they both looked pretty much identical.  When I asked them that question I didn’t expect the answer that I received, and I definitely wasn’t expecting to hear about an Indian Curse.  It did explain, however, that when we drove around by Unit 2. Sonny would tense up a little looking up at the boiler structure as if he expected to see something.

The edge of the plant property is adjacent to the Otoe-Missouria Indian Tribe.  It was said that for some reason the tribe didn’t take too kindly to having a huge power plant larger than the nearby town of Red Rock taking up their view of the sunrise (at least until the tax revenue started rolling in from the plant building the best school in the state at the time).  So it was believed that someone in the Indian tribe decided to place a curse on the plant that would cause major destruction.

I heard others say that the plant was built on Holy Indian Burial ground.  At the time it seemed to me that this was a rumor that could easily be started and very hard to prove false.  Sort of like a “Poltergeist” situation.  Though, if it was true, then it would seem like the burial site would most likely be located around the bottom of Unit 2 boiler (right at the spot where I imagined the boiler ghost creeping out to grab Bob Lillibridge 4 years later.  See the post Bob Lillibridge Meets the Boiler Ghost).

I am including an aerial picture of the immediate plant grounds below to help visualize what Jerry and Sonny showed me next.

This is a Google Earth Image taken from their website of the power plant.  In this picture you can see the two tall structures; Unit 1 on the right with Unit 2 sitting right next to it just like the two boilers that you see in the picture of the plant to the right of this post.  They are each 250 feet tall.  About the same height as a 25 story building.  Notice that next to Unit 2 there is a wide space of fields with nothing there.  The coalyard at the top is extended the same distance but the coal is only on the side where the two units are.  This is because in the future 4 more units were planned to be built in this space.  Sooner Lake was sized to handle all 6 units when it was built.  But that is another story.

At the time of this story the area next to Unit 2 between those two roads you see going across the field was not a field full of flowers and rabbits and birds as it is today.  It was packed full of huge metal I-Beams and all sorts of metal structures that had been twisted and bent as if some giant had visited the plant during the night and was trying to tie them all into pretzels.

Sonny explained while Jerry drove the truck around the piles of iron debris that one day in 1976 (I think it was) when it was very windy as it naturally is in this part of Oklahoma, in the middle of the day the construction company Brown and Root called off work because it was too windy.  Everyone had made their way to the construction parking lot when all of the sudden Unit 2 boiler collapsed just like one of the twin towers.  It came smashing down to the ground.  Leaving huge thick metal beams twisted and bent like they were nothing more than licorice sticks.  Amazingly no one was killed because everyone had just left the boilers and were a safe distance from the disaster.

Needless to say this shook people up and those that had heard of an Indian Curse started to think twice about it.  Brown and Root of course had to pay for the disaster, which cost them dearly.  They hauled the pile of mess off to one side and began to rebuild Unit 2 from the ground up.  This time with their inspectors double checking the torque (or tightness) of every major bolt.

This brings to mind the question…  If a 250 foot tall boiler falls in the prairie and no one is injured… Does it make a sound?

In the years that followed, Sooner Plant took steps to maintain a good relationship with the Otoe Missouria tribe.  Raymond Lee Butler a Native American from the Otoe Missouria tribe and a machinist at the plant was elected chief of their tribe (or chairman as they call it now).  But that (as I have said before) is another story which you may read here:  Chief Among Power Plant Machinists.

Comment from Earlier Post:

eddie hickman March 20, 2013

I was there the day unit 2 fell, I was walking to the brass shack, just came down from unit 2 when we noticed the operator of the Maniwoc 5100 crane did not secure the crane ball to the boiler or the crane to keep it from swaying in the wind. I kept watching the crane ball slamming into the steel causing the boiler to sway and within a minute I watched it fall from 50 yards away and took off running,the whole unit was going up quick because B&R were behind schedule,and the most of the steel hadn’t been torqued yet by the bolt up crew.

Power Plant Men Taking the Temperature Down by the River

Originally posted May 11, 2012:

The Power Plant sits on a hill where you can see it 20 miles away looming in the distance.  The lake that provides cooling water for the plant is also built on a hill.  If the Electric Company had waited for the rain to fill up the lake we would still be waiting 34 years later.  Fortunately the Arkansas River flows near the plant below the Kaw Lake dam near Ponca City and before it runs into the Keystone Lake near Tulsa.  There are 4 large pumps alongside the river in a fenced in area that draws water from the river and sends it a mile up a hill where it pours into the lake.  It is a beautiful lake and most of the area around the lake is a wildlife preserve.  A part of the area around the lake is reserved for hunting.

The lake on the hill with the Power Plant in the distance at sunset

Bald Eagles and Pelicans make this lake their home in the winter.  During the winter months you can watch a web cam of a bald eagle’s nest on the lake.  Here is a link to a Bald Eagle nest in Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge near Vian Oklahoma:  https://www.suttoncenter.org/live-bald-eagle-nest-camera/

I have included this map so that you can see the layout.  the wide blue line in the upper right corner is the Arkansas river.

Map of the Power Plant Lake

The River Pump station is just off the edge of this map.

During my second summer as a summer help at the Power Plant I was assigned to be the “gopher” for a maintenance crew that was going to be working down by the river for a week.  Being a “gopher” means that you drive back and forth between the plant and the river bringing (in other words: “go for”) tools, supplies, food, water, and anything else that the Power Plant Men may need while they were working at the river.

At first I wasn’t aware of what job the Power Plant Men crew were assigned.  I just knew it was down by the river.  I towed a large air compressor behind the flatbed truck and a lot of air hoses and air powered tools.  Then I watched as the men began to setup the equipment.  At one point Ray Butler who was overseeing the job asked me to go back to the plant and get a Y-connector for the air hoses and some more hose.

Air Hose Y-Connector

I drove back to the plant and when I returned I was standing there with the Y-coupling in my hand watching the men dragging air hoses down into the river, someone asked me to help them move something.  So I laid the Y-connector on the top of the Air Compressor.  Thinking that would be a safe out of the way place for it.  When I did that, it fell down into a cavity that was about 6 inches wide and 5 feet deep where there was the air intake for the compressor.  It was too deep to reach it.  You can see the air intake section on the front of this air compressor:

This is the exact size and type of air compressor

After trying to figure out how to take off the front grill of the compressor to retrieve the connector and not seeing an easy way, I told Dale Hull what I had done.  He just smiled (well… Dale Hull had a perpetual smile or grin on his face anyway), and he went over to a tool box and pulled out a spool of wire.  After cutting some off and fashioning a hook on the end, he quickly snagged the connector and pulled it right out.

Honestly when I saw him start fishing for that coupling I thought to myself that this wasn’t going to work and I was resigned to driving back to the plant again for another one and being humiliated by my failure.  It’s too hard to hook something that far down with that flimsy wire.  I was surprised and relieved when he quickly pulled it out with little effort.

Maybe he had a lot of practice doing this.  In True Power Plant Man fashion, there was no ridicule.  From the moment I told him I had dropped the connector, he went to work as if it was his job, not doing anything to attract attention.  Until this moment, Dale Hull and I were the only two that knew that I had dropped that connector into the compressor housing.  Even though I already had, I marked him down again in my book as a True Power Plant man.

Dale Hull was one of those surprise mechanics that had a lot more skill than you would think by looking at him.  He reminded me of John Ritter.  The actor on “Three’s Company”.  I carpooled with him a lot during the first and second summer and one thing that stood out in my mind was that he had over 100,000 miles on his car and still had the original tires.  He did his own wheel alignments.  I spent many hours alongside Dale on weekends doing coal cleanup.  I helped him move one time from one apartment to another.  I remember that he had his own set of precision machining tools.

John Ritter looking like Dale Hull in 1980

When I carpooled with him and Ricky Daniels, we would go to the gas station just north of the plant where Dale and Ricky would purchase some beer to drink on the way home.  At this time, the place was crowded with construction hands that were still building the plant.  I would sit in the back seat and watch the back of the heads of Ricky and Dale who, after a long hot day at work were relaxing by drinking beer and trying to stay awake until they reached Stillwater.  I would see Dale’s head bobbing up and down as he would struggle to stay awake.  Every day it was the same.  We always made it safely home.  I don’t know if it was the Novena to St. Jude that I was saying in the back seat or it was Dale’s ability to drive while nodding off to sleep or both.

Anyway.  Back to the river.

In the river just below the surface of the water next to the River Pump Forebay there are 4 “coffin houses” where the water can flow into the pump forebay. From there it is pumped up to the lake.  The 4 coffin houses (which get their name because they are rectangular shaped boxes that put you in mind of coffins) are mounted on one large concrete slab.  The Power Plant Men were setting everything up so that they could drill holes in the concrete slab which was about 4 feet under water.

Why were they drilling holes in the concrete slab? (you might wonder).  According to the EPA, it was required that the Electric Company continuously monitor the temperature of the water in the river at the point where the water enters the intake into the forebay area (As if the electric company was somehow going to be able to change the temperature of the water). So they were mounting a thermometer out in the middle on the concrete slab at the bottom of the river.

Hence the use of Air powered tools.  :)  It wouldn’t have worked well with electric tools.  I remember Power Plant He-men like Bill Gibson standing out in the river (the water had been lowered by lowering the output of Kaw Dam about 20 miles upstream) taking a deep breath, and dropping down into the water.  A few moments later a rush of bubbles would come blasting out of the water as he operated the air operated power drill.  Each time someone went under the water, they had to find the hole they were drilling, put the bit back in it, and try to drill some more of the hole all while holding their breath.  A lot of times they came up laughing because once they started drilling they couldn’t see anything because bubbles were flying in their face.  Needless to say, the 10 or so holes they had to drill took almost an entire week.

Of course, they had to take time out for cookouts and swimming in the river.  Fortunately there were no Power Plant Women down there at the time, because when it came time for lunch, a group of men in nothing but their skivvies would take a dip in the river.

When they were through there was a thermocouple mounted at the bottom of the river with a cable that led up the bank and into a small galvanized metal building that housed a recorder that took one month to make a full revolution recording the temperature of the water.

Thermocouple – detects temperature using the voltage between two different types of metal

Temperature Recorder

There was one other time when I worked for a week at the river.  It was when I was on labor crew and we had to shovel the sand out of the river pump forebay.  This is a concrete pit about 30 feet deep.  Animals would fall in there from time to time and drown, so usually there was a rotting dead possum and a dead bird or two floating in the murky water when the pumps weren’t running.

A P&H crane would lower a large bucket into the pit and a couple of us would shovel sand into it until it was full, then the crane would take it up and dump it out, then lower it back down again for some more sand.  We would be standing in the water or on a pile of sand shoveling sand all day.  I remember my first day doing that, after a while I looked down to see that there were little tiny bugs crawling all over under the hair on my arms.  I called them weevils because they weeved around the hairs on my arms.  I quickly realized that my entire body was covered with these little crawling bugs.  From the hair on my head down to my ankles.  They really weren’t weevils, because those are much bigger than the tiny bugs that were crawling all over me.    They put me in the mind of flea larva.

Flea Larva

My first reaction was to panic, run around in circles screaming like a little girl.  Instead I resigned myself to these bugs and just kept on working. They weren’t biting me.  I think they were just looking for a way out of the pit.  You climbed in and out of the pit using a ladder permanently mounted on the concrete wall.  When it was lunch time I would take a dip in the river, clothes and all to wash them all off.

It’s a  funny thought now to think that after I became an electrician a trip to the river pumps always felt like a vacation.  Maybe because we were outside of the normal plant grounds.  There usually weren’t any supervisors around.  There was wildlife.  There was a river you could play in if you felt the need.  I never found myself working less while I was there, it just seemed enjoyable to have a change in scenery.

Anyway.  I don’t think the EPA every really cared what the temperature of the river was, they just wanted us to go through the exercise of measuring it.  But that is how the lake ended up on the top of that hill.  The water is used to cool the steam in the condenser in the Power Plant.  The fish and the birds also enjoy it and all the wildlife around the lake.  All made possible by the diligent maintenance of the Power Plant Men.

Comments from the original post:

  1. rjdawarrior May 17, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    Loved it! The pictures really brought the whole story to life. You have a way with words that in trigs me.

    My favorite part was the flea larva, I could just see you out there in a field full of testosterone, running around in a panic screaming like a little girl…..

    Thanks for the enjoyment of the employment RJ

    Plant Electrician May 17, 2012, at 5:21 pm

    Thanks RJ, No matter how I try to forget it… I still remember it all too well. :)

    Comment from last Repost:

    1. Dan Antion May 13, 2014

      I love using air tools but I’m very glad to have only ever had to use them on land. I’ve used them in the rain, but I was always able to breath :)

Power Plant Lady of the Labor Crew

Originally Posted on October 19, 2012:

In the Power Plant posts, I generally tend to focus on the Power Plant Men that taught their Power Plant culture to me while I was fortunate enough to grace the boilers and conveyors of the Coal-fired Power Plant out in the north central plains of Oklahoma. Every once in a while during this journey there were True Power Plant Ladies that came along that took their place right alongside the Power Plant Men.

The Women generally held their own when it came to the amount of work, their tenacity, and even for some, their ability to hit a spittoon from 6 feet. — Ok. I made up the part about hitting a spittoon.  Everyone just used the floor drains for spittoons in the early days before they became responsible for cleaning them out themselves, after the summer help found more grass to mow. — The choice spitting material was…. Sunflower seed shells.

Power Plant Sunflower Seeds

Power Plant Sunflower Seeds

In the first few years, Leta Cates worked out of the welding shop (I believe… Well, she hung around there a lot), and later became a clerk. Then there was Opal Brien who was in the maintenance shop and worked in the garage one year when I was a summer help. Of course, there was Darlene Mitchell who worked in the warehouse with Dick Dale, Mike Gibbs and Bud Schoonover.

There was also Diana Lucas (later Diana Brien), who was one of the Electric Shop A team super heroes.

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

Later came Julienne Alley that became the “Mom” of the welding shop. Some more came and went…. Especially the person that we referred to as “Mom” while I was on labor crew. Doretta Funkhouser.

I have mentioned before that the evil plant manager Eldon Waugh enjoyed manipulating his minion’s (oh… I mean employee’s) personal lives as much as he could get away with without stirring up trouble downtown. So, one of the rules he had put in place was that no one on the janitor crew could be considered for another position at the plant until they had first moved to the labor crew.

There even came a ruling later in 1983 (from Eldon and/or Bill Moler) that if it was your turn to go to Labor Crew, and you were not able to, or didn’t for some reason more than once, then you would lose your job as janitor altogether. That remained the case until Darrell Low was able to quickly move from janitor to Operator after Eldon had lost his control over the people on labor crew that he wanted to keep there, making the rule obsolete (I’m sure we had been told the rule had come from Corporate headquarters anyway).

Once on the labor crew, it was very rare that anyone left this crew to go to another position in the plant. They usually had to leave the company altogether, or find a job at another plant in order to escape. This was especially true after the summer of 1982 when the oil boom went bust in Oklahoma making jobs harder to find, and less people left the plant to go somewhere else to work.  The phrase on the first Tuesday of every month was, “Did you see that line of cars outside the gate this morning?  Be lucky you have a job.”

So, when I finally made it to the labor crew, many of the team had been there for a very long time. Others I had worked with before because we were janitors together. This included Ronnie Banks and Jim Kanelakos. Other members of the labor crew were Ron Luckey, Chuck Moreland, Fred Crocker, Bob Lillibridge, Tom Kelly, Bill Cook, Charles Peavler and Doretta Funkhouser. Larry Riley was our foreman.

While on labor crew I was able to learn how to operate a backhoe. Though I never learned the backhoe magic of Larry Riley, I was able to scoop up bottom ash and dump it into the back of Power Plant Men’s pickup trucks that needed it to fill in the parts of their driveways that had washed out at home. The very first time I operated a backhoe, I noticed right away that the brakes didn’t operate very well. You really had to play with it in order to get backhoe to not roll forward.

Backhoe

Here is a picture of a Backhoe

That was ok, because I was just loading bottom ash from a pile into a dump truck and I could just bump the backhoe right up against the dump truck and empty the scoop into the bed. That was working real good until while I was waiting for the dump truck to return after bringing the bottom ash to the place where it was dumping the ash, Jim Harrison pulled up in a shiny new Dodge Pickup. I mean…. it was brand new! He backed up by me and signalled to me from inside his truck. I was waiting there with a scoop full of bottom ash (which is a gravelly looking substance) for the dump truck to return.

My first thought was oh boy…. I shouldn’t do this…. I can hardly stop this thing and I know I will probably run right into the side of Jim’s new truck and he’s going to have a fit. So, I did the only thing I could do. I proceeded to drive around to the side of Jim’s truck to pour the load of ash into the bed of his truck.

Now… either it was Jim’s guardian angel, or it was mine (protecting me from the bodily harm Jim may have inflicted on me out of stress had I put a big dent in the side of his new truck) that stopped the backhoe just at the right spot, I’ll never know for sure. But something did. The backhoe for once stopped right where I would have liked it to stop and I dumped the ash in the truck filling it to the brim. I waved to Jim, and he drove away.

Later when I went back to the Coal Yard Maintenance building (where the Labor Crew called home) I saw Jim in the office, so I went to talk to him. I smiled and said, “I hope I didn’t make you nervous dumping that ash in your truck.” Jim said “No.” It didn’t bother him one bit. He said he knew I could handle it.

So I told him that was the first time I had ever operated a backhoe and the brakes don’t work too well, and I wasn’t even sure if I could keep the backhoe from running into the side of his truck. I remember Jim’s reaction. He said, “Ok, now I’m nervous.” Having done my share of passing the nervous energy over to Jim, I went next door to the break room to enjoy my lunch.

You would think that with Doretta being the only woman on the crew, she would have had it much easier than the rest of us. She was about a 29 year old lady that had a daughter at home. I know because she used to wear a shirt that had her daughter’s face on it. She was working to make a living like most everyone else on the labor crew. Doretta worked right alongside the rest of us when it came to Coal Cleanup, washing down the conveyor system using high pressure water hoses.

She worked right alongside me while we tied the rebar for the concrete floor of the new sandblast building that was going to be built behind the water treatment building. She worked with me in the sump pit between the precipitator and the smoke stacks with the Honey Wagon Sewer company that was helping us suck out the crud from the bottom of the pit. (This was before we had bought our own Honey Wagon). They call it a “Honey Wagon”, because, well… it is used to suck out things like Outhouses. You know how much that smells like Honey….. right? Um… ok.

We finally bought a Honey Wagon like this

Most surprising to me, Doretta worked cleaning boiler tubes in the boiler when the unit was offline and we needed to shake tubes to knock out the ash, or even use crosscut saw blades welded end on end to cut through the ash packed in the boiler economizer section.

I’m talking about two man crosscut saws. Welded end-on-end

This lady was a survivor. That is how she struck me.

Most of the time Doretta worked with a smile on her face. In fact, she had a smile embedded on her face from years of smiling to the point that her eyes smiled. Even though (as I found out in the course of my time on the Labor Crew), Doretta had a very rough period of her life, she hadn’t let it beat her down, and she was happy to be working on the labor crew, doing what most people would think was a thankless job.

It is true that when something needed to be typed, (Desktop computers were not available yet), Doretta would do the typing for Larry. She would also cut our hair. Being paid our modest salary (mine was $5.75 per hour at the time), we couldn’t afford to go to the barber every other week to have our hair trimmed, so Doretta would set up shop and one-by-one, we would go sit in the chair and she would cut our hair. Just like a mom would do.

I figured that since we were calling Doretta “Mom”, it only made sense that we would call Larry “Dad”. Larry’s reaction to my calling him “Dad” was more like Darth Vader telling Luke Skywalker that he was Luke’s father. “Nooooooo!!!!” Except I was the little Darth Vader telling Larry I was his son…

The little Darth Vader from the Volkwagen commercial

Larry disowned me for a while as I have mentioned in an earlier post called “Power Plant Genius of Larry Riley“. He finally came around to admitting it when I continued calling him Dad. But he explained that he dropped me on my head when I was a baby and that was why I was so strange. So, Larry was our Labor Crew Dad, and Doretta was our Labor Crew mom.

It came to no surprise later when Doretta Funkhouser left the plant to become Doretta Riley. It seemed natural to me that my Labor Crew Mom and Dad would be married. I don’t know if that resolved the issue of my illegitimate Power Plant birth. I don’t remember anyone referring to me as a bastard after that. at least not in relation to my questionable origin, and at least not directly to my face. Though I do know of a few people during the years that would have thought that would have been an appropriate title for me.

I remember on one occasion when we were hauling scaffolding up onto the boiler to prepare for an outage, and I was working with Doretta using the large wench on floor 8 1/2 (I think), when Doretta came back from checking something at the bottom of the boiler. She said something to me then that puzzled me for a while. I didn’t understand it at first, but later came to know why she said what she did.

This is the type of Wench Hoist we were operating, only ours was powered by high pressure air. Not electricity

She said that it made her mad that people were trying to get me fired, when I’m a decent person, while there are people who shouldn’t be allowed to stay. She was referring to the wrath of Waugh after we had embarrassed him in front of Martin Louthan when we had confronted them about not being allowed to be considered for the Testing jobs, (See the post “Take A Note Jan” said the Manager of Power Production“). Eldon was trying to dig up dirt on anyone that had caused his embarrassment and had targeted me as one person to fire.

What had happened when Doretta had gone down to the foot of the boiler was that one or more of the “Pseudo” Power Plant Men-in-training had made an insulting reference to the past hardships that Doretta experienced in her life. I wasn’t aware of this until Eldon and Bill Moler questioned me about it a few weeks later when I was called to the office to see if I knew anything about the incident.

When they told me what had been said I became visibly upset to the point that I could hardly respond. Not because I didn’t want to answer their questions (which I didn’t, because I knew they were on their witch hunt which included me as well), but because when I learned that a couple of people on our crew had gravely insulted someone that I deeply cared about, I was both angry and upset. It was upsetting that someone would insult a struggling mother who was doing what she could to take care of her children only to be berated by others that worked closely with me.

After Doretta left the plant to marry Larry, I only saw her at a few Christmas Parties after that. She still had the same smile. I hope that she was able to find peace in her life, and that her family is doing well today. And that’s the story of my Labor Crew Mom and Dad.

Comments from the original post:

  1. Spent a little time on the picket line with the Navajo Local, District 65, in the Navajo Nation – when they were out on strike in 1987. Forget the lass’s name; but, the leader of the Local was a young Navajo woman, married with a couple of kids at home, who operated the biggest dragline at the Peabody Mine.

    Helluva skill.

  2. Gotta say, this is one of the more unusual blog posts I’ve seen in a while: different subject, funny, and well-written, too.

    Not my normal fare, but you’ve got a new follower… :)

  3. Your evocative stories return me to my years as a riveter… your subjects were the kind of people who built this country’s industry, I think. And I still think you have a book here…