Sometimes when something is written on paper, it becomes carved in stone (I should copyright that phrase — oh. as soon as I click “Publish” I will). I saw a flaw in Power Plant logic one day in November 1994. Corporate Headquarters for the Electric Company in Oklahoma had decided that they needed very clear job descriptions for their Job Announcement program. We had just completed a downsizing a few months earlier and two electricians were asked to determine what prerequisites someone would need to be able to do their jobs. My first thought was… “Is that really a smart way to go about this?” Just think about it…. You are asking someone who just survived a downsizing to determine what it would take to replace that person with someone else…. Can you see the flaw in this logic?
It was decided that in order to be hired as an electrician, you had to have the following prerequisites: A technical degree in an electrical field. A minimum of five years experience as an industrial electrician. Have a technical knowledge of how to walk on water. Able to swing from tall buildings using a four size 2 conductor cable. Have extensive experience bending conduit. Able to work in confined space manholes. Can bend a one inch diameter stainless steel rod with bare hands. Black Belt in Six Sigma. Able to explain the meaning of each color on a resistor. Not afraid of heights. Willing to shovel coal. — Yep. that’s what it requires to do my job.
I knew right away this wasn’t going to be good. We would never find someone who can both walk on water and was willing to shovel coal. If we ever had to replace an electrician, it would be darn impossible. This wasn’t only true for electricians. Every type of job in the company was given similar treatment. I had been an electrician for 11 years at that point, and I didn’t even meet the minimum qualifications. If I had left the company and tried to apply for a job at our plant as an electrician, I would have been turned away at the door.
Whatever minimum requirements were written down did not only apply to outside applicants. This was required of employees applying through the internal Career Announcement Program (CAP) as well. In other words, I never would have been able to join the electric shop from the Labor Crew as I did in 1983, with only a scant understanding of what it takes to be an electrician. It wasn’t until a few years later that this occurred to anyone. The minimum requirements were relaxed a little. That was when the training program was put in place to take High School graduates and above and allow them to train at the plant for a particular skill as I described in the post: “Power Plant Train Wreck“. The rest of the company had to live with their own minimum requirements.
The results of asking the employees what the minimum requirements should be for their own jobs, HR had painted themselves into a corner. I knew why they did this. It was because they had lawsuits in the past where someone was hired over someone else, and they thought they were more qualified for the job. So, specific requirements for each job needed to be created…. Actually…. I think this is the opposite of what should have been done.
If I had my druthers, I would have approached this from the opposite direction… let me continue with my story and you will see why.
I started getting my degree in Management Information Systems (MIS) in 1997 at Oklahoma State University. I was going to graduate from the business school in May 2001. In the fall of 2000, I had only 6 credit hours (or two more classes) left. I had started in 1999 applying for IT jobs in our company. Many times I was asked by people in the IT department to apply for specific job openings. I had worked with a lot of them, and they would have liked for me to work for them.
Unfortunately, at that time, here was the minimum requirements for a Software Developer: You had to have one or more of the following: A Bachelor Degree in Computer Science… OR Bachelor Degree in MIS with at least 9 hours of computer languages (I had the 9 hours of computer languages)… OR Bachelor Degree in a business or technically related field with 18 hours of computer science courses including 9 hours of computer languages…. OR Associate Degree in Computer Science with 9 hours of computer languages and 2 years of software development experience….. OR 8 years of directly related experience such as development in C, C++, ABAP, Visual Basic or Cobol.
It was that last requirement that I thought I could use. Especially since I was well on my way to earning the degree. I had many years writing code in Visual Basic and C. I had taken a Cobol class already, and studied ABAP (which is used in SAP) on my own. So, along with almost having my degree and working with IT for more than 8 years, I applied for these jobs. Every time I did, HR would kick the application back to me and explain that I didn’t meet the minimum requirements so I was not able to be considered for the position. Not until I had my degree in my hands. The HR Director said that all the work I had done with IT didn’t count because I was doing it as an electrician. She said her hands were tied.
In November 2000 the University had a career fair for students applying for IT or business careers. So, I attended it. It was in a large room where each of the companies had setup a booth and you walked around to each booth as the various companies explained why it would be nice to go work for their company. They explained their benefits, and when they were done, they asked you for your resume (prounounced “rez U May” in case you’re wondering) if you were interested.
Before the career fair, I had gone to lectures on how to go through the interview process, and I had read books about how to create a good resume. I had bought books on these subjects and read them. Here are three books that came in useful in my job hunt:
So, here I was at a job fair dressed in a nice suit I had bought in Oklahoma City at a high end Suit store. I had studied what color shoes, belt and tie to wear. I had a stack of my carefully designed resumes in hand. My wife Kelly had given me a professional haircut the night before, and I had even washed behind my ears.
I had quickly changed into my suit in the bathroom in the office area at the Power Plant. I quickly took the elevator down to the ground floor and stole out to the parking lot to drive the 30 miles to the Job Fair. No one saw me leave, except Denise Anson, the receptionist.
I made my way around each aisle of booths, carefully considering each company. I was not really interested in working as a consultant where I had to do a lot of travelling. After all, I had a family. I gave my resume to many companies that day, and later I had interviews with many of them. It felt very strange as a 40 year old acting as a kid in school handing resumes to companies. I really just wanted to stay at the Electric Company where I had worked for the past 19 years.
Then I spied the booth I was really curious to visit. It was the Electric Companies booth. The company where I worked. I saw a group of students walk up to the booth and the young man from HR began his speech about why it would be great to work for the Electric Company. I stood toward the back of the small crowd and listened. It was weird hearing him tell us about the benefits of working for the company.
The Director of HR was standing next to him. She was the person that kept rejecting all of my job applications through the internal job announcement program. I waited patiently thinking… I could come up with better reasons for working for the best Electric Company in the world. He never mentioned once that the best employees you would ever find in the entire world worked just 30 miles north on Hwy 177 at the big Power Plant on the hill. That would have been the first thing I would have mentioned.
I waited until the young man completed his speech and then asked the students if they would like to give him their resumes. I stood there, not moving, but smiling at the young man from HR. After everyone else left, the man turned to me and asked me if I would like to give him my resume. I replied as I handed him my resume by saying, “I’ll give you my resume, but I don’t think you can hire me.”
He replied, “Sure we can.” as he glanced down at my resume. I continued, “See… I already work for the company.” The young man brightened up and said, “I thought I recognized you! You work at the Power Plant just north of here!” I said, “Yeah. You were the leader at my table during the Money Matters class.” “Yeah! I remember that!” He replied.
“Sure, we can hire you!” He replied. I said, “No. I don’t think you can. You see. I don’t meet the minimum requirements.” Then I turned my gaze to the Director of HR who was now staring off into space… The gaping hole in logic had suddenly become very apparent. She replied very slowly…. “No… I don’t think we can hire you.” The young man (I think his name is Ben), looked confused, so I explained….
“You see Ben… you can take resumes from all of these college students and offer them a job for when they graduate, but since I already work for the company, I have to have my degree already in my hand before I meet the requirements. I can go to any other booth in this room and have an interview and be offered a job, but I can’t find an IT job in the company where I work because I don’t meet the minimum requirements. Seems kind of odd. Doesn’t it?”
I continued…. “Not only that, but the Electric Company has paid for all my classes to get my degree and 75% of my books. I have only 6 more hours after December, and I can’t find a job with my own company. I will probably have to go to another company that is guaranteeing a job when I graduate. Does that make sense?”
The HR Director was still staring off into space. She knew as soon as I opened my mouth who I was. She had personally signed each rejection letter to me.
So, what had happened? It had happened a few years earlier when the employees were asked what the minimum requirements should be for someone to be hired for their jobs. That led them down a path of closed doors instead of opening up opportunities.
Here is what I would have done instead… I would have done what other companies do… Minimum Requirements: “Team Player. Able to work well with others. Demonstrated an ability to learn new skills.” — Who wouldn’t want an employee like that? Sure. Add some “Desired attributes” on the end like: Able to bend conduit. Able Walk on Water, etc.
I had spent about an hour at the career fair handing my resume to potential employers before I left. I drove back to the plant. On the way back to the plant I was having this sinking feeling that I was not going to be able to stay with the Electric Company. I can’t describe how sad I was at this thought.
I couldn’t just stick around at the plant hoping that once I had a degree in my hands that I would be able to move into the IT department. For all I knew, our own plant manager could have been telling HR that I couldn’t leave the plant because I was the only person that worked inside the precipitator. I had been flown around the country to interview with different companies who were now offering me jobs. Those offers wouldn’t still be there if I waited until I graduated, so I had to make a decision soon.
I knew that the Plant Manager Bill Green kept asking the Supervisor over Maintenance about my degree because Jim Arnold would ask me from time-to-time, “What’s that degree you’re getting again?” I would say, “Management Information Systems” in the Business College. Jim would go back to Bill and say, “Oh. You don’t have to worry about Kevin leaving. No one wants someone with that degree” (Yeah. Heard that from someone that heard it first hand).
When I arrived back at the plant, I walked in the entrance and hurried to the elevator. I waved at Denise as I quickly walked by the receptionist window and quickly went into the men’s room to change back into my jeans and tee-shirt and work boots. No one else saw me. I returned to work with Ray Eberle in the Print Room to work on SAP. Ray asked me how it went…
I told Ray about my adventure and my encounter at the Electric Company booth. Ray came to the same realization that I had on the way back to the plant… I wasn’t going to be able to stay with the company. I was going to have to move on…
I suppose most people remember where they were New Year’s Eve at midnight on Saturday, January 1, 2000. That is a night I will never forget. Some people were hiding in self-made bunkers waiting for the end of the world which never came, others were celebrating at home with their families and friends. I suppose some people went on with their lives as if nothing was different that night. Not my family. My wife and two children spent the night at the Power Plant waiting to see if all of the testing we had performed the last two years had covered all possible failures of the Y2K scare.
A small group of Power Plant Men had been chosen to attend a party with our families in the main conference room at the Power Plant. All the food and drinks were supplied by the company. Our Plant Manager, Bill Green was there. Children were given the opportunity to rest in some other room as it reached their bedtimes.
Two years before this fateful night, the company was in full swing preparing for the Y2K computer disaster that had been foretold by those who knew that many computer systems only used two digits for the year instead of all four. so, when the year 2000 rolled around, it would suddenly show up in the computer as 00, which didn’t compute as a year in some systems. After all, you can’t divide something by 00. Suddenly, the time between events that just happened before midnight and those that happen just after midnight are 100 years apart in the wrong direction.
The coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma was completed in 1979 and 1980, so, my first thought was that by that time, computers were far enough along to know better. The Instrument and Controls Power Plant Men along with the Plant Engineers decided that the best way to check their systems was to change the clocks on the computers one at a time to just before midnight on New Year’s Eve and see what happens.
I thought that was a pretty ingenious way to go about testing the computer systems. By changing the clock on each system one at a time to New Year’s Eve and watching it roll over to the new Millennium, you learn right away if you have a problem, and you have contained the disaster to one system at a time while you test it. By doing this, it turned out that there was a problem with one system at the Co-Generation plant at the Continental Oil Refinery 20 miles north of the plant.
I wrote a post about the Co-Generation Plant in a previous post: “What Coal-fired Power Plant Electricians Are Doing at an Oil Refinery“. When it was discovered that the computer at the Conoco Oil Refinery Power Plant would crash on New Year’s Eve, it was decided that we would just roll the clock back to 1950 (or so), and we wouldn’t have to worry about it for another 50 years. The thought was that by that time, this computer would be replaced.
This was the original thought which caused the Y2K problem in the first place. No one thought in the 1960’s that their computer systems would still be operating when the year 2000 came around, so they didn’t bother to use four digits for the year. Disk space was expensive at that time, and anything that could save a few bytes was considered an improvement instead of a bug.
My wife wasn’t too pleased when I told her where we were going to spend New Year’s Eve when Y2K rolled around, but then again, where would you rather be if a worldwide disaster happened and the electricity shutdown across the country? I would think the Power Plant would be the best place. You could at least say, “I was in the actual Control Room at a Power Plant watching them throw the switch and light up Oklahoma City!” Besides, we usually spent New Year’s Eve quietly at home with our kids.
Even though we were fairly certain everything had been accounted for, it was the unknown computer system sitting out there that no one had thought about that might shut everything down. Some system in a relay house in a substation, or some terrorist attack. So, there we sat watching the New Year roll in on a big screen TV at one end of the break room. Children’s movies were being shown most of the evening to keep the young occupied while we waited.
I thought that Jim Arnold, the Supervisor over the Maintenance Department, wanted me in the break room at the Power Plant so that he could keep an eye on me to make sure I wasn’t going to be causing trouble that night. Jim never really trusted me…. I suppose that was because strange things would happen when I was around. Of course, I would never do anything that would jeopardize the operation of the Power Plant, but that didn’t stop me from keeping Jim guessing.
No. Not really. I was there because I had a way with computers. I was the computer go to person at the plant, and if anything happened to any of them, I would probably be the person that could whisper it back into service. Also, if for some reason the Generators tripped, I was a switchman that could open and close switches in the substation and start the precipitator back up and run up to the top of the boiler if the boiler elevator broke down and get it started back up.
Except for my natural affinity for computers, any of the electricians in the Power Plant could do all those other things. I think there was just a little “prejudice” left over about me from when Bill Bennett our past A foreman used to say, “Let Kevin do it. He doesn’t mind getting dirty” (or…. he likes to climb the boiler, or…. he likes confined spaces, or… Kevin likes to stay up at all hours of the night working on things… I could go on… that was Bill’s response when someone asked him who should do the really grimy jobs — of course… to some degree…. he was usually right).
I was actually a little proud to be told that I was going to have to spend New Year’s Eve at the Power Plant. I had almost 17 years of experience as a Power Plant Electrician at that time, and I felt very comfortable working on any piece of equipment in the plant. If it was something I had never worked on before, then I would quickly learn how it worked… As I said, all the electricians in the plant were the same way. It was our way of life.
At 11:00 pm Central Time, we watched as the ball dropped in Time Square in New York City. The 10 or so Power Plant Men with their families sat in anticipation waiting…. and waiting… to see if the lights went out in New York…. Of course you know now that nothing happened, but we were ready to jump into a crisis mode if there were any reports of power failures across the country.
You see…. The electric grid on the east side of the Rocky Mountains is all connected together. If the power grid were to go down in one area, it could try dragging down the rest of the country. If protective relays in substations across the country don’t operate flawlessly, then a blackout occurs in a larger area than just one particular area covered by one electric company.
When relays operate properly, a blackout is contained in the smallest area possible. There was only one problem…. Breakers in substations are now controlled by remote computer systems. If those systems began to act erratic, then the country could have a problem. This did not happen that night.
There was a contract worker in the engineering department at our plant who was at his home in the country during this time hunkered down in a bunker waiting for the end of the world as was foretold by the minister of this church. He had purchased a large supply of food and water and had piled them up in his shelter along with a portable generator. He and his family waited out the end of the world that night waiting for the rapture. He told me about that a few months later. He was rather disappointed that the world hadn’t ended like it was supposed to. He was so prepared for it.
After 11 pm rolled around and there was no disaster on the east coast, things lightened up a bit. I decided to take my son and daughter on a night tour of the plant. So, we walked over to the control room where they could look at the control panels with all of the the lights and alarms. Here is a picture of Jim Cave and Allen Moore standing in front of the Unit 1 Control Panel:
Then I took each of them up to the top of the Boiler where you could look out over the lake at night from a view 250 feet high. The Power Plant becomes a magical world at night, with the rumbling sounds from the boiler, the quiet hissing of steam muffled by the night. The lights shining through the metal structure and open grating floors.
From the top of the boiler, you could look south and see the night lights from Stillwater, Pawnee and Perry. Looking north, you could see Ponca City and the Oil Refinery at Conoco (later Phillips). The only structure taller than the boilers are the smoke stacks. There was always a special quality about the plant at night that is hard to put your finger on. A sort of silence in a world of noise. It is like a large ship on the ocean. In a world of its own.
We returned to the break room 20 minutes before midnight, where our plant manager Bill Green and Jim Arnold tested their radios with the Control Room to make sure we were all in contact with each other. I had carried my tool bucket up to the break room in case I needed to dash off somewhere in a hurry.
We felt confident by this time that a disaster was not going to happen when the clock rolled over to midnight. When the countdown happened, and the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 counted down, We cheered “Happy New Year!” and hugged one another. I think both of my children had dozed off by this point.
Bill Green called the control room. The word came back that everything was business as usual. Nothing out of the ordinary. We waited around another hour just to make sure that nothing had shutdown. By 1:00 am on January 1, 2000, Bill Green gave us the Green Light. We were all free to return to our homes.
I gathered up my two children and my wife Kelly, and we drove the 25 miles back home to the comfort of our own beds. When we went to bed early that morning after I had climbed into bed, I reached over and turned off the light on my nightstand. When the light went out, it was because I had decided to turn it off. Not because the world had suddenly come to an end. A new Millennium had just begun.
It is not clear how many heart attacks one Power Plant Man can have. Walt Oswalt probably had a heart attack on a monthly basis, but rarely let anyone know about it. Ray Eberle dropped by Walt’s farm one day to visit and found Walt out in the pasture passed out next to his combine as if dead. When Ray began following the ABC’s for safety he found that Walt was still breathing. Upon reviving him, Walt just said that he was tired and decided to take a nap. Ray knew that he had just had another heart attack but didn’t want to admit it.
The best way to revive Walt at this point, we found, was to say out loud that we were going to take him to the hospital in Ponca City. At that time, no one would be caught dead going there…. or maybe they would. At least when they were discharged.
Walt had a different way of looking at the world. It was probably brought on by a combination of being a long time Power Plant Man and being partly insane… in a likable sort of way… if you already have a good sense of humor. If your sense of humor is lacking, then Walt may have appeared annoying.
Either way, Walt bounced between one adventure to another.
One day Ray Eberle, who considered Walt a dear friend, dropped by to visit Walt (which was a common occurrence). When Ray walked into the living room of Walt’s double-wide, he found two coffin-like boxes laying in the middle of the floor. Ray asked Walt why he had two wooden coffins laying on his living room floor, half thinking that maybe Walt was thinking ahead and found a deal on a couple of cheap coffins on the Internet.
Walt explained that the two boxes contained a marketing tool that was going to be the key to his success. Walt decided to open one of the boxes and show Ray instead of trying to explain his new idea, so he took a pry bar and pried open the lid on one of the wooden coffins. In all of Ray’s imagination, he had not figured on seeing what he saw when the lid was lifted from the box.
Carefully stacked inside the box were 50 high dollar pool cues.
Walt pulled one of the pool cues out of the box and showed Ray that each one was carefully engraved with the following words:
“Walt’s Excavating and Dirt Movers – Why go anywhere else when Walt can cheat you just the same?” Then it had his phone number.
Walt explained to Ray that all he had to do was go down to each of the bars in the Morrison and Pawnee areas and hand out these pool cues to everyone, and before long, everyone in town will see his advertisement because “Everyone shoots pool and drinks beer.”
Ray looked at the satisfied look on Walt’s face as he was explaining his new business adventure and replied, “But I don’t shoot pool and drink beer.” Walt said, “Yeah, but everyone else does.” Walt also added that people will think that the part about “cheating you as good as anyone else” is a joke…. but it isn’t.
Ray was curious as he examined the very expensive pool cues and the fine engraving, so he asked Walt how much each of these pool cues cost. Walt explained that since he had ordered 100 of them, he was able to get them at a discount of $75 each (or so. I don’t remember the exact cost). I do know that this added up to $7,500 worth of pool cues that Walt was going to give away for free.
Walt’s dream was that his tractor with the scoop shovel and dirt grater was going to be busy all over the county leveling roads and moving dirt. Ray watched as Walt’s wife walked through the room with a slightly disgusted look on her face as she glanced over at the two coffins on the living room floor. Ray decided to keep quiet until the storm had passed.
When Ray was telling me this story, I wondered how many times Walt’s wife had a heart attack.
On another occasion, Ray Eberle went to visit with Walt after work. Walt invited Ray into the kitchen to have a drink of water. Ray was admiring the new carpet Walt just had installed in the house.
As they sat there talking, Ray noticed that a complete window frame with the glass already installed was next to the kitchen table leaning against the wall. Since Walt didn’t mention the window frame right away, Ray finally asked, “Walt, what are you planning on doing with this Window?”
Walt explained that he bought the window on sale and since he wanted to put another window in kitchen, he bought it. Ray looked around the kitchen and wondered where Walt could possibly add a new window. He wasn’t sure where Walt could add a window. So, knowing Walt, he figured that the fastest way to find out was to ask….
“Walt, where in the kitchen are you going to put the window?” Walt pointed to the wall directly behind Ray where there was a blank white wall. “I’m going to put the window right there.”
Ray saw a flaw in this logic immediately, but decided to wait 30 seconds or so in order to check his logic with reality, just to make sure he wasn’t mistaken…. when he was sure, Ray replied, “But Walt…. Isn’t your bedroom on the other side of that wall?”
Without pausing Walt said, “Yeah. I want to be able to see what’s happening in the kitchen when I’m in bed.” Ray’s right hand slowly grabbed the edge of the table in order to steady himself, so that he didn’t spill the glass of water in his left hand.
At this point, Walt ensured Ray that he always wanted to have a window right there as he reached into a kitchen drawer and retrieved a claw hammer.
Walt walked over to the wall and said, “I am going to put that window right here… and using the claw on the hammer, he began tearing a hole in the sheet rock. Ray, a little shocked backed off to give Walt room as he began destroying the wall in the kitchen.
Sheet rock was flying all over the new carpet, and Ray noticed that as Walt was attacking the wall, he was grinding the sheet rock dust into the carpet even further as he walked on the fallen bits of chalk. Before long there was a gaping hole in the wall, more in a circle than the square hole that would be needed to mount the window. Sheet rock fragments were all over the kitchen table, floor and spilling out into the living area.
About this time Walt’s wife returned home from work. She took one look at the disaster in the kitchen. Ray thought that she was either going to cry, have another heart attack or… well, some other kind of attack…. So, Ray thought it would be a good time to go home to see his own wife Barbara.
Ray said his quick goodbye’s and skedaddled through the front door amazed at the sudden destruction of the wall in the kitchen and the new carpet.
Ray decided not to visit Walt for a few days, just to let things “work themselves out”. Finally when Ray came over for another visit with Walt, when he entered the living room and looked toward the wall in the kitchen, he could see that there was no window mounted in the wall, and the entire wall was back to the way it was before anything had happened.
A little confused, Ray asked Walt, “What happened to the window you were putting in the kitchen?” Walt explained that when he went to put the window in the wall, he broke the glass, so he decided not to put a window there after all. So, he asked Jerry Osborn if he would patch the wall up.
I mentioned in the last week’s post that Jerry Osborn was one of Walt’s “Guardian Angels”, see the post: “When Power Plant Ingenuity Doesn’t Translate“. He was the one that would clean up after Walt’s experiments. Walt was always thinking outside the box.
Walt’s wife walked into the living room with a cheerful satisfied look on her face, “How are you doing today Ray?”, she asked, as she sat down on the couch. Ray thought he knew how the window was broken.
One of Walt’s other ventures had to do with miniature ponies. Walt had decided that even though he had no experience in the “miniature pony” arena, he had read up about the business on the Internet and decided that just by looking at a picture of a miniature pony on the Internet, he could tell if a pony was a keeper or not.
Much like his purchase of the truck in Chesapeake Bay (see the post: “Mr. Frog’s Wild Power Plant Ride“), Walt decided to buy some miniature ponies from someone in Louisiana, sight unseen. Before long, Walt owned some miniature ponies, and was in business.
Ray knew Walt really was in the miniature pony business the day he walked into Walt’s house and there in the middle of the floor in the living room were two large wooden boxes, that looked like two coffins. Can you guess what was in them?
Walt couldn’t wait to show Ray his new batch of pool cues. He pulled one out of the box, and there written on the side it said, “Walt’s Miniature Ponies, Why buy from someone else when Walt can cheat you just the same.” Walt explained, “You know Ray… Everyone shoots pool and drinks beer… well, except for you.”
Rest in Peace Walt, and thanks for the great adventures! The Power Plant Men of North Central Oklahoma wouldn’t have known what to do without you!
August 16, 2001 was my final day at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma. I had stepped onto the plant grounds May 4, 1979, 22 years earlier. Now I was leaving to change careers and moving to Round Rock, Texas to work for Dell Computers. During my final day, a going away party was held in my honor by the Power Plant Men and Women that I had the privilege to work alongside during the past 22 years.
A few minutes before the party began, I slipped into the office bathroom/locker room and changed into a navy blue suit and tie. Combed my hair. Put on black socks with my shiny black shoe. Grabbed my briefcase and headed for the break room. When I walked in the room, it was packed full of Power Plant Men and Women all waiting to say goodbye to one of their family.
Many wondered who it was that had joined their party of one of their own. Who was this person in the suit and tie? Ed Shiever told me later that he didn’t even recognize me. It wasn’t until I reached out and shook his hand that he realized that his was Kevin Breazile. The same person he had known since he was a temp employee working in the tool room.
When the Power Plant Men finally realized that I was the person they had been waiting for, they broke out in applause as I walked around shaking their hands. I would have broke out in tears if I hadn’t been thinking about what a great person each of them had been over the many years we had known each other.
I made my way to the front of the room where I had set up a computer and hooked it to the big screen TV. I had a special surprise waiting for them. One that would temporarily change the plant policy on going away parties after I was gone. I had prepared a special PowerPoint presentation for them.
I set my briefcase next to the computer on the end of the table acting as if the computer had nothing to do with the party. Then I stood there as the “going away” part of the party began.
It was typical for people to stand up and tell a story or two about the person leaving, so Jim Arnold (the Supervisor of Maintenance and part time nemesis) was first. He explained how I had been working on SAP for the past three years creating tasks lists that are used to describe each possible job in the plant.
He turned to me and asked me how many task lists I had created in the last 3 years. I replied, “About 17,800”. Jim said that this boggled his mind. It was three times more than the entire rest of the company put together.
Jim made a comment about how he wasn’t sure he would want a job where you have to dress up in a suit and tie.
Andy Tubbs stood up and presented me with my 20 year safety sticker and a leather backpack for working 20 years without an accident, which was completed on August 11, just 5 days before. I had worked four summers as a summer help, which counted as one year of service, then I had completed 19 years as a full time employee that very same week.
I like being roasted, but that didn’t really happen. A few other people told some stories about me, that I can’t recall because I was busy thinking about the PowerPoint presentation. I had memorized my entire script, and the presentation was pretty much automatic and timed, and I had to keep to my script or pause the presentation.
Then Jim Arnold asked me (Bill Green, the Plant Manager was gone that day visiting the Muskogee Plant) if I had anything I would like to say before I left…. That was the cue I had been waiting for. I replied, “Actually, I have a PowerPoint presentation right here, and I hit a key, and the TV lit up….
I will present each of the 26 slides below with the comments I made during each one. Since many of the slides are animated, I will try to describe how that worked as I made my presentation… so, hang on… this is going to be a lot of slides…. I broke it down into about 45 pictures. The Script is what I said for each slide:
Remember when Mark Draper came here for a year and when he was getting ready to leave he gave a presentation about where he thought we were doing well, and how we could improve ourselves?
I thought that since I have spent 20 years with you guys I might be able to come up with a few comments. Especially as opinionated as I am.
In 1979, I came to work here as a summer help. The plant was still being built and I was really impressed with the special quality of people I met and looked up to.
Script continues as these three pictures slide in:
Like for instance there was Sonny Karcher and another was Jerry Mitchell. It has been a while since I have seen these two guys, and I know that Jerry has passed on, but this is the way I remember them.
And of course Larry Riley was there.
Larry was the one I worked with back then that seemed to know what was going on. I will always consider him a good friend.
When I was on Labor Crew I would call him “Dad”. He would never own up to it. He said I was never the same after I fell on my head when I was a kid.
I used to get real dirty when I worked in the coal yard right alongside Jerry Mitchell. He would stay perfectly clean. He told me that I knew I was good when I could keep myself clean. —
Well. I have found a better way to do that. And once again I would like to thank OG&E for paying for my education.
I encourage all the new guys to seriously consider taking advantage of the free education benefit.
Then of course there was our Plant Manager and Assistant Manager back then.
This is how I remember them.
After hiring on permanently as a janitor in ’82, and getting on Labor crew in the spring of ’83. I was able to get into the electric shop in November 1983.
I vividly remember my first day as an electrician. The first thing I worked on, I shorted it to ground.
Script continues as Charles Foster’s picture slides in:
With no prior experience as an electrician I was allowed to join the electric shop. Charles Foster was instrumental in getting me into the shop, and I am grateful. As everyone knows, Charles is a long time friend of mine.
For years and years Charles would tell the story about how he fought tooth and nail for me against the evil Plant Manager and His diabolic Assistant who wanted me to be banished to the Labor Crew for eternity.
Not too long ago I told Charles that if he hadn’t pushed so hard to get me into the electric shop, I probably would have left OG&E and went back to school years ago ( like my mom wanted me to do), and made something of myself long before now.
These are the electricians that were there when I first joined the electric shop. These are the only ones left. I think we started out with 16.
The electricians were always a tight knit group. It amazed me to see a electricians who couldn’t stand each other sit down and play dominos three times a day, every day, year after year.
Jimmie Moore joined the shop some time later.
And of course. Bill Bennett was around back then.
When I arrived in the electric shop I was 23 years old and I replaced Diana Brien as the youngest electrician in the shop. As I leave, I am almost 41 years old, and I am still the youngest electrician. As I leave, I relinquish the title back to Diana Brien who once again will be the youngest electrician.
As a side note…. I don’t know why I forgot about Ben Davis. He reminded me after the presentation… I don’t know how… Here is a picture of Ben:
I suppose you all remember what happened on February 15th, 1985. The day we refer to as “Black Friday”. The day that the “Drug and Theft” ring was busted at Sooner Station. That was the day that a very dear friend of mine, Pat Braden, whom everyone knew as a kind easy going person turned out to be some evil leader of a theft ring.
Note: As I was saying the above statement, This mummy walked across the slide…
Note: Then Barney slide across in the other direction…
Well. I know better than that. I will always remember Pat Braden with a smile on his face. Mickey Postman, I know you would agree with me about Pat and just about everyone else who knew him well.
It has been 16 years since this took place and the company has gone through a lot of changes, but don’t ever think something like this couldn’t happen again.
Note… The hammers come in and stomp the images off the slide….
Then there was the first Reorganization. The old people retired on October 1st. That was the end of the Moler and Waugh regime.
At first we thought we were all on vacation. Our new plant manager came in the first meeting with us and told a joke.
We all looked at each other and wondered, “Can plant managers even do that?”
I’m sure you guys remember Ron Kilman. Bless his heart.
The second part of the first reorganization allowed people without jobs to find a position in the company over a 8 month period.
Note: Pictures of Scott Hubbard fly in along with the words: “Hubbard Here!” then each one disappears leaving this:
That is when Scott Hubbard joined the electric shop.
Scott and I drove to work together for a long time and we became good friends.
I’ll miss Scott when I leave. I’ll remember that “Hubbard is Here”, while I’ll be down there – in Texas.
Do you remember the Quality Process? They said it was a process and not a program because when a program is over it goes away, and a process is something that will always be here. — Yeah right.
Note: While I was saying this, the screen all of the sudden went dark as I kept talking… I could tell that people wondered if I realized that the presentation had suddenly disappeared….
This is all we have left of the Quality Process.
When I said the line “This is all we have left of the Quality Process” pointing my thumb over my shoulder with a look of disappointment on my face, the room suddenly burst out into cheers and applause as they realized that the blank screen represented the current state of the Quality process at the plant.
The first reorganization was done in a somewhat orderly manner.
They retired the old guys out first and brought in the new management, then they informed those that didn’t have positions and gave them time to find a job before they let them go.
Note: The sounds of gun shots were barely heard from the computer speaker, as splats occurred on the slide until it looked like this:
The second reorganization. Well. It was a massacre.
It was a very lousy way to do this, and very humiliating.
Jim Arnold at this point was about to jump out of his chair and stop the show, so I was quick to go to the next slide…
With the redesign came another Plant Manager. One of the first things I remember about Bill Green was that one morning I was stopped at the front gate and given a 9 volt battery for my smoke detector.
I took the battery home and put it in my smoke detector, and – guess what? – The battery was dead. And I thought, “Oh well. These things happen.”
Well a couple of years later, there was Bill Green handing out smoke detector batteries again.
I checked it out and sure enough, it was dead also.
Note: As I was talking during this slide, the marbles dropped in and bounced around then at the end the hat and moustache landed on Bill Green.
I am just wondering. I want to test out a theory I have. How many of you was given a dead battery?
— OK, I see. Just the trouble makers. I understand. It all makes sense to me now.
Second Note: Bill Green had a jar full of marbles and each color represented a type of injury someone has when they do something unsafe. Most of the marbles were blue and meant that nothing happened, the other colors represented increasingly worse injuries. Two marbles in the jar signified fatalities.
The numbers went like this:
Out of 575 incidents where someone does something unsafe, here are the consequences:
390 Blue Marbles: Nothing happens
113 Green Marbles: A First Aid injury
57 White Marbles: A Recordable Accident
8 Pink Marbles: Up to 30 days lost work day injury occurs
5 Red Marbles: 60 or more lost workdays injury occurs
2 Yellow Marbles: A Fatality occurs
The Maintenance workers are the best people I know. Everyone one of them has treated me with respect, and I consider each of you a friend.
You are the people I will miss. Not the coal dust, not the fly ash. — Just the people.
Note: Over the next set of slides, I showed the Power Plant Men I worked with… I will show you a couple of pictures of some slides to show you the animation that I had slide in and I’ll explain them.. I didn’t say much during the following slides. They flashed by fairly quickly:
Note: The circle with the slash over Bob Blubaugh represented him being recently fired… The story around this is on some of the last slides… and was a tragedy. The military cap landed on Randy Daily (in the lower right) because he was an Army Medic and was always in charge when it came to safety.
The donut flew up to Danny Cain because if there was ever free food somewhere, Danny would find it… Especially if they were donuts.
The words “Huh, Huh?” flew to Jody Morse, because he had the habit of saying something and ending his sentence with “Huh, Huh?”
Note: That was the end of the pictures of the Maintenance Power Plant Men…. I didn’t have pictures of the Operators, and they weren’t at the party…
Without these two, you wouldn’t get paid, and you wouldn’t get parts.
I agree with what Jerry Osborn said about Linda Shiever. There isn’t anyone out here that can do the job Linda does every day.
The maintenance foremen have treated me with respect and I would like to thank all of you for that.
Note: Then Jim Arnold flew in:
I realize that you have to do certain things some times because there is someone looking over your shoulders directing every move you make.
Note: At this point, Jim leaned forward in his chair to get a better look… wondering if that was his face on this picture of God…
Yes, Jim Arnold does take care of us, and we know that he doesn’t want to retire and leave us to fend for ourselves.
Note: There was a policy where you could retire once your age and years of service added up to 80 years. Jim Arnold’s added up to 100, but wouldn’t retire.
Note: Still talking about Jim Arnold:
Therefore he has devised a plan in case of an untimely death.
So don’t be smilin’ too big!!
Note: Still talking about Jim Arnold….
He will be able to direct the plant operations from his heavenly throne.
So don’t worry. He is NOT going away.
Second Note: At this point the PowerPoint presentation locked up on the computer… I had to shut down the presentation and restart it, and quickly go back to the next slide… I remembered the Alt-F4 closes the active application, so I was able to do this within about 15 seconds.
Do you remember when Bill Moler decided that you had to wear a hardhat to go fishin’ in the discharge?
He said it was because he wanted everyone to be safe.
As you can see, this made Johnny Keys rather upset.
Note: As I was speaking, Hardhats dropped onto the people:
Some bird might fly overhead and drop something on you.
Everyone knew the real reason. He didn’t want anyone fishing out there so he was making it more difficult to do that.
He used “Safety” as an excuse. Because of this, he lost credibility when it came to safety issues.
Note: The Hard hats disappeared and Cell phones and pagers dropped down as I said the following:
When you start making policies that use safety as an excuse, but it isn’t the real reason, you lose your credibility.
Second Note: At this point, Jim Arnold was jumping up from his seat… You see, Jim Arnold had fired Bob Blubaugh a few months earlier because Bob carried a cell phone with him when while he was working. Jim told him he couldn’t use his cell phone during the day. When Bob refused to stop carrying a cell phone Jim Arnold fired him for insubordination.
Today that seems crazy as everyone carries cell phones. Jim’s excuse was that carrying a cell phone was not safe, though he couldn’t exactly explain why.
That’s why Jim jumped out of his chair… I thought it was over, and I had two more slides to go…. So, I quickly clicked to the next slide… and Jim sat back down…. whew….
I would like to say goodbye to Doug Black. I have been blessed to have been able to spend time with you the past three years.
Then Doug slid off the slide leaving a picture of Toby:
I would like to say goodbye to Toby, you have been a good friend, and I’ll stay in touch.
Note: Then Toby slid off and Ray Eberle’s picture was left:
Ray, I had to hide this picture from you, because you sat next to me as I created this presentation. I just want to say that the last three years we have spent working on SAP have meant a lot to me and you will always be one of my best friends. Thank you.
With that I will say “Good bye” to all of you. Thank you!
Note: This is a picture of Jim Arnold and Louise Kalicki stepping off of Air Force One. I super-imposed their faces over Bill and Hillary Clinton.
This is the end of the presentation…. With that I was ready to leave the plant and begin the next stage of my life. I will explain more in the post next week.
After I had left, I heard that when the next person had a going away party, Bill Green announced that PowerPoint Presentations are no longer allowed during going away parties!
I was considered the one that “got away”. Power Plant Men don’t normally leave the Power Plant to go work somewhere else unless they are retiring, being laid off, or for some other compelling reason. I freely walked away of my own accord August 16, 2001. I left a job where I could have worked until the day I retired to step out into the unknown. But… that was the way I had arrived on May 7, 1979, 22 years earlier.
Just as I had driven onto the plant grounds those many years ago, unsure what I was going to encounter, I was now leaving the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma to change my career and become an IT programmer for Dell Computers in Round Rock Texas. When I arrived my first day at the plant, I had no idea what I was stepping into… The day I left I was in the exact same boat.
So far, I have gone through my life accepting whatever happens as something that happens for a reason. With that in mind, I have the belief that whatever the future holds, I just need to hang in there and everything will work out for the best, even though it may not seem like it at the time. Let me tell you about this experience….
I had accepted the job offer from Dell early in January. My start date had been set for June 4, 2001. They were giving me $3,000 for moving expenses to move down to Round Rock when I finished college in May. I was being hired as an undergraduate college hire. I would be starting at a slightly smaller salary than my base salary as an electrician.
I was taking a considerable cut in salary when you consider the overtime that an Power Plant electrician racked up in a year. I figured I was starting at the bottom of the ladder in my new job, where I was pretty well topped out at the plant with no opportunity to advance in sight. Maybe in a few years my salary would catch up and surpass what I made as an electrician.
For about 10 weeks, we drove down to the Austin area and look for a house on the weekends. It became apparent soon after our house hunting began that the cost of houses was somewhat higher than they were in Stillwater Oklahoma. We finally had a contract on a house in Round Rock, just 10 minutes away from the main Dell campus.
While we were looking for a house in the Round Rock area, we kept hearing on the radio that Dell was laying off thousands of employees. The Internet bubble had burst and the drop in sales of computers was taking a toll on the company. Every time I called the recruiter, I would find that they had been laid off and I had been assigned a different recruiter. This was disheartening to say the least.
Here I was in a perfectly secure job as an electrician at the Power Plant and I was leaving it to go work for a company that was in the middle of laying off employees. My wife Kelly and I had been saying one Novena after the other that we make the correct decision about what we should do, and we had chosen Dell Computer. It just seemed like the right place to go. So, we decided to just go along with it.
We prayed the Infant Of Prague Novena every day that we made the right choice.
I gave the plant a 3 month notice that I would be leaving in June. We had timed the purchase of the house in Round Rock for Friday, June 1. I would start work the following Monday. Dell was going to send me my moving expenses on May 4th, one month before my job would begin.
On the morning of Thursday, May 3rd, our realtor in Stillwater called and said she had a contract to sell our home in Stillwater and was going to head out to our house for us to sign. I had stayed home that morning for that reason. We were expecting her to arrive at 9:00 am.
At 8:30 I received a call from Dell computers that went something like this….. “Kevin, I am calling to inform you that your offer for employment has changed. Your first day will no longer be June 4, but will be August 20 (2-1/2 months later). The good news is that you still have a job with Dell, it just doesn’t start until August.”
Since I was expecting the moving expenses the following day on May 4, I asked the recruiter about that. He said that since my start date was moved to August, I wouldn’t receive the moving expenses until July. I told him that I was in the middle of buying a house in Round Rock and that I was counting on that money. He said he would see what he could do about that.
I hung up the phone and looked at Kelly who was standing there watching my face go from a normal tan to a red glow, then an ashen color all in the matter of 20 seconds. I explained to her that Dell said I still had a job, but it wouldn’t start until August.
The Realtor was going to be arriving in about 20 minutes for us to sign to sell our house. Everything was in motion. It took Kelly and I about 5 minutes to discuss our options before we decided that since we had been praying to make the right choice, we were going to go with this new development.
I called Louise Kalicki, our HR supervisor at the plant and told her that Dell had moved my start date from June 4 to August 20, and I wondered if I could stay on the extra two and a half months. I was surprised that she had an answer for me so quickly, but here is what she said, “We can keep you on until August 17, but after that date, we will no longer have a job for you.” I thanked her, and hung up the phone.
Our realtor arrived with the contract for us to sign to sell our house with five acres. When she walked in the kitchen, I told her what had just happened 1/2 hour earlier. I could see the sick look on her face after she had worked so hard for so many months to find a buyer for our house. Here I was telling her that Dell was postponing my hire date.
When I came to the part about where we decided to go ahead with our plans and sell the house and move to Round Rock, I could see all the tension that had been building up behind her ever increasing bulging eyes suddenly ease off. We signed the papers and our house was set to be sold on June 29. I had to swing a loan for the month where I bought the house in Round Rock and I sold my house in Stillwater (and hoped that the house was actually sold on time).
A few hours later I received a call from the Dell recruiter saying that he had pulled a few strings and I was going to receive my moving expenses the following day. The following week after that, the recruiter that had helped me had been laid off as well.
When my final day had arrived on August 16 (I was working 4 -10s, and my last work day that week was Thursday), I was given a going away party (see the post “Power Plant Final Presentation“). The party was over around 1:30 and I was free to leave.
I said my goodbye’s to my friends in the office area and went down to the electric shop to gather up the rest of my things and leave. Scott Hubbard asked me if he could trade his Multimeter with me since I had a fancy True RMS Multimeter and he was still using an older version. So, I traded him, and picked up my tool bucket and headed for the parking lot.
As I approached my car, I could see that Diana Brien was out there waiting for me to leave. She gave me a Chocolate Chip Cookie the size of a pizza and said she wanted to say goodbye to me and tell me that she had enjoyed being my bucket buddy all those years. I told her I was going to miss her and everyone else in the shop.
With that I climbed in my car and drove away.
When I was selling my house outside Stillwater, I thought that the thing I was going to miss the most was the wide open spaces where we lived. Our house was on a hill in the country overlooking the city of Stillwater. We had an Atrium in the living room where you could sit and look at the city lights at night and watch thunderstorms as they blasted transformers around the town.
I was moving into a neighborhood where the house next to ours was no more than 15 feet away. I thought I’m really going to miss this house…. I thought that until the moment I drove out of the parking lot at the Power Plant.
Then it suddenly hit me…. What about my family? What about all those people I have just left behind? When am I ever going to see them? The thought of missing my house never entered my mind from that moment on. It was replaced by the great pain one feels when they pack up and walk away from their family not knowing if you will ever see them again.
My heart was still back there with the Power Plant Men and Women I left behind.
The seven hour drive from the plant to Round Rock Texas was a blur. I knew that I had just closed one door and stepped into an entirely new world. I didn’t even know if I would like being a programmer when it came down to it. I had always just been a hacker and I knew I had a lot of holes in my knowledge. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be any good at my job.
To make that long story short, I have never regretted my move to Round Rock Texas. I have just gone with the flow knowing that whatever happens, it happens for a reason. After 12 1/2 years working at Dell, I changed jobs again to work for General Motors in their IT department where I am currently working with the Onstar team.
My friends at Dell asked me the past few years… “Are you going to write about us like you do with the Power Plant Men?” My reply to that question was “I don’t know… Maybe I will. I haven’t thought about it.”
That was the same thing I told Sonny Karcher the first day I arrived at the Power Plant and he asked me what I wanted to do when I graduated college. I told him. “I don’t know. I was thinking about becoming a writer.” His next question was, “Are you going to write about us?” I replied, “Maybe I will. I haven’t thought about it.”
I have now completed my fourth year of Power Plant Men Stories. During my first year (2012), I decided that this would be a four year journey where I would create one new story every week. With 208 unique Power Plant Posts.
I have succeeded. I have created one new Power Plant Man story each week, and each week I have re-posted the stories from the years before. My last new post was created last Saturday and is about the day I left the plant to change careers and go into IT at Dell in 2001.
Most of the time I didn’t know what I was going to write when I sat down, I just had a span of years that I wrote about each year, and I tried to make the stories fit into that time frame.
For the most part, these were all true stories. There are a lot of them that I didn’t include. Not because I didn’t wish to share them, but because they didn’t come to mind when I sat at the computer to write my post each week.
At this point, I will not regularly write a weekly post, however, I may share some e-mails that I sent to the plant after I moved to Texas and began working for Dell.
The first four years I worked for Dell, I wrote a letter regularly to my friends at the Power Plant. I have kept a copy of most of those, and some of them are worth sharing.
I found that my friend Dick Dale was right when he told me that it took one year for every five years of marriage to recover from a divorce. I had worked at the plant for 20 years, and after 4 years at Dell, I was finally able to move on.
I have been encouraged by many who read this blog to put at least some of these stories into a book. I am considering doing that as the posts on this blog will quickly be forgotten if they are not constantly re-posted.
The Men and Women I worked with at the Power Plant are people of such great character that I hope their stories will live on.
I have been blessed with the constant positive comments left by readers and I will miss hearing from all of you. Thank you for following my blog.
On average, each story was viewed over 600 times.
The most popular post of all time has been: “Fast and Furious Flat Fixin’ Fools Fight the Impact of the Canine Parvovirus” with over 5,600 views.
The second most popular post was “Switching in the Power Plant Substation Switchyard” with over 4,000 views.
The third, and one of my favorite posts is: “Ken Contrad Dances with a Wild Bobcat” with over 3,500 views.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 56,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 21 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
Originally posted December 27, 2014:
The Power Plant Men and Women knew that a major downsizing was going to occur throughout the company on Friday, July 29, 1994. The upper management had already experienced the preliminary stages of this particular downsizing since it started at the top. Over a four month period that started with an early retirement, it worked its way down the ranks until the actual Power Plant Men at the plant in North Central Oklahoma were going to be downsized on that one day.
The people that had taken the early retirement (which was available for anyone 50 years and older) had already left a couple of months earlier. Since the downsizing was being decided from the top down, we soon learned that our Plant Manager Ron Kilman would no longer be a Plant Manager. He was too young to take the early retirement. I believe he was 47 at the time.
The person taking Ron’s place was Bill Green, a guy that was old enough to take the early retirement, but decided to stay. Bill was 53 years old at the time. Perhaps he knew in advance that he had a secure position before the deadline to choose the early retirement.
The final week when the downsizing was going to take place, several things were happening that made the entire week seem surreal (this is a word that means — sort of weird and unnatural). I was spending the week in the old Brown and Root building because we were busy training everyone at the plant about Confined Space Safety and the OSHA regulations that we had to follow.
We had to have all the OSHA training completed by August 1 in order to avoid the fines that OSHA had given us back in April (See the post: “Power Plant Men Summoned by Department of Labor“). We had formed a confined space rescue team and taken the required Confined Space training (see the post “Finding and Defining Power Plant Confined Spaces“). We were using the old training room in the old Brown and Root Building because we wanted it to be away from the plant area where the foremen wouldn’t be bothered while they were taking their class.
The first day of training, Ben Brandt the assistant plant manager was in the the class. He was going to be a plant manager at another plant, I think it was the plant in Seminole county.
I could tell that Ben was not interested in being in the training, and given all that was going down that week, I could see why. We would say something in the class about how you had to fill out your confined space permit and turn it in to the Control Room, and Ben would shake his head in disagreement as if he didn’t think that was ever going to happen…. Well, times were changing in more ways than one that week.
Tuesday afternoon was when things really began to get weird…. We knew that Friday would be the last day for a bunch of Power Plant Men, but we didn’t yet know who. During the previous downsizing in 1987 and 1988, we at least knew who was going to leave months before they actually had to leave. Now we were down to just a few days and we still didn’t know who had a job come August 1 (next Monday).
On Tuesday afternoon, one at a time, someone would be paged on the Gaitronics Gray Phone (the plant PA system) by one of the four foremen that had survived.
We were cutting the number of first line foremen in Maintenance from 13 down to 4 and getting completely rid of two levels of management. So, that we would no longer have an A foremen and a Supervisor over each group. So, we wouldn’t have a position like an Electric Supervisor or a Mechanical Maintenance Supervisor.
Our new foremen were Andy Tubbs,
and Mark Fielder.
All great guys!
So, when one of them would page someone on the Gray Phone, we knew that they were going to be asked to meet them upstairs in the main office somewhere. Then they were told that they had a position on that person’s team.
So, picture this scenario. About 160 of the original 218 employees were waiting to learn their fate that week (the rest had retired). It was late Tuesday afternoon when Alan Hetherington told us that they had already begun calling operators to the office to tell them they had jobs. They were not calling anyone to tell them that they didn’t have a job. So, when you heard someone’s name being called, then you knew they were safe (well…. safe is a relative term).
On Wednesday just before lunch, I was called to the office by Alan Kramer. He told me he was going to be my new foreman. I hadn’t really worried about it up to that point, because, well, I just figured that I was pretty well irreplaceable since there really wasn’t anyone else that would go climbing around inside the precipitators during overhauls, so they would want to keep me around for that reason alone.
With that said, it was at least a little less stressful to actually have been told that I did have a position. After all, I had caused so much trouble the previous few years (see 50% of the posts I have written to find out how), enough for some people to hold grudges against me. So, I did have this small doubt in the back of my head that worried about that.
Alan Kramer explained to me that we would no longer have teams for each area of expertise. We wouldn’t have teams of electricians or Instrument and Controls, or Testing, etc. We would be cross-functional teams. We would learn more about that next Monday.
When I returned to the Brown and Root building, the rest of the confined space team asked me if I had a job. I told them I did. At this point, all work at the plant seemed to have ceased. Everyone was waiting around to receive a call on the Gray Phone.
At first, we thought this was going to be like the first downsizing where each person was called to the office and told if they had a job or they didn’t have a job. By Wednesday afternoon, it became apparent that things weren’t working out that way. The only people being called to the office were people that were being told they did have a job. No one was being told if they didn’t.
Either this was a cruel joke being played on the Power Plant Men and Women, or the management hadn’t really thought about the consequences of doing this. It became apparent right away to everyone including those that had been told they had a position that this was a terrible way to notify people about their future. What about those that hadn’t been called to the front office? What were they supposed to think?
About half of the Power Plant Men had received the call, when it seemed that the calls had just stopped some time on Thursday morning. We had finished our last training session in the Brown and Root building and we were just meeting as a team to discuss our next steps in creating Confined Space rescue plans. We were not making much progress, as everyone was just sitting around in a mild state of shock staring into space.
Alan Hetherington had not been called, so he figured that he wouldn’t have a job after Friday. We discussed other people that were being left out. No one on Gerald Ferguson’s team at the coal yard had been called (which included Alan). We later heard that Gerald Ferguson, all distraught that his team had been wiped out was in disbelief that they had let his entire team go. He blamed it on the fact that his team had refused to participate in the Quality Process since it was deemed “voluntary”.
By Thursday afternoon, the stress became so bad for some that they had gone to Jim Arnold and asked him point blank if they had a job after Friday and he refused to say anything to them. Preston Jenkins became so stressed out that he had to go home early because he was too sick with stress.
We knew that Bill Green was the new plant manager.
Jim Arnold was the new Supervisor of Operations and Jasper Christensen was the Supervisor of Maintenance. It seemed to us as if the downsizing was being orchestrated by Jim Arnold, as he was the one going all over the plant on Thursday and Friday coordinating things.
When we came into the office on Friday morning, all the radios had been taken from the electric shop office. I was asked to go up to the logic room and shutdown the Gray phone system. It became clear that Jim Arnold didn’t want anyone listening to what was going on throughout the day.
It was normal having Highway Patrol at the plant, because they were the regular plant guards at the front gate, but today there were a lot of them, and they were in uniform. They were escorting people off of the plant grounds one at a time. We were told that we were not supposed to interact with people being escorted off of the plant grounds. We weren’t supposed to approach them to even say goodbye.
It took the entire day to escort people out of the plant this way. It was very dehumanizing that great Power Plant Men who we had all worked alongside for years were suddenly being treated as if they were criminals and were being escorted off of the plant grounds by armed Highway Patrolmen.
It was just as devastating for those that were left behind. This was a clear indication that those people treating our friends this way were going to be our new supervisors (not our immediate foremen) and that they had a warped sense of superiority. They may have justified their actions in their minds in order to sleep at night, but the reality was that at least one person involved in this extraction of humanity was relishing in his new found power.
No one had been more left behind than the plant manager, Ron Kilman who was too young to accept the retirement package.
He knew he didn’t have a future with the company for the past couple of months as this entire saga had been unfolding at the plant. During the early retirement party for those that were leaving before the slaughter took place, Ron (an avid airplane pilot) had worn a shirt that said, “Will Fly for Food”, which he revealed by opening his outer shirt while introducing some of the retirees. This had brought an applause that was reminiscent of the first day he had arrived some seven years earlier when he told a joke during his first meeting with the plant.
There were those at the plant that had reason to dislike Ron for specific decisions that he had made during his tenure at the plant. One that comes to mind (that I haven’t already written about) is when Ray Eberle’s house was on fire and he left the plant to go fight the fire and make sure his family was safe. Ron docked his pay for the time he was not on the plant grounds since he wasn’t a member of the voluntary fire department. Ron has admitted since that time that there were certain decisions he made while he was Plant Manager that he would have changed if he could.
I felt as if I understood Ron, and knew that he was a good person that wanted to do the right thing. I also knew there were times when a Plant Manager had to make unpopular decisions. I also knew from my own experience that Ron, like everyone else was just as much human as the rest of us, and would occasionally make a decision he would later regret. The times when Ron tried docking my pay after working long overtime hours, I just worked around it by taking vacation to keep my overtime and figured that he was playing the role of Plant Manager and following the rules the way he saw fit.
Some time shortly after lunch, Ron came into the electric shop office and sat down. This was the first time in those seven years that he had come just for a visit and it was on his last day working for the company. Ron just didn’t know what to do.
He explained that no one had told him anything. No one had officially told him to leave. No one had escorted him off of the plant grounds. He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to make his exit. Was he just supposed to go to his car and drive out the gate and never return? No one told him anything.
The way Ron Kilman was treated Friday, July 29, 1994, was a clear representation of the type of people that were left in charge next Monday morning on August 1. The entire plant knew this in their heart. As much grief that was felt by the people being escorted out of the gate after years of loyal service to their company, those that were left behind felt every bit of that grief.
This was the darkest day in the history of the Power plant in North Central Oklahoma. The Power Plant Men left behind by this experience were negatively effected for years after that day. There was a bitterness and sorrow that took a long time to recover in their hearts.
The worst part of the event was that it was so unnecessary. We understood that we had to downsize. We had accepted that some of us would be leaving. Each person at our plant had a level of decency that would accept the fact that when the time came for them to leave, they would hug their friends, say goodbye and with the help of each other, the rest would help them carry their stuff to their car and say goodbye.
We were all robbed of this opportunity. Everyone, even those left behind, were suddenly treated as if we were criminals. We had a “Black Friday” at the plant before, on February 15, 1985 (see the post “Power Plant Snitch“). This time the impact was ten times worse.
All I can say to those who made the decision to handle the layoff this way is: “Shame on you! What would your Mother think if she knew what you did?”
Originally posted December 28, 2013:
Times were changing in 1987 when the electric company in Oklahoma decided that they needed to downsize the company in order to change with the new business environment. I always seemed to think that the executives down at corporate headquarters in Oklahoma City knew that the old pioneers in charge of the Power Plants would be very difficult customers when it came to the new business model.
Like I said…. Times were changing. The digital era was being introduced to the power industry. We had already upgraded the precipitator controls to make them computerized. Other areas of the plant were going to be next. Especially the employees. Of course, none of us knew that quite yet, except Bill Rivers, who was a natural visionary, and he was gone.
Side story time:
I had always been interested in computers and programming from the time I was a sophomore in High School when I had just turned 15 years old. My friend Jesse Cheng had introduced me to one of the first programmable calculators, the HP-25.
This was the most wonderful Christmas present I had ever received. I literally felt myself fainting when I opened the present and found that I had been given a pair of cowboy boots, only to find an HP-25 calculator inside when I opened it up. Ralphie had nothing on me that day.
It was much like the Christmas Story with Ralphie. I had tried every with way to convince my parents that using a slide rule in High School was passe (pronounced “pass A”). All the other students in my advanced chemistry class were using calculators, and I was still stuck with my dad’s old circular slide rule. It was a pretty neat one, I’ll grant you that, but it just… well….. I could work things out on paper faster than I could use the slide rule.
I introduced my friend Jesse Cheng in the post “Why Do Power Plant Men Always Lose the Things They Love Most“. He had an HP-25 calculator and had loaned it to me to take a Chemistry test. He showed me how it used Reverse Polish Notation, which is different than a normal calculator, but more like a computer.
The calculator could be programmed with 49 steps. Because it had a stack built right into it, and the reason it used Reversed Polish Notation, we could create all sorts of games with just those 49 steps. The book that came with the calculator had a moon landing game. We made more sophisticated games, like one called Battleship.
Anyway. Because of this early exposure with actually programming something in a logical manner, I was eager to learn more about programming. During college, my calculator was often sitting on my desk in the dorm room running a long program to help me perfect a random number generator. Finally in my Junior year in college, my calculator was completely fried.
After I was married at the end of 1985, I began subscribing to a magazine called “Compute”. It had actual programs in it in Basic. I would read the programs to learn how it worked, but at that point, I didn’t own a computer, so all I could do was dream about writing programs.
It wasn’t until Thanksgiving 1987 when I went to visit my ol’ friend Jesse Cheng in Columbia, Missouri who was interning as a medical doctor that I felt a sudden need to have a computer of my own. He had built a computer using a Heath Kit and we used it to play two computer games. One was called Starflight:
The other was called F15 Strike Eagle:
When I returned home I was pretty eager to buy a computer. Up until that time, every time my wife and I had gone to the mall, I always had stopped in the computer stores to look at the latest computers. I never had really considered buying one. But now, they had 20 megabyte hard drives! And you could play these terrific games like Starflight and F-15 Strike Eagle.
So, one day after we had left the mall, and my wife could see the look on my face, she finally said…. “Why don’t you go and buy one?” I asked her, “Are you sure? Because you know what is going to happen if I get a computer. I’ll be playing on it all the time.” She said, “No. I want you to go buy one.” So we turned around and went back to the mall.
That was the start of my journey into the world of computers.
End of Side Story.
As I explained in the post “Boppin’ with Bif during the Power Plant Downsizing“, the company offered an early retirement package for everyone 55 years old and older. They would give them full benefits to leave. This meant that our Electrical Supervisor, Leroy Godfrey, as well as the assistant plant manager, Bill Moler and the Plant Manager, Eldon Waugh were all going to retire some time in August 1987.
We had a retirement party for Leroy Godfrey out in the country at Diana Brien’s house. A bunch of the electricians were there including Mark Meeks, who Leroy knew at the time was the one that was going to be laid off. Mark commented about that later when he was told that he was losing his job that Leroy had sat there and smiled at him while we were at the party. Mark knew Leroy didn’t like him, but hadn’t expected to be the one to go since everyone thought it would be Gary Wehunt, since he was the newest member in the shop.
I explained in the post, “The Passing of an Old School Power Plant Man — Leroy Godfrey” what Leroy’s management style was like. It was very top-down, if you know what I mean. It was like, “Because I told you so.” No need to explain anything. That was the world of Power Plant Management up to that point.
I think Corporate Headquarters realized that this needed to change in order for the company to compete in a world where electric companies could no longer count on the Corporation Commission to guarantee a sustainable electric rate or even a set number of customers. The world of electric power was changing rapidly and the company needed to move on from the mentality that it could be run like a “good ol’ boys” club.
It is easier to teach young dogs new tricks than older and crankier ones. It looked to me like this was a logical choice when looking back using hindsight. I think the company was making a bold move. I don’t think they really had much of a choice if they wanted to survive.
So, we had the main retirement party at the plant where people stood up and told stories about the old guys that were retiring. Nothing much happened there except the part where Leroy Godfrey’s daughter stood up and said that we just had to work with him, while she had to live with him… see the post about Leroy above for the full story about that.
Then the following Monday. I believe it was August 17, 1987, everyone was told to meet in the main break room for a meeting with our new management. That was when we were introduced to our new plant manager, Ron Kilman.
I remember a certain part of the meeting very well. Ron said something funny. It didn’t matter exactly what he said. I don’t even remember what it was. Probably something self-deprecating. I leaned over to Charles Foster, who had been my foreman for a while (on that day, it was officially Andy Tubbs). I said, “I didn’t know Plant Managers could tell jokes!”
Charles looked back at me and I raised my eyebrows and tilted my head while the corners of my mouth went down. — This was one of the signals I had learned while carpooling with Bud Schoonover when I needed to communicate with Dick Dale without saying anything out loud (see the post: Carpooling with Bud Schoonover“. This particular expression meant, “Maybe this won’t be such a bad thing.”
Ron Kilman remained the plant manager at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma for the next 7 years. The stories that I will post during this next year will all be at least partially from this time period. During this time, there were some decisions that Ron made that I applauded, and others that even he would admit he wished he hadn’t made.
All in all, I think that Ron has a good heart and that those times when he did make a rash decision, it was evident that he was falling back to his “management training” and not managing from his heart. Old School management training left a lot to be desired.
During the 7 years from 1987 to 1994, the power plant saw a lot of changes. Some I have alluded to already. Such as the move to computerize everything. The other was a total change in how management works. Or at least that was the attempt.
People were willing to step out of their regular day-to-day jobs and try new things that they thought would help the plant. Many of these things were successful. Some of them failed, but not so miserably as they would have if the earlier management had been around. The employees felt as if they had more of a say in how the plant ran instead of feeling like they were just a bunch of tools running around fixing things.
I have a quote from Ron Kilman that said it all one day after a catastrophe had occurred. It summed up his management style as opposed to his assistant manager, Ben Brandt. I will relay the exact story later, but for now I’ll just say that when Ben Brandt saw what happened, the first thing that he said was, “Who did this?” When Ron Kilman saw what had happened, the first thing he said was, “How can we prevent this from happening again?”
Ben’s approach was from the old school of thought. Blame and punish the culprit. Later when we were drastically changing the way process improvements took place, my favorite quote from Ben Brandt is, “I am the obstacle! We aren’t going to change because I say so.” We all had to agree. He was definitely the obstacle.
Ron’s approach was one more like a leader. “Let’s get the job done right.” Sure, he is human, so the decisions weren’t always perfect, but I think in general, he was leading where other people may have been dragging.
Well… I will say no more for now… I look forward to writing stories about this time period during this next year. I’m sure there are a lot of those at the plant just as eager to see how I portray the different events that took place during this time.
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Originally posted December 29, 2012:
Each year at a Power Plant there are two times when the Power Plant Men are invited to a banquet. There is the Service Award Banquet and the Christmas Party. The Christmas Party was a chance to meet the spouses and children of the other Power Plant Men and Women. Unlike the Service Award Banquet where you could only bring one other person, the Christmas Party allowed you to bring your entire family. Interestingly, this became a point of conflict for those few at the top when I was a new full time power plant worker.
The first year I was able to attend the Power Plant Christmas Party was after I had become a Janitor in 1982. I had graduated from college with a degree in Psychology (which made me a much better janitor) and at the end of my fourth summer as a summer help, I was able to hire on full time to begin the rest of the 19 remaining years with the company. I received my free turkey for Thanksgiving and another one for Christmas.
The farmers that worked at the plant had baled the hay on their own time from the fields surrounding the lake and we used that money to buy the turkeys. That was, until Corporate Headquarters (or maybe it was just the evil plant manager), found out about it and decided that this money belonged to the entire company, and so, in future years, instead of making a profit, the company had to hire people to cut the grass, paying tens of thousands of dollars each year with only an expense instead of a profit to show for it… and no Turkeys. See the post: Belt Buckle Mania and Turkeys During Power Plant Man Downtime for a more complete description of this example of Corporate Efficiency gone awry.
Since I was making a total of $5.15 per hour, I was still living at home with my parents. So, when they asked me how many guests I would be bringing to the Christmas Party, I told them 2 guests and myself. On the night of the Power Plant Christmas Party I showed up at the Oklahoma State University Student Union Banquet room in Stillwater Oklahoma with my Mother and Father. As we walked into the banquet room, I noticed a strange expression on both Jack Ballard’s and Linda Dallas’s faces (The two heads of HR at the plant). It was one of surprise and yet at the same time, slightly indignant.
I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It was as if they were smiling while greeting the guests as they came in, but when looking at my parents, they both seemed as if they had just swallowed something distasteful and were trying to pretend that they hadn’t. I thought for the moment that they were just in awe of my parents. After all, my dad was an important Veterinary Professor at the University, and my mom, well… She had the slight resemblence of Queen Victoria, and probably a lot of her disposition. Though she was on her good behavior that night.
Actually, Queen Victoria’s face almost looks like Marlin McDaniels in drag. I’m sure those Power Plant men that remember Marlin can see the resemblence. If you just look at only the face. I’ll bet Marlin is related to the Queen.
The Christmas party generally had one of the Power Plant Men dressed up as Santa Claus. This was usually Glen Morgan from the Instrument and Controls department (known as the “Results” department at the time). He best fit the suit.
He would hand out gifts to the Children. I remember that every now and then when they were trying to plan the Christmas event, the topic of gifts for the children would come up. Some believed that it wasn’t really fair to give gifts to the children since not everyone had children, and some were not married at all. Usually the gifts for the children won over the dissenters. Someone would point out that Christmas was really all about the Children in the first place, and when they would take a vote, the children would receive their gifts.
I found out what Jack’s and Linda’s expressions were for the following year. I was in the electric shop when they asked how many people I would be brining to the Christmas party and I told them that I was going to bring 3 guests and myself. My girlfriend had moved from Seattle, Washington to Norman, Oklahoma to work toward a degree in Nursing at Oklahoma University. I was going to bring her along with my parents to the Christmas party that year.
A couple of days later I was asked to go up to the front office. Jack Ballard wanted to talk to me about something. When I arrived in his office, he explained to me that I was not able to bring my parents to the Christmas Party. I asked why that was and he explained that I could only bring a date or my immediate family. I told him I was still living at home and that my parents are my immediate family. He went on to explain that if they let me take my parents, then other people might want to bring their parents as well. This would open up a whole can of worms.
Yeah, well, a can of worms… no, we wouldn’t want to do that. Finally Jack said that I could bring my parents, or I could bring a date, but I couldn’t bring both. Ok. I was somewhat upset since I had already told my parents the date of the party and my dad was really looking forward to meeting with the Power Plant Men as he did the year earlier. He had a lot of fun talking with real people instead of the pretentious professors he usually met with. There wasn’t any way I was not going to bring my girlfriend. I wanted everyone to meet her. More importantly. I wanted Kelly to meet everyone I was always talking about.
There was another reason why I thought that the “front office” didn’t want my parents to go to the Christmas Party. It had to do with the relationship the Assistant Plant Manager had with my father. Bill Moler liked to keep his role at work and his role away from the plant completely separate (for good reason). I felt that this was the same reason he was disturbed when he came back from summer vacation to find me already hired as a janitor. This was only a thought and a feeling. I never had any real reason to believe this was what was behind Jack’s concern over my parents going to the Christmas party. Either way it was a Party Pooper.
So in 1983, my parents stayed home, and I went to the Christmas Party with my girlfriend Kelly. I think she was so impressed with the Power Plant People that two years later, almost to the day, we were married.
We sat with Arthur Hammond and his wife and children. Arthur was a new electrician. He had become a plant electrician on the same day that I did. I will talk more about him in future posts. We had a fun time. You couldn’t really help but have a fun conversation with Arthur Hammond. Espeically if you are part Italian like myself. Arthur liked to argue. That is one reason we got along so well.
Fast forward 10 years. The Christmas Party in 1993 was held in Ponca City. My daugther Elizabeth was 3 years old. Bud Schoonover, at the age of 58, was chosen to be Santa Claus that year. Now…. Not only is Bud Schoonover the best size to fit the Santa Claus suit, but he also was so shy when the children came up to sit on his lap for him to hand the presents to them that it gave him a hidden sort of dignity that the children perceived as being very “Santa” like. My daughter was convinced that this Santa Claus was not like the Mall Santas. This was the real Santa Claus. For years Elizabeth was convinced that Bud Schoonover was the real Santa.
Because Bud was so shy, his cheeks had turned cherry red. He couldn’t do anything but smile and look with wonder at the children as they came up to him and he handed them their gifts. My daughter had picked up on the genuine look of wonder that Bud expressed as she sat on his lap looking into his eyes.
Bud Schoonover really had transformed himself into the Genuine Santa Claus for that one half hour. I could confidently tell Elizabeth when she asked me on the way home if that was the real Santa Claus that I thought that he really was. Bud confided in me when he told me that he was literally scared to death the entire time.
Six months later, Bud Schoonover retired from the Power Plant during the “early retirement” stage of a downsizing. He was truly missed by everyone that knew him. I have written about Bud before, and I will write about him again. You can learn more about his personality by reading: Carpooling With Bud Schoonover