Tag Archives: chain smoker

Tales of a Tall Power Plant A Foreman

Originally posted October 19, 2013:
Everybody seemed to like Bill Bennett. We didn’t like him because he possessed a profound knowledge in the field of electricity. No. We liked him because he was a good person. Bill was a tall very thin black man that sort of reminded you of Bill Cosby.

Bill Cosby trying to look like Bill Bennett

Bill Cosby trying to look like Bill Bennett

Bill had a gruff cigarette voice as he was a chain smoker. Often he would say his first words to me when he came into the Electric Shop office for lunch each day in the same manner that Aunt Esther would say something to Fred Sanford. His lower jaw would jut out and he would shake his head with a look of total disgust… like this:

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

With this expression, Bill would often look at me and say, “You Scamp!” Dragging it out for the full effect. Nothing would bring a smile to my face faster than having Bill berate me by insulting my integrity as a person. He would also add on additional phrases like, “…You disgust me!” Or… “….you scum!” — I felt like Gomer Pyle by that point with a big grin on my face.

Gomer Pyle grinning ear-to-ear

Gomer Pyle grinning ear-to-ear

I just wish everyone could work for such a great guy at least once in their life.

I’m not saying that we didn’t have our disagreements throughout the years that he was our A Foreman at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma. I recognized that Bill had his way of viewing the world, and I had mine. And even though my way was always the right one, I realized he had a right to his view even when it was wrong.

At those times what could you do? Probably the same thing I would do. Fall on the ground kicking and screaming and then try to make your face turn blue by holding your breath. — That never seemed to change his mind though. Probably because I liked breathing too much and would find that it didn’t take long before I would develop an overwhelming urge to take another breath.

Anyway. After spending well over a thousand lunch times with Bill Bennett, just when I began to think that I had heard every story about Bill Bennett’s life that was imaginable, he would come up with another one.

I could tell you some stories about Bill where he was at the lowest point in his life. When he was an alcoholic at the point where he normally would have been fired from the electric company. Then someone gave him another chance for no other reason than because he understood human nature and cared about his fellow man.

You see. There are a number of people in the electric company throughout the years where they were at the low point in their lives. Sometimes people were there to give them a lift up from the gutter where they had fallen. At other times, they were cast aside mercilessly and forgotten because the company was priority. A useless and hypocritical attitude, I always thought, because what is electricity used for except to help mankind.

When Bill Bennett had reached this point in his life. Someone was there to help him out of the gutter. They brushed him off (the dust I mean). Gave him some self dignity and “let it go”. Bill went on to become a good and compassionate person. I’m sure that those people in his life that helped him back then were the major force in reshaping his outlook on life. He was always fighting for the underdog. Once I understood that. I stopped my kicking and screaming, and picked myself up off of the floor.

So, I thought I would share a couple of my favorite stories about Bill.

When Bill was young, he lived in Oklahoma City, southeast of the capitol a couple of miles in the poor section of town. I could picture this story real well when he was telling it because my soon-to-be wife was living in this same area as she was attending Nursing School at the Oklahoma University Medical School.

Bill recounted this story: One day when he came home from school his dad gave him a little pet possum.

Baby Possum

Baby Possum

Bill was overwhelmed with happiness. This was like his one and only true friend. He took the possum with him wherever he went. After so many years I don’t remember what name Bill had given the possum, but it was something like “Fred”, so I’ll just call him Fred for the rest of the story.

Bill taught Fred tricks, and he would run up his arm and perch on his shoulder. Bill would walk around the neighborhood proud to have his pet possum Fred sitting on his shoulder. The two became inseparable.

When the summer was over, in the morning when Bill went to school he would have to leave Fred at home. He had a certain sound that he would make to call his possum. So, when he would walk in the door after returning home from school he would call Fred, and he would come out from under the sofa, or the bed, or wherever he had decided to hide for the day. Fred was pretty much a grown possum by this time.

a grown possum

a grown possum

One day Bill came home from school. He didn’t remember whether he had called Fred or not when he came home, but if he had, Fred didn’t answer. This wouldn’t have concerned Bill much since Fred may have just been playing Possum as Possums are apt to do from time-to-time. Anyway. Bill didn’t see Fred when he came home.

When it came time for dinner Bill sat down and his mom served him a nice hot bowl of stew. As dinner progressed, at one point the subject of the stew came up. Maybe one of Bill’s brothers and sisters said, “Hey mom. This is sure some good tasting stew! What is it?” That was the point in Bill’s life when he decided to become a chain smoker and an alcoholic…. well… not all at once… This was just the point that led him down that path.

You see. As Granny in the Beverly Hillbillies would say, “Go eat your Possum Stew Jethro”. Here is Granny running for Possum Queen:

Granny running for Possum Queen

Granny running for Possum Queen

That’s right. Bill Bennett’s mom had cooked his pet possum Fred for dinner. When he heard this he was stunned. He didn’t have the same expression that Jethro had when Granny called him to the dinner table, that’s for sure.

Jethro's expression when he is waiting to eat

Jethro’s expression when he is waiting to eat

When he asked his parents how they could do that to his pet possum, his father replied, “Why did you think I gave that possum to you?” That was when the grim reality of life hit Bill right between the eyes. Sick to his stomach he left the dinner table. From that day onward, Bill never again ate possum stew.

This might seem like a humorous or cute story to some. To Bill, it changed his entire outlook on life. As I mentioned. He later became an alcoholic. Which even later, with the help of his wife and others, he overcame. Though it was gradual, if you trace his life back, I believe that the downward spiral began at this one crucial point in his life. With the intentional loss of the life of someone he loved.

When Bill would call me a scamp…. I sometimes felt that down inside he was still crying for Fred, and was talking to his father instead of me. I could see a hint of sorrow even in his humor. He knew he could take out his hidden frustration in our presence because Bill always knew that friends like Charles Foster and I would always be there smiling back at him.

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

Ok. That was one of the more serious stories of Bill’s life, but one that I often think about when I think about Bill. Let me tell you a more humorous story:

Bill Bennett worked for an electronics store at one point in his life before he found his true calling as a “Power Plant Man”. Part of this job included making house calls to work on the security system in homes.

The employees would use the company van to go on house calls. It had the necessary equipment to install and repair the security systems. It also had one curious item sitting on the dashboard. A garage door opener.

The garage door opener was a point of amusement for the employees as they would drive through a neighborhood on the way to someone’s house they would click the opener as they drove along looking around to see if it would open anyone’s garage door. No one knew where the opener had come from, but they thought that just by chance it might randomly open a garage door here or there.

Garage door opener found in electronic store vans

Garage door opener found in electronic store vans

So, here is Bill’s story:

One day he was on his way to do a job in a high-end neighborhood. As he was slowly making his way down the neighborhood street to his destination, he was clicking the garage door opener to see if it would open any doors. When all of a sudden he saw a few houses up ahead that a garage door was opening.

For a brief moment Bill was excited that he had found a garage door that opened. Then he realized that the garage door that was opening was the house where he was making the service call. “Oh No!” He quickly began clicking the garage door opener to try to close the garage door, but it wouldn’t close.

Bill sat in the van for a while desperately clicking the garage door opener praying that it would work to close the garage door, but it never did. finally he decided he would act as if he didn’t know anything about how the garage door opened and climbed out of the van.

He walked over to the garage and peered in, sheepishly saying, “Hello?” He was conscious that he was a lone lower class black man in a predominantly rich white neighborhood walking into someone’s garage in broad daylight. He took a few steps into the garage when the garage door began to close!

In order to make it out of the garage, Bill would have had to dodge under the closing door, so he just froze in place and awaited his fate.

A few moments later, the door to the house opened and a little old lady entered. Bill tried to explain that he didn’t know how the garage door had opened and that he only entered the garage to see if someone was there. She said she had seen his van coming down the street, and had opened the garage door from inside the house.

So, the garage door opener in the van hadn’t opened the door after all. It was just a major coincidence that Bill happened to be driving down the street clicking a garage door opener when an elderly lady (like Granny) had seen his van and opened her garage door only to have Bill think that he had opened the door. Or was it a coincidence?

Sometimes I feel that when a coincidence of this statistical improbability occurs that there is often an extraordinary intervention from above telling you something. I’m sure that this little scare taught Bill something and helped him progress on to the view of life that he had when I met him years later.  Something like: “When someone somewhere opens a garage door in life, some may find that there’s a little old lady behind the scenes actually pushing the buttons.”

I have another very coincidental story about a true Power Plant engineer that was a major turning point in this person’s life that I will share in a couple of years from now. When you read that story it will be very clear that there is someone definitely looking out for poor souls like us.

Comments from original post:

  1. Ron October 21, 2013

    Great stories, Kevin. Keep ‘em coming!
    I had not heard these stories about Bill. I enjoyed working with him. Do you know where he is now?

    1. Plant Electrician October 22, 2013

      Ron,
      Rumor has it that Bill cut a deal with St. Peter where he can still step out the gate for cigarette breaks.

  2. Fred October 22, 2013

    Bill Bennett was a keeper for sure. When we played softball he would play first base and he would almost do the splits stretching to catch the ball. Quite a feat considering he has several years older than most of us playing. I enjoyed talking to him off the job the most. He was real personable. I miss him and think of him fairly often.

The Power Plant Smokestack Third Rail is the Lifesaver

It was quite a site at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma to see a 400 pound man climbing up the ladder to the 250 foot level (halfway) up the smokestack only to climb halfway down again on the track the elevator used to go up and down the smokestack. I was on labor crew then and I remember thinking, I’m sure glad that’s not me.

A small tour of people from Oklahoma City had come to the plant and one of the engineers was showing them around. I think Allen Gould may remember who it was. I’m not saying it was Allen, I’m just thinking that he was around at that time.

Power Plant Engineer Allen Gould

Power Plant Engineer Allen Gould

I think that day the wind was blowing rather hard and when the elevator was descending (going down) the stack, the power cable somehow blew over into the path of the elevator and it was caught under the roller which brought the elevator to an abrupt halt. Unfortunately. in this instance, trying to free fall the elevator manually to bring it down wouldn’t work since when the brakes were released, the elevator wouldn’t move because it was really stuck right where it was.

A person that worked for the Alimak elevator company was called in from Wichita Kansas 100 miles to the north of the Power plant, which meant that it took almost 2 hours for the person to arrive at the plant. When he did, he turned out to be the largest elevator repairman I had ever seen. He had to climb up 250 feet up a ladder to the landing, then back down again about 100 feet to the elevator to rescue the people from the elevator.

I first found out about it when someone pointed out the large figure of a man about halfway up to the first landing on the smokestack ladder. He had stopped for a rest and was leaning back on his lanyard that was attached to the ladder. When we arrived in the maintenance shop, Marlin McDaniel explained the situation to us. I think it took well over three hours for this man to take each person out of the hatch in the top of the elevator, then climb with them up the elevator track to the landing, and then take them down the ladder 250 feet to the ground. I think one of them was a lady, and two were men.

The stack elevator is a small box with a capacity to carry 3 people or a weight of 900 pounds. It is crowded enough with only two people in it, but three is always a crowd (as the saying goes, “Two’s company, Three’s a crowd”). That phrase definitely is true with the stack elevator.

 

These are the 500 foot smoke stacks

These are the 500 foot smoke stacks

At the time, I didn’t realize that one day I would be an electrician that took care of the smoke stack elevators. Actually, I never gave it a thought about what sort of equipment electricians repaired or maintained. It turned out that electricians worked on anything that had electric power going to it. That’s pretty much anything mechanical.

Electricians would work on the motors while the mechanics would work on the pumps, fans and valves attached to the end of the motors. When it came to the stack elevators, it was generally left up to the electricians to do the majority of the work. We inspected the elevators each month, and when they broke down, we were called to repair them.

When the boiler elevators broke down, it seemed as if I was the person of choice to ask to climb the boiler to the roof to fix it. The elevator controls were located on the top of the boiler, so I would usually end up climbing the stairs to the top cleaning door contacts on the way up. It happens that the boilers are 250 feet tall. So, the middle landing on the stack elevator is about the same height as the boiler as you can see in the picture above.

Bill Bennett, our A Foreman, would always add when he was telling me to go fix the elevator…. “You like climbing all those stairs anyway.” What could I say? “Sure Bill! I’ll go see what I can do.”

I think in the back of my mind I knew the day was coming when I was going to have to climb the stack elevator ladder to rescue someone. I had already climbed it a few times to fix some conduit that had come loose that ran up the smokestack next to the ladder, so I knew what it was like to go straight up a 500 foot ladder to the top of the smokestack. Luckily when my turn came around for a rescue, I only had to go halfway up. There were 4 people stuck on the smokestack.

Unlike the large elevator repairman from Wichita, I didn’t have to climb down the elevator track to reach the elevator. It had malfunctioned right at the 250 foot level when the group was ready to come back down from their semi-lofty visit of one of the Power Plant Smokestacks. My only task was to climb up, fix the elevator and bring the group safely to the ground.

I grabbed some tools from my tool bucket that I thought would be useful. A couple of different size screwdrivers (one large one and one small), my multimeter, fuse pullers, and three wrenches, (7/16, 1/2 and 9/16 inch). I put them in a bag that looked like a feed bag for a horse. It had a rope with a hook on it.

A tool Bag, only ours had a hook on the top of the handle

A tool Bag, only ours had a hook on the top of the handle

I figured I didn’t want to take anything I didn’t need, so I didn’t put all 40 pounds of tools from my tool bucket into the bag. Just those things I thought I might need. I had my handy dandy little crescent wrench in my pocket and my baby screwdriver in my pocket protector on my tee shirt.

4 inch crescent wrench

4 inch crescent wrench

I took a safety belt off of the coat rack by the door in the electric shop and put it on. I figured I could hook the tool bag to one of the rings while I was climbing the ladder up the smokestack. With only the safety belt and the fairly lightweight tool bag, I headed out to the Unit 2 smokestack. Oh yeah. I was carrying one other nifty device as well.

when I arrived, Doug Link was standing at the bottom with some other people. Doug explained that George Bohn and some other engineers from the City (meaning Oklahoma City) were trying to come down, but the elevator wasn’t working. Luckily they had carried a two-way radio with them when they went up (which was a regular safety precaution since smoke signals would largely go unnoticed coming from a smokestack).

I understand from watching movies that when you climb onto the tracks in a subway in New York City or some other large town with a subway, that you are supposed to avoid the “Third Rail”. After Doug Link had explained to me the problem, the first thing I did was to grab the third rail on the ladder that ran up the smoke stack.

Doug Link

Doug Link

You see. Running right up the middle of the ladder is an extra rail. This is what keeps you alive while you climb a very high ladder. Think about it. If you were to try to climb a ladder 250 or 500 feet straight up, what’s going to happen to you? Your arms and legs are going to start getting wobbly. You are going to become short of breath, and your head is going to start to swim some either from hyperventilating or the lack of oxygen… I haven’t figured out which yet.

Anyway, at some point, something is going to stop working. Your fingers are going to miss their grip on the next rung or your work boot is going to slip off of the rung and you will fall. If there is nothing to stop you, then you are going all the way to the ground.

That is why the third rail is added to the ladder. It is there so that you can tie your safety belt to it. It keeps you from falling when you slip, and it also allows you to take a rest when you need it without the worry that if some part of your body momentarily malfunctions, you won’t fall to your death.

A ladder with a safety belt rail

A ladder with a safety belt rail

Here is an example of a ladder with a device similar to the one we had on our stack ladders. I took the nifty device I had brought with me and hooked it into the third rail of the ladder and clipped the tool bag to the other metal loop on my safety belt (this was before we had safety harnesses). Then I began my trek to the landing.

As I ascended (went up) the ladder I told myself that this was no higher than climbing the stairs on the boiler to go to the elevator penthouse to fix the boiler elevators. I do that all the time. This should not be so hard. Just as I would help myself climb the stairs, I could use my hands to pull myself up the ladder distributing the work between my arms and legs as needed so that when one set was becoming too tired, I would have the other set do more of the work (arms and legs I mean).

I told myself it would probably be best if I didn’t stop until I arrived at the 250 foot landing, because I thought that if I did stop for a rest, my legs would get all wobbly. As long as I kept climbing, they didn’t have time for that nonsense. So, I huffed and puffed, and kept focusing on each rung of the ladder as I climbed.

When I reached the 250 foot landing, I swung my tool bag over onto the grating and unclipped my belt from the third rail and sat down with my feet still dangling off the edge of the grating where the ladder came through and rested for a few moments.

George Bohn and the other castaways were around the other side of the stack. They had not realized I had arrived yet. After I caught my breath, I climbed up to the top of the elevator and opened the control panel to see why the elevator was not working. I switched it to manual, and tried to operate it from the top of the elevator, but it didn’t budge.

I used my multimeter to check the circuits and quickly found that one of the fuses had blown out. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring a spare fuse with me, and there wasn’t one in the control box, so there wasn’t much I could do to fix the elevator controls at this point.

I hollered for George and he came around the walkway to the elevator. I explained to him that the fuse to the controls was blown and that I could either climb all the way back down the ladder to the ground to get one, or, I could manually “drop” the elevator down with them in it to the ground. The lady with them didn’t care much for that idea.

I explained that I regularly drop test the elevator and I would be able to let the brake loose long enough for the elevator to go down a couple of feet at a time. After doing that about 125 times, we would be safely on the ground. That seemed to satisfy them, so they entered the elevator and closed the door, while I remained on the top of the elevator.

A typical Stack Elevator. Not the same brand as ours.

A typical Stack Elevator. Not the same brand as ours.

I took my large screwdriver out of the tool bag and pried it between the motor and a latch on the brake. This way, I just had to pull out on the screwdriver to release the brake on the elevator until it began to free-fall toward the ground. I turned my head to look up at the elevator track so I could make sure I didn’t let the elevator drop too far. If I did, then my heroic attempt to rescue my elevator hostages would quickly turn from an “atta-boy” into an “Uh-Oh!”

You see, if I let the elevator drop more than 3 feet (or so), then the safeties on the elevator (known as “dogs”) would set. This would bring the elevator to an abrupt halt. It was designed to stop a falling elevator by instantly locking the elevator to the tracks.

If the dogs were to be set on the stack elevator, the only way to release them is to take the cover off of a gear box and start manually cranking the elevator up about 3 feet until the dogs reset. This was a slow process that usually took about 30 minutes, and if I didn’t go up far enough to actually reset the dogs, as soon as we continued going back down, the dogs would set again and I would have to repeat the process.

So, like the tortoise, I decided that slow and steady wins the race. I was not going to drop the elevator more than a foot and a half each time. We would take our time going down.

The first time I released the brakes and the elevator began to free-fall, I heard the lady below me in the elevator let out a loud gasp. I know the guys were gasping as well, they just had to be more quiet about it. I know I was gasping each time on the top of the elevator and I had done this probably 20 times before when we did the elevator drop tests (See the post “After Effects of Power Plant Drop Tests“).

After about 10 minutes the elevator was safely back on the ground and so were the engineers. Doug Link came up to me and said with an excited voice, “It took you only 4 minutes and 23 seconds to climb up the ladder! That’s incredible! I timed you!” I said, “That’s about right. One second per foot.”

I went back to the shop and found three fuses for the one that had blown on the elevator. I climbed back on the elevator and opened the control box and replaced the bad one. Then I placed the other two in the control box. I figured this way, if this fuse were to blow again, then at least the electrician could just replace it, and not have to manually ride the elevator to the ground again.

I tested the elevator by riding it up and down the stack a few times and everything worked just fine. I figured that this must have just happened because George Bohn was trying to show off to some cute engineer. That’s just George’s luck. To find out more adventures with George, you can read this post: “Bohn’s Boner and the Power Plant Precipitator Computer“.

Tales of a Tall Power Plant A Foreman

Originally posted October 19, 2013:
Everybody seemed to like Bill Bennett. We didn’t like him because he possessed a profound knowledge in the field of electricity. No. We liked him because he was a good person. Bill was a tall very thin black man that sort of reminded you of Bill Cosby.

Bill Cosby trying to look like Bill Bennett

Bill Cosby trying to look like Bill Bennett

Bill had a gruff cigarette voice as he was a chain smoker. Often he would say his first words to me when he came into the Electric Shop office for lunch each day in the same manner that Aunt Esther would say something to Fred Sanford. His lower jaw would jut out and he would shake his head with a look of total disgust… like this:

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

With this expression, Bill would often look at me and say, “You Scamp!” Dragging it out for the full effect. Nothing would bring a smile to my face faster than having Bill berate me by insulting my integrity as a person. He would also add on additional phrases like, “…You disgust me!” Or… “….you scum!” — I felt like Gomer Pyle by that point with a big grin on my face.

Gomer Pyle grinning ear-to-ear

Gomer Pyle grinning ear-to-ear

I just wish everyone could work for such a great guy at least once in their life.

I’m not saying that we didn’t have our disagreements throughout the years that he was our A Foreman at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma. I recognized that Bill had his way of viewing the world, and I had mine. And even though my way was always the right one, I realized he had a right to his view even when it was wrong.

At those times what could you do? Probably the same thing I would do. Fall on the ground kicking and screaming and then try to make your face turn blue by holding your breath. — That never seemed to change his mind though. Probably because I liked breathing too much and would find that it didn’t take long before I would develop an overwhelming urge to take another breath.

Anyway. After spending well over a thousand lunch times with Bill Bennett, just when I began to think that I had heard every story about Bill Bennett’s life that was imaginable, he would come up with another one.

I could tell you some stories about Bill where he was at the lowest point in his life. When he was an alcoholic at the point where he normally would have been fired from the electric company. Then someone gave him another chance for no other reason than because he understood human nature and cared about his fellow man.

You see. There are a number of people in the electric company throughout the years where they were at the low point in their lives. Sometimes people were there to give them a lift up from the gutter where they had fallen. At other times, they were cast aside mercilessly and forgotten because the company was priority. A useless and hypocritical attitude, I always thought, because what is electricity used for except to help mankind.

When Bill Bennett had reached this point in his life. Someone was there to help him out of the gutter. They brushed him off (the dust I mean). Gave him some self dignity and “let it go”. Bill went on to become a good and compassionate person. I’m sure that those people in his life that helped him back then were the major force in reshaping his outlook on life. He was always fighting for the underdog. Once I understood that. I stopped my kicking and screaming, and picked myself up off of the floor.

So, I thought I would share a couple of my favorite stories about Bill.

When Bill was young, he lived in Oklahoma City, southeast of the capitol a couple of miles in the poor section of town. I could picture this story real well when he was telling it because my soon-to-be wife was living in this same area as she was attending Nursing School at the Oklahoma University Medical School.

Bill recounted this story: One day when he came home from school his dad gave him a little pet possum.

Baby Possum

Baby Possum

Bill was overwhelmed with happiness. This was like his one and only true friend. He took the possum with him wherever he went. After so many years I don’t remember what name Bill had given the possum, but it was something like “Fred”, so I’ll just call him Fred for the rest of the story.

Bill taught Fred tricks, and he would run up his arm and perch on his shoulder. Bill would walk around the neighborhood proud to have his pet possum Fred sitting on his shoulder. The two became inseparable.

When the summer was over, in the morning when Bill went to school he would have to leave Fred at home. He had a certain sound that he would make to call his possum. So, when he would walk in the door after returning home from school he would call Fred, and he would come out from under the sofa, or the bed, or wherever he had decided to hide for the day. Fred was pretty much a grown possum by this time.

a grown possum

a grown possum

One day Bill came home from school. He didn’t remember whether he had called Fred or not when he came home, but if he had, Fred didn’t answer. This wouldn’t have concerned Bill much since Fred may have just been playing Possum as Possums are apt to do from time-to-time. Anyway. Bill didn’t see Fred when he came home.

When it came time for dinner Bill sat down and his mom served him a nice hot bowl of stew. As dinner progressed, at one point the subject of the stew came up. Maybe one of Bill’s brothers and sisters said, “Hey mom. This is sure some good tasting stew! What is it?” That was the point in Bill’s life when he decided to become a chain smoker and an alcoholic…. well… not all at once… This was just the point that led him down that path.

You see. As Granny in the Beverly Hillbillies would say, “Go eat your Possum Stew Jethro”. Here is Granny running for Possum Queen:

Granny running for Possum Queen

Granny running for Possum Queen

That’s right. Bill Bennett’s mom had cooked his pet possum Fred for dinner. When he heard this he was stunned. He didn’t have the same expression that Jethro had when Granny called him to the dinner table, that’s for sure.

Jethro's expression when he is waiting to eat

Jethro’s expression when he is waiting to eat

When he asked his parents how they could do that to his pet possum, his father replied, “Why did you think I gave that possum to you?” That was when the grim reality of life hit Bill right between the eyes. Sick to his stomach he left the dinner table. From that day onward, Bill never again ate possum stew.

This might seem like a humorous or cute story to some. To Bill, it changed his entire outlook on life. As I mentioned. He later became an alcoholic. Which even later, with the help of his wife and others, he overcame. Though it was gradual, if you trace his life back, I believe that the downward spiral began at this one crucial point in his life. With the intentional loss of the life of someone he loved.

When Bill would call me a scamp…. I sometimes felt that down inside he was still crying for Fred, and was talking to his father instead of me. I could see a hint of sorrow even in his humor. He knew he could take out his hidden frustration in our presence because Bill always knew that friends like Charles Foster and I would always be there smiling back at him.

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

Ok. That was one of the more serious stories of Bill’s life, but one that I often think about when I think about Bill. Let me tell you a more humorous story:

Bill Bennett worked for an electronics store at one point in his life before he found his true calling as a “Power Plant Man”. Part of this job included making house calls to work on the security system in homes.

The employees would use the company van to go on house calls. It had the necessary equipment to install and repair the security systems. It also had one curious item sitting on the dashboard. A garage door opener.

The garage door opener was a point of amusement for the employees as they would drive through a neighborhood on the way to someone’s house they would click the opener as they drove along looking around to see if it would open anyone’s garage door. No one knew where the opener had come from, but they thought that just by chance it might randomly open a garage door here or there.

Garage door opener found in electronic store vans

Garage door opener found in electronic store vans

So, here is Bill’s story:

One day he was on his way to do a job in a high-end neighborhood. As he was slowly making his way down the neighborhood street to his destination, he was clicking the garage door opener to see if it would open any doors. When all of a sudden he saw a few houses up ahead that a garage door was opening.

For a brief moment Bill was excited that he had found a garage door that opened. Then he realized that the garage door that was opening was the house where he was making the service call. “Oh No!” He quickly began clicking the garage door opener to try to close the garage door, but it wouldn’t close.

Bill sat in the van for a while desperately clicking the garage door opener praying that it would work to close the garage door, but it never did. finally he decided he would act as if he didn’t know anything about how the garage door opened and climbed out of the van.

He walked over to the garage and peered in, sheepishly saying, “Hello?” He was conscious that he was a lone lower class black man in a predominantly rich white neighborhood walking into someone’s garage in broad daylight. He took a few steps into the garage when the garage door began to close!

In order to make it out of the garage, Bill would have had to dodge under the closing door, so he just froze in place and awaited his fate.

A few moments later, the door to the house opened and a little old lady entered. Bill tried to explain that he didn’t know how the garage door had opened and that he only entered the garage to see if someone was there. She said she had seen his van coming down the street, and had opened the garage door from inside the house.

So, the garage door opener in the van hadn’t opened the door after all. It was just a major coincidence that Bill happened to be driving down the street clicking a garage door opener when an elderly lady (like Granny) had seen his van and opened her garage door only to have Bill think that he had opened the door. Or was it a coincidence?

Sometimes I feel that when a coincidence of this statistical improbability occurs that there is often an extraordinary intervention from above telling you something. I’m sure that this little scare taught Bill something and helped him progress on to the view of life that he had when I met him years later.

I have another very coincidental story about a true Power Plant engineer that was a major turning point in this person’s life that I will share in a couple of years from now. When you read that story it will be very clear that there is someone definitely looking out for poor souls like us.

Comments from original post:

  1. Ron October 21, 2013

    Great stories, Kevin. Keep ‘em coming!
    I had not heard these stories about Bill. I enjoyed working with him. Do you know where he is now?

    1. Plant Electrician October 22, 2013

      Ron,
      Rumor has it that Bill cut a deal with St. Peter where he can still step out the gate for cigarette breaks.

  2. Fred October 22, 2013

    Bill Bennett was a keeper for sure. When we played softball he would play first base and he would almost do the splits stretching to catch the ball. Quite a feat considering he has several years older than most of us playing. I enjoyed talking to him off the job the most. He was real personable. I miss him and think of him fairly often.

The Power Plant Smokestack Third Rail is the Lifesaver

Originally posted November 29, 2014:

It was quite a site at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma to see a 400 pound man climbing up the ladder to the 250 foot level (halfway) of the smokestack only to climb halfway down again on the track the elevator used to go up and down the smokestack. I was on labor crew then and I remember thinking, I’m sure glad that’s not me.

A small tour of people from Oklahoma City had come to the plant and one of the engineers was showing them around. I think Allen Gould may remember who it was. I’m not saying it was Allen, I’m just thinking that he was around at that time.

Power Plant Engineer Allen Gould

Power Plant Engineer Allen Gould

I think that day the wind was blowing rather hard and when the elevator was descending (going down) the stack, the power cable somehow blew over into the path of the elevator and it was caught under the roller which brought the elevator to an abrupt halt. Unfortunately. in this instance, trying to free fall the elevator manually to bring it down wouldn’t work since when the brakes were released, the elevator wouldn’t move because it was really stuck right where it was.

A person that worked for the Alimak elevator company was called in from Wichita Kansas 100 miles to the north of the Power plant, which meant that it took almost 2 hours for the person to arrive at the plant. When he did, he turned out to be the largest elevator repairman I had ever seen. He had to climb up 250 feet up a ladder to the landing, then back down again about 100 feet to the elevator to rescue the people from the elevator.

I first found out about it when someone pointed out the large figure of a man about halfway up to the first landing on the smokestack ladder. He had stopped for a rest and was leaning back on his lanyard that was attached to the ladder. When we arrived in the maintenance shop, Marlin McDaniel explained the situation to us. I think it took well over three hours for this man to take each person out of the hatch in the top of the elevator, then climb with them up the elevator track to the landing, and then take them down the ladder 250 feet to the ground. I think one of them was a lady, and two were men.

The stack elevator is a small box with a capacity to carry 3 people or a weight of 900 pounds. It is crowded enough with only two people in it, but three is always a crowd (as the saying goes, “Two’s company, Three’s a crowd”). That phrase definitely is true with the stack elevator.

 

These are the 500 foot smoke stacks

These are the 500 foot smoke stacks

At the time, I didn’t realize that one day I would be an electrician that took care of the smoke stack elevators. Actually, I never gave it a thought about what sort of equipment electricians repaired or maintained. It turned out that electricians worked on anything that had electric power going to it. That’s pretty much anything mechanical.

Electricians would work on the motors while the mechanics would work on the pumps, fans and valves attached to the end of the motors. When it came to the stack elevators, it was generally left up to the electricians to do the majority of the work. We inspected the elevators each month, and when they broke down, we were called to repair them.

When the boiler elevators broke down, it seemed as if I was the person of choice to ask to climb the boiler to the roof to fix it. The elevator controls were located on the top of the boiler, so I would usually end up climbing the stairs to the top cleaning door contacts on the way up. It happens that the boilers are 250 feet tall. So, the middle landing on the stack elevator is about the same height as the boiler as you can see in the picture above.

Bill Bennett, our A Foreman, would always add when he was telling me to go fix the elevator…. “You like climbing all those stairs anyway.” What could I say? “Sure Bill! I’ll go see what I can do.”

I think in the back of my mind I knew the day was coming when I was going to have to climb the stack elevator ladder to rescue someone. I had already climbed it a few times to fix some conduit that had come loose that ran up the smokestack next to the ladder, so I knew what it was like to go straight up a 500 foot ladder to the top of the smokestack. Luckily when my turn came around for a rescue, I only had to go halfway up. There were 4 people stuck on the smokestack.

Unlike the large elevator repairman from Wichita, I didn’t have to climb down the elevator track to reach the elevator. It had malfunctioned right at the 250 foot level when the group was ready to come back down from their semi-lofty visit of one of the Power Plant Smokestacks. My only task was to climb up, fix the elevator and bring the group safely to the ground.

I grabbed some tools from my tool bucket that I thought would be useful. A couple of different size screwdrivers (one large one and one small), my multimeter, fuse pullers, and three wrenches, (7/16, 1/2 and 9/16 inch). I put them in a bag that looked like a feed bag for a horse. It had a rope with a hook on it.

A tool Bag, only ours had a hook on the top of the handle

A tool Bag, only ours had a hook on the top of the handle

I figured I didn’t want to take anything I didn’t need, so I didn’t put all 40 pounds of tools from my tool bucket into the bag. Just those things I thought I might need. I had my handy dandy little crescent wrench in my pocket and my baby screwdriver in my pocket protector on my tee shirt.

4 inch crescent wrench

4 inch crescent wrench

I took a safety belt off of the coat rack by the door in the electric shop and put it on. I figured I could hook the tool bag to one of the rings while I was climbing the ladder up the smokestack. With only the safety belt and the fairly lightweight tool bag, I headed out to the Unit 2 smokestack. Oh yeah. I was carrying one other nifty device as well.

when I arrived, Doug Link was standing at the bottom with some other people. Doug explained that George Bohn and some other engineers from the City (meaning Oklahoma City) were trying to come down, but the elevator wasn’t working. Luckily they had carried a two-way radio with them when they went up (which was a regular safety precaution since smoke signals would largely go unnoticed coming from a smokestack).

I understand from watching movies that when you climb onto the tracks in a subway in New York City or some other large town with a subway, that you are supposed to avoid the “Third Rail”. After Doug Link had explained to me the problem, the first thing I did was to grab the third rail on the ladder that ran up the smoke stack.

Doug Link

Doug Link

You see. Running right up the middle of the ladder is an extra rail. This is what keeps you alive while you climb a very high ladder. Think about it. If you were to try to climb a ladder 250 or 500 feet straight up, what’s going to happen to you? Your arms and legs are going to start getting wobbly. You are going to become short of breath, and your head is going to start to swim some either from hyperventilating or the lack of oxygen… I haven’t figured out which yet.

Anyway, at some point, something is going to stop working. Your fingers are going to miss their grip on the next rung or your work boot is going to slip off of the rung and you will fall. If there is nothing to stop you, then you are going all the way to the ground.

That is why the third rail is added to the ladder. It is there so that you can tie your safety belt to it. It keeps you from falling when you slip, and it also allows you to take a rest when you need it without the worry that if some part of your body momentarily malfunctions, you won’t fall to your death.

A ladder with a safety belt rail

A ladder with a safety belt rail

Here is an example of a ladder with a device similar to the one we had on our stack ladders. I took the nifty device I had brought with me and hooked it into the third rail of the ladder and clipped the tool bag to the other metal loop on my safety belt (this was before we had safety harnesses). Then I began my trek to the landing.

As I ascended (went up) the ladder I told myself that this was no higher than climbing the stairs on the boiler to go to the elevator penthouse to fix the boiler elevators. I do that all the time. This should not be so hard. Just as I would help myself climb the stairs, I could use my hands to pull myself up the ladder distributing the work between my arms and legs as needed so that when one set was becoming too tired, I would have the other set do more of the work (arms and legs I mean).

I told myself it would probably be best if I didn’t stop until I arrived at the 250 foot landing, because I thought that if I did stop for a rest, my legs would get all wobbly. As long as I kept climbing, they didn’t have time for that nonsense. So, I huffed and puffed, and kept focusing on each rung of the ladder as I climbed.

When I reached the 250 foot landing, I swung my tool bag over onto the grating and unclipped my belt from the third rail and sat down with my feet still dangling off the edge of the grating where the ladder came through and rested for a few moments.

George Bohn and the other castaways were around the other side of the stack. They had not realized I had arrived yet. After I caught my breath, I climbed up to the top of the elevator and opened the control panel to see why the elevator was not working. I switched it to manual, and tried to operate it from the top of the elevator, but it didn’t budge.

I used my multimeter to check the circuits and quickly found that one of the fuses had blown out. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring a spare fuse with me, and there wasn’t one in the control box, so there wasn’t much I could do to fix the elevator controls at this point.

I hollered for George and he came around the walkway to the elevator. I explained to him that the fuse to the controls was blown and that I could either climb all the way back down the ladder to the ground to get one, or, I could manually “drop” the elevator down with them in it to the ground. The lady with them didn’t care much for that idea.

I explained that I regularly drop test the elevator and I would be able to let the brake loose long enough for the elevator to go down a couple of feet at a time. After doing that about 125 times, we would be safely on the ground. That seemed to satisfy them, so they entered the elevator and closed the door, while I remained on the top of the elevator.

A typical Stack Elevator. Not the same brand as ours.

A typical Stack Elevator. Not the same brand as ours.

I took my large screwdriver out of the tool bag and pried it between the motor and a latch on the brake. This way, I just had to pull out on the screwdriver to release the brake on the elevator until it began to free-fall toward the ground. I turned my head to look up at the elevator track so I could make sure I didn’t let the elevator drop too far. If I did, then my heroic attempt to rescue my elevator hostages would quickly turn from an “atta-boy” into an “Uh-Oh!”

You see, if I let the elevator drop more than 3 feet (or so), then the safeties on the elevator (known as “dogs”) would set. This would bring the elevator to an abrupt halt. It was designed to stop a falling elevator by instantly locking the elevator to the tracks.

If the dogs were to be set on the stack elevator, the only way to release them is to take the cover off of a gear box and start manually cranking the elevator up about 3 feet until the dogs reset. This was a slow process that usually took about 30 minutes, and if I didn’t go up far enough to actually reset the dogs, as soon as we continued going back down, the dogs would set again and I would have to repeat the process.

So, like the tortoise, I decided that slow and steady wins the race. I was not going to drop the elevator more than a foot and a half each time. We would take our time going down.

The first time I released the brakes and the elevator began to free-fall, I heard the lady below me in the elevator let out a loud gasp. I know the guys were gasping as well, they just had to be more quiet about it. I know I was gasping each time on the top of the elevator and I had done this probably 20 times before when we did the elevator drop tests (See the post “After Effects of Power Plant Drop Tests“).

After about 10 minutes the elevator was safely back on the ground and so were the engineers. Doug Link came up to me and said with an excited voice, “It took you only 4 minutes and 23 seconds to climb up the ladder! That’s incredible! I timed you!” I said, “That’s about right. One second per foot.”

I went back to the shop and found three fuses for the one that had blown on the elevator. I climbed back on the elevator and opened the control box and replaced the bad one. Then I placed the other two in the control box. I figured this way, if this fuse were to blow again, then at least the electrician could just replace it, and not have to manually ride the elevator to the ground again.

I tested the elevator by riding it up and down the stack a few times and everything worked just fine. I figured that this must have just happened because George Bohn was trying to show off to some cute engineer. That’s just George’s luck. To find out more adventures with George, you can read this post: “Bohn’s Boner and the Power Plant Precipitator Computer“.

The Power Plant Smokestack Third Rail is the Lifesaver

Originally posted November 29, 2014:

It was quite a site at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma to see a 400 pound man climbing up the ladder to the 250 foot level (halfway) of the smokestack only to climb halfway down again on the track the elevator used to go up and down the smokestack. I was on labor crew then and I remember thinking, I’m sure glad that’s not me.

A small tour of people from Oklahoma City had come to the plant and one of the engineers was showing them around. I think Allen Gould may remember who it was. I’m not saying it was Allen, I’m just thinking that he was around at that time.

Power Plant Engineer Allen Gould

Power Plant Engineer Allen Gould

I think that day the wind was blowing rather hard and when the elevator was descending (going down) the stack, the power cable somehow blew over into the path of the elevator and it was caught under the roller which brought the elevator to an abrupt halt. Unfortunately. in this instance, trying to free fall the elevator manually to bring it down wouldn’t work since when the brakes were released, the elevator would move because it was really stuck right where it was.

A person that worked for the Alimak elevator company was called in from Wichita Kansas 100 miles to the north of the Power plant, which meant that it took almost 2 hours for the person to arrive at the plant. When he did, he turned out to be the largest elevator repairman I had ever seen. He had to climb up 250 feet up a ladder to the landing, then back down again about 100 feet to the elevator to rescue the people from the elevator.

I first found out about it when someone pointed out the large figure of a man about halfway up to the first landing on the smokestack ladder. He had stopped for a rest and was leaning back on his lanyard that was attached to the ladder. When we arrived in the maintenance shop, Marlin McDaniel explained the situation to us. I think it took well over three hours for this man to take each person out of the hatch in the top of the elevator, then climb with them up the elevator track to the landing, and then take them down the ladder 250 feet to the ground. I think one of them was a lady, and two were men.

The stack elevator is a small box with a capacity to carry 3 people or a weight of 900 pounds. It is crowded enough with only two people in it, but three is always a crowd (as the saying goes, “Two’s company, Three’s a crowd”). That phrase definitely is true with the stack elevator.

 

These are the 500 foot smoke stacks

These are the 500 foot smoke stacks

At the time, I didn’t realize that one day I would be an electrician that took care of the smoke stack elevators. Actually, I never gave it a thought about what sort of equipment electricians repaired or maintained. It turned out that electricians worked on anything that had electric power going to it. That’s pretty much anything mechanical.

Electricians would work on the motors while the mechanics would work on the pumps, fans and valves attached to the end of the motors. When it came to the stack elevators, it was generally left up to the electricians to do the majority of the work. We inspected the elevators each month, and when they broke down, we were called to repair them.

When the boiler elevators broke down, it seemed as if I was the person of choice to ask to climb the boiler to the roof to fix it. The elevator controls were located on the top of the boiler, so I would usually end up climbing the stairs to the top cleaning door contacts on the way up. It happens that the boilers are 250 feet tall. So, the middle landing on the stack elevator is about the same height as the boiler as you can see in the picture above.

Bill Bennett, our A Foreman, would always add when he was telling me to go fix the elevator…. “You like climbing all those stairs anyway.” What could I say? “Sure Bill! I’ll go see what I can do.”

I think in the back of my mind I knew the day was coming when I was going to have to climb the stack elevator ladder to rescue someone. I had already climbed it a few times to fix some conduit that had come loose that ran up the smokestack next to the ladder, so I knew what it was like to go straight up a 500 foot ladder to the top of the smokestack. Luckily when my turn came around for a rescue, I only had to go halfway up. There were 4 people stuck on the smokestack.

Unlike the large elevator repairman from Wichita, I didn’t have to climb down the elevator track to reach the elevator. It had malfunctioned right at the 250 foot level when the group was ready to come back down from their semi-lofty visit of one of the Power Plant Smokestacks. My only task was to climb up, fix the elevator and bring the group safely to the ground.

I grabbed some tools from my tool bucket that I thought would be useful. A couple of different size screwdrivers (one large one and one small), my multimeter, fuse pullers, and three wrenches, (7/16, 1/2 and 9/16 inch). I put them in a bag that looked like a feed bag for a horse. It had a rope with a hook on it.

A tool Bag, only ours had a hook on the top of the handle

A tool Bag, only ours had a hook on the top of the handle

I figured I didn’t want to take anything I didn’t need, so I didn’t put all 40 pounds of tools from my tool bucket into the bag. Just those things I thought I might need. I had my handy dandy little crescent wrench in my pocket and my baby screwdriver in my pocket protector on my tee shirt.

4 inch crescent wrench

4 inch crescent wrench

I took a safety belt off of the coat rack by the door in the electric shop and put it on. I figured I could hook the tool bag to one of the rings while I was climbing the ladder up the smokestack. With only the safety belt and the fairly lightweight tool bag, I headed out to the Unit 2 smokestack. Oh yeah. I was carrying one other nifty device as well.

when I arrived, Doug Link was standing at the bottom with some other people. Doug explained that George Bohn and some other engineers from the City (meaning Oklahoma City) were trying to come down, but the elevator wasn’t working. Luckily they had carried a two-way radio with them when they went up (which was a regular safety precaution since smoke signals would largely go unnoticed coming from a smokestack).

I understand from watching movies that when you climb onto the tracks in a subway in New York City or some other large town with a subway, that you are supposed to avoid the “Third Rail”. After Doug Link had explained to me the problem, the first thing I did was to grab the third rail on the ladder that ran up the smoke stack.

Doug Link

Doug Link

You see. Running right up the middle of the ladder is an extra rail. This is what keeps you alive while you climb a very high ladder. Think about it. If you were to try to climb a ladder 250 or 500 feet straight up, what’s going to happen to you? Your arms and legs are going to start getting wobbly. You are going to become short of breath, and your head is going to start to swim some either from hyperventilating or the lack of oxygen… I haven’t figured out which yet.

Anyway, at some point, something is going to stop working. Your fingers are going to miss their grip on the next rung or your work boot is going to slip off of the rung and you will fall. If there is nothing to stop you, then you are going all the way to the ground.

That is why the third rail is added to the ladder. It is there so that you can tie your safety belt to it. It keeps you from falling when you slip, and it also allows you to take a rest when you need it without the worry that if some part of your body momentarily malfunctions, you won’t fall to your death.

A ladder with a safety belt rail

A ladder with a safety belt rail

Here is an example of a ladder with a device similar to the one we had on our stack ladders. I took the nifty device I had brought with me and hooked it into the third rail of the ladder and clipped the tool bag to the other metal loop on my safety belt (this was before we had safety harnesses). Then I began my trek to the landing.

As I ascended (went up) the ladder I told myself that this was no higher than climbing the stairs on the boiler to go to the elevator penthouse to fix the boiler elevators. I do that all the time. This should not be so hard. Just as I would help myself climb the stairs, I could use my hands to pull myself up the ladder distributing the work between my arms and legs as needed so that when one set was becoming too tired, I would have the other set do more of the work (arms and legs I mean).

I told myself it would probably be best if I didn’t stop until I arrived at the 250 foot landing, because I thought that if I did stop for a rest, my legs would get all wobbly. As long as I kept climbing, they didn’t have time for that nonsense. So, I huffed and puffed, and kept focusing on each rung of the ladder as I climbed.

When I reached the 250 foot landing, I swung my tool bag over onto the grating and unclipped my belt from the third rail and sat down with my feet still dangling off the edge of the grating where the ladder came through and rested for a few moments.

George Bohn and the other castaways were around the other side of the stack. They had not realized I had arrived yet. After I caught my breath, I climbed up to the top of the elevator and opened the control panel to see why the elevator was not working. I switched it to manual, and tried to operate it from the top of the elevator, but it didn’t budge.

I used my multimeter to check the circuits and quickly found that one of the fuses had blown out. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring a spare fuse with me, and there wasn’t one in the control box, so there wasn’t much I could do to fix the elevator controls at this point.

I hollered for George and he came around the walkway to the elevator. I explained to him that the fuse to the controls was blown and that I could either climb all the way back down the ladder to the ground to get one, or, I could manually “drop” the elevator down with them in it to the ground. The lady with them didn’t care much for that idea.

I explained that I regularly drop test the elevator and I would be able to let the brake loose long enough for the elevator to go down a couple of feet at a time. After doing that about 125 times, we would be safely on the ground. That seemed to satisfy them, so they entered the elevator and closed the door, while I remained on the top of the elevator.

A typical Stack Elevator. Not the same brand as ours.

A typical Stack Elevator. Not the same brand as ours.

I took my large screwdriver out of the tool bag and pried it between the motor and a latch on the brake. This way, I just had to pull out on the screwdriver to release the brake on the elevator until it began to free-fall toward the ground. I turned my head to look up at the elevator track so I could make sure I didn’t let the elevator drop too far. If I did, then my heroic attempt to rescue my elevator hostages would quickly turn from an “atta-boy” into an “Uh-Oh!”

You see, if I let the elevator drop more than 3 feet (or so), then the safeties on the elevator (known as “dogs”) would set. This would bring the elevator to an abrupt halt. It was designed to stop a falling elevator by instantly locking the elevator to the tracks.

If the dogs were to be set on the stack elevator, the only way to release them is to take the cover off of a gear box and start manually cranking the elevator up about 3 feet until the dogs reset. This was a slow process that usually took about 30 minutes, and if I didn’t go up far enough to actually reset the dogs, as soon as we continued going back down, the dogs would set again and I would have to repeat the process.

So, like the tortoise, I decided that slow and steady wins the race. I was not going to drop the elevator more than a foot and a half each time. We would take our time going down.

The first time I released the brakes and the elevator began to free-fall, I heard the lady below me in the elevator let out a loud gasp. I know the guys were gasping as well, they just had to be more quiet about it. I know I was gasping each time on the top of the elevator and I had done this probably 20 times before when we did the elevator drop tests (See the post “After Effects of Power Plant Drop Tests“).

After about 10 minutes the elevator was safely back on the ground and so were the engineers. Doug Link came up to me and said with an excited voice, “It took you only 4 minutes and 23 seconds to climb up the ladder! That’s incredible! I timed you!” I said, “That’s about right. One second per foot.”

I went back to the shop and found three fuses for the one that had blown on the elevator. I climbed back on the elevator and opened the control box and replaced the bad one. Then I placed the other two in the control box. I figured this way, if this fuse were to blow again, then at least the electrician could just replace it, and not have to manually ride the elevator to the ground again.

I tested the elevator by riding it up and down the stack a few times and everything worked just fine. I figured that this must have just happened because George Bohn was trying to show off to some cute engineer. That’s just George’s luck. To find out more adventures with George, you can read this post: “Bohn’s Boner and the Power Plant Precipitator Computer“.

Tales of a Tall Power Plant A Foreman

Originally posted October 19, 2013:
Everybody seemed to like Bill Bennett. We didn’t like him because he possessed a profound knowledge in the field of electricity. No. We like him because he was a good person. Bill was a tall very thin black man that sort of reminded you of Bill Cosby.

Bill Cosby trying to look like Bill Bennett

Bill Cosby trying to look like Bill Bennett

Bill had a gruff cigarette voice as he was a chain smoker. Often he would say his first words to me when he came into the Electric Shop office for lunch each day in the same manner that Aunt Ester would say something to Fred Sanford. His lower jaw would jut out and he would shake his head with a look of total disgust… like this:

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

With this expression, Bill would often look at me and say, “You Scamp!” Dragging it out for the full effect. Nothing would bring a smile to my face faster than having Bill berate me by insulting my integrity as a person. He would also add on additional phrases like, “…You disgust me!” Or… “….you scum!” — I felt like Gomer Pyle by that point with a big grin on my face.

Gomer Pyle grinning ear-to-ear

Gomer Pyle grinning ear-to-ear

I just wish everyone could work for such a great guy at least once in their life.

I’m not saying that we didn’t have our disagreements throughout the years that he was our A Foreman at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma. I recognized that Bill had his way of viewing the world, and I had mine. And even though my way was always the right one, I realized he had a right to his view even when it was wrong.

At those times what could you do? Probably the same thing I would do. Fall on the ground kicking and screaming and then try to make your face turn blue by holding your breath. — That never seemed to change his mind though. Probably because I liked breathing too much and would find that it didn’t take long before I would develop an overwhelming urge to take another breath.

Anyway. After spending well over a thousand lunch times with Bill Bennett, just when I began to think that I had heard every story about Bill Bennett’s life that was imaginable, he would come up with another one.

I could tell you some stories about Bill where he was at the lowest point in his life. When he was an alcoholic at the point where he normally would have been fired from the electric company. Then someone gave him another chance for no other reason than because he understood human nature and cared about his fellow man.

You see. There are a number of people in the electric company throughout the years where they were at the low point in their lives. Sometimes people were there to give them a lift up from the gutter where they had fallen. At other times, they were cast aside mercilessly and forgotten because the company was priority. A useless and hypocritical attitude, I always thought, because what is electricity used for except to help mankind.

When Bill Bennett had reached this point in his life. Someone was there to help him out of the gutter. They brushed him off (the dust I mean). Gave him some self dignity and “let it go”. Bill went on to become a good and compassionate person. I’m sure that those people in his life that helped him back then were the major force in reshaping his outlook on life. He was always fighting for the underdog. Once I understood that. I stopped my kicking and screaming, and picked myself up off of the floor.

So, I thought I would share a couple of my favorite stories about Bill.

When Bill was young, he lived in Oklahoma City, southeast of the capitol a couple of miles in the poor section of town. I could picture this story real well when he was telling it because my soon-to-be wife was living in this same area as she was attending Nursing School at the Oklahoma University Medical School.

Bill recounted this story: One day when he came home from school his dad gave him a little pet possum.

Baby Possum

Baby Possum

Bill was overwhelmed with happiness. This was like his one and only true friend. He took the possum with him wherever he went. After so many years I don’t remember what name Bill had given the possum, but it was something like “Fred”, so I’ll just call him Fred for the rest of the story.

Bill taught Fred tricks, and he would run up his arm and perch on his shoulder. Bill would walk around the neighborhood proud to have his pet possum Fred sitting on his shoulder. The two became inseparable.

When the summer was over, in the morning when Bill went to school he would have to leave Fred at home. He had a certain sound that he would make to call his possum. So, when he would walk in the door after returning home from school he would call Fred, and he would come out from under the sofa, or the bed, or wherever he had decided to hide for the day. Fred was pretty much a grown possum by this time.

a grown possum

a grown possum

One day Bill came home from school. He didn’t remember whether he had called Fred or not when he came home, but if he had, Fred didn’t answer. This wouldn’t have concerned Bill much since Fred may have just been playing Possum as Possums are apt to do from time-to-time. Anyway. Bill didn’t see Fred when he came home.

When it came time for dinner Bill sat down and his mom served him a nice hot bowl of stew. As dinner progressed, at one point the subject of the stew came up. Maybe one of Bill’s brothers and sisters said, “Hey mom. This is sure some good tasting stew! What is it?” That was the point in Bill’s life when he decided to become a chain smoker and an alcoholic…. well… not all at once… This was just the point that led him down that path.

You see. As Granny in the Beverly Hillbillies would say, “Go eat your Possum Stew Jethro”. Here is Granny running for Possum Queen:

Granny running for Possum Queen

Granny running for Possum Queen

That’s right. Bill Bennett’s mom had cooked his pet possum Fred for dinner. When he heard this he was stunned. He didn’t have the same expression that Jethro had when Granny called him to the dinner table, that’s for sure.

Jethro's expression when he is waiting to eat

Jethro’s expression when he is waiting to eat

When he asked his parents how they could do that to his pet possum, his father replied, “Why did you think I gave that possum to you?” That was when the grim reality of life hit Bill right between the eyes. Sick to his stomach he left the dinner table. From that day onward, Bill never again ate possum stew.

This might seem like a humorous or cute story to some. To Bill, it changed his entire outlook on life. As I mentioned. He later became an alcoholic. Which even later, with the help of his wife and others, he overcame. Though it was gradual, if you trace his life back, I believe that the downward spiral began at this one crucial point in his life. With the intentional loss of the life of someone he loved.

When Bill would call me a scamp…. I sometimes felt that down inside he was still crying for Fred, and was talking to his father instead of me. I could see a hint of sorrow even in his humor. He knew he could take out his hidden frustration in our presence because Bill always knew that friends like Charles Foster and I would always be there smiling back at him.

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

Ok. That was one of the more serious stories of Bill’s life, but one that I often think about when I think about Bill. Let me tell you a more humorous story:

Bill Bennett worked for an electronics store at one point in his life before he found his true calling as a “Power Plant Man”. Part of this job included making house calls to work on the security system in homes.

The employees would use the company van to go on house calls. It had the necessary equipment to install and repair the security systems. It also had one curious item sitting on the dashboard. A garage door opener.

The garage door opener was a point of amusement for the employees as they would drive through a neighborhood on the way to someone’s house they would click the opener as they drove along looking around to see if it would open anyone’s garage door. No one knew where the opener had come from, but they thought that just by chance it might randomly open a garage door here or there.

Garage door opener found in electronic store vans

Garage door opener found in electronic store vans

So, here is Bill’s story:

One day he was on his way to do a job in a high-end neighborhood. As he was slowly making his way down the neighborhood street to his destination, he was clicking the garage door opener to see if it would open any doors. When all of a sudden he saw a few houses up ahead that a garage door was opening.

For a brief moment Bill was excited that he had found a garage door that opened. Then he realized that the garage door that was opening was the house where he was making the service call. “Oh No!” He quickly began clicking the garage door opener to try to close the garage door, but it wouldn’t close.

Bill sat in the van for a while desperately clicking the garage door opener praying that it would work to close the garage door, but it never did. finally he decided he would act as if he didn’t know anything about how the garage door opened and climbed out of the van.

He walked over to the garage and peered in, sheepishly saying, “Hello?” He was conscious that he was a lone lower class black man in a predominantly rich white neighborhood walking into someone’s garage in broad daylight. He took a few steps into the garage when the garage door began to close!

In order to make it out of the garage, Bill would have had to dodge under the closing door, so he just froze in place and awaited his fate.

A few moments later, the door to the house opened and a little old lady entered. Bill tried to explain that he didn’t know how the garage door had opened and that he only entered the garage to see if someone was there. She said she had seen his van coming down the street, and had opened the garage door from inside the house.

So, the garage door opener in the van hadn’t opened the door after all. It was just a major coincidence that Bill happened to be driving down the street clicking a garage door opener when an elderly lady (like Granny) had seen his van and opened her garage door only to have Bill think that he had opened the door. Or was it a coincidence?

Sometimes I feel that when a coincidence of this statistical improbability occurs that there is often an extraordinary intervention from above telling you something. I’m sure that this little scare taught Bill something and helped him progress on to the view of life that he had when I met him years later.

I have another very coincidental story about a true Power Plant engineer that was a major turning point in this person’s life that I will share in a couple of years from now. When you read that story it will be very clear that there is someone definitely looking out for poor souls like us.

Comments from original post:

  1. Ron October 21, 2013

    Great stories, Kevin. Keep ‘em coming!
    I had not heard these stories about Bill. I enjoyed working with him. Do you know where he is now?

    1. Plant Electrician October 22, 2013

      Ron,
      Rumor has it that Bill cut a deal with St. Peter where he can still step out the gate for cigarette breaks.

  2. Fred October 22, 2013

    Bill Bennett was a keeper for sure. When we played softball he would play first base and he would almost do the splits stretching to catch the ball. Quite a feat considering he has several years older than most of us playing. I enjoyed talking to him off the job the most. He was real personable. I miss him and think of him fairly often.

The Power Plant Smokestack Third Rail is the Lifesaver

It was quite a site at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma to see a 400 pound man climbing up the ladder to the 250 foot level (halfway) of the smokestack only to climb halfway down again on the track the elevator used to go up and down the smokestack.  I was on labor crew then and I remember thinking, I’m sure glad that’s not me.

A small tour of people from Oklahoma City had come to the plant and one of the engineers was showing them around.  I think Allen Gould may remember who it was.  I’m not saying it was Allen, I’m just thinking that he was around at that time.

Power Plant Engineer Allen Gould

Power Plant Engineer Allen Gould

I think that day the wind was blowing rather hard and when the elevator was descending (going down) the stack, the power cable somehow blew over into the path of the elevator and it was caught under the roller which brought the elevator to an abrupt halt.  Unfortunately.  in this instance, trying to free fall the elevator manually to bring it down wouldn’t work since when the brakes were released, the elevator would move because it was really stuck right where it was.

A person that worked for the Alimak elevator company was called in from Wichita Kansas 100 miles to the north of the Power plant, which meant that it took almost 2 hours for the person to arrive at the plant.  When he did, he turned out to be the largest elevator repairman I had ever seen.  He had to climb up 250 feet up a ladder to the landing, then back down again about 100 feet to the elevator to rescue the people from the elevator.

I first found out about it when someone pointed out the large figure of a man about halfway up to the first landing on the smokestack ladder.  He had stopped for a rest and was leaning back on his lanyard that was attached to the ladder.  When we arrived in the maintenance shop, Marlin McDaniel explained the situation to us.  I think it took well over three hours for this man to take each person out of the hatch in the top of the elevator, then climb with them up the elevator track to the landing, and then take them down the ladder 250 feet to the ground.  I think one of them was a lady, and two were men.

The stack elevator is a small box with a capacity to carry 3 people or a weight of 900 pounds. It is crowded enough with only two people in it, but three is always a crowd (as the saying goes, “Two’s company, Three’s a crowd”).  That phrase definitely is true with the stack elevator.

 

These are the 500 foot smoke stacks

These are the 500 foot smoke stacks

At the time, I didn’t realize that one day I would be an electrician that took care of the smoke stack elevators.  Actually, I never gave it a thought about what sort of equipment electricians repaired or maintained.  It turned out that electricians worked on anything that had electric power going to it.  That’s pretty much anything mechanical.

Electricians would work on the motors while the mechanics would work on the pumps, fans and valves attached to the end of the motors.  When it came to the stack elevators, it was generally left up to the electricians to do the majority of the work.  We inspected the elevators each month, and when they broke down, we were called to repair them.

When the boiler elevators broke down, it seemed as if I was the person of choice to ask to climb the boiler to the roof to fix it.  The elevator controls were located on the top of the boiler, so I would usually end up climbing the stairs to the top cleaning door contacts on the way up.  It happens that the boilers are 250 feet tall.  So, the middle landing on the stack elevator is about the same height as the boiler as you can see in the picture above.

Bill Bennett, our A Foreman, would always add when he was telling me to go fix the elevator…. “You like climbing all those stairs anyway.”  What could I say?  “Sure Bill!  I’ll go see what I can do.”

I think in the back of my mind I knew the day was coming when I was going to have to climb the stack elevator ladder to rescue someone.  I had already climbed it a few times to fix some conduit that had come loose that ran up the smokestack next to the ladder, so I knew what it was like to go straight up a 500 foot ladder to the top of the smokestack.  Luckily when my turn came around for a rescue, I only had to go halfway up.  There were 4 people stuck on the smokestack.

Unlike the large elevator repairman from Wichita, I didn’t have to climb down the elevator track to reach the elevator.  It had malfunctioned right at the 250 foot level when the group was ready to come back down from their semi-lofty visit of one of the Power Plant Smokestacks.  My only task was to climb up, fix the elevator and bring the group safely to the ground.

I grabbed some tools from my tool bucket that I thought would be useful.  A couple of different size screwdrivers (one large one and one small), my multimeter, fuse pullers, and three wrenches, (7/16, 1/2 and 9/16 inch).  I put them in a bag that looked like a feed bag for a horse.  It had a rope with a hook on it.

A tool Bag, only ours had a hook on the top of the handle

A tool Bag, only ours had a hook on the top of the handle

I figured I didn’t want to take anything I didn’t need, so I didn’t put all 40 pounds of tools from my tool bucket into the bag.  Just those things I thought I might need.  I had my handy dandy little crescent wrench in my pocket and my baby screwdriver in my pocket protector on my tee shirt.

4 inch crescent wrench

4 inch crescent wrench

I took a safety belt off of the coat rack by the door in the electric shop and put it on.  I figured I could hook the tool bag to one of the rings while I was climbing the ladder up the smokestack.  With only the safety belt and the fairly lightweight tool bag, I headed out to the Unit 2 smokestack.  Oh yeah.  I was carrying one other nifty device as well.

when I arrived, Doug Link was standing at the bottom with some other people.  Doug explained that George Bohn and some other engineers from the City (meaning Oklahoma City) were trying to come down, but the elevator wasn’t working.  Luckily they had carried a two-way radio with them when they went up (which was a regular safety precaution since smoke signals would largely go unnoticed coming from a smokestack).

I understand from watching movies that when you climb onto the tracks in a subway in New York City or some other large town with a subway, that you are supposed to avoid the “Third Rail”.  After Doug Link had explained to me the problem, the first thing I did was to grab the third rail on the ladder that ran up the smoke stack.

Doug Link

Doug Link

You see.  Running right up the middle of the ladder is an extra rail.  This is what keeps you alive while you climb a very high ladder.  Think about it.  If you were to try to climb a ladder 250 or 500 feet straight up, what’s going to happen to you?  Your arms and legs are going to start getting wobbly.  You are going to become short of breath, and your head is going to start to swim some either from hyperventilating or the lack of oxygen… I haven’t figured out which yet.

Anyway, at some point, something is going to stop working.  Your fingers are going to miss their grip on the next rung or your work boot is going to slip off of the rung and you will fall.  If there is nothing to stop you, then you are going all the way to the ground.

That is why the third rail is added to the ladder.  It is there so that you can tie your safety belt to it.  It keeps you from falling when you slip, and it also allows you to take a rest when you need it without the worry that if some part of your body momentarily malfunctions, you won’t fall to your death.

A ladder with a safety belt rail

A ladder with a safety belt rail

Here is an example of a ladder with a device similar to the one we had on our stack ladders.  I took the nifty device I had brought with me and hooked it into the third rail of the ladder and clipped the tool bag to the other metal loop on my safety belt (this was before we had safety harnesses).  Then I began my trek to the landing.

As I ascended (went up) the ladder I told myself that this was no higher than climbing the stairs on the boiler to go to the elevator penthouse to fix the boiler elevators.  I do that all the time.  This should not be so hard.  Just as I would help myself climb the stairs, I could use my hands to pull myself up the ladder distributing the work between my arms and legs as needed so that when one set was becoming too tired, I would have the other set do more of the work (arms and legs I mean).

I told myself it would probably be best if I didn’t stop until I arrived at the 250 foot landing, because I thought that if I did stop for a rest, my legs would get all wobbly.  As long as I kept climbing, they didn’t have time for that nonsense.  So, I huffed and puffed, and kept focusing on each rung of the ladder as I climbed.

When I reached the 250 foot landing, I sung my tool bag over onto the grating and unclipped my belt from the third rail and sat down with my feet still dangling off the edge of the grating where the ladder came through and rested for a few moments.

George Bohn and the other castaways were around the other side of the stack.  They had not realized I had arrived yet.  After I caught my breath, I climbed up to the top of the elevator and opened the control panel to see why the elevator was not working.  I switched it to manual, and tried to operate it from the top of the elevator, but it didn’t budge.

I used my multimeter to check the circuits and quickly found that one of the fuses had blown out.  Unfortunately, I didn’t bring a spare fuse with me, and there wasn’t one in the control box, so there wasn’t much I could do to fix the elevator controls at this point.

I hollered for George and he came around the walkway to the elevator.  I explained to him that the fuse to the controls was blown and that I could either climb all the way back down the ladder to the ground to get one, or, I could manually “drop” the elevator down with them in it to the ground.  The lady with them didn’t care much for that idea.

I explained that I regularly drop test the elevator and I would be able to let the brake loose long enough for the elevator to go down a couple of feet at a time.  After doing that about 125 times, we would be safely on the ground.  That seemed to satisfy them, so they entered the elevator and closed the door, while I remained on the top of the elevator.

A typical Stack Elevator.  Not the same brand as ours.

A typical Stack Elevator. Not the same brand as ours.

I took my large screwdriver out of the tool bag and pried it between the motor and a latch on the brake.  This way, I just had to pull out on the screwdriver to release the brake on the elevator until it began to free-fall toward the ground.  I turned my head to look up at the elevator track so I could make sure I didn’t let the elevator drop too far.  If I did, then my heroic attempt to rescue my elevator hostages would quickly turn from an “atta-boy” into an “Uh-Oh!”

You see, if I let the elevator drop more than 3 feet (or so), then the safeties on the elevator (known as “dogs”) would set.  This would bring the elevator to an abrupt halt.  It was designed to stop a falling elevator by instantly locking the elevator to the tracks.

If the dogs were to be set on the stack elevator, the only way to release them is to take the cover off of a gear box and start manually cranking the elevator up about 3 feet until the dogs reset.  This was a slow process that usually took about 30 minutes, and if I didn’t go up far enough to actually reset the dogs, as soon as we continued going back down, the dogs would set again and I would have to repeat the process.

So, like the tortoise, I decided that slow and steady wins the race.  I was not going to drop the elevator more than a foot and a half each time.  We would take our time going down.

The first time I released the brakes and the elevator began to free-fall, I heard the lady below me in the elevator let out a loud gasp.  I know the guys were gasping as well, they just had to be more quiet about it.  I know I was gasping each time on the top of the elevator and I had done this probably 20 times before when we did the elevator drop tests  (See the post “After Effects of Power Plant Drop Tests“).

After about 10 minutes the elevator was safely back on the ground and so were the engineers.  Doug Link came up to me and said with an excited voice, “It took you only 4 minutes and 23 seconds to climb up the ladder!  That’s incredible!  I timed you!”  I said,  “That’s about right.  One second per foot.”

I went back to the shop and found three fuses for the one that had blown on the elevator.  I climbed back on the elevator and opened the control box and replaced the bad one.  Then I placed the other two in the control box.  I figured this way, if this fuse were to blow again, then at least the electrician could just replace it, and not have to manually ride the elevator to the ground again.

I tested the elevator by riding it up and down the stack a few times and everything worked just fine.  I figured that this must have just happened because George Bohn was trying to show off to some cute engineer.  That’s just George’s luck.  To find out more adventures with George, you can read this post:  “Bohn’s Boner and the Power Plant Precipitator Computer“.

Tales of a Tall Power Plant A Foreman — Repost

Originally posted October 19, 2013:
Everybody seemed to like Bill Bennett.  We didn’t like him because he possessed a profound knowledge in the field of electricity.  No.  We like him because he was a good person.  Bill was a tall very thin black man that sort of reminded you of Bill Cosby.

Bill Cosby trying to look like Bill Bennett

Bill Cosby trying to look like Bill Bennett

Bill had a gruff cigarette voice as he was a chain smoker.  Often he would say his first words to me when he came into the Electric Shop office for lunch each day in the same manner that Aunt Ester would say something to Fred Sanford.  His lower jaw would jut out and he would shake his head with a look of total disgust… like this:

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

With this expression, Bill would often look at me and say, “You Scamp!”  Dragging it out for the full effect.  Nothing would bring a smile to my face faster than having Bill berate me by insulting my integrity as a person.  He would also add on additional phrases like, “…You disgust me!”  Or… “….you scum!”  — I felt like Gomer Pyle by that point with a big grin on my face.

Gomer Pyle grinning ear-to-ear

Gomer Pyle grinning ear-to-ear

I just wish everyone could work for such a great guy at least once in their life.

I’m not saying that we didn’t have our disagreements throughout the years that he was our A Foreman at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.  I recognized that Bill had his way of viewing the world, and I had mine.  And even though my way was always the right one, I realized he had a right to his view even when it was wrong.

At those times what could you do?  Probably the same thing I would do.  Fall on the ground kicking and screaming and then try to make your face turn blue by holding your breath. — That never seemed to change his mind though.  Probably because I liked breathing too much and would find that it didn’t take long before I would develop an overwhelming urge to take another breath.

Anyway.  After spending well over a thousand lunch times with Bill Bennett, just when I began to think that I had heard every story about Bill Bennett’s life that was imaginable, he would come up with another one.

I could tell you some stories about Bill where he was at the lowest point in his life.  When he was an alcoholic at the point where he normally would have been fired from the electric company. Then someone gave him another chance for no other reason than because he understood human nature and cared about his fellow man.

You see.  There are a number of people in the electric company throughout the years where they were at the low point in their lives.  Sometimes people were there to give them a lift up from the gutter where they had fallen.  At other times, they were cast aside mercilessly and forgotten because the company was priority.  A useless and hypocritical attitude, I always thought, because what is electricity used for except to help mankind.

When Bill Bennett had reached this point in his life.  Someone was there to help him out of the gutter.  They brushed him off (the dust I mean).  Gave him some self dignity and “let it go”.  Bill went on to become a good and compassionate person.  I’m sure that those people in his life that helped him back then were the major force in reshaping his outlook on life.  He was always fighting for the underdog.  Once I understood that.  I stopped my kicking and screaming, and picked myself up off of the floor.

So, I thought I would share a couple of my favorite stories about Bill.

When Bill was young, he lived in Oklahoma City, southeast of the capitol a couple of miles in the poor section of town.  I could picture this story real well when he was telling it because my soon-to-be wife was living in this same area as she was attending Nursing School at the Oklahoma University Medical School.

Bill recounted this story:  One day when he came home from school his dad gave him a little pet possum.

Baby Possum

Baby Possum

Bill was overwhelmed with happiness.  This was like his one and only true friend.  He took the possum with him wherever he went.  After so many years I don’t remember what name Bill had given the possum, but it was something like “Fred”, so I’ll just call him Fred for the rest of the story.

Bill taught Fred tricks, and he would run up his arm and perch on his shoulder.  Bill would walk around the neighborhood proud to have his pet possum Fred sitting on his shoulder.  The two became inseparable.

When the summer was over, in the morning when Bill went to school he would have to leave Fred at home.  He had a certain sound that he would make to call his possum.  So, when he would walk in the door after returning home from school he would call Fred, and he would come out from under the sofa, or the bed, or wherever he had decided to hide for the day.  Fred was pretty much a grown possum by this time.

a grown possum

a grown possum

One day Bill came home from school.  He didn’t remember whether he had called Fred or not when he came home, but if he had, Fred didn’t answer.  This wouldn’t have concerned Bill much since Fred may have just been playing Possum as Possums are apt to do from time-to-time.  Anyway.  Bill didn’t see Fred when he came home.

When it came time for dinner Bill sat down and his mom served him a nice hot bowl of stew.  As dinner progressed, at one point the subject of the stew came up.  Maybe one of Bill’s brothers and sisters said, “Hey mom.  This is sure some good tasting stew!  What is it?”  That was the point in Bill’s life when he decided to become a chain smoker and an alcoholic…. well… not all at once… This was just the point that led him down that path.

You see.  As Granny in the Beverly Hillbillies would say, “Go eat your Possum Stew Jethro”.  Here is Granny running for Possum Queen:

Granny running for Possum Queen

Granny running for Possum Queen

That’s right.  Bill Bennett’s mom had cooked his pet possum Fred for dinner.  When he heard this he was stunned.  He didn’t have the same expression that Jethro had when Granny called him to the dinner table, that’s for sure.

Jethro's expression when he is waiting to eat

Jethro’s expression when he is waiting to eat

When he asked his parents how they could do that to his pet possum, his father replied, “Why did you think I gave that possum to you?”  That was when the grim reality of life hit Bill right between the eyes.  Sick to his stomach he left the dinner table.  From that day onward, Bill never again ate possum stew.

This might seem like a humorous or cute story to some.  To Bill, it changed his entire outlook on life.  As I mentioned.  He later became an alcoholic.  Which even later, with the help of his wife and others, he overcame.  Though it was gradual, if you trace his life back, I believe that the downward spiral began at this one crucial point in his life.  With the intentional loss of the life of someone he loved.

When Bill would call me a scamp…. I sometimes felt that down inside he was still crying for Fred, and was talking to his father instead of me.  I could see a hint of sorrow even in his humor.  He knew he could take out his hidden frustration in our presence because Bill always knew that friends like Charles Foster and I would always be there smiling back at him.

Ok.  That was one of the more serious stories of Bill’s life, but one that I often think about when I think about Bill.  Let me tell you a more humorous story:

Bill Bennett worked for an electronics store at one point in his life before he found his true calling as a “Power Plant Man”.  Part of this job included making house calls to work on the security system in homes.

The employees would use the company van to go on house calls.  It had the necessary equipment to install and repair the security systems.  It also had one curious item sitting on the dashboard.  A garage door opener.

The garage door opener was a point of amusement for the employees as they would drive through a neighborhood on the way to someone’s house they would click the opener as they drove along looking around to see if it would open anyone’s door.  No one knew where the opener had come from, but they thought that just by chance it might randomly open a garage door here or there.

Garage door opener found in electronic store vans

Garage door opener found in electronic store vans

So, here is Bill’s story:

One day he was on his way to do a job in a high-end neighborhood.  As he was slowly making his way down the neighborhood street to his destination, he was clicking the garage door opener to see if it would open any doors.  When all of a sudden he saw a few houses up ahead that a garage door was opening.

For a brief moment Bill was excited that he had found a garage door that opened.  Then he realized that the garage door that was opening was the house where he was making the service call.  “Oh No!”  He quickly began clicking the garage door opener to try to close the garage door, but it wouldn’t close.

Bill sat in the van for a while desperately clicking the garage door opener praying that it would work to close the garage door, but it never did.  finally he decided he would act as if he didn’t know anything about how the garage door opened and climbed out of the van.

He walked over to the garage and peered in, sheepishly saying, “Hello?”  He was conscious that he was a lone lower class black man in a predominantly rich white neighborhood walking into someone’s garage in broad daylight.  He took a few steps into the garage when the garage door began to close!

In order to make it out of the garage, Bill would have had to dodge under the closing door, so he just froze in place and awaited his fate.

A few moments later, the door to the house opened and a little old lady entered.  Bill tried to explain that he didn’t know how the garage door had opened and that he only entered the garage to see if someone was there.  She said she had seen his van coming down the street, and had opened the garage door from inside the house.

So, the garage door opener in the van hadn’t opened the door after all.  It was just a major coincidence that Bill happened to be driving down the street clicking a garage door opener when an elderly lady (like Granny) had seen his van and opened her garage door only to have Bill think that he had opened the door.  Or was it a coincidence?

Sometimes I feel that when a coincidence of this statistical improbability occurs that there is often an extraordinary intervention from above telling you something.  I’m sure that this little scare taught Bill something and helped him progress on to the view of life that he had when I met him years later.

I have another very coincidental story about a true Power Plant engineer that was a major turning point in this person’s life that I will share in a couple of years from now.  When you read that story it will be very clear that there is someone definitely looking out for poor souls like us.

Comments from original post:

  1. Ron   October 21, 2013

    Great stories, Kevin. Keep ‘em coming!
    I had not heard these stories about Bill. I enjoyed working with him. Do you know where he is now?

    1. Plant Electrician October 22, 2013

      Ron,
      Rumor has it that Bill cut a deal with St. Peter where he can still step out the gate for cigarette breaks.

  2. Fred   October 22, 2013

    Bill Bennett was a keeper for sure. When we played softball he would play first base and he would almost do the splits stretching to catch the ball. Quite a feat considering he has several years older than most of us playing. I enjoyed talking to him off the job the most. He was real personable. I miss him and think of him fairly often.

Tales of a Tall Power Plant A Foreman

Everybody seemed to like Bill Bennett.  We didn’t like him because he possessed a profound knowledge in the field of electricity.  No.  We like him because he was a good person.  Bill was a tall very thin black man that sort of reminded you of Bill Cosby.

Bill Cosby trying to look like Bill Bennett

Bill Cosby trying to look like Bill Bennett

Bill had a gruff cigarette voice as he was a chain smoker.  Often he would say his first words to me when he came into the Electric Shop office for lunch each day in the same manner that Aunt Ester would say something to Fred Sanford.  His lower jaw would jut out and he would shake his head with a look of total disgust… like this:

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

With this expression, Bill would often look at me and say, “You Scamp!”  Dragging it out for the full effect.  Nothing would bring a smile to my face faster than having Bill berate me by insulting my integrity as a person.  He would also add on additional phrases like, “…You disgust me!”  Or… “….you scum!”  — I felt like Gomer Pyle by that point with a big grin on my face.

Gomer Pyle grinning ear-to-ear

Gomer Pyle grinning ear-to-ear

I just wish everyone could work for such a great guy at least once in their life.

I’m not saying that we didn’t have our disagreements throughout the years that he was our A Foreman at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.  I recognized that Bill had his way of viewing the world, and I had mine.  And even though my way was always the right one, I realized he had a right to his view even when it was wrong.

At those times what could you do?  Probably the same thing I would do.  Fall on the ground kicking and screaming and then try to make your face turn blue by holding your breath. — That never seemed to change his mind though.  Probably because I liked breathing too much and would find that it didn’t take long before I would develop an overwhelming urge to take another breath.

Anyway.  After spending well over a thousand lunch times with Bill Bennett, just when I began to think that I had heard every story about Bill Bennett’s life that was imaginable, he would come up with another one.

I could tell you some stories about Bill where he was at the lowest point in his life.  When he was an alcoholic at the point where he normally would have been fired from the electric company. Then someone gave him another chance for no other reason than because he understood human nature and cared about his fellow man.

You see.  There are a number of people in the electric company throughout the years where they were at the low point in their lives.  Sometimes people were there to give them a lift up from the gutter where they had fallen.  At other times, they were cast aside mercilessly and forgotten because the company was priority.  A useless and hypocritical attitude, I always thought, because what is electricity used for except to help mankind.

When Bill Bennett had reached this point in his life.  Someone was there to help him out of the gutter.  They brushed him off.  Gave him some self dignity and “let it go”.  Bill went on to become a good and compassionate person.  I’m sure that those people in his life that helped him back then were the major force in reshaping his outlook on life.  He was always fighting for the underdog.  Once I understood that.  I stopped my kicking and screaming, and picked myself up off of the floor.

So, I thought I would share a couple of my favorite stories about Bill.

When Bill was young, he lived in Oklahoma City, southeast of the capitol a couple of miles in the poor section of town.  I could picture this story real well when he was telling it because my soon-to-be wife was living in this same area as she was attending Nursing School at the Oklahoma University Medical School.

Bill recounted this story:  One day when he came home from school his dad gave him a little pet possum.

Baby Possum

Baby Possum

Bill was overwhelmed with happiness.  This was like his one and only true friend.  He took the possum with him wherever he went.  After so many years I don’t remember what name Bill had given the possum, but it was something like “Fred”, so I’ll just call him Fred for the rest of the story.

Bill taught Fred tricks, and he would run up his arm and perch on his shoulder.  Bill would walk around the neighborhood proud to have his pet possum Fred sitting on his shoulder.  The two became inseparable.

When the summer was over, in the morning when Bill went to school he would have to leave Fred at home.  He had a certain sound that he would make to call his possum.  So, when he would walk in the door after returning home from school he would call Fred, and he would come out from under the sofa, or the bed, or wherever he had decided to hide for the day.  Fred was pretty much a grown possum by this time.

a grown possum

a grown possum

One day Bill came home from school.  He didn’t remember whether he had called Fred or not when he came home, but if he had, Fred didn’t answer.  This wouldn’t have concerned Bill much since Fred may have just been playing Possum as Possums are apt to do from time-to-time.  Anyway.  Bill didn’t see Fred when he came home.

When it came time for dinner Bill sat down and his mom served him a nice hot bowl of stew.  As dinner progressed, at one point the subject of the stew came up.  Maybe one of Bill’s brothers and sisters said, “Hey mom.  This is sure some good tasting stew!  What is it?”  That was the point in Bill’s life when he decided to become a chain smoker and an alcoholic…. well… not all at once… This was just the point that led him down that path.

You see.  As Granny in the Beverly Hillbillies would say, “Go eat your Possum Stew Jethro”.  Here is Granny running for Possum Queen:

Granny running for Possum Queen

Granny running for Possum Queen

That’s right.  Bill Bennett’s mom had cooked his pet possum Fred for dinner.  When he heard this he was stunned.  He didn’t have the same expression that Jethro had when Granny called him to the dinner table, that’s for sure.

Jethro's expression when he is waiting to eat

Jethro’s expression when he is waiting to eat

When he asked his parents how they could do that to his pet possum, his father replied, “Why did you think I gave that possum to you?”  That was when the grim reality of life hit Bill right between the eyes.  Sick to his stomach he left the dinner table.  From that day onward, Bill never again ate possum stew.

This might seem like a humorous or cute story to some.  To Bill, it changed his entire outlook on life.  As I mentioned.  He later became an alcoholic.  Which even later, with the help of his wife and others, he overcame.  Though it was gradual, if you trace his life back, I believe that the downward spiral began at this one crucial point in his life.  With the intentional loss of the life of someone he loved.

When Bill would call me a scamp…. I sometimes felt that down inside he was still crying for Fred, and was talking to his father instead of me.  I could see a hint of sorrow even in his humor.  He knew he could take out his hidden frustration in our presence because Bill always knew that friends like Charles Foster and I would always be there smiling back at him.

Ok.  That was one of the more serious stories of Bill’s life, but one that I often think about when I think about Bill.  Let me tell you a more humorous story:

Bill Bennett worked for an electronics store at one point in his life before he found his true calling as a “Power Plant Man”.  Part of this job included making house calls to work on the security system in homes.

The employees would use the company van to go on house calls.  It had the necessary equipment to install and repair the security systems.  It also had one curious item sitting on the dashboard.  A garage door opener.

The garage door opener was a point of amusement for the employees as they would drive through a neighborhood on the way to someone’s house they would click the opener as they drove along looking around to see if it would open anyone’s door.  No one knew where the opener had come from, but they thought that just by chance it might randomly open a garage door here or there.

Garage door opener found in electronic store vans

Garage door opener found in electronic store vans

So, here is Bill’s story:

One day he was on his way to do a job in a high-end neighborhood.  As he was slowly making his way down the neighborhood street to his destination, he was clicking the garage door opener to see if it would open any doors.  When all of a sudden he saw a few houses up ahead that a garage door was opening.

For a brief moment Bill was excited that he had found a garage door that opened.  Then he realized that the garage door that was opening was the house where he was making the service call.  “Oh No!”  He quickly began clicking the garage door opener to try to close the garage door, but it wouldn’t close.

Bill sat in the van for a while desperately clicking the garage door opener praying that it would work to close the garage door, but it never did.  finally he decided he would act as if he didn’t know anything about how the garage door opened and climbed out of the van.

He walked over to the garage and peered in, sheepishly saying, “Hello?”  He was conscious that he was a lone lower class black man in a predominantly rich white neighborhood walking into someone’s garage in broad daylight.  He took a few steps into the garage when the garage door began to close!

In order to make it out of the garage, Bill would have had to dodge under the closing door, so he just froze in place and awaited his fate.

A few moments later, the door to the house opened and a little old lady entered.  Bill tried to explain that he didn’t know how the garage door had opened and that he only entered the garage to see if someone was there.  She said she had seen his van coming down the street, and had opened the garage door from inside the house.

So, the garage door opener in the van hadn’t opened the door after all.  It was just a major coincidence that Bill happened to be driving down the street clicking a garage door opener when an elderly lady (like Granny) had seen his van and opened her garage door only to have Bill think that he had opened the door.  Or was it a coincidence?

Sometimes I feel that when a coincidence of this statistical improbability occurs that there is often an extraordinary intervention from above telling you something.  I’m sure that this little scare taught Bill something and helped him progress on to the view of life that he had when I met him years later.

I have another very coincidental story about a true Power Plant engineer that was a major turning point in this person’s life that I will share in a couple of years from now.  When you read that story it will be very clear that there is someone definitely looking out for poor souls like us.