Tag Archives: Charles Patten

Destruction of a Power Plant God

Sometimes we unknowingly end up worshiping things we never intend.  It isn’t until those things are destroyed before we realize what has happened.  We have a natural tendency to worship something.  It’s built into our DNA to worship God just as sure as the God Particle converts energy into matter and subsequently atoms into earth and water.  I’m not sure when my obsession began, but I definitely know the day when it was destroyed.  August 5, 1996.

The day of realization began as a normal day, as Scott Hubbard and I were driving to the plant.  It seemed like an extra dark morning considering it was the middle of the summer.  Perhaps it was because by this time we were working four tens, which meant we arrived at the plant before 7:00 am so we left Stillwater, Oklahoma at 6:15 to drive to the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.

When we topped the overpass to the turnpike at 6:32 we thought we could see something strange at the Power Plant off in the distance.  The sun was going to rise in the next few minutes (at 6:42), yet, the sky seemed darker than usual.  It must have been a cloudy morning.

Power Plant at sunset

Power Plant at sunset (only we were arriving before sunrise)

We thought we could see red and blue flashing lights coming from one end of the plant.  It was only momentary, because once over the overpass, we were too low to see that section of the plant.  We weren’t really sure what we had seen.  It became even more confusing as we approached the entrance to the plant.

There seemed to be a little more activity happening at the front gate than usual.  there was a guard or an operator standing out there.  He waved us through the gate.  about 300 yards past the main gate, we had a clear view of the plant grounds laying before us as we made our way to the parking lot.  It was here that the significance of the flashing lights suddenly caused us to gasp. We were stunned into silence.

The area around the Unit 1 main power transformer was flashing with the red and blue lights of several fire trucks.  They seemed to be pulling away just about that time.  Some of the siding on the Turbine-Generator room was missing, some was blackened from smoke as it had poured out of the windows along the turbine room floor.  The real shock to me came as we approached the parking lot and I looked up through where a window used to be and I could see the sky.  I could see the sky where the T-G roof should have been.

We were directed to go into the maintenance garage to avoid the fire trucks who that were backing away.  We met with our team and Alan Kramer told us that there had been an explosion during the night when an overspeed test was being performed on the Unit 1 Boiler Feed Pump Turbine (BFPT).  The number one question we all wanted answered was quickly given to us…. No one was hurt in the explosion.

Alan mentioned that in our recent fire fighter training, we had learned that a large percentage of companies that have a major fire (such as ours) goes out of business within the next year.  That was not going to happen to us even though the damage was extensive.  Our job was to put everything back to the way it was before the fire.

Here is the story as it happened, as much as I know:

The explosion occurred when an operator (I’ll let one of the operators remind me who it was) was running an overspeed test on the BFPT.  Suddenly he heard a loud pop and then the turbine winding up out of control.  He took off running and was around the corner of a concrete pillar when the turbine exploded.  The turning gear shot out like a top and flew across the mezzanine floor, hit the corner of the north stairway, and still spinning like a top, tore up the stairway as it made the turn halfway down and ended up in middle of the the T-G basement where it finally came to rest.  This turning gear weighs somewhere in the ballpark of a thousand pounds (I’m guessing).

Turning Gear

Turning Gear

At this point steam was shooting out of the Boiler Feed Pump Turbine.  The oil pumps that keep the bearings lubricated were spraying oil into the steam which burst into flames.  The flames shot up to the concrete floor 40 feet above.  The fire was so hot that it melted the metal structure holding up the floor and the rebar in the concrete.  The Turbine Room Floor literally melted away as the oil fire shot the flames up toward the roof another 80 feet above the turbine room floor  melting the roof as if it was butter.  The asbestos siding on the T-G floor was falling off because the bolts that held them to the brackets literally melted away.

The same reservoir that feeds the oil to the the Boiler Feed Pump Turbine bearings also fed the Main Turbine Generator.  This is the same generator that makes the electricity that causes the light bulb to glow in your house when you turn it on.  The Main Turbine Generator tripped when the explosion occurred, as it should.  As it slowed down to a stop, the oil for the bearings was all gone.  It had been creating the large fire ball that was melting down the T-G floor.

Normally, when the Turbine-Generator comes to a stop, it is put on a turning gear while the shaft cools down otherwise the shaft will become warped under it’s own weight.  The Turning gear slowing rotates the turbine for a day or so while it cools.  Without bearing oil, the turning gear would not be able to turn the turbine generator.  The bearings require a layer of oil to function properly.

Unit 1 Turbine-Generator

Unit 1 Turbine-Generator

Charles Patton, one of the Maintenance foremen was called out, and he took cans of STP Oil Treatment and for hours poured them onto the bearings and manually rotated the 50 ton turbine generator (Ray, help me out with the actual weights).  Through the heroic efforts of Charles and others that were there to help, the Turbine Generator was spared from even more damage.

Charles Patton

Charles Patton

By the time we arrived that morning, the fire was out, things were cooling down.  Unit 2 was still running, and it was our job to keep it going.

Unit 2 Turbine-Generator

Unit 2 Turbine-Generator

As I walked out onto the T-G floor everything went into slow motion.  I don’t know if that has ever happened to you before.  There have been a few times in my life when I was in a near death situation where my surroundings all seem to switch into a slow motion mode.  I think it happens because your brain kicks into high gear in order to process what is happening and to put as much effort forward as possible to avoid danger.

The first time I think that happened to me was when I was with some friends climbing around on some cliffs by the Missouri River.  One boy was falling back after the ledge he was on gave way and was going to fall most likely to his death when everything switched into slow motion even before I realized what was wrong.  I was able to make quick decisions that allowed me to push him back onto the ledge and grab onto a branch that luckily kept me from the same fate.

When I walked onto the T-G floor and saw the devastation, I think my mind was trying to take everything in all at once.  The Turbine Generator was covered in soot and debris.  I flashed back to the days when I was a janitor and used to keep the turbines waxed so that they would shine.  It was at this moment that I realized I actually worshiped the Turbine Generators in a way similar to the way the religious cult worshiped the alpha-omega doomsday bomb in “Beneath the Planet of the Apes”.

Bomb Worshipers in Beneath the Planet of the Apes

Bomb Worshipers in Beneath the Planet of the Apes

The near destruction of the Turbine Generator made me realize the importance I had placed on it.  I felt as if I had almost lost my close friend like the boy climbing on the cliff.  I used to stand on the sides of the Turbines when I was a janitor with my dust mop and after spraying furniture polish on the mop, I would caress the turbines as if I was running my fingers through someone’s hair.

Like this only with a mop handle

Like this only with a mop handle

We began the clean up by taking fire hoses and washing down the siding on the Unit 2 side to try to bring some normalcy back to a surreal situation.  The soot didn’t just wash off.  Not long after we had dragged out the fire hoses and were blasting away at the siding, Alan Kramer asked Charles Foster and I to look at the air duct to the Instrument room on the north side of the Turbine room.  The room was getting too hot and the air conditioner seemed to have frozen.

We climbed into the air duct on the roof of the instrument room and replaced the filters that were packed with soot stopping the air flow for the Air Conditioner.  This seemed like one task in 100,000 that would need to be done to put this puzzle back together again.  All the electric cables that ran through the Unit 1 Mezzanine had melted away, everything had been utterly destroyed.

The thought was too overwhelming.  I felt like Scarlet O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind” when she said, “I can’t think about that right now.  If I do, I’ll go crazy.  I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind

Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind

With everything on the T-G floor covered in soot, everyone was quickly black from head to toe.  Are clothes were now black.  We looked like Johnny Cash impersonators

Johnny Cash Man in Black

Johnny Cash Man in Black

literally with Al Jolsen Black Face as the soot was pitch black.

Al Jolson dressed in Black Face

Al Jolson dressed in Black Face (Google Image)

We had just climbed out of the air duct and were making our way to the electric shop when Glenn Rowland approached me and said, “You Lucky Dog!”  I thought he must be making a comment about my appearance seeing how I was covered in soot.  Then he explained.  “For the next 10 weeks you have to report to Oklahoma City to work on an SAP project.  You’re a lucky dog because you are going to miss all the fun of cleaning up this mess.”

Did I ever mention that I’m one of the luckiest people in the world?  Well.  I am.  I had just come to grips with my false God, and now I had been rescued from two and a half months of working in soot and grime to go work in an air conditioned office building in Oklahoma City.

Now for the hard part of the story to write about:

So, why did the Boiler Feed Pump Turbine fail the overspeed test?  What happened to cause the explosion?

The first attempt to place the blame where it didn’t belong was to blame Sonny Kendrick who had worked on the controls during the last outage.   The same person that would accuse me of purposely causing any little opacity problem on the precipitator even when I was on vacation, was now blaming Sonny Kendrick for the multi-million dollar destruction of the Turbine Room Floor.

Sonny Kendrick must have looked like an easy target.  A soft-spoken man that works alone most of the time.  No one really understands some of the things he works on.  Maybe they thought he wouldn’t be able to explain the changes he had made to the controls in enough detail in order to blame him for the explosion.  I use the word “target” because someone else had to be “blamed” for the explosion than the person responsible.  The person they picked as the “fall guy” was Sonny Kendrick:

Sonny Kendrick

Sonny Kendrick

You see… someone was directly responsible for the explosion.  Someone who continuously used “Risk Management” as an excuse to cut corners.  I wonder if everything was completely on the unconscious level, or did this person ever realize the impact of his decisions.  You see, I haven’t completely decided.

There appears to have been a conspiracy to cover up the truth about the explosion that took three months to recover.  The first clue was to try to blame Sonny Kendrick without any proof.  I don’t know if Sonny was eventually cleared as the fall guy because he was able to clearly show how all of his wiring changes had no impact on an overspeed test, or someone who knew about the actual cause threatened to come out with the truth if they continued to pursue Sonny as the fall guy.  You see… there was more to this equipment failure than met the eye.

The turbine exploded because the coupling to the pump shattered.  That’s the part that connects the steam turbine to the boiler feed pump.  When the coupling broke the turbine, no longer having any resistance, began to rotate at a rate much faster than it was ever designed to rotate until it flew apart.

A large coupling

A large coupling

It was known at the end of the last outage that the coupling was damaged.  It would have delayed bringing the unit online another 2 or 3 days in order change out the coupling.  In the name of “Risk Management” it was decided to “risk it” until the next outage.  The decision was made without using any type of risk assessment tool… obviously.

I know about the conversations that took place because one of the people involved confided in me.  The person that told me the details of the conversations said that even under oath he would never tell anyone else the truth.  This is the second clue that made me think that a concerted effort was made to cover up the knowledge that it was known that a faulty coupling was operating on the Boiler Feed Pump Turbine and it had been decided to leave it in place.  You see… everyone who was on the team that found the damage knew about it.

The third clue this was a “conspiracy to cover up the truth” was that when an investigation was performed to look into the cause of the explosion, the person responsible for keeping the bad coupling in place played a major role in the investigation.  Like the Fox guarding the Hen House.

Because the truth about the coupling never came to light, the insurance company ended up paying the entire bill for the outage.  It was ruled as “equipment failure”.  Our plant manager Bill Green remarked one day that we actually came out ahead when the insurance company paid for the outage, because they paid our lost revenue without taking all the operating costs into account.

I know sometimes that things just happen and sometimes bad things happen.  Sometimes when everything is done correctly, something still goes wrong.  I know that.  That is why when this explosion first happened it made me step back and think twice about the dangers lurking around a Power Plant.  A tremendously large amount of energy is being converted from coal into electricity.  Somewhere, some time, something is going to go wrong and someone is going to be hurt or killed.

That is also why when this explosion happened, it never occurred to me to place the blame on anyone.  To me it was just one of those things that happens every now and then.  My bubble of innocence was burst the day I heard about the decision to keep a defective coupling in place on such an important piece of equipment.

On one hand I was angry that someone would make a decision that could have ended with the death of an operator, on the other hand, I was relieved to know that accidents like this don’t just happen.  It was only when someone decided to cut corners that this explosion occurred.  It gave me a little of my faith back in the system.  When things are done right, we can work safely without the fear that something is likely to explode in our face.

All right, so I never really worshiped the Turbine Generator.  I just exaggerated that part a bit.  But let me ask this question… Who in this story did?  Who was it that was willing to sacrifice the life of an operator to keep from delaying the “go-live”?  Who thought that having the Generator produce electricity two or three days sooner than it should have been was more important?  That is the person that really needs to re-evaluate their priorities and take another look at which God they worship.

The question is never, “Is there a God?”  The real question is “Which God do you worship?”

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When Power Plant Ingenuity Doesn’t Translate

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

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

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

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

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

Let me give you a for-instance…

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

Unit 1 Turbine-Generator

Unit 1 Turbine-Generator

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

STP Oil Treatment

STP Oil Treatment

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

Charles Patton

Charles Patten

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

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

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

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

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

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

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

New Metal Barn

New Metal Barn – envy of the neighbors…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

uh...hmm...

uh…hmm…

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

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

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

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

Jerry Osborn

Jerry Osborn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry Osborn

Jerry Osborn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Power Plant Ingenuity Doesn’t Translate

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

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

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

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

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

Let me give you a for-instance…

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

Unit 1 Turbine-Generator

Unit 1 Turbine-Generator

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

STP Oil Treatment

STP Oil Treatment

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

Charles Patton

Charles Patten

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

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

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

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

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

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

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

New Metal Barn

New Metal Barn – envy of the neighbors…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

uh...hmm...

uh…hmm…

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

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

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

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

Jerry Osborn

Jerry Osborn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry Osborn

Jerry Osborn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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