Tag Archives: Diana Brien

Power Plant Music To My Ears

Originally posted October 25, 2014.

I’m sure just about everyone does this. When they look at someone, they occasionally hear music. Some sort of song that is inspired by the person. For instance when I look at my mom, I suddenly begin to hear Beethoven’s 5th Symphony (sorry about the advertisements. Nothing I can do about that).

For those with older browsers that are not able to view video links, I will include the link below the video: Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.

A few years ago when I was working for Dell, after I had given a thumb drive loaded with the songs I liked to listen to, to a friend of mine, Nina Richburg, when she left our team, she came up to me later and said she had never heard such an eclectic selection of music before. I told her I knew what she meant. I had included classical, rock and roll, electronic, movie soundtracks, country, easy listening, and just about every other genre in the book.

I didn’t explain to her how I can come to the point where I listened to so many different types of music. The answer of course is that I had worked at a Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma for 20 years and I had learned to listen to the music that played in my head while working alongside some of the most diverse set of humans that comprised the Power Plant Men and Women at the plant.

I think it began while I was a janitor working with Pat Braden. When I would work with him, I hear a certain song in my head. So, I began to associate that song with Pat. I’m sure many at the plant heard the same song playing in their heads while interacting with Pat. He was such a nice guy:

The direct link is: Sesame Street Theme Song.

I guess you can call it Power Plant Theme Songs, since the songs that usually played in my head represented the type of person. This wasn’t always the case. For instance, when I looked at the electric Foreman and my close friend, Charles Foster, I would usually hear this song:

The direct link is: GhostBusters.

I would hear this song, because when the movie came out, and the song would be played on the radio, Charles’ son Tim Foster thought the song was saying, “Who ya gonna call? Charles Foster!” So, I can’t hear this song without thinking of Charles Foster.

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

I have told stories about Gene Day (formally known as Victor Eugene Day — I didn’t misspell “formally), and how it was always fun to play jokes on him. The main reason is because Gene Day was always so easy going. When you look at Gene, the obvious song that pops in my mind is this:

The direct link is: Feelin’ Groovy.

Aren’t they cute? If you took Garfunkel (the tall singer) and shrank him down to the size of Simon, then you would have Gene Day. It was worth the trip to the control room just to encounter Gene Day, so that the rest of your day, you could go around the Power Plant, performing your feats of magic while you were “Feelin’ Groovy!” just for looking at Gene Day. That’s the effect he would have on passerby’s.

Gene Day is the one standing on the right with the Orange shirt.

Gene Day is the one standing on the right with the Orange shirt.

My bucket buddy Diana Brien had her own theme song. This song would come to mind not because the song itself reminded me of her, but because she remarked one day when the song was playing on the radio that she really liked it. So, from that point, this was Dee’s song:

The direct link is: Desperado.

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

I had some songs in my head when I looked at other Power Plant men because it actually sounded like they were singing the song themselves. This was the case with Bill Bennett, our A Foreman. He had a gruff Cigarette voice so I could easily hear Bill Bennett singing this song. Actually, ZZ Top was probably inspired to write this song by Bill Bennett:

Direct link to: La Grange.

Bill Cosby trying to look like Bill Bennett

Bill Cosby trying to look like Bill Bennett

The Extreme Power Plant character of some Power Plant Men that I was inclined to “Hero Worship” because of their tremendous talent led me to hear music of a more epic nature. This was true for both Earl Frazier and Andy Tubbs. Earl Frazier was a welder of such talent and when combined with his loyal country nature, even though his occupation was different than this song… This is what usually came to mind when I would look at Earl Frazier:

Direct link: Wichita Lineman.

Earl Frazier

Earl Frazier

Andy Tubbs had the same sort of “epic-ness” that Earl had. He was “Country” like Earl also. At the same time, Andy was one of the most intelligent Power Plant Man that graced the Tripper Gallery by his presence. That is probably why this song would come to mind when I would look at Andy:

Direct Link: Good Bad and the Ugly.

Andy Tubbs - True Power Plant Electrician

Andy Tubbs – True Power Plant Electrician

Notice the resemblance to Andy’s picture and the song. You could hear the Good Bad and the Ugly Song start up every time Andy would leave the foreman’s office and step out into the shop.

I have covered the “Power Plant Genius of Larry Riley” in a previous post. He was another “Epic Hero” of mine. There was not a lot that Larry couldn’t do. His epic-ness was more like a knight from the time of King Arthur. I think that’s why I would hear the song that I heard when I would look at Larry. The movie Excalibur included the perfect song for a knight riding out to meet the enemy just as Larry would step out of the Labor Crew building each morning when I worked for him as a laborer. I would hear the following epic song go through my mind (try singing along with this song):

Direct link: O Fortuna.

Flashbacks of Latin Class!

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

Larry Riley in all of his epic-ness!

If you look at Larry’s picture while listening to O Fortuna, you can actually picture him dressed in armor riding on a backhoe just as if it was a War Horse, heading off into battle!

There were other epic characters at the plant that would inspire similar songs. Toby O’Brien, as a Power Plant Engineer, though, not “epic” in the Power Plant Man sort of way, still inspired music when in his presence. I think it was his calm demeanor even when faced with those who may disagree with him (to put it mildly), and it was his deliberate resolve to focus on tasks at hand that left me with this music running through my mind when in his presence:

Direct Link: Moonlight Sonata.

Power Plant Engineer and Good Friend - Toby O'Brien

Power Plant Engineer and Good Friend – Toby O’Brien

The music fits, doesn’t it?

Scott Hubbard, my partner in crime (not literally…. it felt like a crime sometimes having so much fun and getting paid for it at the same time), was always such a hard worker. Like most industrious Power Plant Men, Scott was always running around (not literally again…) with a smile on his face working away on one project or other. That’s probably why this song was always going through my head when we were working together. It always seemed like everything was going like clockwork:

Direct link: Miss Marple Theme Song.

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

When I would go to the tool room to get parts, if Bud Schoonover was working there, I could usually hear his song even before I arrived. I don’t know if it was some kind of psychic ability I had, or it was because I would observe the faces of others as they were leaving the tool room, that would queue me in that Bud was on Tool Room duty. Either way, when this song would start up in my head, I knew that Bud Schoonover was near:

Direct Link: Baby Elephant Walk.

It wasn’t because Bud reminded me of an elephant that this song would come to mind. I think it had more to do with Bud’s carefree attitude about things. This song just seemed to come to mind while I would wait at the tool room gate while Bud would search for the parts I had requested. I don’t have a picture of Bud. He was big like Paul Bunyan, but he had the expression of Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son, as I have often mentioned. It was the squint and the jutting jaw when he spoke…

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

Here is Bud:

Bud-Schoonover

Bud Schoonover

Johnny Keys was another True Power Plant Man that had his own theme song. This one came to mind just about the first time I met Johnny. I could tell right away where he would rather be. This song actually came up with a lot of different Power Plant Men, including Ben Davis and Don Burnett. Don and Johnny were working together as machinists when I first met them the summer of 1979. Ben Davis was good friends with both Don and Johnny, so this song would come to mind whenever I encountered any of these three Power Plant Men:

Direct link: Daniel Boone.

Johnny Keys

Johnny Keys

There are some Power Plant Men that sort of reminded me of a bear. Ronnie Banks was that way, and so was Dave McClure. Ronnie reminded me of a bear because he walked like one. Dave reminded me of a bear because he was a big scruffy Power Plant Man. He was gentle like Gentle Ben in the TV show Gentle Ben. I didn’t hear the theme song for Gentle Ben when I worked around these two. Instead I heard this song because this song captured their personality much better:

Direct Link: Bare Necessities.

Dave McClure

Dave McClure

Ron Kilman, the Plant manager (yeah. I have a song for him too). But I wanted to say that Ron Kilman had his own clerk (secretary) that sort of acted like a receptionist when you entered his office. Her name is Jean Kohler. She was the same age as my mother. Unlike hearing Beethoven’s 5th Symphony as I do with my mom, when I would have the opportunity to talk with Jean Kohler, she was such a lady that the following song would immediately come to my mind:

Direct Link: Lady.

I don’t have a picture of Jean Kohler, so you will just have to picture a very nice prim and proper lady with a perfectly sweet smile.

Ron Kilman’s theme song was The William’ Tell Overture. I guess because of the pace that he usually had to work. I listen to this song often because it helps me work. The song is longer than most people are used to hearing, so, I’ll just send you a link to the part that most people are familiar:

Direct Link: Lone Ranger.

Ron Kilman

Ron Kilman

In the Power Plant there were a few “sour apples”. In my posts I generally like to focus on the True Power Plant Men and their accomplishments. Occasionally when the topic is right, I may mention those of a less savory character…. Without saying much more than that, whenever I would encounter Jim Arnold, who was the Supervisor over the engineers, and later the head of Operations and later, the head of Maintenance, several songs would come to mind. The theme of the songs were songs like this one:

Direct Link: You’re So Vain.

I searched everywhere for a picture of Jim Arnold and this was the only one I could find:

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

What more can I say? I will leave it at that. Now you can see why someone would think that I listen to an eclectic selection of music. Because I worked with such a diverse bunch of Power Plant Men and Women!

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Power Plant 10-4 for 4-10s

Power Plant Men cherish few things more than Friday afternoon when they head out to the parking lot and the weekend officially begins.  Coolers full of ice, a quick trip to the convenience store for some beer and they are ready for the next two days.  That’s why when a suggestion was made that the Power Plant Men might have to start working on Saturdays as well, the idea was not well received.

The Maintenance Department at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma had downsized from 13 crews to 4 teams.  We were struggling to figure out how to make that work.  We had four teams and only seven electricians.  Which meant that one team only had one electrician.  Diane Brien was the lucky “one”.  She was the only electrician on her team.

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

We were spread out so far already, how could we possibly cover an extra day of the week?  Who (besides operators – who work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) would want to give up their Saturday to work straight time at the Power Plant.  I mean…. we all loved our jobs (for the most part), but this was asking a lot.

We had learned from the last two downsizings and the the Quality Process that when the company hired consultants, things were going to change.  We were convinced that consultants were hired to take the heat off of upper management.  They could just say, “Well…. This is what the Consultants told us would work best, so we’re cutting our staff in half.”

So, when consultants were hired for over $100,000 to figure out how we could work an “alternate work schedule”, we were suspicious.  Any of us could sit around and put two and two together to figure out a way to work alternate work schedules.  This led us to believe that this was another attempt to force us into something by saying, “The Consultants….. (not us)….”  Bringing to mind the phrase from Star Wars, Return of the Jedi; “Many Bothans Died for This Information.”

 

Caroline Blakiston as Mon Mothma in Return of the Jedi

Caroline Blakiston as Mon Mothma in Return of the Jedi

Picture this lady telling the Power Plant Men how they were going to work on Saturdays and they were going to like it.  The phrase “T’ain’t No Way!” comes to mind.  Here is how the meeting went….

We were called to the main break room, which doubled as the main conference room, and tripled as the Men’s Club Gathering Sanctuary.  The consultants were introduced to a room of silent, glaring, suspicious Power Plant Men types.  We were told that they had been working on alternate work schedules that we might possibly want to consider.  No matter what, they were not going to force anything on us.  We were told that we would only go on an alternate work schedule if we voted and the majority were okay with it.

Power Plant Men chins began to jut out in defiance.  The rattle of someone’s dentures came from the back of the room.  A nearly unanimous vote of “No” was already decided by about 90% of the people going by the the body language of the men in the room.

 

I'm sure you know the look

I’m sure you know the look (image found on Google)

The consultants continued by saying that they had three alternatives that they would like to run by us.  The first one was to provide coverage 7 days of the week.  I think everyone in the room knew that there were only 7 days in a week, and this meant that they wanted the four maintenance crews to work every day of the week.  Including Sundays, since we figured that Sunday must be included in the 7 days, since we couldn’t think of 7 days without including Sundays.

Currently, Sundays were double time.  If Sunday became a regular work day, then the only double time would be during the night.  You can see the reason why management wanted to increase our regular coverage to the weekend.  It would eliminate a large amount of overtime.  This isn’t a bad idea when you are trying to figure out how to save money.

The consultants (I’m probably going to begin a lot of paragraphs with the words… The consultants… for obvious reasons) said that the benefit of working on Sundays was that every 4 weeks we would get 6 days off of work in a row!  What?  How does that work?  They showed us how it worked, but the majority was not in favor of working Sundays.

I personally thought that if we had to work on Sundays, then I was probably going to be looking for a new job somewhere else.  I knew operators did this, but this was something that they had accepted up front when they became operators.  Operators are a special breed of workers that dedicate their lives to the plant.  Maintenance crews, though they are equally loyal, are not willing to give up a regular work habit.  Even though I worked Sundays when an emergency came up without question, this day was normally reserved for going to Church and spending the day at home with my family.  So, this was never going to be a long term option for me.

The options to work on Sundays meant that there was only one day each week (Thursday) when all four of the teams would be working on the same day.  That would be the day when we would have plant-wide meetings, like the Monthly (or had it moved to Quarterly) Safety meetings.

There were two options that included Sundays.  Neither of them were acceptable to the Power Plant Men.  The third option was to cover Saturday.  The consultants showed us how we could cover Saturday as a normal work day and every four weeks we could have 5 days off in a row.  How is it, you ask, can you cover one extra day and you have more days off?

The Consultant’s answer:  Work 4-10s (four tens).  That is, work four ten hour days each week.  When you work ten hour days for four days, you still work the same 40 hours each week, only you have to show up at the plant for four days instead of 5.  This means, you have one extra day each week where you don’t even have to go to work.

Think about this… We normally arrived at the plant at 8:00 and left at 4:30 (8 hour day with a 30 minute lunch).  We were being asked to come in at 7:00 and leave at 5:30.  Two extra hours each day and you only have to work 4 days.  The company will not only be covering a Saturday now, but they would be covering 10 hours each day instead of just 8.  The dentures rattled again in the back of the room, only this time it was Bill Green’s (our plant manager)…. he was salivating at the prospect of covering an extra 20 hours each week (2 extra hours each week day and 10 hours on Saturday) by just shuffling around the work schedule.  That’s 50% more coverage!

Think about this some more…..  I only had to do laundry for four days of coal and fly ash soaked clothes instead of five.  I only had to drive the 30 miles to the plant and the 30 miles back, four times each week instead of five.  That reduces my gas by 20%.  It also gives me an extra hour each week when I don’t have to drive to and from work…  this comes out to 48 extra hours free each year (after subtracting vacation) for just not having to drive to work five times each week.  More than an extra week’s worth of vacation. saved in driving time alone.  I’ll tell you some more benefits after I show you how this worked….

The consultants explained the 4 – 10s covering a Saturday with four crews like this…..  We worked on a four week cycle.  Each week, each team was on a different week in the cycle.  We all worked on Wednesday and Thursday.  The rest of the days, there were less than 4 teams working… it worked like this….

Week Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
1 X X X X
2 X X X X
3 X X X X
4 X X X X

If you are working on week 3 (Monday thru Thursday), after Thursday you don’t go back to work until next Wednesday!  Five days off in a row without using any vacation!

Crazy huh?  The only catch was that you had to work on a Saturday once every four weeks.  But think about this…. (I seem to enjoy saying that in this post…. “think about this…”)  I think it’s because the first thought is that this is dumb.  Why would I want to work two extra hours each day?  Why would I want to give up one of my Saturdays?  Ok… while you’re thinking about that, I’ll move on to the next paragraph…

 I suppose you realized by now that there are 13 Saturdays that each person would work in a 52 week year when you work a Saturday once every four weeks.  Thinking about it that way isn’t so bad.  Especially since the Power Plant Men had at least four weeks vacation (160 hours) by this time since the majority of the Power plant Men had been there for at least 10 years.  Those with 20 years had 5 weeks vacation (200 hours).  My fellow electrician Charles Foster said that to me as we were going back to work…. “I can just take vacation every time we have to work on Saturday.”  — We’ll see….

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

With 10 hour days, that meant that if you have 4 weeks vacation, then you have 16 days off.  You could take your Saturday off for vacation for the entire year, giving you 6 days off in a row every 4 weeks using only 10 hours of vacation, and you can avoid having to work any Saturdays (if that’s really what you want).

The Power Plant Men decided to give it a try to see how we liked it for a few months.  The majority of us had mixed feelings about this new work schedule.  The other thought in our mind was, “We paid over $100,000 for someone to come up with this?  Maybe we’re in the wrong line of work.”

One problem with this plan is that we had to have an alternate carpooling schedule.  Scott Hubbard and Fred Turner and I were not all on the same teams.  So, we had to figure out when we were working on the same days and try to remember who drove the last time we had that particular configuration of carpoolers in order to figure out whose turn it was to drive.  We figured something out that seemed to work… there were just a few times when the neighbors would hear… “No, it’s my turn!  No!  It’s mine!  Remember last Friday?  But that was you and Scott!  No!  I have it right here in my notes!  Fred drove, we talked about Deer Stands and types of feeders. I nodded my head a lot.”

A Deer and a raccoon fighting over who gets first dibs on the deer feeder.  My money is on the raccoon.

A Deer and a raccoon fighting over who gets first dibs on the deer feeder. My money is on the raccoon.

The first Saturday Charles Foster and I showed up to work, we noticed a great benefit right away.  Our team was the only team working in the Maintenance Shop.  That meant that we had all the trucks to ourselves!  No fighting over truck keys!  We didn’t have to wait in line at the tool room.  No waiting around for Clearances on the equipment.  We had full reign over the shop.  We also had Sue Schritter go to Ponca City to pick up parts shortly before lunch so that she could bring back Pizza for us! (ok.  yes.  we were bribed with Pizza) Courtesy of our foreman, Alan Kramer:

Alan Kramer

Alan Kramer

We really enjoyed working on Saturday.  It turned out to be the best day to work.  No management stalk… um… walking around watching us from around corners….  No meetings…  Just working away without interruption.  We would complete a lot of work on Saturdays.

Another benefit that I don’t think was expected was a big reduction in Sick Leave.  I no longer had to take off time to go to the doctor or the dentist.  I now had days off during the week, so I would just schedule doctor appointments when I was not working.

Holidays were handled two ways.  You still only had 8 hours off for a holiday instead of 10, so you had to work around that.  When there was a holiday, you could either work four 8 hour days (instead of 10) that week and take off the holiday just as you normally would, or you could take off 8 hours just on the holiday, and either use 2 hours of vacation or come into work for 2 hours (2 hours vacation made the most sense).

When it was all said and done, the Power Plant Men stayed on 4-10s working every fourth Saturday at our plant.  Other plants were able to decide on their own work schedules.  I know one of the other plants decided they didn’t want to change.  They still liked driving to work five days each week instead of four.  They liked cleaning five days worth of dirty clothes each week instead of four.  They liked having two days off each week instead of an average of three days.  Maybe they didn’t know what they liked.

This brings to mind a book that I read once after reading another book recommended by Toby O’Brien.  Toby gave me a book once called “One Minute Manager”.

 

One Minutes Manager.  How not to micro-manage

One Minutes Manager. a book about How not to micro-manage

One of the authors wrote another book called, “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson, M.D.  I encourage everyone to read this:

 

A book about resistance to change

A book about resistance to change

Reading books like these are a lot cheaper than hiring a consultant for boo-coos just to make changes.  You just have “Power Plant Reading Time” during the morning meeting and read a chapter from this little book.

 

Games Power Plant Men Play

When I first became an electrician at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, my foreman Charles Foster and I would sit each day at lunch and talk about movies we had seen.  We would go into detail explaining each scene to each other so that when I actually watched a movie that Charles had described, I felt as if I had seen it already.  In the years that followed, after we had described to each other just about every movie we could remember, we moved on to playing games.

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

Sure, there were those jokes we would play now and then, but I’m not talking about those.  This was something different.  One of the games that we played was Chess.

I brought a computerized chessboard to work one day that had pieces on a board that you pressed down when you wanted to move a piece, then you moved it and pressed down on the square where you placed the piece in order for the board to keep track where all the pieces were on the board.

The actual Computerized Chessboard we used

The actual Computerized Chessboard we used

This chessboard had 8 levels of difficulty when you played against the computer. Charles, Terry Blevins, Scott Hubbard and I were not really the competitive type. We were more of the team player types. So, when we played, we played against the computer as a team.

We would set the level of difficulty to the highest level, then as a team, we would spend a long time analyzing our moves. Sometimes we would discuss making our next move over several days. Actually, at the highest level, the computer would some times take up to 7 hours to decide what move to make. — This was when computers were still relatively slow.

We figured out that at level 8, the chessboard would think of all the possibilities for the next 8 moves. Once we realized that, then we knew that we had to think 9 moves ahead in order to beat it. So, you could see how together we would try several strategies that would put us ahead after we had basically forced the computer to make 9 moves… It wasn’t easy, but by realizing what we were dealing with, we were able to beat the chess computer on the highest level.

The game where we beat the computer on the highest level took us over 3 months to play and 72 turns.  The four of us had teamed up against the computer in order to beat it. I remember that I would wake up in the morning dreaming about that game of chess when we were playing it and I would be anxious to go into the electric shop to try out a move that had popped in my mind when I was in the shower.

Once we were able to beat the chess board we went on to other things.

Diana Brien (my first and only “Bucket Buddy”) and I would buy Crossword puzzle magazines and when we were in a spot where we were waiting for an operator to arrive, or for a pump to finish pumping, etc.

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

We would pull out the crossword puzzle magazine and start working on them.  If we weren’t doing crossword puzzles, we were doing Word Searches, or Cryptograms… more on them in a moment.

Crossword Puzzle Book - mainstay in Power Plant Tool Buckets

Crossword Puzzle Book – mainstay in Power Plant Tool Buckets

This kept our mine sharp, and just as Fat Albert and Cosby Kids used to say, “If you’re not careful, you might learn something before you’re through.”

I had bought some Crossword puzzles that had other types of puzzles in them.  Some were pretty straightforward like Cryptograms.  That is where you have a phrase where each letter of the alphabet has been changed to another letter of the alphabet, and you have to figure out what it says.  So, for instance, an “A” may have been changed to a “D” and a “B” to a “Z” etc.  So, you end up with a sentence or two that looks like gibberish, but it actually means something once you solve the puzzle.

An example of a cryptogram magazine

An example of a cryptogram magazine

The cryptogram magazine I copied for the picture isn’t complete because of the green rectangle is blocking out part of it, but I can see that it says:  Everyone wants to “understand” art.  Why not try to understand the song of a bird?  (Pablo Picasso).

We were becoming expert cryptogram puzzle solvers, when one day we ran into a short cryptogram that didn’t have many words.  We tried solving this cryptogram for almost a week.  Scott Hubbard was getting frustrated with me, because I would never give up and look at the answer in the back of the book.  So, after he became so fed up with me, he finally looked in the back of the book and wrote the answer in the puzzle.  The answer was this:  “Red breasted Robin, Harbinger of Spring”

Now… how is someone supposed to figure out a puzzle like that?  I had figured on the “ing” in Spring and Harbinger but since Harbinger was barely in my vocabulary to begin with, I was never going to solve this one… I’ll have to admit.

Regardless, I was upset with Scott for looking at the answer in the back of the magazine, so I ripped out all the answers from the magazine and threw them in the dumpster so we would never be able to look at them again….. Still…. I would probably be trying to figure out “Red breasted Robin, Harbinger of Spring” to this day if Scott Hubbard hadn’t looked in the back of the book.  I just felt like I wasn’t getting my money’s worth if we looked at the answers…. Yeah.  all $3.95 worth (pretty cheap entertainment).

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

So, I have a side story to go along with working Cryptograms….

In my later life I changed jobs and went to work at Dell in Texas.  (It just so happened that the Puzzle Books we would buy were usually “Dell” puzzle books…. totally unrelated to the Dell Computer company where I worked).  That’s not really the important part of the side story, but I thought I would throw that in for good measure.

Every so often, our department would have an offsite where some team building events were held in order to… well… build teams.

One particular team building event was held in a park in Round Rock Texas where we were assigned to teams and each team was assigned to their own picnic table.  When the game began we were each given a poster board with some phrase on it… and guess what?  It was a cryptogram!

I was the only person on my team that knew how cryptograms worked, though most had seen them in the newspaper below the crossword puzzle, no one on our team had ever tried solving them.  As a team, we were supposed to solve the puzzle.  The quote was fairly long, which made it easy for someone who had been obsessed with cryptograms for years…. — Myself.

I took one look at the puzzle and said…. “That word right there is “that” and I wrote in the word “that”.  Then I began filling in all the letters that had “T”, “H” and “A”.  I quickly found a couple of “The”s which gave me the “E”, then I had one three letter word that began with an “A” and ended with an “E” that could only be the word “Are”.  Which gave me the letter “R”.  I could see that there were a couple of places that ended in “ing”, so I quickly filled those in, and as quickly as we could write all the letters into the puzzle we were done.

My director, Diane Keating, happened to be on my team.  When I first pointed to the word “That” and said, “That is the word ‘that'”, she said, “Wait, how can you tell?”  I said, “Trust me.  I know Cryptograms.”  When we had finished the puzzle within about a minute and a half, we called the person over to check it and she was amazed that we had solved the puzzle so quickly.

That is the end of the side story, except to say that I give credit to the games that Power Plant Men Play for teaching me the fine art of solving Cryptograms.  Our team came in first place…. needless to say after solving three cryptograms in a row.

There were other more complicated but equally fun types of anagram/cryptogram combination puzzles that I worked when we had worked all the cryptogram puzzles in the Dell Variety Magazines.  Eventually Charles Foster and I were looking for something different.  That was when Charles ordered a subscription to a magazine called “GAMES”.

Games Magazines used  by Power Plant Men

Games Magazines used by Power Plant Men

This was a monthly magazine that was full of all sorts of new games.  Today, I understand that this magazine is more about the Video Games that are out than puzzle sort of games.  Each month we would scour the pages of the Game magazine looking for puzzles to conquer.  We worked on those for about a year.

At one point in my days as an electrician, I wrote a Battleship game for my Sharp Calculator that was a two player game.  We each had a battleship in a 100 x 100 grid, which you could move around.  It was sort of like the Battleship game where on the commercial they would say, “You Sunk My Battleship!”  Only, our ships could move and we only had one.

Not the battleship game played by Power Plant Men

Not the battleship game played by Power Plant Men

Each turn when you would plug in the coordinates to shoot at the other person’s ship, it would only tell you how much you missed by.  Then you could plot it on a graph paper and try to figure out where the other person’s ship was.  Even though it could move.  If you were close, then it would damage the other ship, and it would slow down so it couldn’t move as fast.

A Sharp Calculator like I used to program the Battleship game

A Sharp Calculator like I used to program the Battleship game

When the next person took their turn, they could see if their ship had been damaged or sunk, or even had become dead in the water….

The person was randomly assigned a home base at the beginning of the game and they could go there to repair their ship and be given more ammo in case they were running low.  If they did this more than twice, then the other guy would know because the circles they would draw on their graph paper would keep intersecting at that one point.

Anyway…. that was the calculator game I made that I played with Terry Blevins for a while.

Terry Blevins

Terry Blevins

While other Power Plant Men were playing “Rope the Bull” with an Iron rendition of a bull welders had created, some of us in the electric shop were playing different kinds of games.  Puzzles.

I think the reason that electricians like puzzles so much is because a lot of what they do from day-to-day is solve puzzles.  When something isn’t functioning and the electrician has to figure out why, they usually have to follow through a bunch of steps in order to figure out what exactly went wrong.  Solving Circuit problems are a lot like the puzzles we were playing.

Sometimes they are like “Word Searches” where you are looking for needles in the haystacks.  Sometimes they are like Cryptograms where a circuit has been wired incorrectly and you have to figure out which wire is supposed to go where.  Sometimes you get so frustrated that you just wish you could look in the back of the book at the answer page.  In real life, you don’t always have an answer page exactly.

Some of us may think that you can find all you need to know in the Bible, but there are different kinds of “Bibles” for different kinds of jobs.  In the Electric Shop we had the National Electric Code.  We had the Master Blueprints that showed us how things were supposed to be wired up.  Some times we just had to wing it and try putting words in crossword puzzle that we knew might not be the right ones, but they were the best we had at the time.

I’m just glad that I spent that time working puzzles with my friends at the Power Plant.  If solving puzzles together helps build a team, then we had the best darn team around!

Because someone asked me about the game we played against the computer… Here is the play by play (for those who know how to read Chess Playing Geek Language):

Move White Black Move White Black Move White Black
1 P-K4 P-K4 25 P-KN4 K-B1 49 R-R8 K-B5
2 N-KB3 N-QB3 26 P-N5 P-B6 50 P-B5 N-K4
3 P-Q4 PxP 27 QNPxP P-N5 51 R-B8 R-B3ch
4 NxP B-B4 28 P-B4 R-R3 52 K-N7 RxR
5 B-K3 NxN 29 K-N2 P-N6 53 KxR N-Q3
6 BxN BxB 30 BPxP R-N1 54 P-B6 N-N5
7 QxB Q-B3 31 PxP P-B3 55 P-B7 N-Q4
8 P-K5 Q-KN3 32 R-KN1 PxP 56 R-R7 N-N3ch
9 N-R3 N-K2 33 PxP R-R4 57 K-N7 K-K4
10 P-KN3 P-QB4 34 R-B2ch K-K2 58 KxP N-B1
11 Q-Q3 K-KN1csl 35 R-N7ch K-K3 59 K-N8 N-Q3
12 QxQ NxQ 36 N-B2 R-B4 60 R-Q7 K-K2
13 P-KB4 P-N3 37 K-B3 P-Q3 61 R-Q6 KxR
14 B-N2 R-N1 38 K-Q4 RxKP 62 P-B8 K-K4
15 K-QB1csl B-N2 39 N-N5ch RxN 63 P-R4 K-K5
16 KR-N1 KR-Q1 40 RxR NxP 64 P-R5 K-K4
17 N-B4 BxB 41 R-R2 K-B3 65 P-R6 K-B3
18 RxB P-N4 42 N5-R5 N-B4ch 66 P-R7 K-K4
19 N-Q6 P-B5 43 K-Q5 N-K6ch 67 P-R8 K-Q5
20 P-KR4 R-N3 44 KxP R-KB3 68 B8-B4ch K-K4
21 P-R5 N-K2 45 K-B7 N-N5 69 R8-Q5ch K-B3
22 P-R6 PxP 46 R2-R4 K-N3 70 B4-B6ch K-K2
23 R-R2 K-N2 47 RxP R-KB3 71 Q5-Q7ch K-B1
24 Q4-R1 N-N1 48 R-K7 K-N4 72 B6-B8 MATE

What Coal-Fired Power Plant Electricians Are Doing at an Oil Refinery

Power Plant Men working for a large Coal-Fired Power Plant have the kind of culture where Cleanliness is next to “Leroy Godfrey-ness”.  If you knew Leroy Godfrey, then you would know that he was a perfectionist in a lot of ways.  Or… Well, he expected the Plant Electricians to be anyway.  A few years after becoming an electrician, there was some work being done by Ben Davis, one of our best electricians, at the Conoco (Continental) Oil Refinery twenty miles north of the plant in Ponca City.

Conoco (Now Philips 66) Oil refinery

Conoco (Now Philips 66) Oil refinery in Ponca City

Being a low level Electrician Apprentice, I was not included in whatever was happening at the Refinery.  I didn’t work at the refinery for many years.  When I finally did go to Conoco, I wished I hadn’t.

What was happening?  A Co-Generation plant was being built there.  It is called a “Co-Generation” plant because it serves two purposes.  Waste gas from the refinery is used to fire the boiler that produces the steam to turn the turbine.  Any steam left over is sent over to the refinery to supplement their own needs.  The electricity is used by the refinery and any left over electricity is sold by the Electric Company for a profit.  So, in a sense, it is a “Co-Existence”.

For the most part, Power Plant Men were looking for opportunities to get in a company truck and leave the plant grounds to work on something outside the confines of the plant where they work every day, week in and week out.  Trips to the river pumps or the parks on our lake were always nice, because you would see wildlife along the way.  You could look out over the Arkansas River in the morning as the sun was rising and feel the cool breeze and smell the pastures nearby.

Trips to Enid to our small peaking units were fun too, because we were able to work on some different equipment out in a quiet substation where mud daubers were the only sound until the units came online.  The drive to Enid was nice because the 45 mile trip across the countryside is pleasant and the traffic is very light.  You can go for miles without seeing another car.

After only a couple of visits to the Conoco Oil Refinery, I never looked forward to the 20 minute drive from the plant when we had to work on the Co-Generation Plant co-owned by our company and the Oil Refinery.  There were a few things about the refinery that bothered me about working there.  One annoying factor was the hideous smell.

I had lived in Ponca City for three years and the sour odor that poured out of the Oil Refinery to the south of our house generally blew right up our street.  One winter morning I remember stepping out of our rental house into the dark on my way to work, and the exhaust from the oil refinery must have been blowing directly down the street to our house where I lived because when I took a breath I gagged immediately and was at the point of vomiting on the front lawn.

The house we rented in Ponca City, Oklahoma

The house we rented in Ponca City, Oklahoma in 1986-89 with about 600 sq. ft. of living space

A side note…

My wife and I lived in this tiny house shortly after we were married.  Kelly was an RN (nurse) at the local hospital working the night shift while I was an electrician at the Power Plant during the day.  I had the philosophy that if we started by living in a dump and saved our money, then as we gradually worked our way up to a bigger house, we would feel as if life was getting better, and we never had to worry about money, since we always lived well below our means.

I figured that if we lived far below our means, our means would keep growing.  Living just below your means meant always staying in the same economic spot (how many sentences can I put the words “means” and “meant” right next to each other?).  The quality of Life doesn’t get much better.  When living well below your means, life continues to get better even if your job stays the same your entire life.  I had figured that I was going to be a plant electrician until the day I retired, so, this was my way of planning ahead.

My wife endured living in this tiny house one block away from the railroad tracks traveled by the coal trains on their way to our plant (which shook our house as they passed) for three years before we moved to Stillwater, Oklahoma where we lived with more than twice the square feet and no smell from the oil refinery.

end of side note…

I started out by saying that the culture at our Power Plant was that Cleanliness was very important.  I suppose this was true at the Oil Refinery as well, only, it seemed that even though the clutter was all picked up, there was something “inherently” dirty about the oil refinery.  I’m not sure how to describe it, but you just felt like you didn’t want to touch anything because it was going to leave some sort of dirty film on you.  It was….. grimy (one could say… oily… well… it was an oil refinery).

Our Power Plant is in North Central Oklahoma, and during the summer going for an entire month with over 100 degree weather every day was not uncommon.  There are parts of the plant where you had to work some times where the temperature reached 160 degrees.  Of course, you can’t stay in that environment very long, and those areas are generally not the areas of choice when choosing which job to work on next.

One hot summer day in 1996, Charles Foster and I had to go to the oil refinery to our Co-Generation plant to fix an Air Conditioner Condenser Fan Motor.

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

This isn’t like one of those fans on the side of your house in the box that you know as your “air conditioner” that blows hot air out when the air conditioner in your house is running, though it performs the same task, only on a much bigger scale.

A large air conditioner about the size of the one that Mike Rose worked on

No.  Even bigger than this air conditioner

When you entered the oil refinery you had to wear a long blue cloak or coat called “Nomex” (pronounced “No Mex”).

A Blue Nomex Coat

A Blue Nomex Coat  which can be worn by Mexicans.  That rumor is just not true.

The reason for wearing this heavy “woolen” coat was to help save your life in case you happened to be around the next time (next time?) something exploded, blasting flames in your direction.  — Yeah…. comforting huh?  Knowing that this flame retardant coat was going to keep you from being burned alive when something exploded in the refinery.  Oh joy.

Everyone in the refinery was wearing these blue coats.  It was a requirement before you could drive your pickup through the security gate.

Once inside the gate, Charles and I checked our clearances to make sure it was safe to work on unwiring the motor that was mounted under the air conditioner coils.  Another fan was running that was turning a large fan blade blowing hot air down next to us.  We had brought our own fans to blow cooler air on us while we worked on the motor.  This particular motor weighed about 400 lbs, to give you an idea of the size of motor we were repairing.

A motor much like this one

A motor much like this one only mounted vertically

Charles and I had brought a temperature gun to check how hot everything was when we were working.

An Infrared Thermometer

An Infrared Thermometer

When we checked the temperature, we found that the area where we had to stand was 160 degrees.  The motor itself was even hotter than that.  We had to wear leather gloves just to work on it without burning our hands.  Asbestos gloves would have rendered us useless because they make you feel like you are wearing “Hulk Hands” where your fingers are about 2 inches wide.

Asbestos Gloves worn when putting hot bearings on a motor shaft (for instance)

Asbestos Gloves worn when putting hot bearings on a motor shaft (for instance)

See what I mean?

Hulk Hands

Hulk Hands

The air was too hot to breathe except for quick shallow breaths.  Even though we had a fan blowing directly on us, we took turns approaching the motor, turning some bolts a couple of times, and then quickly moving out of the area to where we could be in the cooler 105 degree temperature.

There is nothing like a mild irritation (such as working in extreme heat) to motivate you to hurry up a job.  Charles and I worked diligently to remove the motor and then lowered it down with a platform hand lift that we kept in the shop.

A platform Lift Hand Truck like the one we used

A platform Lift Hand Truck like the one we used only ours had a hydraulic lift on it.  This one has a hand crank.

This fan motor was on the roof of a building, so once we had removed the motor from where it was mounted, we still had to lower it down to the back of the truck which was backed up to the side of the building.  Once in the truck, we brought it back to the plant where we could work on it.

When you first went to work in the oil refinery you had to take a specially designed safety course when you are issued your Nomex coat.  During that class, you are told that if you hear the sirens go off, that generally means that there are some toxic gases being released accidentally in the plant, you are supposed to take action quickly.

The funniest (or not so funniest) instructions was that when the sirens go off, you are supposed to run in the opposite direction away from the sirens.  Which sort of reminds me of Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail when they had to run away from the viscous fighting rabbit. Yelling “Run Away!  Run Away!”  Great safety evacuation plan.  — Plan of action:  “Run!!!”

Battling the Killer Rabbit in the Search for the Holy Grail

Battling the Killer Rabbit in the Search for the Holy Grail

The toxic gas that everyone was worried about is called Hydrogen Sulfide or H2S.  This is the gas that smells like rotten eggs.  The only problem is that when there is more than the minimal amount of H2S in the air, you can’t smell it anymore because it quickly deadens your sense of smell.

Hydrogen Sulfide Warning Sign

Hydrogen Sulfide Warning Sign

Another fun reason to not want to go work in the Oil Refinery.

Anyway, Charles and I safely reversed the process to return the motor to its rightful place mounted on the bottom of the coils on the roof.

A few times I had to go to work at the Co-Generation plant because something was broken (like the fan motor), but most of the time that we went to the plant was to do our quarterly battery inspections.  For more information about battery inspections, you can read this post: “Importance of Power Plant Backup Battery Preventative Maintenance“.

I have told you all the reasons why I didn’t enjoy working at the Oil Refinery in Ponca City, Oklahoma.  There were reasons why I did enjoy it.  I suppose if you have been reading my posts, you will know the most obvious answer to that question (oh.  I guess I didn’t really ask a question… but if I had…).  The only redeeming factor with working at the Co-Generation plant at the oil refinery was being able to work with the best Power Plant Men and Women in the country.

I have given you an example above when I worked with Charles Foster.  I also worked with Scott Hubbard and Diana Brien.

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

Both of them top class electricians and First Class Friends.  Just to be able to work side-by-side with such terrific people made me forget about the poison gases.  I didn’t mind the heat.  I even forgot I was wearing the heavy suffocating Nomex Coat.  What’s a little grime when your friend tells you about their day?  About what they are planning for the weekend?  Or the rest of their life?

Actually, I think that’s what made everything about working both at the Oil Refinery and the Power Plant itself the most enjoyable job I can imagine.  Sure.  We had a culture of “cleanliness” at the plant but I think it was the culture of “friendliness” that really made all the difference.  It was also the most painful part the day I finally left the Power Plant to adventure out to find the rest of the world in 2001.

Toby Teaches Power Plant Time Management

Sometime in December, 2000 Dell flew a group of Oklahoma State University students to Austin along with students from all over the country to interview for jobs.  During one interview I had with a manager named Lisa Larson, she asked me how I would handle situations where I am asked to do too many things at the same time.  I replied that I don’t ever worry about that.  I have found that by managing my time properly, I never find myself in a situation where I don’t have enough time or I feel overwhelmed.

Of course, I could see the look of disbelief, since she worked for Dell, and had experienced an overload of work beyond what normal humans can endure.  I knew that the answer she was waiting to hear was that I would prioritize my tasks and do the more important ones or those tasks that had to be completed right away first.  Instead I choose to tell her about Toby O’Brien, a Power Plant Engineer.

Power Plant Engineer and Good Friend - Toby O'Brien

Power Plant Engineer and Good Friend – Toby O’Brien

You can see the confidence Toby demonstrates in the picture above.  He is so confident he doesn’t even use a Pocket Protector.  None of his pens ever leak.

I didn’t use Toby’s name during the interview.  Instead I opened up the large briefcase I was carrying with me and took out my Time Management Planner:

My Day Runner Time Management Planner

My Day Runner Time Management Planner

In August 1998 Toby mentioned to me that the staff at the plant had taken a course in how to manage their time.  The core object in the course was using a rather sophisticated planner.  You see, there aren’t just regular calendars in a planner, there are note pages you can use during meetings, weekly pages, and daily pages.  A place to keep your contacts.  Even a section to keep business cards.  I think my favorite section was a place to just write down ideas.  The header at the top of the page was “Ideas”.

I had just started a new semester at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma and I was ramping up the number of courses I was taking simultaneously, while at the same time working full time.  I had told Toby that I was determined not reduce the time I spent with my children in the evenings, so I had to figure out how to complete all my course work on time, and not let it interfere with the rest of my day.

Toby explained that the first thing you do in the morning is that you write down in the daily planner section everything that you will be doing that day, and what time you will be doing it.  Then as much as possible, you stick to that plan.  When you are doing one task, you don’t have to worry about all the other things you have to accomplish during the day, because you know when you will be working on them, so it allows you to focus on your task at hand.

He even was going so far as not taking phone calls or would ask to call them back when he was available when he was working on a task and then would schedule some time to call the person back.

Toby spent a good hour or so showing me how he used his daily planner.  The company was even paying for the additional sheets they used in the planners.  So, that evening I went to Office Depot and purchased my Day Runner planner with extra sections that I thought would be helpful.

At the time, I was driving back and forth between Stillwater and the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, usually twice each day, as I would leave at certain times to take a class, then drive back to work afterward, using an hour and a half of vacation as well as the half hour for lunch as I would eat on the way.

So, what would a typical Power Plant Planner look like for any particular day for someone working in the Maintenance Department?  Well, if the Power Plant Man was really proactive, and wrote everything down, then it may look something like this….

  1. Turn off the Alarm… scratch behind…. scratch bald spot on head… kiss wife on cheek…. climb out of bed….
  2. Gather clean clothes from dresser, and any supplement clothes needed from the hamper…. take shower…. brush teeth… shave.
  3. Eat a hearty breakfast – for tonight we dine in hell!… (oh… sorry… that’s not Power Plant Men.. That’s Spartans… close, but different).
  4. Make some sandwiches for lunch or use leftovers from last night’s dinner and put them in the lunch box.

    Power Plant Lunch Box

    Power Plant Lunch Box

  5.  Just before exiting the house, put on the steel-toed boots airing out just inside the garage.

    Steel Toed Boots

    Steel Toed Boots

  6. Drive the car to the carpooling location…. Pile into one car with everyone else…. Drive to plant while discussing the latest hunting and fishing adventures.
  7. After arriving at the plant 15 minutes early, sit around and drink a cup of coffee with the rest of the crew while waiting for the morning meeting to begin… Pass along any words of wisdom that suddenly popped up in the shower that morning to the rest of the crew…. Listen to some of their dumb ideas and act as if they are taken seriously while still trying to work out the terrific ideas of your own.  Chuckle at the minor “your fly is open” type jokes being played on each other.
  8. Attend the morning team meeting and receive the jobs that need to be completed that day.  Listen to the latest Power Plant Jokes played the previous day and share some that were entered in the planner that might be useful today.
  9. Leave the meeting with your bucket buddy and begin work.

    My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

    My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien (not related to Toby O’Brien)

  10. Gather tools needed for job… Get any supplies needed from the tool room.  Talk to the tool room attendant.

    Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

    Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

  11. Go to the Control Room to obtain any clearances needed to perform tasks… talk to the control room operators about their day… Play a joke on Gene Day.

    Gene Day is the one standing on the right with the Orange shirt.

    Gene Day is the one standing on the right with the Orange shirt.

  12. Take the first break while waiting for the clearances to be put on the breakers in the switchgear.
  13. Play dominoes… Trump… or Uno during break as a team building activity. Accuse others of cheating.

    Dominoes

    Dominoes

  14. Check Breaker after break and sign clearance form…. Ask the operator how his day is going…. then perform the job safely…. dispose of any trash generated during the job.  Bandage any cuts and rub any bruises that may have been created during the job.
  15. Return clearance…. talk to the control room operators some more.  Give Gene Day suspicious glances.
  16. Strut through maintenance shop with confidence while going to the office to ask which job to do next since the first job was completed flawlessly and sooner than expected.
  17. Continue steps 10, 11 and 12 until it is time for lunch.
  18. Go to the regular lunch spot and talk to friends and learn the latest gossip and play more Dominoes, Trump or Uno (or backgammon).

    Uno Card Game

    Uno Card Game

  19. Repeat the same activities during the afternoon with the exception that a closer watch is kept on the nearest watch or clock.
  20. Take afternoon break at the same table as morning break playing the same game as before with the same people as before…

    Power Plant Playing Cards

    Power Plant Playing Cards

  21. Return to work magically fixing equipment paying even more attention to the time.
  22. Migrate to the Foreman’s office 30 minutes before “Quittin’ Time” to fill out time card.  Call each other any new names that were thought up during the day (what I would call, “Terms of Endearment”).  Play small minor jokes on teammates while completing the time card.
  23. Wait until the exact time before leaving the shop and returning to the car in the parking lot.
  24. Ride back to town with the rest of the dirty smelly Power Plant Carpoolers…. talk about any frustrating encounters from the day’s work…. Discuss any news from Corporate Headquarters designed to confuse Power Plant Men…. Fall asleep… snore….dream about the day…. wake up just as the car arrives at the carpooling spot.
  25. Climb into your own car and go home.
  26. Leave dirty smelly boots in the garage…. take off dirty shirt and pants and put them directly in the washing machine…

    Yeah. Just like this

    Yeah. these

  27. Take a shower….kiss wife… hug kids….(kick annoying cat when no one’s looking)… tell the wife about the day…. listen to wife talk about her day….eat supper.

That just about does it.  I found it a little difficult to put all that in the daily planner, especially since it was the same every day, except for when we had emergencies, and I couldn’t plan for those, unless they were part of a planned Power Plant Joke made to look like an emergency.

Anyway, back to Toby…If it hadn’t been for Toby teaching me Time Management, I would have had a much tougher time going to school while working at the same time.  I was able to keep my three worlds apart without them interfering with each other (except for all the driving back and forth).

I almost never did my school work while I was at work, and I didn’t do them at home either unless I had to write a paper on the computer.  So, I spent my evenings with my family… then I woke up at 4:00 each morning and went to the University and found a quiet place to do my homework before going to class and driving out to work.

After 4 years I graduated with a 4.0 grade point in the Business College with an MIS degree (Management Information Systems).  That was when I was hired by Dell.  I will go into the details about that in another post.

For now I just want to thank Toby for introducing me to the idea that managing your time properly can make a world of a difference.  If you noticed in the picture of the planner above, I haven’t used it since 2002.  That’s because new technologies came around that changed the way we manage our time.

Today at work I use Outlook to capture all my scheduled activities.  Microsoft Project can be used to assign tasks with a duration that tells you how long the task should take.  Another Microsoft tool OneNote is a big help for just taking notes and organizing your work.

So, even though I no longer have to buy pages for the Day Runner Planner each year, I still have the concept in my mind that while I am working on one task, I shouldn’t need to worry about another one because I have scheduled time during my day to work on those.  So I can concentrate on the task at hand.  By doing that, you never had the feeling of being overwhelmed.

Lisa Larson, who was interviewing me from Dell didn’t look too convinced when I showed her my Day Runner Planner, but I was offered the job anyway.  I don’t think it was because I had good time management skills… I think it had more to do with the fact that I had worked so many years with “True Power Plant Men and Women” that it was hopeful that some of their genuine concern for others and their attitude of dedication had rubbed off on me.

The Heart of a Power Plant

I was considered the one that “got away”.  Power Plant Men don’t normally leave the Power Plant to go work somewhere else unless they are retiring, being laid off, or for some other compelling reason.  I freely walked away of my own accord August 16, 2001.  I left a job where I could have worked until the day I retired to step out into the unknown.  But… that was the way I had arrived on May 7, 1979, 22 years earlier.

Just as I had driven onto the plant grounds those many years ago, unsure what I was going to encounter, I was now leaving the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma to change my career and become an IT programmer for Dell Computers in Round Rock Texas.  When I arrived my first day at the plant, I had no idea what I was stepping into…  The day I left I was in the exact same boat.

The Intake is just to the right of this picture across the canal

The Intake is just to the right of this picture across the canal

So far, I have gone through my life accepting whatever happens as something that happens for a reason.  With that in mind, I have the belief that whatever the future holds, I just need to hang in there and everything will work out for the best, even though it may not seem like it at the time.  Let me tell you about this experience….

I had accepted the job offer from Dell early in January.  My start date had been set for June 4, 2001.  They were giving me $3,000 for moving expenses to move down to Round Rock when I finished college in May.  I was being hired as an undergraduate college hire.  I would be starting at a slightly smaller salary than my base salary as an electrician.

Dell-Logo

I was taking a considerable cut in salary when you consider the overtime that an Power Plant electrician racked up in a year.  I figured I was starting at the bottom of the ladder in my new job, where I was pretty well topped out at the plant with no opportunity to advance in sight.  Maybe in a few years my salary would catch up and surpass what I made as an electrician.

For about 10 weeks, we drove down to the Austin area and look for a house on the weekends.  It became apparent soon after our house hunting began that the cost of houses was somewhat higher than they were in Stillwater Oklahoma.  We finally had a contract on a house in Round Rock, just 10 minutes away from the main Dell campus.

While we were looking for a house in the Round Rock area, we kept hearing on the radio that Dell was laying off thousands of employees.  The Internet bubble had burst and the drop in sales of computers was taking a toll on the company.  Every time I called the recruiter, I would find that they had been laid off and I had been assigned a different recruiter.  This was disheartening to say the least.

Here I was in a perfectly secure job as an electrician at the Power Plant and I was leaving it to go work for a company that was in the middle of laying off employees.  My wife Kelly and I had been saying one Novena after the other that we make the correct decision about what we should do, and we had chosen Dell Computer.  It just seemed like the right place to go.  So, we decided to just go along with it.

We prayed the Infant Of Prague Novena every day that we made the right choice.

The Infant of Prague is a statue of Jesus as a Boy in a Church in Prague in the Czech Republic

The Infant of Prague is a wax statue of Jesus as a Boy in a Church in Prague, Czech Republic

I gave the plant a 3 month notice that I would be leaving in June.  We had timed the purchase of the house in Round Rock for Friday, June 1.  I would start work the following Monday.  Dell was going to send me my moving expenses on May 4th, one month before my job would begin.

On the morning of Thursday, May 3rd, our realtor in Stillwater called and said she had a contract to sell our home in Stillwater and was going to head out to our house for us to sign.  I had stayed home that morning for that reason.  We were expecting her to arrive at 9:00 am.

At 8:30 I received a call from Dell computers that went something like this….. “Kevin, I am calling to inform you that your offer for employment has changed.  Your first day will no longer be June 4, but will be August 20 (2-1/2 months later).  The good news is that you still have a job with Dell, it just doesn’t start until August.”

Since I was expecting the moving expenses the following day on May 4, I asked the recruiter about that.  He said that since my start date was moved to August, I wouldn’t receive the moving expenses until July.  I told him that I was in the middle of buying a house in Round Rock and that I was counting on that money.  He said he would see what he could do about that.

I hung up the phone and looked at Kelly who was standing there watching my face go from a normal tan to a red glow, then an ashen color all in the matter of 20 seconds.  I explained to her that Dell said I still had a job, but it wouldn’t start until August.

The Realtor was going to be arriving in about 20 minutes for us to sign to sell our house.  Everything was in motion.  It took Kelly and I about 5 minutes to discuss our options before we decided that since we had been praying to make the right choice, we were going to go with this new development.

I called Louise Kalicki, our HR supervisor at the plant and told her that Dell had moved my start date from June 4 to August 20, and I wondered if I could stay on the extra two and a half months.  I was surprised that she had an answer for me so quickly, but here is what she said, “We can keep you on until August 17, but after that date, we will no longer have a job for you.”  I thanked her, and hung up the phone.

Our realtor arrived with the contract for us to sign to sell our house with five acres.  When she walked in the kitchen, I told her what had just happened 1/2 hour earlier.  I could see the sick look on her face after she had worked so hard for so many months to find a buyer for our house.  Here I was telling her that Dell was postponing my hire date.

When I came to the part about where we decided to go ahead with our plans and sell the house and move to Round Rock, I could see all the tension that had been building up behind her ever increasing bulging eyes suddenly ease off.  We signed the papers and our house was set to be sold on June 29.  I had to swing a loan for the month where I bought the house in Round Rock and I sold my house in Stillwater (and hoped that the house was actually sold on time).

A few hours later I received a call from the Dell recruiter saying that he had pulled a few strings and I was going to receive my moving expenses the following day.  The following week after that, the recruiter that had helped me had been laid off as well.

When my final day had arrived on August 16 (I was working 4 -10s, and my last work day that week was Thursday), I was given a going away party (see the post “Power Plant Final Presentation“).  The party was over around 1:30 and I was free to leave.

I said my goodbye’s to my friends in the office area and went down to the electric shop to gather up the rest of my things and leave.  Scott Hubbard asked me if he could trade his Multimeter with me since I had a fancy True RMS Multimeter and he was still using an older version.  So, I traded him, and picked up my tool bucket and headed for the parking lot.

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

As I approached my car, I could see that Diana Brien was out there waiting for me to leave.  She gave me a Chocolate Chip Cookie the size of a pizza and said she wanted to say goodbye to me and tell me that she had enjoyed being my bucket buddy all those years.  I told her I was going to miss her and everyone else in the shop.

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

With that I climbed in my car and drove away.

When I was selling my house outside Stillwater, I thought that the thing I was going to miss the most was the wide open spaces where we lived.  Our house was on a hill in the country overlooking the city of Stillwater.  We had an Atrium in the living room where you could sit and look at the city lights at night and watch thunderstorms as they blasted transformers around the town.

I was moving into a neighborhood where the house next to ours was no more than 15 feet away.  I thought I’m really going to miss this house….  I thought that until the moment I drove out of the parking lot at the Power Plant.

Then it suddenly hit me….  What about my family?  What about all those people I have just left behind?  When am I ever going to see them?  The thought of missing my house never entered my mind from that moment on.  It was replaced by the great pain one feels when they pack up and walk away from their family not knowing if you will ever see them again.

My heart was still back there with the Power Plant Men and Women I left behind.

The seven hour drive from the plant to Round Rock Texas was a blur.  I knew that I had just closed one door and stepped into an entirely new world.  I didn’t even know if I would like being a programmer when it came down to it.  I had always just been a hacker and I knew I had a lot of holes in my knowledge.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to be any good at my job.

To make that long story short, I have never regretted my move to Round Rock Texas.  I have just gone with the flow knowing that whatever happens, it happens for a reason.  After 12 1/2 years working at Dell, I changed jobs again to work for General Motors in their IT department where I am currently working with the Onstar team.

My friends at Dell asked me the past few years… “Are you going to write about us like you do with the Power Plant Men?”  My reply to that question was “I don’t know… Maybe I will.  I haven’t thought about it.”

That was the same thing I told Sonny Karcher the first day I arrived at the Power Plant and he asked me what I wanted to do when I graduated college.  I told him. “I don’t know.  I was thinking about becoming a writer.”  His next question was, “Are you going to write about us?”  I replied, “Maybe I will.  I haven’t thought about it.”

The Heart of a Power Plant

I was considered the one that “got away”.  Power Plant Men don’t normally leave the Power Plant to go work somewhere else unless they are retiring, being laid off, or for some other compelling reason.  I freely walked away of my own accord August 16, 2001.  I left a job where I could have worked until the day I retired to step out into the unknown.  But… that was the way I had arrived on May 7, 1979, 22 years earlier.

Just as I had driven onto the plant grounds those many years ago, unsure what I was going to encounter, I was now leaving the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma to change my career and become an IT programmer for Dell Computers in Round Rock Texas.  When I arrived my first day at the plant, I had no idea what I was stepping into…  The day I left I was in the exact same boat.

The Intake is just to the right of this picture across the canal

The Intake is just to the right of this picture across the canal

So far, I have gone through my life accepting whatever happens as something that happens for a reason.  With that in mind, I have the belief that whatever the future holds, I just need to hang in there and everything will work out for the best, even though it may not seem like it at the time.  Let me tell you about this experience….

I had accepted the job offer from Dell early in January.  My start date had been set for June 4, 2001.  They were giving me $3,000 for moving expenses to move down to Round Rock when I finished college in May.  I was being hired as an undergraduate college hire.  I would be starting at a slightly smaller salary than my base salary as an electrician.

Dell-Logo

I was taking a considerable cut in salary when you consider the overtime that a Power Plant electrician racked up in a year.  I figured I was starting at the bottom of the ladder in my new job, where I was pretty well topped out at the plant with no opportunity to advance in sight.  Maybe in a few years my salary would catch up and surpass what I made as an electrician.

For about 10 weeks, we drove down to the Austin area and look for a house on the weekends.  It became apparent soon after our house hunting began that the cost of houses was somewhat higher than they were in Stillwater Oklahoma.  We finally had a contract on a house in Round Rock, just 10 minutes away from the main Dell campus.

While we were looking for a house in the Round Rock area, we kept hearing on the radio that Dell was laying off thousands of employees.  The Internet bubble had burst and the drop in sales of computers was taking a toll on the company.  Every time I called the recruiter, I would find that they had been laid off and I had been assigned a different recruiter.  This was disheartening to say the least.

Here I was in a perfectly secure job as an electrician at the Power Plant and I was leaving it to go work for a company that was in the middle of laying off employees.  My wife Kelly and I had been saying one Novena after the other that we make the correct decision about what we should do, and we had chosen Dell Computer.  It just seemed like the right place to go.  So, we decided to just go along with it.

We prayed the Infant Of Prague Novena every day that we made the right choice.

The Infant of Prague is a statue of Jesus as a Boy in a Church in Prague in the Czech Republic

The Infant of Prague is a wax statue of Jesus as a Boy in a Church in Prague, Czech Republic

I gave the plant a 3 month notice that I would be leaving in June.  We had timed the purchase of the house in Round Rock for Friday, June 1.  I would start work the following Monday.  Dell was going to send me my moving expenses on May 4th, one month before my job would begin.

On the morning of Thursday, May 3rd, our realtor in Stillwater called and said she had a contract to sell our home in Stillwater and was going to head out to our house for us to sign.  I had stayed home that morning for that reason.  We were expecting her to arrive at 9:00 am.

At 8:30 I received a call from Dell computers that went something like this….. “Kevin, I am calling to inform you that your offer for employment has changed.  Your first day will no longer be June 4, but will be August 20 (2-1/2 months later).  The good news is that you still have a job with Dell, it just doesn’t start until August.”

Since I was expecting the moving expenses the following day on May 4, I asked the recruiter about that.  He said that since my start date was moved to August, I wouldn’t receive the moving expenses until July.  I told him that I was in the middle of buying a house in Round Rock and that I was counting on that money.  He said he would see what he could do about that.

I hung up the phone and looked at Kelly who was standing there watching my face go from a normal tan to a red glow, then an ashen color all in the matter of 20 seconds.  I explained to her that Dell said I still had a job, but it wouldn’t start until August.

The Realtor was going to be arriving in about 20 minutes for us to sign to sell our house.  Everything was in motion.  It took Kelly and I about 5 minutes to discuss our options before we decided that since we had been praying to make the right choice, we were going to go with this new development.

I called Louise Kalicki, our HR supervisor at the plant and told her that Dell had moved my start date from June 4 to August 20, and I wondered if I could stay on the extra two and a half months.  I was surprised that she had an answer for me so quickly, but here is what she said, “We can keep you on until August 17, but after that date, we will no longer have a job for you.”  I thanked her, and hung up the phone.

Our realtor arrived with the contract for us to sign to sell our house with five acres.  When she walked in the kitchen, I told her what had just happened 1/2 hour earlier.  I could see the sick look on her face after she had worked so hard for so many months to find a buyer for our house.  Here I was telling her that Dell was postponing my hire date.

When I came to the part about where we decided to go ahead with our plans and sell the house and move to Round Rock, I could see all the tension that had been building up behind her ever increasing bulging eyes suddenly ease off.  We signed the papers and our house was set to be sold on June 29.  I had to swing a loan for the month where I bought the house in Round Rock and I sold my house in Stillwater (and hoped that the house was actually sold on time).

A few hours later I received a call from the Dell recruiter saying that he had pulled a few strings and I was going to receive my moving expenses the following day.  The following week after that, the recruiter that had helped me had been laid off as well.

When my final day had arrived on August 16 (I was working 4 -10s, and my last work day that week was Thursday), I was given a going away party (see the post “Power Plant Final Presentation“).  The party was over around 1:30 and I was free to leave.

I said my goodbye’s to my friends in the office area and went down to the electric shop to gather up the rest of my things and leave.  Scott Hubbard asked me if he could trade his Multimeter with me since I had a fancy True RMS Multimeter and he was still using an older version.  So, I traded him, and picked up my tool bucket and headed for the parking lot.

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

As I approached my car, I could see that Diana Brien was out there waiting for me to leave.  She gave me a Chocolate Chip Cookie the size of a pizza and said she wanted to say goodbye to me and tell me that she had enjoyed being my bucket buddy all those years.  I told her I was going to miss her and everyone else in the shop.

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

With that I climbed in my car and drove away.

When I was selling my house outside Stillwater, I thought that the thing I was going to miss the most was the wide open spaces where we lived.  Our house was on a hill in the country overlooking the city of Stillwater.  We had an Atrium in the living room where you could sit and look at the city lights at night and watch thunderstorms as they blasted transformers around the town.

I was moving into a neighborhood where the house next to ours was no more than 15 feet away.  I thought I’m really going to miss this house….  I thought that until the moment I drove out of the parking lot at the Power Plant.

Then it suddenly hit me….  What about my family?  What about all those people I have just left behind?  When am I ever going to see them?  The thought of missing my house never entered my mind from that moment on.  It was replaced by the great pain one feels when they pack up and walk away from their family not knowing if you will ever see them again.

My heart was still back there with the Power Plant Men and Women I left behind.

The seven hour drive from the plant to Round Rock Texas was a blur.  I knew that I had just closed one door and stepped into an entirely new world.  I didn’t even know if I would like being a programmer when it came down to it.  I had always just been a hacker and I knew I had a lot of holes in my knowledge.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to be any good at my job.

To make that long story short, I have never regretted my move to Round Rock Texas.  I have just gone with the flow knowing that whatever happens, it happens for a reason.  After 12 1/2 years working at Dell, I changed jobs again to work for General Motors in their IT department where I am currently working with the Onstar team.

My friends at Dell asked me the past few years… “Are you going to write about us like you do with the Power Plant Men?”  My reply to that question was “I don’t know… Maybe I will.  I haven’t thought about it.”

That was the same thing I told Sonny Karcher the first day I arrived at the Power Plant and he asked me what I wanted to do when I graduated college.  I told him. “I don’t know.  I was thinking about becoming a writer.”  His next question was, “Are you going to write about us?”  I replied, “Maybe I will.  I haven’t thought about it.”

Power Plant Music To My Ears

Originally posted October 25, 2014.

I’m sure just about everyone does this. When they look at someone, they occasionally hear music. Some sort of song that is inspired by the person. For instance when I look at my mom, I suddenly begin to hear Beethoven’s 5th Symphony (sorry about the advertisements. Nothing I can do about that).

For those with older browsers that are not able to view video links, I will include the link below the video: Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.

A few years ago when I was working for Dell, after I had given a thumb drive loaded with the songs I liked to listen to, to a friend of mine, Nina Richburg, when she left our team, she came up to me later and said she had never heard such an eclectic selection of music before. I told her I knew what she meant. I had included classical, rock and roll, electronic, movie soundtracks, country, easy listening, and just about every other genre in the book.

I didn’t explain to her how I can come to the point where I listened to so many different types of music. The answer of course is that I had worked at a Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma for 20 years and I had learned to listen to the music that played in my head while working alongside some of the most diverse set of humans that comprised the Power Plant Men and Women at the plant.

I think it began while I was a janitor working with Pat Braden. When I would work with him, I hear a certain song in my head. So, I began to associate that song with Pat. I’m sure many at the plant heard the same song playing in their heads while interacting with Pat. He was such a nice guy:

The direct link is: Sesame Street Theme Song.

I guess you can call it Power Plant Theme Songs, since the songs that usually played in my head represented the type of person. This wasn’t always the case. For instance, when I looked at the electric Foreman and my close friend, Charles Foster, I would usually hear this song:

The direct link is: GhostBusters.

I would hear this song, because when the movie came out, and the song would be played on the radio, Charles’ son Tim Foster thought the song was saying, “Who ya gonna call? Charles Foster!” So, I can’t hear this song without thinking of Charles Foster.

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

I have told stories about Gene Day (formally known as Victor Eugene Day — I didn’t misspell “formally), and how it was always fun to play jokes on him. The main reason is because Gene Day was always so easy going. When you look at Gene, the obvious song that pops in my mind is this:

The direct link is: Feelin’ Groovy.

Aren’t they cute? If you took Garfunkel (the tall singer) and shrank him down to the size of Simon, then you would have Gene Day. It was worth the trip to the control room just to encounter Gene Day, so that the rest of your day, you could go around the Power Plant, performing your feats of magic while you were “Feelin’ Groovy!” just for looking at Gene Day. That’s the effect he would have on passerby’s.

Gene Day is the one standing on the right with the Orange shirt.

Gene Day is the one standing on the right with the Orange shirt.

My bucket buddy Diana Brien had her own theme song. This song would come to mind not because the song itself reminded me of her, but because she remarked one day when the song was playing on the radio that she really liked it. So, from that point, this was Dee’s song:

The direct link is: Desperado.

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

I had some songs in my head when I looked at other Power Plant men because it actually sounded like they were singing the song themselves. This was the case with Bill Bennett, our A Foreman. He had a gruff Cigarette voice so I could easily hear Bill Bennett singing this song. Actually, ZZ Top was probably inspired to write this song by Bill Bennett:

Direct link to: La Grange.

Bill Cosby trying to look like Bill Bennett

Bill Cosby trying to look like Bill Bennett

The Extreme Power Plant character of some Power Plant Men that I was inclined to “Hero Worship” because of their tremendous talent led me to hear music of a more epic nature. This was true for both Earl Frazier and Andy Tubbs. Earl Frazier was a welder of such talent and when combined with his loyal country nature, even though his occupation was different than this song… This is what usually came to mind when I would look at Earl Frazier:

Direct link: Wichita Lineman.

Earl Frazier

Earl Frazier

Andy Tubbs had the same sort of “epic-ness” that Earl had. He was “Country” like Earl also. At the same time, Andy was one of the most intelligent Power Plant Man that graced the Tripper Gallery by his presence. That is probably why this song would come to mind when I would look at Andy:

Direct Link: Good Bad and the Ugly.

Andy Tubbs - True Power Plant Electrician

Andy Tubbs – True Power Plant Electrician

Notice the resemblance to Andy’s picture and the song. You could hear the Good Bad and the Ugly Song start up every time Andy would leave the foreman’s office and step out into the shop.

I have covered the “Power Plant Genius of Larry Riley” in a previous post. He was another “Epic Hero” of mine. There was not a lot that Larry couldn’t do. His epic-ness was more like a knight from the time of King Arthur. I think that’s why I would hear the song that I heard when I would look at Larry. The movie Excalibur included the perfect song for a knight riding out to meet the enemy just as Larry would step out of the Labor Crew building each morning when I worked for him as a laborer. I would hear the following epic song go through my mind (try singing along with this song):

Direct link: O Fortuna.

Flashbacks of Latin Class!

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

Larry Riley in all of his epic-ness!

If you look at Larry’s picture while listening to O Fortuna, you can actually picture him dressed in armor riding on a backhoe just as if it was a War Horse, heading off into battle!

There were other epic characters at the plant that would inspire similar songs. Toby O’Brien, as a Power Plant Engineer, though, not “epic” in the Power Plant Man sort of way, still inspired music when in his presence. I think it was his calm demeanor even when faced with those who may disagree with him (to put it mildly), and it was his deliberate resolve to focus on tasks at hand that left me with this music running through my mind when in his presence:

Direct Link: Moonlight Sonata.

Power Plant Engineer and Good Friend - Toby O'Brien

Power Plant Engineer and Good Friend – Toby O’Brien

The music fits, doesn’t it?

Scott Hubbard, my partner in crime (not literally…. it felt like a crime sometimes having so much fun and getting paid for it at the same time), was always such a hard worker. Like most industrious Power Plant Men, Scott was always running around (not literally again…) with a smile on his face working away on one project or other. That’s probably why this song was always going through my head when we were working together. It always seemed like everything was going like clockwork:

Direct link: Miss Marple Theme Song.

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

When I would go to the tool room to get parts, if Bud Schoonover was working there, I could usually hear his song even before I arrived. I don’t know if it was some kind of psychic ability I had, or it was because I would observe the faces of others as they were leaving the tool room, that would queue me in that Bud was on Tool Room duty. Either way, when this song would start up in my head, I knew that Bud Schoonover was near:

Direct Link: Baby Elephant Walk.

It wasn’t because Bud reminded me of an elephant that this song would come to mind. I think it had more to do with Bud’s carefree attitude about things. This song just seemed to come to mind while I would wait at the tool room gate while Bud would search for the parts I had requested. I don’t have a picture of Bud. He was big like Paul Bunyan, but he had the expression of Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son, as I have often mentioned. It was the squint and the jutting jaw when he spoke…

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

Johnny Keys was another True Power Plant Man that had his own theme song. This one came to mind just about the first time I met Johnny. I could tell right away where he would rather be. This song actually came up with a lot of different Power Plant Men, including Ben Davis and Don Burnett. Don and Johnny were working together as machinists when I first met them the summer of 1979. Ben Davis was good friends with both Don and Johnny, so this song would come to mind whenever I encountered any of these three Power Plant Men:

Direct link: Daniel Boone.

Johnny Keys

Johnny Keys

There are some Power Plant Men that sort of reminded me of a bear. Ronnie Banks was that way, and so was Dave McClure. Ronnie reminded me of a bear because he walked like one. Dave reminded me of a bear because he was a big scruffy Power Plant Man. He was gentle like Gentle Ben in the TV show Gentle Ben. I didn’t hear the theme song for Gentle Ben when I worked around these two. Instead I heard this song because this song captured their personality much better:

Direct Link: Bare Necessities.

Dave McClure

Dave McClure

Ron Kilman, the Plant manager (yeah. I have a song for him too). But I wanted to say that Ron Kilman had his own clerk (secretary) that sort of acted like a receptionist when you entered his office. Her name is Jean Kohler. She was the same age as my mother. Unlike hearing Beethoven’s 5th Symphony as I do with my mom, when I would have the opportunity to talk with Jean Kohler, she was such a lady that the following song would immediately come to my mind:

Direct Link: Lady.

I don’t have a picture of Jean Kohler, so you will just have to picture a very nice prim and proper lady with a perfectly sweet smile.

Ron Kilman’s theme song was The William’ Tell Overture. I guess because of the pace that he usually had to work. I listen to this song often because it helps me work. The song is longer than most people are used to hearing, so, I’ll just send you a link to the part that most people are familiar:

Direct Link: Lone Ranger.

Ron Kilman

Ron Kilman

In the Power Plant there were a few “sour apples”. In my posts I generally like to focus on the True Power Plant Men and their accomplishments. Occasionally when the topic is right, I may mention those of a less savory character…. Without saying much more than that, whenever I would encounter Jim Arnold, who was the Supervisor over the engineers, and later the head of Operations and later, the head of Maintenance, several songs would come to mind. The theme of the songs were songs like this one:

Direct Link: You’re So Vain.

I searched everywhere for a picture of Jim Arnold and this was the only one I could find:

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

What more can I say? I will leave it at that. Now you can see why someone would think that I listen to an eclectic selection of music. Because I worked with such a diverse bunch of Power Plant Men and Women!

Power Plant Lady of the Labor Crew

Originally Posted on October 19, 2012:

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

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

Power Plant Sunflower Seeds

Power Plant Sunflower Seeds

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

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

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

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

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

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

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

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

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

Backhoe

Here is a picture of a Backhoe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We finally bought a Honey Wagon like this

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

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

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

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

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

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

The little Darth Vader from the Volkwagen commercial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments from the original post:

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

    Helluva skill.

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

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

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

Toby Teaches Power Plant Time Management

Sometime in December, 2000 Dell flew a group of Oklahoma State University students to Austin along with students from all over the country to interview for jobs.  During one interview I had with a manager named Lisa Larson, she asked me how I would handle situations where I am asked to do too many things at the same time.  I replied that I don’t ever worry about that.  I have found that by managing my time properly, I never find myself in a situation where I don’t have enough time or I feel overwhelmed.

Of course, I could see the look of disbelief, since she worked for Dell, and had experienced an overload of work beyond what normal humans can endure.  I knew that the answer she was waiting to hear was that I would prioritize my tasks and do the more important ones or those tasks that had to be completed right away first.  Instead I choose to tell her about Toby O’Brien, a Power Plant Engineer.

Power Plant Engineer and Good Friend - Toby O'Brien

Power Plant Engineer and Good Friend – Toby O’Brien

You can see the confidence Toby demonstrates in the picture above.  He is so confident he doesn’t even use a Pocket Protector.  None of his pens ever leak.

I didn’t use Toby’s name during the interview.  Instead I opened up the large briefcase I was carrying with me and took out my Time Management Planner:

My Day Runner Time Management Planner

My Day Runner Time Management Planner

In August 1998 Toby mentioned to me that the staff at the plant had taken a course in how to manage their time.  The core object in the course was using a rather sophisticated planner.  You see, there aren’t just regular calendars in a planner, there are note pages you can use during meetings, weekly pages, and daily pages.  A place to keep your contacts.  Even a section to keep business cards.  I think my favorite section was a place to just write down ideas.  The header at the top of the page was “Ideas”.

I had just started a new semester at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma and I was ramping up the number of courses I was taking simulateously, while at the same time working full time.  I had told Toby that I was determined not reduce the time I spent with my children in the evenings, so I had to figure out how to complete all my course work on time, and not let it interfere with the rest of my day.

Toby explained that the first thing you do in the morning is that you write down in the daily planner section everything that you will be doing that day, and what time you will be doing it.  Then as much as possible, you stick to that plan.  When you are doing one task, you don’t have to worry about all the other things you have to accomplish during the day, because you know when you will be working on them, so it allows you to focus on your task at hand.

He even was going so far as not taking phone calls or would ask to call them back when he was available when he was working on a task and then would schedule some time to call the person back.

Toby spent a good hour or so showing me how he used his daily planner.  The company was even paying for the additional sheets they used in the planners.  So, that evening I went to Office Depot and purchased my Day Runner planner with extra sections that I thought would be helpful.

At the time, I was driving back and forth between Stillwater and the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, usually twice each day, as I would leave at certain times to take a class, then drive back to work afterward, using an hour and a half of vacation as well as the half hour for lunch as I would eat on the way.

So, what would a typical Power Plant Planner look like for any particular day for someone working in the Maintenance Department?  Well, if the Power Plant Man was really proactive, and wrote everything down, then it may look something like this….

  1. Turn off the Alarm… scratch behind…. scratch bald spot on head… kiss wife on cheek…. climb out of bed….
  2. Gather clean clothes from dresser, and any supplement clothes needed from the hamper…. take shower…. brush teeth… shave.
  3. Eat a hearty breakfast – for tonight we dine in hell!… (oh… sorry… that’s not Power Plant Men.. That’s Spartans… close, but different).
  4. Make some sandwiches for lunch or use leftovers from last night’s dinner and put them in the lunch box.

    Power Plant Lunch Box

    Power Plant Lunch Box

  5.  Just before exiting the house, put on the steel-toed boots airing out just inside the garage.

    Steel Toed Boots

    Steel Toed Boots

  6. Drive the car to the carpooling location…. Pile into one car with everyone else…. Drive to plant while discussing the latest hunting and fishing adventures.
  7. After arriving at the plant 15 minutes early, sit around and drink a cup of coffee with the rest of the crew while waiting for the morning meeting to begin… Pass along any words of wisdom that suddenly popped up in the shower that morning to the rest of the crew…. Listen to some of their dumb ideas and act as if they are taken seriously while still trying to work out the terrific ideas of your own.  Chuckle at the minor “your fly is open” type jokes being played on each other.
  8. Attend the morning team meeting and receive the jobs that need to be completed that day.  Listen to the latest Power Plant Jokes played the previous day and share some that were entered in the planner that might be useful today.
  9. Leave the meeting with your bucket buddy and begin work.

    My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

    My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien (not related to Toby O’Brien)

  10. Gather tools needed for job… Get any supplies needed from the tool room.  Talk to the tool room attendant.

    Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

    Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

  11. Go to the Control Room to obtain any clearances needed to perform tasks… talk to the control room operators about their day… Play a joke on Gene Day.

    Gene Day is the one standing on the right with the Orange shirt.

    Gene Day is the one standing on the right with the Orange shirt.

  12. Take the first break while waiting for the clearances to be put on the breakers in the switchgear.
  13. Play dominoes… Trump… or Uno during break as a team building activity. Accuse others of cheating.

    Dominoes

    Dominoes

  14. Check Breaker after break and sign clearance form…. Ask the operator how his day is going…. then perform the job safely…. dispose of any trash generated during the job.  Bandage any cuts and rub any bruises that may have been created during the job.
  15. Return clearance…. talk to the control room operators some more.  Give Gene Day suspicious glances.
  16. Strut through maintenance shop with confidence while going to the office to ask which job to do next since the first job was completed flawlessly and sooner than expected.
  17. Continue steps 10, 11 and 12 until it is time for lunch.
  18. Go to the regular lunch spot and talk to friends and learn the latest gossip and play more Dominoes, Trump or Uno (or backgammon).

    Uno Card Game

    Uno Card Game

  19. Repeat the same activities during the afternoon with the exception that a closer watch is kept on the nearest watch or clock.
  20. Take afternoon break at the same table as morning break playing the same game as before with the same people as before…

    Power Plant Playing Cards

    Power Plant Playing Cards

  21. Return to work magically fixing equipment paying even more attention to the time.
  22. Migrate to the Foreman’s office 30 minutes before “Quittin’ Time” to fill out time card.  Call each other any new names that were thought up during the day (what I would call, “Terms of Endearment”).  Play small minor jokes on teammates while completing the time card.
  23. Wait until the exact time before leaving the shop and returning to the car in the parking lot.
  24. Ride back to town with the rest of the dirty smelly Power Plant Carpoolers…. talk about any frustrating encounters from the day’s work…. Discuss any news from Corporate Headquarters designed to confuse Power Plant Men…. Fall asleep… snore….dream about the day…. wake up just as the car arrives at the carpooling spot.
  25. Climb into your own car and go home.
  26. Leave dirty smelly boots in the garage…. take off dirty shirt and pants and put them directly in the washing machine…

    Yeah. Just like this

    Yeah. these

  27. Take a shower….kiss wife… hug kids….(kick annoying cat when no one’s looking)… tell the wife about the day…. listen to wife talk about her day….eat supper.

That just about does it.  I found it a little difficult to put all that in the daily planner, especially since it was the same every day, except for when we had emergencies, and I couldn’t plan for those, unless they were part of a planned Power Plant Joke made to look like an emergency.

Anyway, back to Toby…If it hadn’t been for Toby teaching me Time Management, I would have had a much tougher time going to school while working at the same time.  I was able to keep my three worlds apart without them interfering with each other (except for all the driving back and forth).

I almost never did my school work while I was at work, and I didn’t do them at home either unless I had to write a paper on the computer.  So, I spent my evenings with my family… then I woke up at 4:00 each morning and went to the University and found a quiet place to do my homework before going to class and driving out to work.

After 4 years I graduated with a 4.0 grade point in the Business College with an MIS degree (Management Information Systems).  That was when I was hired by Dell.  I will go into the details about that in another post.

For now I just want to thank Toby for introducing me to the idea that managing you time properly can make a world of a difference.  If you noticed in the picture of the planner above, I haven’t used it since 2002.  That’s because new technologies came around that changed the way we manage our time.

Today at work I use Outlook to capture all my scheduled activities.  Microsoft Project can be used to assign tasks with a duration that tells you how long the task should take.  Another Microsoft tool OneNote is a big help for just taking notes and organizing your work.

So, even though I no longer have to buy pages for the Day Runner Planner each year, I still have the concept in my mind that while I am working on one task, I shouldn’t need to worry about another one because I have scheduled time during my day to work on those.  So I can concentrate on the task at hand.  By doing that, you never had the feeling of being overwhelmed.

Lisa Larson, who was interviewing me from Dell didn’t look too convinced when I showed her my Day Runner Planner, but I was offered the job anyway.  I don’t think it was because I had good time management skills… I think it had more to do with the fact that I had worked so many years with “True Power Plant Men and Women” that it was hopeful that some of their genuine concern for others and their attitude of dedication had rubbed off on me.