Tag Archives: Disney

What Does it Take to Motivate a Power Plant Man?

My friends will tell you that I tend to not take things too seriously.  It seems that the more serious the situation, the more I joke around about it.  I know that this drives some people up the wall sometimes.  Bill Bennett, our A Foreman, used to call me “rascal” and maybe that was because I was one.  That was the way life seemed to be for the majority of the people at the Power Plant.  One of the funniest days in my life happened when Corporate Headquarters learned a thing or two about not taking things too seriously.

Eight (or was it 9?) Power Plant Men had been assigned to work in Corporate Headquarters for a ten week period.  I wrote about the reason for this in the post: “Do Power Plant Men and Corporate Headquarters Mix?”  I also wrote a post about how the Power Plant Men played one joke after the other on Kent Norris the entire time.  See the post:  “Corporate Executive Kent Norris Meets Power Plant Men“.  We know that the entire floor of corporate headquarters was kept in a slightly disturbed state as they were constantly hearing the “hee-hawing” coming from our over-sized cube where they had put us in a corner of the building hoping to isolate the ruckus we were making constantly.

We didn’t make enemies of our victi… uh.. I mean “our friends” when we played jokes.  We tried to do them in such a way that they would appreciate the thought and ingenuity that went into each joke we played on them.  On the other hand, passerby’s and those that worked within earshot had to endure the constant uproar of laughter.  They were missing out on all the fun, and we were just being a bother.

I think that’s why we received the initial reaction we did when we arrived at an SAP banquet during the last week we were going to be at Corporate Headquarters.  The banquet was being held in a banquet room in a hotel on the west side of Oklahoma City.  We had all carpooled in a couple of cars and arrived at the same time.

When we walked into the banquet room, we could see right away that we didn’t fit in.  No one had told us that we were supposed to wear a suit…. well, it wouldn’t have mattered if they had, we still would have arrived in our blue jeans and tee shirts.  At least our clothes were clean.  I didn’t have one coal dust stain on my entire shirt.

Yeah. Just like this

Yeah. Just like this

We were told where we were supposed to sit.  The Power Plant Men were directed to a large circular table in the back middle of the room.  We figured they didn’t want us close to podium in case someone was going to be taking pictures of the speakers.  This was an appreciation lunch for the SAP project teams.  We were only a small group compared to the rest of the room.

During the lunch, recognition was given to the different SAP teams.  We were mentioned for having completed our tasks two weeks early and had been given additional work and had completed that as well.  All together, we had rewritten over 140,000 warehouse part descriptions so they would fit in SAP and would be easily “searchable”.  We stood up and bowed and everyone applauded.

SAP Logo

SAP Logo

I think up to that point, the rest of the room had thought that the people sitting at our table was going to be providing the entertainment and that we were all “in costume”.  Once they realized that we were Power Plant Men, their gaze turned from “anticipation” to “curiosity”.  When a bunch of Power Plant Men are all sitting at one table and there is food involved, we can become quite a spectacle.

After the lunch was over and recognition and awards were given, an interesting man stood up and started to speak.  He seemed like a rather goofy person and while he spoke he kept playing with a paper cup.  Popping it up in the air and catching it… or accidentally not catching it and having to go pick it up.  I thought he was becoming rather annoying as he kept distracting us from his boring words of wisdom because he kept playing with this stupid paper cup.

After a minute, he mentioned that there are lots of things you can do with a paper cup to entertain yourself.  You can pop it up in the air and try to catch it.  You can turn it over on a desk and beat it like a drum.  You can put in over your mouth and suck in to create a suction and walk around with the cup stuck to your face in order to impress your coworkers.  You can talk into it and sound like Darth Vader.  You can tie a string between two paper cups to make a telephone.

Ok.  That was a little more interesting than the speech he had been making.  I began formulating in my mind how I might play a trick on Gene Day using a paper cup telephone when I returned back at the plant.

Phone made from paper cups

Phone made from paper cups

I borrowed this picture from a fellow WordPress blogger:  “The B.S. Report

This person’s name turned out to be Stephen Kissell and he is a “motivational speaker”.  I had heard about Motivational Speakers by watching Chris Farley on Saturday Night Live as the Motivator who lived in a van down by the river.  See the following short YouTube loop for my conception of a Motivational Speaker:

for those who can’t view the video from the video above can click here:  “Matt Foley Down by the River

Anyway, Steve Kissell was dressed about the same way as Chris Farley in that skit.  It was definitely mismatched clothing.  I wondered if he lived in a van down by the river as well.

Then Stephen said that he needed some people from the audience to come up and help him with something.  He had the names of some people he would like to help him.  Obviously, someone had given these names to him in order to make the next “skit” he was going to perform turn out best.  He called up three people, a couple of well dressed and prim and proper ladies and a man.  They looked like they were the upper class stuck up types which, as it turned out was essential for this to play out properly.

Then Steve explained that in projects, in order to complete large task, you just have each person do smaller tasks, and when you put them all together, you can actually perform something great.  So he asked each one to do one little task when he tapped on his paper cup.

I don’t remember the exact tasks, but they were simple like shrug your left shoulder, and then your right, or squat down and then stand back up.  Little things like that.

Then after he had instructed each person what they should do, he tapped out a tune on the paper cup and they each performed their simple tasks over and over until he stopped.

After trying that a few times, he added other little tasks to each person one at a time.  The result was that after a while he had each of them performing a real goofy dance that made them all look silly dressed up in their finest clothes dancing around like kids.

There was something so funny about the way Stephen Kissell had set this up that everyone was laughing their hearts out.  The laughter was so thunderous that it sounded like one loud roar.  I thought I was going to lose my lunch.   I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe.

This guy who had stood up and begun by annoying his audience (which was my philosophy as well… See the post:  “Power Plant Art of Making a Bad First Impression“) had turned them into driveling piles of laughter after 10 minutes.  Up to that point, I hadn’t laughed that hard since I had seen the movie “Gus” when I was a boy.

The movie Gus

The movie Gus

Ok.  Here is a side story about the movie “Gus”.

In 1976, when I was 15 years old, my brother (who was 11) and I went to the movies to see a Disney movie called “Gus” about a donkey who can kick a football through the goal post and ends up on a football team.  It starred Don Knotts and Tim Conway, two comedians who were masters of slap stick comedy.  This was still back when the movie theaters were large and there was only one theater in the building.  — Yeah.  They would only show one movie at a time.  Amazing.  Huh?

Anyway, there is a scene in a grocery store where they are chasing the donkey down the aisles trying to catch him.  The comedy had built up so much that by that point the entire audience of children were laughing so hard that the sound was deafening.  You literally could not hear anything but a loud constant roar.  I remember that I could hardly breathe I was laughing so hard.

I suppose it is a little like the Kennedy/Nixon debate…  When you heard it on the radio, Nixon won the debate, but when you saw it on Television, Kennedy won the debate…  I say that because fast forwarding 10 years, in 1986, I had the opportunity to watch Gus on TV.  I couldn’t wait to relive the hilarious moment in the Grocery store.

When the moment finally arrived, it came and went and I didn’t really see much humor in it at all.  It was just Don Knotts and Tim Conway fumbling around acting goofy.  I couldn’t understand what had been so funny in the movie theater when the entire theater had erupted with such intense laughter.  I guess you just had to be there in the movie theater at the time.  Whatever it was didn’t translate to the TV.

I talked to my brother about it a few years later when he brought up the same topic.  He said he had rented the movie Gus and had insisted that his four children sit and watch it all together as they ate popcorn.  They all sat around and watched the movie and my brother Greg said, “it wasn’t funny at all.”  He couldn’t figure it out.

End of Side Story

I heard that same statement a few years later when I had said something at Dell and my manager thought it was so funny that she went and repeated it to our director.  When she did, she said it didn’t sound funny at all when she said it.  The truth is, it’s not always what you are saying… it’s how you say it.  The inflection in your voice and the expression on your face.  Pausing at just the right time.

When we had all been sufficiently slain in the spirit of Stephen’s humor, and the banquet was over, we were all given a copy of Stephen’s book “Surviving Life With Laughter”.

Surviving Life With Laughter by Steve Kissell

Surviving Life With Laughter by Steve Kissell

We were also given a copy of a second Steve Kissell book:

Never Take Comedy From a Stranger

Never Take Comedy From a Stranger

In Steve Kissell’s books, he tells stories and jokes that you can use or modify to fit the type of job you may be in at the moment.  This was something that Power Plant Men already knew how to do well, but always appreciated a good joke.

I found that Stephen Kissell is still out there after 19 years spreading good humor to the corporate world and the rest of humanity.  If you’re in the need of a motivational speaker.  You may consider looking up Stephen.  Or…. you may find him living in a van down by the river!

Stephen Kissell -- Learn more about him at http://kisselltalks.com

Stephen Kissell — Learn more about him at http://kisselltalks.com

As my readers know, I have written a number of posts about Power Plant Humor, See the post:  “Power Plant Humor and Joking with Gene Day“.  Humor is the best motivator I have found to keep people on track and not get too carried away with details.  I have learned this by working with the Power Plant Men over the years.

The most solid advise I remember from the “Pre-Cana” sessions (a program you have to go through in order to be married in the Catholic Church) we had with the priest when my wife and I were preparing to be married was “Always keep your sense of humor”.  So, when the situation looks hopeless, and there doesn’t appear to be a viable solution available, that is the time to take a step back in your mind and look for the humor in the situation.

It has always been important that true Power Plant Men not play jokes on another person in a way that would end up hurting them.  Whenever that would inadvertently happen, then a sincere apology would definitely have to follow and some sort of retribution.  Usually, sharing your Squirrel Stew with them during lunch was an appropriate form of retribution for any joke gone awry.

Even though we played one joke after the other on Kent Norris, after 12 weeks of torment, he still remained friends with the Power Plant Men.  I heard from him a week after we left when Kent sent a letter to me through intra-company mail.  He returned my name tag to me….  I have kept this letter with the name tag since that day in 1996 as a reminder of the days we spent torturing Kent with humor:

Note I received from Kent after I returned home to our power plant

Note I received from Kent after I returned home to our power plant

 

 

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“I Think I Can, I Think I Can” and Other Power Plant Chants

Originally Posted on August 3, 2012 (I added a picture of Walt Oswalt):

The second summer as Summer Help at the Coal-fired Power Plant, was when I first worked out of the Automotive garage.  It wasn’t finished during the first summer.  The second summer when I began working in the garage, Jim Heflin, Larry Riley, Doug House  and Ken Conrad were the regular workers that mowed the fields using tractors with brush hogs, as I have explained in previous posts.  A summer help that also worked with us from Ponca City named David Foster was also able to mow grass using one of the new Ford tractors that we painted Orange to easily identify them as belonging to the Electric Company in Oklahoma.

I learned to drive the tractors later in the summer when I worked irrigating the fields in our attempt to grow grass (as told in the post “When a Power Plant Man Talks, It Pays To Listen“).  The next summer I was able to mow grass using a Brush Hog pulled behind a tractor:

brushhog

Almost Like this without the safety guards and just about as new

It didn’t take long before I had to mow grass on the side of the dam (and other levies).  The side of the dam has a very sharp incline, so while mowing grass on the side of the dam you sat more on the side of the tractor seat than on the seat itself.  Heavy weights were put on the front of the tractor and the back tires on the tractor were turned around so that they were farther apart than they would be otherwise.  This gave the tractor a lower, wider profile and a lower center of gravity helping to keep it from rolling over sideways down the slope.

Tractor Weights that fit on the front of the tractor

I had watched Jim, Larry, Ken and David mow grass along some very steep inclines the summer before without any tractors tumbling over, so I felt like it must be safe, even though looking at the tractors they still seemed a little “top heavy”.

The dam had a slope this steep but  much was taller

It was quite an eerie feeling the first time I actually mowed a slope this steep.  I experienced the same feeling as you have on a roller coaster when it hits the top of the hill and flings you down real fast when the tractor tire on the downhill side of the tractor rolls into a washed out spot on the dam causing the tractor to roll over just a little farther than you are used to.  It was definitely an adrenaline rush each time this happened, because it felt like the tractor was going to roll over.

That is when I remembered the story about the little engine that was trying to pull the train over the steep mountain, and he kept chanting, “I think I can, I think I can” over and over.  So, between each decade of the Rosary that I was saying while counting Hail Mary’s on my fingers, I added in an “I Think I can…” as an added prayer before the next “Our Father”.

The Little Power Plant Coal Train that Could

The Little Power Plant Coal Train that Could

In the time that I worked as a summer help we never turned over a tractor while mowing on a slope.  That isn’t to say that the tractors didn’t start to tip over.  It’s just that if you realize that the large back tractor tire has left the ground and is spinning freely, you could quickly turn the steering wheel downhill so that the tractor would turn downhill preventing it from rolling completely over.  The weight of the brush hog on the back helped to keep the tractor snug against the sloping dam.

Years later, after I left the Power Plant, in 2006, my father’s best friend, Tom Houghton, a Veterinarian in Lakeland, Florida was killed in a tractor accident at his family’s farm in Polo, Missouri.  This greatly effected my father.  He has not recovered from the loss of his friend still today.  As I was mowing grass and picturing my sudden demise if a tractor were to roll down the hill, my main concern was the sorrow my family would have felt by my death.  Needless to say… I never toppled a tractor.

It was during that same summer in 1981 that I first worked with the Power Plant Icon Walt Oswalt.  Every plant must have at least one person like Walt.  He is the type of person that once he has something in his mind about how to do something, nothing is going to change it.  I know many different stories about Walt Oswalt that have been shared with me, but this is one of my own.  Walt is a sandy-haired Irish-looking man that always reminded me of the little old man, Jackie Wright, on the Benny Hill Show.

Walt reminded me of Jackie Wright only with more hair

I now have an actual picture of Walt that I found laying around….

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt — See the resemblence?  not much more hair

One Saturday while I had caught a ride to the Power Plant to do “coal cleanup” the crew was asked who would like to wash down belts 10 and 11.  These are the 1/2 mile long belts that go from the coalyard all the way up to the plant.  You can see them on the left side of the picture of the plant on the side of this post.  Finding the opportunity for a challenge, I volunteered.

I made my way up to the top of the Transfer tower where I found Walt Oswalt.  He was working out of the coalyard at the time and was helping us wash down 10 and 11 belt.  Wearing rainsuits and rubber boots we began at the top and worked our way down.  It didn’t look like this belt had been washed down for a while.  We could blast the tin enclosure with the high pressure hoses we were using to completely wash off all the coal dust that had built up over time.  This looked like it was going to be a fun job.

Then Walt pointed out to me that most of our work was under the belt where the coal had built up almost solid up to the belt itself so that the coal was rubbing on the rubber Uniroyal conveyor belt.  Remember, if the conveyor belt goes up, it has to go back down also.  So underneath the conveyor is where the belt returns.  it is a big loop.

Directly underneath this conveyor is the return for the belt

So, Walt Oswalt and I spent the rest of the day laying on the grating so we could see under the belts washing the coal down the slope of belt 10 and 11.  Under the conveyor is another set of rollers that the rubber conveyor belt rides on it’s return trip to the Crusher Tower.  During this time there were two chants that came to my mind…. One was, “Whistle While you Work”, since we seemed to be in some kind of coal mine working away like the Seven Dwarfs (you know…  Walt Disney… Walt Oswalt).  The other one was the song, “Workin’ In a Coal Mine” (…goin’ down down).

Disney’s Seven Dwarfs Mining

At one particular spot the coal had built up and packed itself in there so much that one of the rollers wasn’t able to turn and the belt was just rubbing on the roller.  After we had washed the coal away we could see that the roller was not able to turn still because the belt had worn it flat on one side.

Walt called the Control Room to shutdown the belt so that we could look at it.  We could see that the roller was bad.  For some reason the other belt (11) was out of commission so without this belt running, no coal was being sent up to the plant.  The coal silos and the surge bin hold enough coal for a while but not for too long during the summer when the units need to run at their maximum rate to supply the electricity needed by the customers.  We could have the belt shutdown for a while, but not for too long.

I followed Walt down the belt to the Crusher Tower wondering what he had in mind.  He didn’t tell me what we were going to do, so I just gathered my clues by watching what he did.  When we came out of the belt and left the Crusher I was surprised that it was already dark outside.  When I had left the Maintenance Shop it had been morning.  Now it was dark.  We had spent the entire day (12 hours at this point) in Belt 10 and 11.  I didn’t remember ever taking a break or eating lunch or even going to the bathroom.  Just holding the high pressure water hose, directing the stream down under the belt… all day.

We walked over to a new building that was still being built called the Coalyard Maintenance Building.  This was the new building that was going to be used by the new Labor Crew in a few months. Outside the building to one side was a Conex Box, as I have described before.  This is the kind of large box that you see on the CSX train commercials that are being transported by trains.

A Conex Box

We used them to store equipment used for specific jobs or crews.  In this case, the Conex box had conveyor equipment in it.  Walt found a long straight roller that is used under the Number 10 and 11 belts and tied it to a 2 wheel dolly.  We rolled it back to the Crusher Tower and began the long trek back up the belt.  I was pulling the dolly and Walt was carrying some large wrenches.

When we arrived at the spot where the roller had been worn, Walt called the control room to let them know we were beginning to work.  We pulled the safety cords on the side of the conveyor to ensure that the belt would not start, even though we were assured that a Clearance had been placed on the breaker in the Main Switchgear (where I began my first war with the spiders a year later.  See the post “Power Plant Spider Wars and Bugs in the Basement“).

Walt climbed over the belt and I stayed on the main walkway.   We worked upside down for a while unbolting the roller.  At one point we decided we needed some more suitable tools and headed back down the belt to the Coalyard Garage where the heavy equipment is serviced and brought back some large ratchet wrenches and sockets with an extension.

Socket Wrench with extension

I think the chant, “I think I can, I think I can” was running through my head on our second trip back up the conveyor belt.  I think it was around 10pm.  We finished changing the roller and decided to leave the old one laying in the walkway for the night.  Walt said he would bring it back to the coalyard on Monday morning.

We made our way back to the Maintenance shop where I took off the rain suit and rubber boots that I had been wearing all day and put my regular boots back on.  I went up to the control room and asked if anyone could give me a ride to Stillwater since the evening shift of operators were just getting off at 11pm. I believe it was Charles Buchanan that gave me a ride home that night in his little beat up pickup truck.

I never worked directly with Charles Buchanan since he was an operator.  The first impression that one may have is that he looks like a caricature of a construction worker in a comic strip.

First Impression of Charles Buchanan

Charles reaffirmed my belief that Power Plant Men are some of the nicest people you will ever meet.  There were a few times when I caught a ride with Charles to or from the plant.  Each time I felt honored to ride in his truck.  If I think about what chant was running through my mind as we were on our way home at night, I think it would be something like the song “You’ve Got a Friend”: “Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call, Lord, I’ll be there, yeah, yeah, you’ve got a friend….”

That is what all real Power Plant men and linemen are like.  Wherever you look in the United States, these great men and women work tirelessly to keep you safe by providing electricity to your homes.  Something we take for granted until the power goes out.

Recently when the power went out in the east, the linemen from this electric company drove with pride, eager to help those in need:

A convoy of Electric Company Trucks on their way from Oklahoma to Indiana to help return power to millions of Americans in the dark

Below I have included the lyrics for the song “You’ve Got a Friend” by Carole King and her husband James Taylor.  See how well it fits those people that work around the clock bringing the power to your home:

You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call and I’ll be there, yeah, yeah,
you’ve got a friend.

If the sky above you should turn dark and full of clouds
and that old north wind should begin to blow,
keep your head together and call my name out loud.
Soon I will be knocking upon your door.
You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call and I’ll be there.

Hey, ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend? People can be so cold.
They’ll hurt you and desert you. Well, they’ll take your soul if you let them,
oh yeah, but don’t you let them.

You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call, Lord, I’ll be there, yeah, yeah,
you’ve got a friend. You’ve got a friend.
Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend. Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend.
Oh, yeah, yeah, you’ve got a friend.

Here is a YouTube video of James Taylor singing this song:

If your aren’t able to play youtube videos directly from the picture… here is the link:  “You’ve got a Friend

What Does it Take to Motivate a Power Plant Man?

My friends will tell you that I tend to not take things too seriously.  It seems that the more serious the situation, the more I joke around about it.  I know that this drives some people up the wall sometimes.  Bill Bennett, our A Foreman, used to call me “rascal” and maybe that was because I was one.  That was the way life seemed to be for the majority of the people at the Power Plant.  One of the funniest days in my life happened when Corporate Headquarters learned a thing or two about not taking things too seriously.

Eight Power Plant Men had been assigned to work in Corporate Headquarters for a ten week period.  I wrote about the reason for this in the post: “Do Power Plant Men and Corporate Headquarters Mix?”  I also wrote a post about how the Power Plant Men played one joke after the other on Kent Norris the entire time.  See the post:  “Corporate Executive Kent Norris Meets Power Plant Men“.  We know that the entire floor of corporate headquarters was kept in a slightly disturbed state as they were constantly hearing the “hee-hawing” coming from our over-sized cube where they had put us in a corner of the building hoping to isolate the ruckus we were making constantly.

We didn’t make enemies of our victi… uh.. I mean “our friends” when we played jokes.  We tried to do them in such a way that they would appreciate the thought and ingenuity that went into each joke we played on them.  On the other hand, passerby’s and those that worked within earshot had to endure the constant uproar of laughter.  They were missing out on all the fun, and we were just being a bother.

I think that’s why we received the initial reaction we did when we arrived at an SAP banquet during the last week we were going to be at Corporate Headquarters.  The banquet was being held in a banquet room in a hotel on the west side of Oklahoma City.  We had all carpooled in a couple of cars and arrived at the same time.

When we walked into the banquet room, we could see right away that we didn’t fit in.  No one had told us that we were supposed to wear a suit…. well, it wouldn’t have mattered if they had, we still would have arrived in our blue jeans and tee shirts.  At least our clothes were clean.  I didn’t have one coal dust stain on my entire shirt.

Yeah.  Just like this

Yeah. Just like this

We were told where we were supposed to sit.  The Power Plant Men were directed to a large circular table in the back middle of the room.  We figured they didn’t want us close to podium in case someone was going to be taking pictures of the speakers.  This was an appreciation lunch for the SAP project teams.  We were only a small group compared to the rest of the room.

During the lunch, recognition was given to the different SAP teams.  We were mentioned for having completed our tasks two weeks early and had been given additional work and had completed that as well.  All together, we had rewritten over 140,000 warehouse part descriptions so they would fit in SAP and would be easily “searchable”.  We stood up and bowed and everyone applauded.

SAP Logo

SAP Logo

I think up to that point, the rest of the room had thought that the people sitting at our table was going to be providing the entertainment and that we were all “in costume”.  Once they realized that we were Power Plant Men, their gaze turned from “anticipation” to “curiosity”.  When a bunch of Power Plant Men are all sitting at one table and there is food involved, we can become quite a spectacle.

After the lunch was over and recognition and awards were given, an interesting man stood up and started to speak.  He seemed like a rather goofy person and while he spoke he kept playing with a paper cup.  Popping it up in the air and catching it… or accidentally not catching it and having to go pick it up.  I thought he was becoming rather annoying as he kept distracting us from his boring words of wisdom because he kept playing with this stupid paper cup.

After a minute, he mentioned that there are lots of things you can do with a paper cup to entertain yourself.  You can pop it up in the air and try to catch it.  You can turn it over on a desk and beat it like a drum.  You can put in over your mouth and suck in to create a suction and walk around with the cup stuck to your face in order to impress your coworkers.  You can talk into it and sound like Darth Vader.  You can tie a string between two paper cups to make a telephone.

Ok.  That was a little more interesting than the speech he had been making.  I began formulating in my mind how I might play a trick on Gene Day using a paper cup telephone when I returned back at the plant.

Phone made from paper cups

Phone made from paper cups

I borrowed this picture from a fellow WordPress blogger:  “The B.S. Report

This person’s name turned out to be Stephen Kissell and he is a “motivational speaker”.  I had heard about Motivational Speakers by watching Chris Farley on Saturday Night Live as the Motivator who lived in a van down by the river.  See the following short YouTube loop for my conception of a Motivational Speaker:

for those who can’t view the video from the video above can click here:  “Matt Foley Down by the River

Anyway, Steve Kissell was dressed about the same way as Chris Farley in that skit.  It was definitely mismatched clothing.  I wondered if he lived in a van down by the river as well.

Then Stephen said that he needed some people from the audience to come up and help him with something.  He had the names of some people he would like to help him.  Obviously, someone had given these names to him in order to make the next “skit” he was going to perform turn out best.  He called up three people, a couple of well dressed and prim and proper ladies and a man.  They looked like they were the upper class stuck up types which, as it turned out was essential for this to play out properly.

Then Steve explained that in projects, in order to complete large task, you just have each person do smaller tasks, and when you put them all together, you can actually perform something great.  So he asked each one to do one little task when he tapped on his paper cup.

I don’t remember the exact tasks, but they were simple like shrug your left shoulder, and then your right, or squat down and then stand back up.  Little things like that.

Then after he had instructed each person what they should do, he tapped out a tune on the paper cup and they each performed their simple tasks over and over until he stopped.

After trying that a few times, he added other little tasks to each person one at a time.  The result was that after a while he had each of them performing a real goofy dance that made them all look silly dressed up in their finest clothes dancing around like kids.

There was something so funny about the way Stephen Kissell had set this up that everyone was laughing their hearts out.  The laughter was so thunderous that it sounded like one loud roar.  I thought I was going to lose my lunch.   I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe.

This guy who had stood up and begun by annoying his audience (which was my philosophy as well… See the post:  “Power Plant Art of Making a Bad First Impression“) had turned them into driveling piles of laughter after 10 minutes.  Up to that point, I hadn’t laughed that hard since I had seen the movie “Gus” when I was a boy.

The movie Gus

The movie Gus

Ok.  Here is a side story about the movie “Gus”.

In 1976, when I was 15 years old, my brother (who was 11) and I went to the movies to see a Disney movie called “Gus” about a donkey who can kick a football through the goal post and ends up on a football team.  It starred Don Knotts and Tim Conway, two comedians who were masters of slap stick comedy.  This was still back when the movie theaters were large and there was only one theater in the building.  — Yeah.  They would only show one movie at a time.  Amazing.  Huh?

Anyway, there is a scene in a grocery store where they are chasing the donkey down the aisles trying to catch him.  The comedy had built up so much that by that point the entire audience of children were laughing so hard that the sound was deafening.  You literally could not hear anything but a loud constant roar.  I remember that I could hardly breathe I was laughing so hard.

I suppose it is a little like the Kennedy/Nixon debate…  When you heard it on the radio, Nixon won the debate, but when you saw it on Television, Kennedy won the debate…  I say that because fast forwarding 10 years, in 1986, I had the opportunity to watch Gus on TV.  I couldn’t wait to relive the hilarious moment in the Grocery store.

When the moment finally arrived, it came and went and I didn’t really see much humor in it at all.  It was just Don Knotts and Tim Conway fumbling around acting goofy.  I couldn’t understand what had been so funny in the movie theater when the entire theater had erupted with such intense laughter.  I guess you just had to be there in the movie theater at the time.  Whatever it was didn’t translate to the TV.

I talked to my brother about it a few years later when he brought up the same topic.  He said he had rented the movie Gus and had insisted that his four children sit and watch it all together as they ate popcorn.  They all sat around and watched the movie and my brother Greg said, “it wasn’t funny at all.”  He couldn’t figure it out.

End of Side Story

I heard that same statement a few years later when I had said something at Dell and my manager thought it was so funny that she went and repeated it to our director.  When she did, she said it didn’t sound funny at all when she said it.  The truth is, it’s not always what you are saying… it’s how you say it.  The inflection in your voice and the expression on your face.  Pausing at just the right time.

When we had all been sufficiently slain in the spirit of Stephen’s humor, and the banquet was over, we were all given a copy of Stephen’s book “Surviving Life With Laughter”.

Surviving Life With Laughter by Steve Kissell

Surviving Life With Laughter by Steve Kissell

We were also given a copy of a second Steve Kissell book:

Never Take Comedy From a Stranger

Never Take Comedy From a Stranger

In Steve Kissell’s books, he tells stories and jokes that you can use or modify to fit the type of job you may be in at the moment.  This was something that Power Plant Men already knew how to do well, but always appreciated a good joke.

I found that Stephen Kissell is still out there after 19 years spreading good humor to the corporate world and the rest of humanity.  If you’re in the need of a motivational speaker.  You may consider looking up Stephen.  Or…. you may find him living in a van down by the river!

Stephen Kissell -- Learn more about him at http://kisselltalks.com

Stephen Kissell — Learn more about him at http://kisselltalks.com

As my readers know, I have written a number of posts about Power Plant Humor, See the post:  “Power Plant Humor and Joking with Gene Day“.  Humor is the best motivator I have found to keep people on track and not get too carried away with details.  I have learned this by working with the Power Plant Men over the years.

The most solid advise I remember from the “Pre-Cana” sessions (a program you have to go through in order to be married in the Catholic Church) we had with the priest when my wife and I were preparing to be married was “Always keep your sense of humor”.  So, when the situation looks hopeless, and there doesn’t appear to be a viable solution available, that is the time to take a step back in your mind and look for the humor in the situation.

It has always been important that true Power Plant Men not play jokes on another person in a way that would end up hurting them.  Whenever that would inadvertently happen, then a sincere apology would definitely have to follow and some sort of retribution.  Usually, sharing your Squirrel Stew with them during lunch was an appropriate form of retribution for any joke gone awry.

Even though we played one joke after the other on Kent Norris, after 12 weeks of torment, he still remained friends with the Power Plant Men.  I heard from him a week after we left when Kent sent a letter to me through intra-company mail.  He returned my name tag to me….  I have kept this letter with the name tag since that day in 1996 as a reminder of the days we spent torturing Kent with humor:

Note I received from Kent after I returned home to our power plant

Note I received from Kent after I returned home to our power plant

 

 

“I Think I Can, I Think I Can” and Other Power Plant Chants

Originally Posted on August 3, 2012 (I added a picture of Walt Oswalt):

The second summer as Summer Help at the Coal-fired Power Plant, was when I first worked out of the Automotive garage.  It wasn’t finished during the first summer.  The second summer when I began working in the garage, Jim Heflin, Larry Riley, Doug House  and Ken Conrad were the regular workers that mowed the fields using tractors with brush hogs, as I have explained in previous posts.  A summer help that also worked with us from Ponca City named David Foster was also able to mow grass using one of the new Ford tractors that we painted Orange to easily identify them as belonging to the Electric Company in Oklahoma.

I learned to drive the tractors later in the summer when I worked irrigating the fields in our attempt to grow grass (as told in the post “When a Power Plant Man Talks, It Pays To Listen“).  The next summer I was able to mow grass using a Brush Hog pulled behind a tractor:

brushhog

Almost Like this without the safety guards and just about as new

It didn’t take long before I had to mow grass on the side of the dam (and other levies).  The side of the dam has a very sharp incline, so while mowing grass on the side of the dam you sat more on the side of the tractor seat than on the seat itself.  Heavy weights were put on the front of the tractor and the back tires on the tractor were turned around so that they were farther apart than they would be otherwise.  This gave the tractor a lower, wider profile and a lower center of gravity helping to keep it from rolling over sideways down the slope.

Tractor Weights that fit on the front of the tractor

I had watched Jim, Larry, Ken and David mow grass along some very steep inclines the summer before without any tractors tumbling over, so I felt like it must be safe, even though looking at the tractors they still seemed a little “top heavy”.

The dam had a slope this steep but  much was taller

It was quite an eerie feeling the first time I actually mowed a slope this steep.  I experienced the same feeling as you have on a roller coaster when it hits the top of the hill and flings you down real fast when the tractor tire on the downhill side of the tractor rolls into a washed out spot on the dam causing the tractor to roll over just a little farther than you are used to.  It was definitely an adrenaline rush each time this happened, because it felt like the tractor was going to roll over.

That is when I remembered the story about the little engine that was trying to pull the train over the steep mountain, and he kept chanting, “I think I can, I think I can” over and over.  So, between each decade of the Rosary that I was saying while counting Hail Mary’s on my fingers, I added in an “I Think I can…” as an added prayer before the next “Our Father”.

The Little Power Plant Coal Train that Could

The Little Power Plant Coal Train that Could

In the time that I worked as a summer help we never turned over a tractor while mowing on a slope.  That isn’t to say that the tractors didn’t start to tip over.  It’s just that if you realize that the large back tractor tire has left the ground and is spinning freely, you could quickly turn the steering wheel downhill so that the tractor would turn downhill preventing it from rolling completely over.  The weight of the brush hog on the back helped to keep the tractor snug against the sloping dam.

Years later, after I left the Power Plant, in 2006, my father’s best friend, Tom Houghton, a Veterinarian in Lakeland, Florida was killed in a tractor accident at his family’s farm in Polo, Missouri.  This greatly effected my father.  He has not recovered from the loss of his friend still today.  As I was mowing grass and picturing my sudden demise if a tractor were to roll down the hill, my main concern was the sorrow my family would have felt by my death.  Needless to say… I never toppled a tractor.

It was during that same summer in 1981 that I first worked with the Power Plant Icon Walt Oswalt.  Every plant must have at least one person like Walt.  He is the type of person that once he has something in his mind about how to do something, nothing is going to change it.  I know many different stories about Walt Oswalt that have been shared with me, but this is one of my own.  Walt is a sandy-haired Irish-looking man that always reminded me of the little old man, Jackie Wright, on the Benny Hill Show.

Walt reminded me of Jackie Wright only with more hair

I now have an actual picture of Walt that I found laying around….

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt — See the resemblence?  not much more hair

One Saturday while I had caught a ride to the Power Plant to do “coal cleanup” the crew was asked who would like to wash down belts 10 and 11.  These are the 1/2 mile long belts that go from the coalyard all the way up to the plant.  You can see them on the left side of the picture of the plant on the side of this post.  Finding the opportunity for a challenge, I volunteered.

I made my way up to the top of the Transfer tower where I found Walt Oswalt.  He was working out of the coalyard at the time and was helping us wash down 10 and 11 belt.  Wearing rainsuits and rubber boots we began at the top and worked our way down.  It didn’t look like this belt had been washed down for a while.  We could blast the tin enclosure with the high pressure hoses we were using to completely wash off all the coal dust that had built up over time.  This looked like it was going to be a fun job.

Then Walt pointed out to me that most of our work was under the belt where the coal had built up almost solid up to the belt itself so that the coal was rubbing on the rubber Uniroyal conveyor belt.  Remember, if the conveyor belt goes up, it has to go back down also.  So underneath the conveyor is where the belt returns.  it is a big loop.

Directly underneath this conveyor is the return for the belt

So, Walt Oswalt and I spent the rest of the day laying on the grating so we could see under the belts washing the coal down the slope of belt 10 and 11.  Under the conveyor is another set of rollers that the rubber conveyor belt rides on it’s return trip to the Crusher Tower.  During this time there were two chants that came to my mind…. One was, “Whistle While you Work”, since we seemed to be in some kind of coal mine working away like the Seven Dwarfs (you know…  Walt Disney… Walt Oswalt).  The other one was the song, “Workin’ In a Coal Mine” (…goin’ down down).

Disney’s Seven Dwarfs Mining

At one particular spot the coal had built up and packed itself in there so much that one of the rollers wasn’t able to turn and the belt was just rubbing on the roller.  After we had washed the coal away we could see that the roller was not able to turn still because the belt had worn it flat on one side.

Walt called the Control Room to shutdown the belt so that we could look at it.  We could see that the roller was bad.  For some reason the other belt (11) was out of commission so without this belt running, no coal was being sent up to the plant.  The coal silos and the surge bin hold enough coal for a while but not for too long during the summer when the units need to run at their maximum rate to supply the electricity needed by the customers.  We could have the belt shutdown for a while, but not for too long.

I followed Walt down the belt to the Crusher Tower wondering what he had in mind.  He didn’t tell me what we were going to do, so I just gathered my clues by watching what he did.  When we came out of the belt and left the Crusher I was surprised that it was already dark outside.  When I had left the Maintenance Shop it had been morning.  Now it was dark.  We had spent the entire day (12 hours at this point) in Belt 10 and 11.  I didn’t remember ever taking a break or eating lunch.  Just holding the high pressure water hose, directing the stream down under the belt… all day.

We walked over to a new building that was still being built called the Coalyard Maintenance Building.  This was the new building that was going to be used by the new Labor Crew in a few months. Outside the building to one side was a Conex Box, as I have described before.  This is the kind of large box that you see on the CSX train commercials that are being transported by trains.

A Conex Box

We used them to store equipment used for specific jobs or crews.  In this case, the Conex box had conveyor equipment in it.  Walt found a long straight roller that is used under the Number 10 and 11 belts and tied it to a 2 wheel dolly.  We rolled it back to the Crusher Tower and began the long trek back up the belt.  I was pulling the dolly and Walt was carrying some large wrenches.

When we arrived at the spot where the roller had been worn, Walt called the control room to let them know we were beginning to work.  We pulled the safety cords on the side of the conveyor to ensure that the belt would not start, even though we were assured that a Clearance had been placed on the breaker in the Main Switchgear (where I began my first war with the spiders a year later.  See the post “Power Plant Spider Wars and Bugs in the Basement“).

Walt climbed over the belt and I stayed on the main walkway.   We worked upside down for a while unbolting the roller.  At one point we decided we needed some more suitable tools and headed back down the belt to the Coalyard Garage where the heavy equipment is serviced and brought back some large ratchet wrenches and sockets with an extension.

Socket Wrench with extension

I think the chant, “I think I can, I think I can” was running through my head on our second trip back up the conveyor belt.  I think it was around 10pm.  We finished changing the roller and decided to leave the old one laying in the walkway for the night.  Walt said he would bring it back to the coalyard on Monday morning.

We made our way back to the Maintenance shop where I took off the rain suit and rubber boots that I had been wearing all day and put my regular boots back on.  I went up to the control room and asked if anyone could give me a ride to Stillwater since the evening shift of operators were just getting off at 11pm. I believe it was Charles Buchanan that gave me a ride home that night in his little beat up pickup truck.

I never worked directly with Charles Buchanan since he was an operator.  The first impression that one may have is that he looks like a caricature of a construction worker in a comic strip.

First Impression of Charles Buchanan

Charles reaffirmed my belief that Power Plant Men are some of the nicest people you will ever meet.  There were a few times when I caught a ride with Charles to or from the plant.  Each time I felt honored to ride in his truck.  If I think about what chant was running through my mind as we were on our way home at night, I think it would be something like the song “You’ve Got a Friend”: “Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call, Lord, I’ll be there, yeah, yeah, you’ve got a friend….”

That is what all real Power Plant men and linemen are like.  Wherever you look in the United States, these great men and women work tirelessly to keep you safe by providing electricity to your homes.  Something we take for granted until the power goes out.

Recently when the power went out in the east, the linemen from this electric company drove with pride, eager to help those in need:

A convoy of Electric Company Trucks on their way from Oklahoma to Indiana to help return power to millions of Americans in the dark

Below I have included the lyrics for the song “You’ve Got a Friend” by Carole King and her husband James Taylor.  See how well it fits those people that work around the clock bringing the power to your home:

You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call and I’ll be there, yeah, yeah,
you’ve got a friend.

If the sky above you should turn dark and full of clouds
and that old north wind should begin to blow,
keep your head together and call my name out loud.
Soon I will be knocking upon your door.
You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call and I’ll be there.

Hey, ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend? People can be so cold.
They’ll hurt you and desert you. Well, they’ll take your soul if you let them,
oh yeah, but don’t you let them.

You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call, Lord, I’ll be there, yeah, yeah,
you’ve got a friend. You’ve got a friend.
Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend. Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend.
Oh, yeah, yeah, you’ve got a friend.

Here is a YouTube video of James Taylor singing this song:

If your aren’t able to play youtube videos directly from the picture… here is the link:  “You’ve got a Friend

What Does it Take to Motivate a Power Plant Man?

My friends will tell you that I tend to not take things too seriously.  It seems that the more serious the situation, the more I joke around about it.  I know that this drives some people up the wall sometimes.  Bill Bennett, our A Foreman, used to call me “rascal” and maybe that was because I was one.  That was the way life seemed to be for the majority of the people at the Power Plant.  One of the funniest days in my life happened when Corporate Headquarters learned a thing or two about not taking things too seriously.

Eight Power Plant Men had been assigned to work in Corporate Headquarters for a ten week period.  I wrote about the reason for this in the post: “Do Power Plant Men and Corporate Headquarters Mix?”  I also wrote a post about how the Power Plant Men played one joke after the other on Kent Norris the entire time.  See the post:  “Corporate Executive Kent Norris Meets Power Plant Men“.  We know that the entire floor of corporate headquarters was kept in a slightly disturbed state as they were constantly hearing the “hee-hawing” coming from our over-sized cube where they had put us in a corner of the building hoping to isolate the ruckus we were making constantly.

We didn’t make enemies of our victi… uh.. I mean “our friends” when we played jokes.  We tried to do them in such a way that they would appreciate the thought and ingenuity that went into each joke we played on them.  On the other hand, passerby’s and those that worked within earshot had to endure the constant uproar of laughter.  They were missing out on all the fun, and we were just being a bother.

I think that’s why we received the initial reaction we did when we arrived at an SAP banquet during the last week we were going to be at Corporate Headquarters.  The banquet was being held in a banquet room in a hotel on the west side of Oklahoma City.  We had all carpooled in a couple of cars and arrived at the same time.

When we walked into the banquet room, we could see right away that we didn’t fit in.  No one had told us that we were supposed to wear a suit…. well, it wouldn’t have mattered if they had, we still would have arrived in our blue jeans and tee shirts.  At least our clothes were clean.  I didn’t have one coal dust stain on my entire shirt.

Yeah.  Just like this

Yeah. Just like this

We were told where we were supposed to sit.  The Power Plant Men were directed to a large circular table in the back middle of the room.  We figured they didn’t want us close to podium in case someone was going to be taking pictures of the speakers.  This was an appreciation lunch for the SAP project teams.  We were only a small group compared to the rest of the room.

During the lunch, recognition was given to the different SAP teams.  We were mentioned for having completed our tasks two weeks early and had been given additional work and had completed that as well.  All together, we had rewritten over 140,000 warehouse part descriptions so they would fit in SAP and would be easily “searchable”.  We stood up and bowed and everyone applauded.

SAP Logo

SAP Logo

I think up to that point, the rest of the room had thought that the people sitting at our table was going to be providing the entertainment and that we were all “in costume”.  Once they realized that we were Power Plant Men, their gaze turned from “anticipation” to “curiosity”.  When a bunch of Power Plant Men are all sitting at one table and there is food involved, we can become quite a spectacle.

After the lunch was over and recognition and awards were given, an interesting man stood up and started to speak.  He seemed like a rather goofy person and while he spoke he kept playing with a paper cup.  Popping it up in the air and catching it… or accidentally not catching it and having to go pick it up.  I thought he was becoming rather annoying as he kept distracting us from his boring words of wisdom because he kept playing with this stupid paper cup.

After a minute, he mentioned that there are lots of things you can do with a paper cup to entertain yourself.  You can pop it up in the air and try to catch it.  You can turn it over on a desk and beat it like a drum.  You can put in over your mouth and suck in to create a suction and walk around with the cup stuck to your face in order to impress your coworkers.  You can talk into it and sound like Darth Vader.  You can tie a string between two paper cups to make a telephone.

Ok.  That was a little more interesting than the speech he had been making.  I began formulating in my mind how I might play a trick on Gene Day using a paper cup telephone when I returned back at the plant.

Phone made from paper cups

Phone made from paper cups

I borrowed this picture from a fellow WordPress blogger:  “The B.S. Report

This person’s name turned out to be Stephen Kissell and he is a “motivational speaker”.  I had heard about Motivational Speakers by watching Chris Farley on Saturday Night Live as the Motivator who lived in a van down by the river.  See the following short YouTube video for my conception of a Motivational Speaker:

for those who can’t view the video from the video above can click here:  “Matt Foley Down by the River

Anyway, Steve Kissell was dressed about the same way as Chris Farley in that skit.  It was definitely mismatched clothing.  I wondered if he lived in a van down by the river as well.

Then Stephen said that he needed some people from the audience to come up and help him with something.  He had the names of some people he would like to help him.  Obviously, someone had given these names to him in order to make the next “skit” he was going to perform turn out best.  He called up three people, a couple of well dressed and prim and proper ladies and a man.  They looked like they were the upper class stuck up types which, as it turned out was essential for this to play out properly.

Then Steve explained that in projects, in order to complete large task, you just have each person do smaller tasks, and when you put them all together, you can actually perform something great.  So he asked each one to do one little task when he tapped on his paper cup.

I don’t remember the exact tasks, but they were simple like shrug your left shoulder, and then your right, or squat down and then stand back up.  Little things like that.

Then after he had instructed each person what they should do, he tapped out a tune on the paper cup and they each performed their simple tasks over and over until he stopped.

After trying that a few times, he added other little tasks to each person one at a time.  The result was that after a while he had each of them performing a real goofy dance that made them all look silly dressed up in their finest clothes dancing around like kids.

There was something so funny about the way Stephen Kissell had set this up that everyone was laughing their hearts out.  The laughter was so thunderous that it sounded like one loud roar.  I thought I was going to lose my lunch.   I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe.

This guy who had stood up and begun by annoying his audience (which was my philosophy as well… See the post:  “Power Plant Art of Making a Bad First Impression“) had turned them into driveling piles of laughter after 10 minutes.  Up to that point, I hadn’t laughed that hard since I had seen the movie “Gus” when I was a boy.

The movie Gus

The movie Gus

Ok.  Here is a side story about the movie “Gus”.

In 1976, when I was 15 years old, my brother (who was 11) and I went to the movies to see a Disney movie called “Gus” about a donkey who can kick a football through the goal post and ends up on a football team.  It starred Don Knotts and Tim Conway, two comedians who were masters of slap stick comedy.  This was still back when the movie theaters were large and there was only one theater in the building.  — Yeah.  They would only show one movie at a time.  Amazing.  Huh?

Anyway, there is a scene in a grocery store where they are chasing the donkey down the aisles trying to catch him.  The comedy had built up so much that by that point the entire audience of children were laughing so hard that the sound was deafening.  You literally could not hear anything but a loud constant roar.  I remember that I could hardly breathe I was laughing so hard.

I suppose it is a little like the Kennedy/Nixon debate…  When you heard it on the radio, Nixon won the debate, but when you saw it on Television, Kennedy won the debate…  I say that because fast forwarding 10 years, in 1986, I had the opportunity to watch Gus on TV.  I couldn’t wait to relive the hilarious moment in the Grocery store.

When the moment finally arrived, it came and went and I didn’t really see much humor in it at all.  It was just Don Knotts and Tim Conway fumbling around acting goofy.  I couldn’t understand what had been so funny in the movie theater when the entire theater had erupted with such intense laughter.  I guess you just had to be there in the movie theater at the time.  Whatever it was didn’t translate to the TV.

I talked to my brother about it a few years later when he brought up the same topic.  He said he had rented the movie Gus and had insisted that his four children sit and watch it all together as they ate popcorn.  They all sat around and watched the movie and my brother Greg said, “it wasn’t funny at all.”  He couldn’t figure it out.

End of Side Story

I heard that same statement a few years later when I had said something at Dell and my manger thought it was so funny that she went and repeated it to our director.  When she did, she said it didn’t sound funny at all when she said it.  The truth is, it’s not always what you are saying… it’s how you say it.  The inflection in your voice and the expression on your face.  Pausing at just the right time.

When we had all been sufficiently slain in the spirit of Stephen’s humor, and the banquet was over, we were all given a copy of Stephen’s book “Surviving Life With Laughter”.

Surviving Life With Laughter by Steve Kissell

Surviving Life With Laughter by Steve Kissell

We were also given a copy of a second Steve Kissell book:

Never Take Comedy From a Stranger

Never Take Comedy From a Stranger

In Steve Kissell’s books, he tells stories and jokes that you can use or modify to fit the type of job you may be in at the moment.  This was something that Power Plant Men already knew how to do well, but always appreciated a good joke.

I found that Stephen Kissell is still out there 19 years spreading good humor to the corporate world and the rest of humanity.  If you’re in the need of a motivational speaker.  You may consider looking up Stephen.  Or…. you may find him living in a van down by the river!

Stephen Kissell -- Learn more about him at http://kisselltalks.com

Stephen Kissell — Learn more about him at http://kisselltalks.com

As my readers know, I have written a number of posts about Power Plant Humor, See the post:  “Power Plant Humor and Joking with Gene Day“.  Humor is the best motivator I have found to keep people on track and not get too carried away with details.  I have learned this by working with the Power Plant Men over the years.

The most solid advise I remember from the “Pre-Cana” sessions (a program you have to go through in order to be married in the Catholic Church) we had with the priest when my wife and I were preparing to be married was “Always keep your sense of humor”.  So, when the situation looks hopeless, and there doesn’t appear to be a viable solution available, that is the time to take a step back in your mind and look for the humor in the situation.

It has always been important that true Power Plant Men not play jokes on another person in a way that would end up hurting them.  Whenever that would inadvertently happen, then a sincere apology would definitely have to follow and some sort of retribution.  Usually, sharing your Squirrel Stew with them during lunch was an appropriate form of retribution for any joke gone awry.

Even though we played one joke after the other on Kent Norris, after 12 weeks of torment, he still remained friends with the Power Plant Men.  I heard from him a week after we left when Kent sent a letter to me through intra-company mail.  He returned my name tag to me….  I have kept this letter with the name tag since that day in 1996 as a reminder of the days we spent torturing Kent with humor:

Note I received from Kent after I returned home to our power plant

Note I received from Kent after I returned home to our power plant

 

 

“I Think I Can, I Think I Can” and Other Power Plant Chants — Repost

Originally Posted on August 3, 2012:

The second summer as Summer Help at the Coal-fired Power Plant, was when I first worked out of the Automotive garage.  It wasn’t finished during the first summer.  The second summer when I began working in the garage, Jim Heflin, Larry Riley, Doug House  and Ken Conrad were the regular workers that mowed the fields using tractors with brush hogs, as I have explained in previous posts.  A summer help that also worked with us from Ponca City named David Foster was also able to mow grass using one of the new Ford tractors that we painted Orange to easily identify them as belonging to the Electric Company in Oklahoma.

I learned to drive the tractors later in the summer when I worked irrigating the fields in our attempt to grow grass (as told in the post “When a Power Plant Man Talks, It Pays To Listen“).  The next summer I was able to mow grass using a Brush Hog pulled behind a tractor:

brushhog

Almost Like this without the safety guards and just about as new

It didn’t take long before I had to mow grass on the side of the dam (and other levies).  The side of the dam has a very sharp incline, so while mowing grass on the side of the dam you sat more on the side of the tractor seat than on the seat itself.  Heavy weights were put on the front of the tractor and the back tires on the tractor were turned around so that they were farther apart than they would be otherwise.  This gave the tractor a lower, wider profile and a lower center of gravity helping to keep it from rolling over sideways down the slope.

Tractor Weights that fit on the front of the tractor

I had watched Jim, Larry, Ken and David mow grass along some very steep inclines the summer before without any tractors tumbling over, so I felt like it must be safe, even though looking at the tractors they still seemed a little “top heavy”.

The dam had a slope this steep but  much was taller

It was quite an eerie feeling the first time I actually mowed a slope this steep.  I experienced the same feeling as you have on a roller coaster when it hits the top of the hill and flings you down real fast when the tractor tire on the downhill side of the tractor rolls into a washed out spot on the dam causing the tractor to roll over just a little farther than you are used to.  It was definitely an adrenaline rush each time this happened, because it felt like the tractor was going to roll over.

That is when I remembered the story about the little engine that was trying to pull the train over the steep mountain, and he kept chanting, “I think I can, I think I can” over and over.  So, between each decade of the Rosary that I was saying while counting Hail Mary’s on my fingers, I added in an “I Think I can…” as an added prayer before the next “Our Father”.

The Little Power Plant Coal Train that Could

The Little Power Plant Coal Train that Could

In the time that I worked as a summer help we never turned over a tractor while mowing on a slope.  That isn’t to say that the tractors didn’t start to tip over.  It’s just that if you realize that the large back tractor tire has left the ground and is spinning freely, you could quickly turn the steering wheel downhill so that the tractor would turn downhill preventing it from rolling completely over.  The weight of the brush hog on the back helped to keep the tractor snug against the sloping dam.

Years later, after I left the Power Plant, in 2006, my father’s best friend, Tom Houghton, a Veterinarian in Lakeland, Florida was killed in a tractor accident at his family’s farm in Polo, Missouri.  This greatly effected my father.  He has not recovered from the loss of his friend still today.  As I was mowing grass and picturing my sudden demise if a tractor were to roll down the hill, my main concern was the sorrow my family would have felt by my death.  Needless to say… I never toppled a tractor.

It was during that same summer in 1981 that I first worked with the Power Plant Icon Walt Oswalt.  Every plant must have at least one person like Walt.  He is the type of person that once he has something in his mind about how to do something, nothing is going to change it.  I know many different stories about Walt Oswalt that have been shared with me, but this is one of my own.  Walt is a sandy-haired Irish-looking man that always reminded me of the little old man, Jackie Wright, on the Benny Hill Show.

Walt reminded me of Jackie Wright only with more hair

One Saturday while I had caught a ride to the Power Plant to do “coal cleanup” the crew was asked who would like to wash down belts 10 and 11.  These are the 1/2 mile long belts that go from the coalyard all the way up to the plant.  You can see them on the left side of the picture of the plant on the side of this post.  Finding the opportunity for a challenge, I volunteered.

I made my way up to the top of the Transfer tower where I found Walt Oswalt.  He was working out of the coalyard at the time and was helping us wash down 10 and 11 belt.  Wearing rainsuits and rubber boots we began at the top and worked our way down.  It didn’t look like this belt had been washed down for a while.  We could blast the tin enclosure with the high pressure hoses we were using to completely wash off all the coal dust that had built up over time.  This looked like it was going to be a fun job.

Then Walt pointed out to me that most of our work was under the belt where the coal had built up almost solid up to the belt itself so that the coal was rubbing on the rubber Uniroyal conveyor belt.  Remember, if the conveyor belt goes up, it has to go back down also.  So underneath the conveyor is where the belt returns.  it is a big loop.

Directly underneath this conveyor is the return for the belt

So, Walt Oswalt and I spent the rest of the day laying on the grating so we could see under the belts washing the coal down the slope of belt 10 and 11.  Under the conveyor is another set of rollers that the rubber conveyor belt rides on it’s return trip to the Crusher Tower.  During this time there were two chants that came to my mind…. One was, “Whistle While you Work”, since we seemed to be in some kind of coal mine working away like the Seven Dwarfs (you know…  Walt Disney… Walt Oswalt).  The other one was the song, “Workin’ In a Coal Mine” (…goin’ down down).

Disney’s Seven Dwarfs Mining

At one particular spot the coal had built up and packed itself in there so much that one of the rollers wasn’t able to turn and the belt was just rubbing on the roller.  After we had washed the coal away we could see that the roller was not able to turn still because the belt had worn it flat on one side.

Walt called the Control Room to shutdown the belt so that we could look at it.  We could see that the roller was bad.  For some reason the other belt (11) was out of commission so without this belt running, no coal was being sent up to the plant.  The coal silos and the surge bin hold enough coal for a while but not for too long during the summer when the units need to run at their maximum rate to supply the electricity needed by the customers.  We could have the belt shutdown for a while, but not for too long.

I followed Walt down the belt to the Crusher Tower wondering what he had in mind.  He didn’t tell me what we were going to do, so I just gathered my clues by watching what he did.  When we came out of the belt and left the Crusher I was surprised that it was already dark outside.  When I had left the Maintenance Shop it had been morning.  Now it was dark.  We had spent the entire day (12 hours at this point) in Belt 10 and 11.  I didn’t remember ever taking a break or eating lunch.  Just holding the high pressure water hose, directing the stream down under the belt… all day.

We walked over to a new building that was still being built called the Coalyard Maintenance Building.  This was the new building that was going to be used by the new Labor Crew in a few months. Outside the building to one side was a Conex Box, as I have described before.  This is the kind of large box that you see on the CSX train commercials that are being transported by trains.

A Conex Box

We used them to store equipment used for specific jobs or crews.  In this case, the Conex box had conveyor equipment in it.  Walt found a long straight roller that is used under the Number 10 and 11 belts and tied it to a 2 wheel dolly.  We rolled it back to the Crusher Tower and began the long trek back up the belt.  I was pulling the dolly and Walt was carrying some large wrenches.

When we arrived at the spot where the roller had been worn, Walt called the control room to let them know we were beginning to work.  We pulled the safety cords on the side of the conveyor to ensure that the belt would not start, even though we were assured that a Clearance had been placed on the breaker in the Main Switchgear (where I began my first war with the spiders a year later.  See the previous post “Power Plant Spider Wars and Bugs in the Basement“).

Walt climbed over the belt and I stayed on the main walkway.   We worked upside down for a while unbolting the roller.  At one point we decided we needed some more suitable tools and headed back down the belt to the Coalyard Garage where the heavy equipment is serviced and brought back some large ratchet wrenches and sockets with an extension.

Socket Wrench with extension

I think the chant, “I think I can, I think I can” was running through my head on our second trip back up the conveyor belt.  I think it was around 10pm.  We finished changing the roller and decided to leave the old one laying in the walkway for the night.  Walt said he would bring it back to the coalyard on Monday morning.

We made our way back to the Maintenance shop where I took off the rain suit and rubber boots that I had been wearing all day and put my regular boots back on.  I went up to the control room and asked if anyone could give me a ride to Stillwater since the evening shift of operators were just getting off at 11pm. I believe it was Charles Buchanan that gave me a ride home that night in his little beat up pickup truck.

I never worked directly with Charles Buchanan since he was an operator.  The first impression that one may have is that he looks like a caricature of a construction worker in a comic strip.

First Impression of Charles Buchanan

Charles reaffirmed my belief that Power Plant Men are some of the nicest people you will ever meet.  There were a few times when I caught a ride with Charles to or from the plant.  Each time I felt honored to ride in his truck.  If I think about what chant was running through my mind as we were on our way home at night, I think it would be something like the song “You’ve Got a Friend”: “Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call, Lord, I’ll be there, yeah, yeah, you’ve got a friend….”

That is what all real Power Plant men and linemen are like.  Wherever you look in the United States, these great men and women work tirelessly to keep you safe by providing electricity to your homes.  Something we take for granted until the power goes out.

Recently when the power went out in the east, the linemen from this electric company drove with pride, eager to help those in need:

A convoy of Electric Company Trucks on their way from Oklahoma to Indiana to help return power to millions of Americans in the dark

Below I have included the lyrics for the song “You’ve Got a Friend” by Carole King and her husband James Taylor.  See how well it fits those people that work around the clock bringing the power to your home:

You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call and I’ll be there, yeah, yeah,
you’ve got a friend.

If the sky above you should turn dark and full of clouds
and that old north wind should begin to blow,
keep your head together and call my name out loud.
Soon I will be knocking upon your door.
You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call and I’ll be there.

Hey, ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend? People can be so cold.
They’ll hurt you and desert you. Well, they’ll take your soul if you let them,
oh yeah, but don’t you let them.

You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call, Lord, I’ll be there, yeah, yeah,
you’ve got a friend. You’ve got a friend.
Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend. Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend.
Oh, yeah, yeah, you’ve got a friend.

“I Think I Can, I Think I Can” and Other Power Plant Chants — Repost

Originally Posted on August 3, 2012:

The second summer as Summer Help at the Coal-fired Power Plant, was when I first worked out of the Automotive garage.  It wasn’t finished during the first summer.  The second summer when I began working in the garage, Jim Heflin, Larry Riley, Doug House  and Ken Conrad were the regular workers that mowed the fields using tractors with brush hogs, as I have explained in previous posts.  A summer help that also worked with us from Ponca City named David Foster was also able to mow grass using one of the new Ford tractors that we painted Orange to easily identify them as belonging to the Electric Company in Oklahoma.

I learned to drive the tractors later in the summer when I worked irrigating the fields in our attempt to grow grass (as told in the post “When a Power Plant Man Talks, It Pays To Listen“).  The next summer I was able to mow grass using a Brush Hog pulled behind a tractor:

brushhog

Almost Like this without the safety guards and just about as new

It didn’t take long before I had to mow grass on the side of the dam (and other levies).  The side of the dam has a very sharp incline, so while mowing grass on the side of the dam you sat more on the side of the tractor seat than on the seat itself.  Heavy weights were put on the front of the tractor and the back tires on the tractor were turned around so that they were farther apart than they would be otherwise.  This gave the tractor a lower, wider profile and a lower center of gravity helping to keep it from rolling over sideways down the slope.

Tractor Weights that fit on the front of the tractor

I had watched Jim, Larry, Ken and David mow grass along some very steep inclines the summer before without any tractors tumbling over, so I felt like it must be safe, even though looking at the tractors they still seemed a little “top heavy”.

The dam had a slope this steep but  much was taller

It was quite an eerie feeling the first time I actually mowed a slope this steep.  I experienced the same feeling as you have on a roller coaster when it hits the top of the hill and flings you down real fast when the tractor tire on the downhill side of the tractor rolls into a washed out spot on the dam causing the tractor to roll over just a little farther than you are used to.  It was definitely an adrenaline rush each time this happened, because it felt like the tractor was going to roll over.

That is when I remembered the story about the little engine that was trying to pull the train over the steep mountain, and he kept chanting, “I think I can, I think I can” over and over.  So, between each decade of the Rosary that I was saying while counting Hail Mary’s on my fingers, I added in an “I Think I can…” as an added prayer before the next “Our Father”.

The Little Power Plant Coal Train that Could

The Little Power Plant Coal Train that Could

In the time that I worked as a summer help we never turned over a tractor while mowing on a slope.  That isn’t to say that the tractors didn’t start to tip over.  It’s just that if you realize that the large back tractor tire has left the ground and is spinning freely, you could quickly turn the steering wheel downhill so that the tractor would turn downhill preventing it from rolling completely over.  The weight of the brush hog on the back helped to keep the tractor snug against the sloping dam.

Years later, after I left the Power Plant, in 2006, my father’s best friend, Tom Houghton, a Veterinarian in Lakeland, Florida was killed in a tractor accident at his family’s farm in Polo, Missouri.  This greatly effected my father.  He has not recovered from the loss of his friend still today.  As I was mowing grass and picturing my sudden demise if a tractor were to roll down the hill, my main concern was the sorrow my family would have felt by my death.  Needless to say… I never toppled a tractor.

It was during that same summer in 1981 that I first worked with the Power Plant Icon Walt Oswalt.  Every plant must have at least one person like Walt.  He is the type of person that once he has something in his mind about how to do something, nothing is going to change it.  I know many different stories about Walt Oswalt that have been shared with me, but this is one of my own.  Walt is a sandy-haired Irish-looking man that always reminded me of the little old man, Jackie Wright, on the Benny Hill Show.

Walt reminded me of Jackie Wright only with more hair

One Saturday while I had caught a ride to the Power Plant to do “coal cleanup” the crew was asked who would like to wash down belts 10 and 11.  These are the 1/2 mile long belts that go from the coalyard all the way up to the plant.  You can see them on the left side of the picture of the plant on the side of this post.  Finding the opportunity for a challenge, I volunteered.

I made my way up to the top of the Transfer tower where I found Walt Oswalt.  He was working out of the coalyard at the time and was helping us wash down 10 and 11 belt.  Wearing rainsuits and rubber boots we began at the top and worked our way down.  It didn’t look like this belt had been washed down for a while.  We could blast the tin enclosure with the high pressure hoses we were using to completely wash off all the coal dust that had built up over time.  This looked like it was going to be a fun job.

Then Walt pointed out to me that most of our work was under the belt where the coal had built up almost solid up to the belt itself so that the coal was rubbing on the rubber Uniroyal conveyor belt.  Remember, if the conveyor belt goes up, it has to go back down also.  So underneath the conveyor is where the belt returns.  it is a big loop.

Directly underneath this conveyor is the return for the belt

So, Walt Oswalt and I spent the rest of the day laying on the grating so we could see under the belts washing the coal down the slope of belt 10 and 11.  Under the conveyor is another set of rollers that the rubber conveyor belt rides on it’s return trip to the Crusher Tower.  During this time there were two chants that came to my mind…. One was, “Whistle While you Work”, since we seemed to be in some kind of coal mine working away like the Seven Dwarfs (you know…  Walt Disney… Walt Oswalt).  The other one was the song, “Workin’ In a Coal Mine” (…goin’ down down).

Disney’s Seven Dwarfs Mining

At one particular spot the coal had built up and packed itself in there so much that one of the rollers wasn’t able to turn and the belt was just rubbing on the roller.  After we had washed the coal away we could see that the roller was not able to turn still because the belt had worn it flat on one side.

Walt called the Control Room to shutdown the belt so that we could look at it.  We could see that the roller was bad.  For some reason the other belt (11) was out of commission so without this belt running, no coal was being sent up to the plant.  The coal silos and the surge bin hold enough coal for a while but not for too long during the summer when the units need to run at their maximum rate to supply the electricity needed by the customers.  We could have the belt shutdown for a while, but not for too long.

I followed Walt down the belt to the Crusher Tower wondering what he had in mind.  He didn’t tell me what we were going to do, so I just gathered my clues by watching what he did.  When we came out of the belt and left the Crusher I was surprised that it was already dark outside.  When I had left the Maintenance Shop it had been morning.  Now it was dark.  We had spent the entire day (12 hours at this point) in Belt 10 and 11.  I didn’t remember ever taking a break or eating lunch.  Just holding the high pressure water hose, directing the stream down under the belt… all day.

We walked over to a new building that was still being built called the Coalyard Maintenance Building.  This was the new building that was going to be used by the new Labor Crew in a few months. Outside the building to one side was a Conex Box, as I have described before.  This is the kind of large box that you see on the CSX train commercials that are being transported by trains.

A Conex Box

We used them to store equipment used for specific jobs or crews.  In this case, the Conex box had conveyor equipment in it.  Walt found a long straight roller that is used under the Number 10 and 11 belts and tied it to a 2 wheel dolly.  We rolled it back to the Crusher Tower and began the long trek back up the belt.  I was pulling the dolly and Walt was carrying some large wrenches.

When we arrived at the spot where the roller had been worn, Walt called the control room to let them know we were beginning to work.  We pulled the safety cords on the side of the conveyor to ensure that the belt would not start, even though we were assured that a Clearance had been placed on the breaker in the Main Switchgear (where I began my first war with the spiders a year later.  See the previous post “Power Plant Spider Wars and Bugs in the Basement“).

Walt climbed over the belt and I stayed on the main walkway.   We worked upside down for a while unbolting the roller.  At one point we decided we needed some more suitable tools and headed back down the belt to the Coalyard Garage where the heavy equipment is serviced and brought back some large ratchet wrenches and sockets with an extension.

Socket Wrench with extension

I think the chant, “I think I can, I think I can” was running through my head on our second trip back up the conveyor belt.  I think it was around 10pm.  We finished changing the roller and decided to leave the old one laying in the walkway for the night.  Walt said he would bring it back to the coalyard on Monday morning.

We made our way back to the Maintenance shop where I took off the rain suit and rubber boots that I had been wearing all day and put my regular boots back on.  I went up to the control room and asked if anyone could give me a ride to Stillwater since the evening shift of operators were just getting off at 11pm. I believe it was Charles Buchanan that gave me a ride home that night in his little beat up pickup truck.

I never worked directly with Charles Buchanan since he was an operator.  The first impression that one may have is that he looks like a caricature of a construction worker in a comic strip.

First Impression of Charles Buchanan

Charles reaffirmed my belief that Power Plant Men are some of the nicest people you will ever meet.  There were a few times when I caught a ride with Charles to or from the plant.  Each time I felt honored to ride in his truck.  If I think about what chant was running through my mind as we were on our way home at night, I think it would be something like the song “You’ve Got a Friend”: “Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call, Lord, I’ll be there, yeah, yeah, you’ve got a friend….”

That is what all real Power Plant men and linemen are like.  Wherever you look in the United States, these great men and women work tirelessly to keep you safe by providing electricity to your homes.  Something we take for granted until the power goes out.

Recently when the power went out in the east, the linemen from this electric company drove with pride, eager to help those in need:

A convoy of Electric Company Trucks on their way from Oklahoma to Indiana to help return power to millions of Americans in the dark

Below I have included the lyrics for the song “You’ve Got a Friend” by Carole King and her husband James Taylor.  See how well it fits those people that work around the clock bringing the power to your home:

You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call and I’ll be there, yeah, yeah,
you’ve got a friend.

If the sky above you should turn dark and full of clouds
and that old north wind should begin to blow,
keep your head together and call my name out loud.
Soon I will be knocking upon your door.
You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call and I’ll be there.

Hey, ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend? People can be so cold.
They’ll hurt you and desert you. Well, they’ll take your soul if you let them,
oh yeah, but don’t you let them.

You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call, Lord, I’ll be there, yeah, yeah,
you’ve got a friend. You’ve got a friend.
Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend. Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend.
Oh, yeah, yeah, you’ve got a friend.

“I Think I Can, I Think I Can” and Other Power Plant Chants

The second summer as Summer Help at the Coal-fired Power Plant, was when I first worked out of the Automotive garage.  It hadn’t been built during the first summer.  The second summer when I began working in the garage, Jim Heflin, Larry Riley  and Ken Conrad were the regular workers that mowed the fields using tractors with brush hogs, as I have explained in previous posts.  A summer help that also worked with us from Ponca City named David Foster was also able to mow grass using one of the new Ford tractors that we painted Orange to easily identify them as belonging to the Electric Company in Oklahoma.

I learned to drive the tractors later in the summer when I worked irrigating the fields in our attempt to grow grass (as told in the post “When a Power Plant Man Talks, It Pays To Listen).  The next summer I was able to mow grass using a Brush Hog pulled behind a tractor:

brushhog

Almost Like this without the safety guards and just about as new

It didn’t take long before I had to mow grass on the side of the dam (and other levies).  The side of the dam has a very sharp incline, so while mowing grass on the side of the dam you sat more on the side of the tractor seat than on the seat itself.  Heavy weights were put on the front of the tractor and the back tires on the tractor were turned around so that they were farther apart than they would be otherwise.  This gave the tractor a lower, wider profile and a lower center of gravity helping to keep it from rolling over sideways down the slope.

Tractor Weights that fit on the front of the tractor

I had watched Jim, Larry, Ken and David mow grass along some very steep inclines the summer before without any tractors tumbling over, so I felt like it must be safe, even though looking at the tractors they still seemed a little “top heavy”.

The dam had a slope this steep but  much was taller

It was quite an eerie feeling the first time I actually mowed a slope this steep.  I experienced the same feeling as you have on a roller coaster when it hits the top of the hill and flings you down real fast when the tractor tire on the downhill side of the tractor rolls into a washed out spot on the dam causing the tractor to roll over just a little farther than you are used to.  It was definitely an adrenaline rush each time this happened, because it felt like the tractor was going to roll over.

That is when I remembered the story about the little engine that was trying to pull the train over the steep mountain, and he kept chanting, “I think I can, I think I can” over and over.  So, between each decade of the Rosary that I was saying while counting Hail Mary’s on my fingers, I added in an “I Think I can…” as an added prayer before the next “Our Father”.

In the time that I worked as a summer help we never turned over a tractor while mowing on a slope.  That isn’t to say that the tractors didn’t start to tip over.  It’s just that if you realize that the large back tractor tire has left the ground and is spinning freely, you could quickly turn the steering wheel downhill so that the tractor would turn downhill preventing it from rolling completely over.  The weight of the brush hog on the back helped to keep the tractor snug against the sloping dam.

Years later, after I left the Power Plant, in 2006, my father’s best friend Tom Houghton, a Veterinarian in Lakeland, Florida was killed in a tractor accident at his family’s farm in Polo, Missouri.  This greatly effected my father.  He has not recovered from the loss of his friend still today.  As I was mowing grass and picturing my sudden demise if a tractor were to roll down the hill, my main concern was the sorrow my family would have felt by my death.  Needless to say… I never toppled a tractor.

It was during that same summer in 1981 that I first worked with the Power Plant Icon Walt Oswalt.  Every plant must have at least one person like Walt.  He is the type of person that once he has something in his mind about how to do something, nothing is going to change it.  I know many different stories about Walt Oswalt that have been shared with me, but this is one of my own.  Walt is a sandy-haired Irish-looking man that always reminded me of the little old man, Jackie Wright, on the Benny Hill Show.

Walt reminded me of Jackie Wright only with more hair

One Saturday while I had caught a ride to the Power Plant to do “coal cleanup” the crew was asked who would like to wash down belts 10 and 11.  These are the 1/2 mile long belts that go from the coalyard all the way up to the plant.  You can see them on the left side of the picture of the plant on the side of this post.  Finding the opportunity for a challenge, I volunteered.

I made my way up to the top of the Transfer tower where I found Walt Oswalt.  He was working out of the coalyard at the time and was helping us wash down 10 and 11 belt.  Wearing rainsuits and rubber boots we began at the top and worked our way down.  It didn’t look like this belt had been washed down for a while.  We could blast the tin enclosure with the high pressure hoses we were using to completely wash off all the coal dust that had built up over time.  This looked like it was going to be a fun job.

Then Walt pointed out to me that most of our work was under the belt where the coal had built up almost solid up to the belt itself so that the coal was rubbing on the rubber Uniroyal conveyor belt.  Remember, if the conveyor belt goes up, it has to go back down also.  So underneath the conveyor is where the belt returns.  it is a big loop.

Directly underneath this conveyor is the return for the belt

So, Walt Oswalt and I spent the rest of the day laying on the grating so we could see under the belts washing the coal down the slope of belt 10 and 11.  Under the conveyor is another set of rollers that the rubber conveyor belt rides on it’s return trip to the Crusher Tower.  During this time there were two chants that came to my mind…. One was, “Whistle While you Work”, since we seemed to be in some kind of coal mine working away like the Seven Dwarfs (you know…  Walt Disney… Walt Oswalt).  The other one was the song, “Workin’ In a Coal Mine” (…goin’ down down).

Disney’s Seven Dwarfs Mining

At one particular spot the coal had built up and packed itself in there so much that one of the rollers wasn’t able to turn and the belt was just rubbing on the roller.  After we had washed the coal away we could see that the belt was not able to turn still because it had worn the roller flat on one side.

Walt called the Control Room to shutdown the belt so that we could look at it.  We could see that the roller was bad.  For some reason the other belt (11) was out of commission so without this belt running, no coal was being sent up to the plant.  The coal silos and the surge bin hold enough coal for a while but not for too long during the summer when the units need to run at their maximum rate to supply the electricity needed by the customers.  We could have the belt shutdown for a while, but not for too long.

I followed Walt down the belt to the Crusher Tower wondering what he had in mind.  He didn’t tell me what we were going to do, so I just gathered my clues by watching what he did.  When we came out of the belt and left the Crusher I was surprised that it was already dark outside.  When I had left the Maintenance Shop it had been morning.  Now it was dark.  We had spent the entire day (12 hours at this point) in Belt 10 and 11.  I didn’t remember ever taking a break or eating lunch.  Just holding the high pressure water hose, directing the stream down under the belt… all day.

We walked over to a new building that was still being built called the Coalyard Maintenance Building.  This was the new building that was going to be used by the new Labor Crew in a few months. Outside the building to one side was a Conex Box, as I have described before.  This is the kind of large box that you see on the CSX train commercials that are being transported by trains.

A Conex Box

We used them to store equipment used for specific jobs or crews.  In this case, the Conex box had conveyor equipment in it.  Walt found a long straight roller that is used under the Number 10 and 11 belts and tied it to a 2 wheel dolly.  We rolled it back to the Crusher Tower and began the long trek back up the belt.  I was pulling the dolly and Walt was carrying some large wrenches.

When we arrived at the spot where the roller had been worn, Walt called the control room to let them know we were beginning to work.  We pulled the safety cords on the side of the conveyor to ensure that the belt would not start, even though we were assured that a Clearance had been placed on the breaker in the Main Switchgear (where I began my first war with the spiders a year later.  See the previous post “Power Plant Spider Wars and Bugs in the Basement”).

Walt climbed over the belt and I stayed on the main walkway.   We worked upside down for a while unbolting the roller.  At one point we decided we needed some more suitable tools and headed back down the belt to the Coalyard Garage where the heavy equipment is serviced and brought back some large ratchet wrenches and sockets with an extension.

Socket Wrench with extension

I think the chant, “I think I can, I think I can” was running through my head on our second trip back up the conveyor belt.  I think it was around 10pm.  We finished changing the roller and decided to leave the old one laying in the walkway for the night.  Walt said he would bring it back to the coalyard on Monday morning.

We made our way back to the Maintenance shop where I took off the rain suit and rubber boots that I had been wearing all day and put my regular boots back on.  I went up to the control room and asked if anyone could give me a ride to Stillwater since the evening shift of operators were just getting off at 11pm. I believe it was Charles Buchanan that gave me a ride home that night in his little beat up pickup truck.

I never worked directly with Charles Buchanan since he was an operator.  The first impression that one may have is that he looks like a caricature of a construction worker in a comic strip.

First Impression of Charles Buchanan

Charles reaffirmed my belief that Power Plant Men are some of the nicest people you will ever meet.  There were a few times when I caught a ride with Charles to or from the plant.  Each time I felt honored to ride in his truck.  If I think about what chant was running through my mind as we were on our way home at night, I think it would be something like the song “You’ve Got a Friend”: “Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call, Lord, I’ll be there, yeah, yeah, you’ve got a friend….”

That is what all real Power Plant men and linemen are like.  Wherever you look in the United States, these great men and women work tirelessly to keep you safe by providing electricity to your homes.  Something we take for granted until the power goes out.

Recently when the power went out in the east, the linemen from this electric company drove with pride, eager to help those in need:

A convoy of Electric Company Trucks on their way from Oklahoma to Indiana to help return power to millions of Americans in the dark

Below I have included the lyrics for the song “You’ve Got a Friend” by Carole King and her husband James Taylor.  See how well it fits those people that work around the clock bringing the power to your home:

You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call and I’ll be there, yeah, yeah,
you’ve got a friend.

If the sky above you should turn dark and full of clouds
and that old north wind should begin to blow,
keep your head together and call my name out loud.
Soon I will be knocking upon your door.
You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call and I’ll be there.

Hey, ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend? People can be so cold.
They’ll hurt you and desert you. Well, they’ll take your soul if you let them,
oh yeah, but don’t you let them.

You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call, Lord, I’ll be there, yeah, yeah,
you’ve got a friend. You’ve got a friend.
Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend. Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend.
Oh, yeah, yeah, you’ve got a friend.