Tag Archives: Electrician

Power Plant 10-4 for 4-10s

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

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

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

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

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

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

 

Caroline Blakiston as Mon Mothma in Return of the Jedi

Caroline Blakiston as Mon Mothma in Return of the Jedi

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

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

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

 

I'm sure you know the look

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Kramer

Alan Kramer

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

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

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

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

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

 

One Minutes Manager.  How not to micro-manage

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

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

 

A book about resistance to change

A book about resistance to change

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

 

Power Plant Quest for the Internet

The electric company in Oklahoma decided late 1995 that it was about time that the employees in the company learn about the Internet.  The company recognized that the vast amount of information on the Internet was very useful and encouraged everyone to start using it.  A request form was available to request access to various features the Internet provided and with your Foreman’s approval, all you had to do was take a short course in Internet Etiquette and you were in (well almost).  The problem with this effort was that no one bothered to teach Plant Management about the Internet, so the “Quest for the Internet” was about to begin.

As the leading computer geek at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma I had been accessing the Internet for years.  I had used CompuServe and Telnet to log into the Internet before Internet Browsers and World  Wide Web (WWW) were available.

A screenshot of the CompuServe Program I was using.

A screenshot of the CompuServe Program I was using.

I thought it was a great idea for everyone to use the Internet, so when Alan Kramer gave us the form it didn’t take long before I filled it out.  Sounds pretty simple….. but unfortunately, after a short misstep on my part, a six month battle was about to begin.

Alan Kramer

My Foreman Alan Kramer

The form was simple enough, you just needed to check the boxes for which part of the Internet you needed to access, and after your foreman signed it, you mailed it to Corporate Headquarters, where you would be scheduled to attend a two hour course on how to properly use the Internet in a business setting.  The form was written in a curious way that sort of indicated to me that not a lot of thought had been put into it.  It was either that, or the person that created the form didn’t understand the Internet very well.  Here’s why:

The different parts of the Internet that you could check that you wanted to access were these:  WWW,  e-mail, Telnet, NewsGroups, FTP.  The World Wide Web (WWW) had yet to become popular.  The number of Web sites on the Internet was still less than 250,000.  Compare that to today where there is almost 1 billion websites.

Well, e-mail…. you know what that is.  Telnet was the usual way I had accessed the Internet for years.  I would log in through the Oklahoma State University computer using Telnet, and from there I had access to almost all of the University computers in the country as well as a lot of the Government computers.  You could actually print out pages and pages of all the computers on the Internet at the time using a simple seek command.

For those of you who don’t know… Before MySpace and Facebook, NewsGroups were used to communicate to people who had similar interests.  They were sort of small blog sites.

On a side note:

I was a member of a number of work related NewsGroups.  One NewsGroup that I was active in was for Precipitators.  There were about 50 people from all over the world in this group and we all were obsessed with working on precipitators.  As it turned out, two of us lived in Stillwater Oklahoma.  The other guy worked for a company called Nomadics that made bomb sniffing detectors called Fido.  They had a tiny precipitator that collected the particles.  We were on the opposite sides of the spectrum.  We had a 70 foot tall, 200 foot wide and 100 foot long precipitator, where his precipitator was tiny.  I thought a few times about applying for a job with them since they were only 4 miles from my house, but, since I wasn’t an engineer I didn’t think I had a chance of being hired.  Besides, what is better than working at a Power plant?

The Nomatics office in Stillwater

The Nomatics office in Stillwater

End of Side Note.

FTP, the last item on the list stands for File Transport Protocol.  This is how you downloaded or uploaded files after you have used Telnet to connect to a site.

I’m sorry I’m boring you with all this, but I’m explaining them for a reason.  You see… I’m getting to the part where I made my “misstep”.  Maybe it was meant to happen this way, because in the end, everything worked out better than it probably would have if I had just been a little more patient…. Here’s what I did…

After checking each of the boxes, next to WWW, Telnet, NewsGroup, e-mail and FTP, I went to the foremen’s office to have Alan Kramer sign the form so that I could mail it off to Corporate Headquarters.  When I arrived, Alan was gone.  He had left early that day for some reason, so I walked into Jasper Christensen’s office, our Supervisor of Maintenance and asked him to sign it.  Big mistake.

Jasper Christensen

Jasper Christensen

I wrote a post recently about Jasper’s lack of computer knowledge and how I had goaded him for making a dumb computer decision, (see the post “Power Plant Trouble With Angels“).  When I handed him the form, he glanced at it, and I could see the blank look on his face indicating that he didn’t understand the different terms such as Telnet, FTP and e-mail or WWW.  He might have thought he knew what NewsGroups were, but most likely that would have been incorrect.

So, instead of signing the paper, he said, he would review it and get back to me.  Well…. that was unexpected.  The company was encouraging us to use the Internet, so I figured it was pretty much a slam dunk.  From past experience I knew that Jasper was reluctant to approve anything that he didn’t fully understand, which makes some things difficult.

During the “We’ve Got the Power” Program (See the Post:  “Power Plant ‘We’ve Got the Power’ Program“) I tried to elicit an approval from Jasper about a simple example of Thermodynamics that I thought was cut and dry, especially since Jasper was the Engineering Supervisor at the time.  Even though I had a sound argument about how heat dissipates in the Air Preheater, he would never say that he would agree.  Only that he understood what I was saying.  So, when Jasper said that he would “get back to me on this” I knew what that meant.  He was going to try to find out what these different things were.

Two weeks later, Alan Kramer told me that Jasper had decided not to approve my request for Internet access.  Somewhat peeved, I went into Jasper’s office and asked him why he wouldn’t approve my request.  He responded with, “Give me reasons in writing why you need each of these items on this form.”  — Oh.  I figured that out right away.  He had tried to find out what these things meant, but (without the Internet), it was hard to find the answers.  So, he was asking me to tell him what these were.

So, I went back to the Electric Shop office and I wrote a full page paper outlining what each item was (WWW, Telnet, NewsGroups, FTP and e-mail).  I also explained why I was requesting access to each of these.  For Telnet and FTP, one of the reasons I used was that I would Telnet into the OSHA computer and download MSDS’s (Material Safety Data Sheets) for chemicals we had at our plant.  The operators had asked me a number of times if I could give them a copy of an MSDS for chemicals.  It is a requirement to keep an MSDS for every chemical on the plant site, and I could easily download them from the OSHA.gov computer.

When I gave my explanation to Jasper, he said he would study it and get back to me later.  Two weeks later, Jasper called me to his office and said that during a staff meeting they had discussed my request for Internet access and they had decided that I didn’t need access to the Internet to do my job.  They had also decided that the only thing on the list that anyone at the plant needed was e-mail and only Jim Arnold (The Supervisor of Operations) and Summer Goebel (The head engineer) needed e-mail.  No one else at the plant needed anything else.  — You can see why I used phrases like “Another Brilliant Idea” when describing some of Jasper’s Management decisions.  Only two people at the plant needed e-mail… .  Sounds funny today, huh?

A few months later, in March 1996, I was sent to Oklahoma City to learn how to install the SAP client on desktop computers.  The way I was chosen was  that someone downtown called each of the Power Plants and other offices and asked the receptionist who the computer geek was at the plant.  Denise Anson, our receptionist gave them my name.  We were supposed to change our entire financial, inventory, maintenance, and billing system over to SAP at the end of the year from our mainframe computer system.  SAP is called an ERP system or Enterprise Resource Planning system.  It combines almost all the computer activities in a company into one package where everything is accessible in one application.

SAP Logo

SAP Logo

I will go into the implementation of SAP in more detail in later posts, but for now, I was just learning about installing the client application on the computers at our plant.  There were a number of steps to the installation, and a lot of times it would fail.  So, they gave us some troubleshooting tips and asked us to share any tips we came up with while we were doing this task.

When I returned to the plant, I went about installing SAP on each of the computers.  I think we had 22 computers all together.  Anyway, during this time, I was thinking that after 3 months, I would resubmit my request for the Internet, since after all, now everyone had e-mail since we had installed a computer network at the plant with Novell’s Netware.  It was obvious that we were progressing into the computer age with or without the plant staff.

So, I filled out another request form, and even before asking I wrote up another page of reasons why I could use each of the items on the form.  One new reason was that the Thomas Register was now online.  This was a large set of books that had information about every supplier and vendor in the United States (and beyond).  It was used to find phone number, addresses and other fun stuff about vendors.  A set of books could cost $5,000.00 each and you had to buy them every couple of years to keep them current.

Thomas Register books -- This ia Flickr Photo from Dan Paluska:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/sixmilliondollardan/3535595281

Thomas Register books — This ia Flickr Photo from Dan Paluska: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sixmilliondollardan/3535595281

I didn’t even need to waste my time writing out my reasons.  When I gave the form to Alan, he signed it immediately and handed it back to me.  I thanked him and mailed it off.  A couple of weeks later I received a note through intra-company mail that I was signed up for an Internet class in Oklahoma City.  Since I had been in trouble before with going to classes in Oklahoma City, I made sure I didn’t charge any driving time expenses to go to the class.

The lady who was teaching the class knew who I was, because she had worked with me before on computer issues at the plant.  It was a simple course on computer ettiquette, how the Internet worked and things we should and should not do on the Internet.  At the end of the course, we were told that someone would come by our desk and install the Internet on our computers.  — Well, our plant was 75 miles away and I knew that it was rare to have someone from the Computer Department come out to our plant, so I didn’t expect anything soon.

It was now the summer of 1996.  I was driving down to the river pumps to clean motor filters with Charles Foster when Denise Anson called me on my radio and said that a guy from the SAP team was calling me.  I asked her to patch the call to my Walkie Talkie, and she did.

A Motorola Walkie Talkie like this

A Motorola Walkie Talkie like this

It was the guy from Corporate Headquarters leading the effort to install all the client applications on the computers.  He said they were going to have another meeting because everyone was having so much trouble with the installation.  I told him that I had already successfully installed the client on all of the computers at the plant except for one, and that was because it was an old junky one that needed to be re-imaged.

The guy was surprised that we were already finished and said that our site was the first site in the company to complete the installation.  Then he said, “If there is ANYTHING I can do for you, just let me know!”  I glanced over at Charles who was driving the truck and could hear our conversation over the radio, and smiled.

Charles Foster

Charles Foster smiling back

I said,  “There’s one thing.  You see.  Our plant is out here in the middle of no where.  I have completed the Internet training course, but we are so far away that no one ever comes around that would install the Internet on my computer, so if you could send me the files, I’ll install it myself.”  He replied, “Sure Thing Buddy!  I’ll share a folder where you can go pick up the files.”

After installing the files, I realized that it was just an Internet Explorer browser.  We were using Windows 3.2 at this time.  After opening the browser and playing around with it for a while, I realized that there wasn’t any control around my username.  That is, anyone could come into our office and log on our computer and use the browser.  Then we found out that you didn’t even have to log on first.  The Internet was wide open.  There were no real controls around the use of the Internet.  The only control was just the lack of a browser on the computer!

Internet Explorer 1.0

Internet Explorer 1.0 (Google image)

So, here is what I did next.  I went to every computer at the plant (except the staff’s computers) and installed the Internet Explorer browser on them.  At each computer, I gave the Power Plant Men the same course I had taken downtown.  I told them what they should do and what they shouldn’t.  I showed them how the browser worked, and how to setup shortcuts, and other things.  Before long every Power Plant Man and Woman at the plant was cruising the Internet except the staff…. After all… they had decided that all they needed was e-mail and only for Summer Goebel and Jim Arnold.

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

A few weeks after I had taught all the Power Plant Men at the plant how to use the Internet, Jasper Christensen’s voice came over the radio…. “Kevin!  I want to see you in my office right away!”.  Okay.  The gig was up.  I recognized that tone of voice from Jasper.  The showdown was about to begin.  I was about to be chewed out for making the Internet available to everyone.  Maybe even fired.  I didn’t know how upset he was going to be when he found out.

As I walked from the Electric Shop to the far corner of the Maintenance Shop to Jasper’s office, I articulated in my mind what I would say.  I had decided that the best defense was to explain that all I did was install the Internet browser on the computers.  I didn’t have access to actually grant anyone access to the Internet.  If everyone has access to the Internet, it isn’t because I gave them access.  — This was true.

I took a deep breath just before entering Jasper’s office.  I went in his office with the most straight face I could muster.  “Here it comes,” I thought….  the six month battle for the Internet is coming to a head.  Jasper said, “I want to ask you a question about the Internet.”  Trying not to choke on my words and looking as if I was interested by cocking my head a little, I replied, “Yeah?  What is it?”  I was conscious of my thumb hanging in my right front pocket.

Then Jasper picked up a magazine sitting on his desk and said,  “There is this article in this engineering magazine, and it has this website that you can visit.  How would I go to that site?”  — Oh my Gosh!!!!  I wanted to laugh out loud with joy!  I wasn’t about to be chewed out at all.  He just wanted the computer geek to show him how to use the Internet browser that had been recently installed on his computer!

Jasper obviously hadn’t taken the Internet course, otherwise he would know where the address bar is at the top……  So, I said, “Let me show you.”  I walked over to his computer and walked him through each step of the process.  When we were done, he turned to look at me and smiled.  He said, “Thank you.”  I said, “Anytime.  Just let me know if you have any other questions.”  I turned and walked out of the office.

As I walked back to the Electric Shop Office, I met Charles Foster who wanted to know how it went, as he had heard Jasper call me on the radio.  I told him that the battle for the Internet was now over.  Jasper has now become a “user”.  Life was good.

Destruction of a Power Plant God

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

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

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

Power Plant at sunset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turning Gear

Turning Gear

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

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

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

Unit 1 Turbine-Generator

Unit 1 Turbine-Generator

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

Charles Patton

Charles Patton

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

Unit 2 Turbine-Generator

Unit 2 Turbine-Generator

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

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

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

Bomb Worshipers in Beneath the Planet of the Apes

Bomb Worshipers in Beneath the Planet of the Apes

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

Like this only with a mop handle

Like this only with a mop handle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Cash Man in Black

Johnny Cash Man in Black

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

Al Jolson dressed in Black Face

Al Jolson dressed in Black Face (Google Image)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sonny Kendrick

Sonny Kendrick

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

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

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

A large coupling

A large coupling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do Power Plant Men and Corporate Headquarters Mix?

August 6, 1996 in Corporate Headquarters America, jaws began dropping a few minutes before 8 a.m.  At first the security guard just thought some Power Plant Giant had taken a wrong turn and showed up at Corporate Headquarters to ask for directions.  When another one showed up, this time carrying his Playmate lunch box, hard hat on his head, and lip quivering looking for a handy spittoon, the men in their suits and women in their fine dresses began running for cover.  That was the day eight Power Plant Men took over the floor in the building where the Corporate Engineers usually lived.

If you want to understand the shock that emanated throughout the building, just picture the following bunch showing up on your doorstep:

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy acting like Power Plant Men!

We had come from the four corners of the Oklahoma Electric Company  Power Plant Kingdom and we were there in Oklahoma City because Corporate America needed our help!  Two Power Plant Men from each of the main Power Plants were picked to help the company transition from the old Mainframe computer system to a new computer application called SAP.  SAP was going to combine all of our computer needs into one big application that runs on the new computer network.

SAP Logo

SAP Logo

Ernst and Young was the consulting company that was helping us install and implement SAP at our company.   The company began the implementation some time in March, and the big bang go live date was going to be January 1, 1997.  According to Ernst and Young, this was a physical impossibility.  There was no way we could convert all of our requirements into SAP realities in such a short time.

The Maintenance Module for SAP hadn’t even been fully developed.  We were actually working with SAP to design the module.  Our company had demonstrated how a Best In Class Maintenance process worked, and SAP was designing their module around our needs.  Everyone insisted that our aggressive timeline was too unreasonable and would never be met.

The Electric Company in Central Oklahoma had one Ace up their sleeve (well, maybe more than one)… That was “Power Plant Men!”  As I mentioned in last week’s post (See the post “Destruction of a Power Plant God“), I was told on Monday, August 5, to show up for work the following day in Oklahoma City to work for 10 weeks on an SAP project.

Mike Gibbs, a mechanic from our plant was going with me.  Our task was to convert all the Power Plant parts in the Inventory system in searchable strings that had a limited number of characters.  Mike Gibbs used to work in the warehouse, so he was a  good candidate for knowing what odd parts actually were.

Mike Gibbs

Mike Gibbs

We were a cross-section of mechanics and electricians, and warehouse people.  To give you an idea of how big our job was, we had over 100,000 different parts in the system.  75,000 of those parts were in the warehouse at the power plant where I worked.  There were over 5,000 different types of Nuts and Bolts… just to give you an idea of the task ahead of us.

Ernst and Young said the task would take the eight regular employees four months to complete the task.  The Electric Company said, “Power Plant Men can do it in 10 weeks.

We were able to use the office space used by all of the engineers because they all happened to be at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma where I normally worked because of the big explosion that destroyed part of the Turbine Generator room early Monday morning.  While they packed up to begin the work of reconstruction, Mike and I packed up and headed to Oklahoma City.

Most of the “out-of-town” Power Plant Men stayed in hotels for the next 2 1/2 months, but Mike Gibbs and I decided that we couldn’t be away from our families that long, so we decided that we would drive back and forth to work each day from Stillwater, Oklahoma.  This was about an hour drive with going to work traffic.  We would meet in the parking lot of a Mexican Restaurant at the edge of town and take turns each day driving to Oklahoma City.

Normally, in an instance like this, we would get paid a mileage that was farther than if we drove to the plant and maybe even driving time to and from work each day, but when our Plant Manager Bill Green found out we were driving back and forth, he refused to pay us anything.  He told us that it was far enough away that he would only pay for us to stay in a Hotel (which would have cost more than the mileage), he wouldn’t pay us mileage or even a per diem (which is a daily amount for expenses).

Bill Green knew that we were family men that wouldn’t want to be away from our families during the week if it was only an hour drive, so he played his card and said that we had to stay in a hotel, and he would pay the expense for that or he would pay nothing and we could drive back and forth all we wanted at our own expense, already knowing that we would rather wear our cars out and pay the extra gas each day to be with our families.  I just thought this was pay back for me being so rotten all the time.

The first week I was there, I worked on converting the 5,000 different nuts, bolts and screws into cryptic search strings that all began with the three letter search word for bolt:  BLT.  If you wanted to search for a Bolt in the SAP inventory, you would know it begins with a the letters BLT.  This only made me hungry all week, because to me, a BLT was a sandwich.  A mighty good one too, I may add.

Bacon lettuce and Tomato Sandwich

Power Plant Man sized Bacon lettuce and Tomato Sandwich

After the first week, it was decided that having Power Plant Men roaming around between offices asking each other questions about parts was a hazard waiting to happen, so the engineer that was running our project Mark Romano had a special holding pen… um… I mean, cubicle built just for us.  It was decided that we should all be together in what is called a “Bullpen Cube”.  All nine of us.  Bullpen was a good name considering that there was a lot of bull going around for all of us.

There were nine, because a young Corporate executive had been assigned to help us with all things “Corporate”.  His name is Kent Norris.  He was lucky enough to stay behind to work with us, instead of having to go spend the next 2 1/2 months at our plant up north helping to repair the fire damage.

Well.  I say lucky.  Lucky for us, maybe not for him.  After all, he was someone from “corporate” stuck in a cubicle with 8 rascally Power Plant Men that kept themselves motivated by playing practical jokes on whoever was willing to fall for them. Not ever having experienced the likes of us before, Kent was in for 2 1/2 months of relentless practical jokes being played at his expense.

I must say that we had a terrific time teasing poor Kent, but he was such fun and took our jokes so well, that we could only admire his resilience to bounce back and smile after we ran him ragged with one joke after the next.  I will go into more detail about the jokes we played on Kent in a later post.  For now, I am just mentioning our situation, so that you can get a picture of our situation.

Kent helped us with our expense reports each week, and showed us all the good places to eat lunch.  He helped us adapt to corporate life.  He even showed us how to use our temporary badges to badge in and out of the doors when we entered and left the building.

Mike Gibbs discovered a better way.  He just put his badge in his wallet, and since he was tall enough, when he walked up to the badge reader, he just pressed the back pocket of his blue jeans against the badge reader, and voila!  The door would open like magic!  Onlookers were always staring at this strange assortment of men in blue jeans and tee shirts walking through the office building during lunch.

I tried to remember all the people that were there in the cube with us… I remember that I was there, and so was Mike Gibb from the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.

These are the 500 foot smoke stacks

Our Coal Fired Power Plant

Ken Scott, who was the Maintenance Superintendent at the Gas-fired Power Plant by Konawa, and David Roe who worked in the warehouse at that plant.

Seminole Power Plant at night outside of Konawa Oklahoma. This picture was found at: http://www.redbubble.com/people/harrietrn/works/1425122-seminole-power-plant

Seminole Power Plant at night outside of Konawa Oklahoma. This picture was found at: http://www.redbubble.com/people/harrietrn/works/1425122-seminole-power-plant

Doyle Fullen, an Electric Foreman from the coal fired plant in Muskogee, and Robert Christy, a mechanic also from that plant.

Power Plant in Muskogee Oklahoma

Power Plant in Muskogee Oklahoma

I believe Dan Hayer, the warehouse man, was there from the gas-fired plant in Harrah, Oklahoma on a small lake called Horseshoe Lake.  I don’t remember who else was there from that plant.  I remember seeing someone there, but I think he was a more of a quiet type and for some reason, his name has escaped me.

 

Horseshoe Lake Plant as it looked back then

Horseshoe Lake Plant as it looked back then

I was a sort of a computer programmer at this time, so I created small programs that would make our jobs easier.  I created icons on the computers so that people didn’t have to log into the apps, and I created a couple of other small programs that just automated the monotonous manual steps that we would have to do over and over again as we plowed through the 100,000 different part descriptions.

After the first week, we had converted over 15,000 parts, and were on our way to meeting our goal.

So, how did we do?  The Power Plant Men were able to convert all 100,000 parts in the inventory system to SAP in eight weeks!  Two weeks ahead of schedule.  This was typical for Power Plant Men, especially when you tell them it is impossible.  This was another example of doing things that others said couldn’t be done.

We were all scheduled to go back to our home plants two weeks early when Mark Romano, our project manager came to our cube to give us the news… We had performed our job so well, they wanted to expand our scope.  It seems that another department… I won’t mention which one, but their initials are T&D had been working on their measly 60,000 parts for the past 4 months and had only completed about 10,000 of them.  They wanted to know if the Power Plant Men would be willing to give them a hand to convert the 50,000 parts in their inventory system the same way we did for Power Supply.  Otherwise the go-live of January 1, would not be met since we were coming up to the end of September already.

Our Plant Managers had agreed that we could spend the next four weeks converting T&D’s parts as well, so of course, we agreed to stay on.  I’m not sure if Corporate Headquarters was ever the same after that.  Because we were able to stay on for the next four weeks, we were invited to an SAP banquet that we would have otherwise missed.  We stood out like a sore thumb.  I will write more about that banquet in a separate post as well as go into detail with some of the jokes that we played on Kent Norris.

Spending the 12 weeks in Corporate Headquarters was an important turning point in my career as a Power Plant Electrician.  When we were in the bullpen cube, I was sitting in a chair where I could turn my head to the right and look out a window over the parking lot for the building.  During the day I would watch people walking to-and-fro going about their business.

I had worked most of my adult life up to that point at a plant out in the country where when you climbed to the top of the 500 foot smoke stack and looked around, you could see fields and trees for 20 miles in any direction.  Looking out that window at people made a big impression on me.  Here I was sitting in an air conditioned office.  No Coal Dust.  No Fly Ash.  No ear plugs to deafen the sound of steam shooting through the pipes turning the turbines.  No 100 degrees in the summer.  No freezing my fingers off in the winter.  Just Power Plant Men quietly tapping on their computer keyboards, while they played jokes on Corporate Executive Kent.  — This was the life.

I thought… things don’t get better than this.  I was in computer heaven.  Even though it was unconscious at the time, something stirred in me that thought… maybe… just maybe, I’m ready for a change…. I’ll wait and see what God wants me to do…

Corporate Executive Kent Norris Meets Power Plant Men

I wonder if Kent Norris felt proud when his boss Wayne Beasley told him that he was being assigned to manage the eight Power Plant Men that were coming to Corporate Headquarters for the next 10 weeks to help prepare for the transition to SAP.  I’m sure he had no idea what he was signing up to do.  For the next 12 weeks, Kent bravely endured one torture after the other.

Kent Norris was a young Corporate Executive working for the Electric Company in Central Oklahoma when the Power Plant Men showed up at his doorstep August 6, 1996.  I wish I had a picture of Kent (Kent… I know you read this blog… if you send me your picture, I’ll add it to this post), because then you could see right away that he would be the perfect person for playing jokes.  Just like Gene Day back at the Coal-fired Power Plant where I worked.

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

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

See, you can tell by Gene Day’s expression that this guy was just right for Power Plant Jokes.  Kent Norris was much like Gene in this respect, and the best part was that he was young and wasn’t from a plant, so he had never experienced the Power Plant Lifestyle of perpetual joke playing (see the post “Power Plant Humor and Joking with Gene Day“).

At the plant, Power Plant jokes are such a way of life that they include a section on the timecard to enter the number of Power Plant Jokes performed during the day, along with how many were successfully implemented.  This was used to create a PPJ (for Power Plant Joke) Quotient that would go on your performance appraisal each year.  That way you could set your stretch goals for the following year.

I explained last week why the eight of us were at Corporate Headquarters in the post:  “Do Power Plant Men and Corporate Headquarters Mix?” so I won’t go into that much here other than to say that we were working for 10 weeks preparing the Inventory module in SAP so that our company would be prepared to go live with SAP on January 1, 1997.  SAP is an ERP or Enterprise Resource Planning System.

SAP Logo

SAP Logo

Once all 9 of us were sitting in one cube, (eight Power Plant Men, and one young Corporate Executive, Kent Norris), that was when the opportunity for Power Plant Jokes began to take shape.  Kent sat at the table in the middle of the cube next to the telephone.

Most of the Power Plant Men had their backs to each other as they all faced the edge of the cube.  This way, a person walking into the cube could easily see the computer monitors.  I sat on the end of a table at the end of the elongated cube where I could watch everyone and no one could see my monitor (and incidentally, I had a great view of the outside world).

At first we began our harassm….uh… I mean… jokes…. on Kent by easing him into it with very simple things… When he would step out of his cube, we would do little things like put water in his pen cap so that when he went to write something down and removed the cap, water would spill on him.

 

Pen Cap used by Corporate Executives

Pen Cap used by Corporate Executives

Other minor pranks were things like, unplugging the keyboard and mouse from the computer so that Kent would think that his computer had locked up.  He tried rebooting his computer and for five minutes couldn’t figure out how to fix his computer until he found that the mouse and keyboard were unplugged, at which point, several muffled chuckles could be heard emanating from the far corners of the cube… Not from me, because I had learned the fine art of keeping a straight face in the midst of a hilarious power plant joke — after years of training.

Kent was so good at having jokes played on him that I think he enjoyed them as much as we did.  He would respond with phrases like “You guys!!!  Geez!”  The Power Plant Men were so fast at implementing jokes on the fly that all Kent had to do was turn around to talk to someone that had come to ask a question and all the wheels on his chair would be removed and hidden in various locations throughout the cube.

Ken Scott was the Supervisor of Maintenance at the Seminole Plant, who I had worked with at our plant since I first showed up as a new summer help.  He knew I was a trouble causer from day one.  I wondered how he was going to take our constant jokes with Kent, but he helped out with the rest of us, and when Kent would run off to tell his friend Rita Wing (I think that was her name) about a new joke we had just played on him, Ken Scott would break out of his straight “uninterested” expression into a big smile and laugh out loud.

Mike Gibbs and I would evaluate the day’s jokes on the way home each day.  We were carpooling from Stillwater.

Mike Gibbs

Mike Gibbs

The jokes became more elaborate over time, and I was reaching out to others beyond our cube to help out.  At the time, we were using Windows 3.2 which had small program called “Windows Popup” (I believe the file name was popup.exe).  It was sort of an old version of IMing someone before chatting was really common.  I taught our team how to use it, so that we could pop up messages on each other’s computers to coordinate our jokes while we were doing our work without having to even look at each other.

Popup means so many things now that we all use Internet Browsers.  “Windows Popup” allowed you to locate someone logged into the network, and pop a message right up in the middle of their screen.  It would include the logon name of the person popping it up.  My logon name on the computer system was BREAZIKJ.  The popup message would say Message from BREAZIKJ in the title bar, and it would display the message.  Here is an example I found on Google Images:

 

Windows Popup in Windows 3.2

Windows Popup in Windows 3.2

I had noticed that Kent often talked to the admin for Dennis Dunkelgod, a manager over the Telecommunications team.

 

Dennis Dunkelgod

Dennis Dunkelgod

I had worked with Dennis a couple of times running telephone cable at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma when we needed to install the computer network. I sent a Popup message to his admin asking her if she would help us play a joke on Kent.  The message was something like this…. “We are going to play a joke on Kent Norris and were wondering if you would like to help us out.”

The young lady admin didn’t know what to think when this message popped up in the middle of her computer screen, though she knew where it came from because our cube was just across the aisle from her.  She took a print screen of the message and gave it to Dennis.

Dennis, not knowing the ways of Power Plant Men didn’t know what I meant by “joke” and thought we might be planning something inappropriate.  So he came to our cube and asked who was this person BREAZIKJ.  I told him I was Kevin.  He asked me if I had sent that message.  I told him that I had sent it. (In trouble again… as usual).  As Dennis was replying Kent Norris walked into the cube and saw Dennis dressing me down.  He was saying that things like this did not belong in the workplace and he didn’t want to hear about this again!  I replied, “all right.”

Dennis left the cube, and Kent asked what was going on, so I said, “We were planning on playing a joke on you, and so I asked the admin sitting over there if she would like to help us out and it upset Dennis.”  Kent knew that Dennis was just looking out for him, so he explained that to us that Dennis misunderstood our intention.

One joke I played on Kent was this… Since he always answered the phone in our cube, I found a way to connect to a modem on the mainframe and dial out of the company (thanks Craig Henry for the tip), and then dial back in again and ring a phone….  So, I would wait until Kent hung up from the phone, which was just one second after he would say “Toodles” (which was Kent’s way of saying goodbye), then I would ring the phone and hang it back up.

Kent would answer the phone with his regular telephone answering phrase that I don’t quite remember, but it was something like, “Kent Norris, how may I help you?” only more interesting than that.  When he answered the phone the first time, he was surprised to find that no one was on the phone.  He hung it up and said, “That’s odd.”  Then throughout the week, at various times, just as Kent hung up the phone from a conversation, I would ring his phone again.

Kent began troubleshooting it… he noticed that the ring indicated that it was an outside number calling, but it seemed like the phone was malfunctioning, so he created a trouble ticket to have someone look into it.  Of course, the phone was working fine.

One day, Toby O’Brien came to my cube to ask me if I could tell him how I would do a root cause analysis on a particular accident.  Toby was working for the safety department at the time.

Power Plant Engineer and Good Friend - Toby O'Brien

Power Plant Engineer and Good Friend – Toby O’Brien

I was showing him on the computer how I would make a hierarchy of causes and how each cause could be caused by something else, making something that looks like an organizational chart of causes.  While I was talking to him, Toby was looking over my shoulder at the computer screen.  Kent was talking on the phone… As I was talking to Toby, I was also listening to Kent’s conversation and I could tell he was wrapping it up, and I wanted to ring the phone.

So, as I continued talking along with Toby, I opened up the program I had configured to ring the phone and had it all ready to click the button when Kent said “Toodles”.  I could tell that Toby was a little confused by my talking to him while I was opening another program and acting oblivious to it. Still explaining to Toby as if nothing was happening I hit the call button just as Kent hung up the phone, and it immediately rang.  As Kent picked it up, I hung up and closed the program.  Kent said, “Hello this is Kent Norris….. Damn!  Kevin!” as he slammed the receiver back down on the phone.  For some reason Kent thought I was doing something, though, he couldn’t figure out what.  I just gave him a confused look.

At this point I heard a chuckle from Toby, he had a grin much like his picture above. I couldn’t hold it in much longer as my stomach was beginning to quiver and my body was shaking.  So I slunk down in my chair so Kent couldn’t see the smile on my face and put my hand over my eyes to try and concentrate on making a straight face again.  I squeaked out “…and that’s how I would do the root cause analysis on that accident.”

The climax of the Telephone joke was when one day, I set the program up for redial and left to go to the bathroom.  The phone kept calling Kent once every minute.  When I returned to the cube, Kent said, “Kevin!  Stop ringing my phone!”  I said, “I just went to the bathroom!  How could I be ringing your phone?”  At that point the phone rang and Kent said, “Pick it up!”  I picked it up and listened, and said, “There’s nobody there.  But you can’t blame me for that.”  Then I returned to my computer and turned off the program and didn’t call him anymore after that.

The most elaborate joke played on Kent began when one day Kent made the statement that he had never been to a Power Plant and no desire in the world to ever visit a Power Plant!  I think someone had asked him if he had seen the control room at one of the plants and that was his response.  So, when an opening for an operator came up at our plant, we told Kent that we had sent in his application for the Operator job at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.

Kent didn’t believe us of course, he thought this was just another little joke we were playing.  We told him that we put all the right things in the application so that he was sure to get the job.  Even though he would tell us that he didn’t believe us, we could see the small hint of doubt on his face, which made it a successful small joke… but this was only the beginning.

A couple of weeks later, Kent received word that since all the engineers were up at our plant in North Central Oklahoma they were going to hold their monthly safety meeting there and Kent and Rita were going to have to drive up to the plant to attend.  Which meant, Kent didn’t have a choice, he was going to have to visit the plant after all.  What Kent didn’t know was that his boss Wayne Beasley had been updated by Ken Scott about what we had told Kent about applying him for the operations job at the plant.

We told Kent that the real reason Wayne was having the meeting at the plant was so that Kent would be able to have his interview for the operations job, because they had accepted his application.  Of course… again… he thought we were just kidding him since he said he had no desire to even visit a plant in his life.

Using Windows Popup (since IM wasn’t around yet), I sent messages to Denise Anson, the receptionist at the plant telling her about our plan with Kent. When Kent and Rita drove up to the main gate at the plant and said that it was Kent Norris and Rita Wing from Corporate Headquarters, Denise replied with, “Oh yes.  Kent Norris.  You have an interview for the operator position.”  Kent said something like, “No, I’m just going to a safety meeting.”  At this point, he couldn’t believe that the joke had actually reached the plant.

Denise messaged me using Windows Popup that he had just entered the gate…. I sent a popup to Ron Madron, who was going to ride up in the elevator with him letting him know that Kent was on his way to the parking lot…. When Kent and Rita entered the building and stood at the elevator, Ron Madron entered from the Maintenance Shop and entered the elevator with Kent and Rita.  Ron asked who they were and when Kent told Ron who he was, Ron replied with “Oh!  You’re the new operator!  Good to meet you!”  Kent could not believe that we had involved yet another person in our joke…

Ken Scott told me that he had talked to Wayne Beasley, Kent’s manager who was holding the safety meeting.  Here is his LinkedIn picture:

Wayne Beasley

Wayne Beasley

Wayne had told Ken that he was going to make an announcement during the Safety Meeting that Kent Norris was going to soon begin working at the plant as their new operator.  I messaged to Denise to ask her where Bill Green, the Plant Manager was because I wanted to fill him in on the plan.  Denise told me he was in Wayne Beasley’s Safety Meeting.

I asked her if she could go get him out of the meeting because I needed to talk to him right away.  So, she went and interrupted the safety meeting to tell Bill that I was on the phone and needed to talk to him.  When Bill answered, I told him about the elaborate joke we had been playing on Kent Norris and how Wayne Beasley was going to announce in the meeting that Kent Norris was going to become an operator at the plant.  Bill said thanks for letting him know because if he didn’t know it was a joke, he might have been upset if Wayne said that without him knowing it was coming…..

So, here is what happened in the safety meeting….. As the meeting was coming to a close, Bill Green, the Plant Manager, stood up and said, “We would all like to welcome Kent Norris at our plant and hope that he will enjoy coming to work for us as an operator.”  — The perfect execution of a power plant joke after weeks of preparation, it was executed flawlessly.

Later that afternoon when Kent came back to our cube at Corporate Headquarters, he said that was the greatest joke ever!  He couldn’t believe how we had everyone involved up to the plant manager.  We were all glad that it went off without a hitch.  We were also glad that Kent had enjoyed it so much.  He said that it wasn’t until he walked in the control room and they didn’t know who he was that he felt sure that he really wasn’t going to be an operator at the plant.

The joke where I laughed the hardest was during the last week working at Corporate Headquarters.  Wayne Beasley had come back from our plant to work where he normally worked, and he wanted to take our team out to lunch with Kent to congratulate us for doing such a good job. So, they picked a Mexican restaurant in Bricktown just east of downtown Oklahoma City.

When we walked into the restaurant, Doyle Fullen, the Plant foreman and electrician from Muskogee told the waiter that it was Kent Norris’s birthday.  He told them that he was very shy and would deny that it was his birthday, but we were all bringing him out to lunch because we were celebrating it.  So, toward the end of the meal, out came the group of waiters singing Felice Navidad carrying a huge Sombrero.  Which they placed on Kent’s head!

Google Image of Large Sombrero

Google Image of Large Sombrero

We all sang Felice Navidad at the top of our lungs and clapped and laughed.  I laughed so hard at Kent’s culmination of Power Plant Jokes!  Rarely in my life have I laughed so hard as Kent stood there under this huge sombrero looking humiliated and at the same time proud to be so well loved by the Power Plant Men!

The week ended on Friday afternoon around 3pm, as each of us started leaving one at a time to drive back home for the last time.  Doyle and Bob Christy left first because they had the farthest to drive.  the rest of us left some time later.  Each saying goodbye to Kent a couple at a time…. until Kent was left sitting in the bullpen cube all by himself.  Thinking…. “I’m finally rid of these bozos!”

Unknown to Kent, the majority of us didn’t exactly leave the building… instead  we each went into the bathroom where I was the last to enter…..  I carried a bag that was full of 12 cans of various colors of Silly String:

 

Power Plant Silly String

Power Plant Silly String

Once everyone was ready, we snuck up to the side of the cube where we could hear Kent typing on a computer and with all 12 cans the six of us left sprayed silly string over the cube totally covering Kent in Silly String.  That was our last goodbye.  We couldn’t leave without one more Power Plant Man Joke!

A week or two after I returned to the plant, I received the following letter through Intra-Company mail:

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

For years after, and up to today, I consider Kent Norris a dear friend.  One day when I was at the Stillwater Public Library during their yearly book sale, I found a book that I just had to buy for Kent.  It was perfect!  I sent it by intra-company mail.  Kent thanked me for it…. I figured it would remind him of the time he spent trying to Corral a passel of Power Plant Men!  Oh… here is a picture of the book:

Tootle the Power Plant Coal Train

Tootle the Power Plant Coal Train.  See the coal spilling out?

Games Power Plant Men Play

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

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

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

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

The actual Computerized Chessboard we used

The actual Computerized Chessboard we used

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

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

Crossword Puzzle Book - mainstay in Power Plant Tool Buckets

Crossword Puzzle Book – mainstay in Power Plant Tool Buckets

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

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

An example of a cryptogram magazine

An example of a cryptogram magazine

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

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

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

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

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Games Magazines used  by Power Plant Men

Games Magazines used by Power Plant Men

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

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

Not the battleship game played by Power Plant Men

Not the battleship game played by Power Plant Men

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

A Sharp Calculator like I used to program the Battleship game

A Sharp Calculator like I used to program the Battleship game

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

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

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

Terry Blevins

Terry Blevins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Power Plant Friends with Motor Alignment

I know I’m getting old when I pick up a small piece of paper and I am suddenly taken back 17 years to the day I pulled the small page from the Hunzicker Brothers Inc. Notepad sitting on the desk in the Electric Shop office.  It was the day that I was finally able to come to the aid of a noble Power Plant Man that the plant generally referred to as “Stick”.

Gary (Stick) McCain

Gary (Stick) McCain

Gary McCain, or Stick, is a tall thin Power Plant Man (sort of like a stick) known for his intellect and knowledge of “Machine Language”.  In this case, “Machine Language” refers to the ability to understand how machines work, not how to talk directly to computers using zeroes and ones.

Gary had just walked into the Electric Shop office at the power plant in North Central Oklahoma as lunch was ending.  He was carrying a textbook, which seemed odd right off the bat.  He explained that some of the machinists and mechanics had been sent to motor alignment school and they had been given this textbook in case they wanted to refer back to the material that was covered in the class.

Gary sat down next to me and set the book on the desk opening it to the page he had bookmarked (Yeah.  We used to use books made out of paper, and we put pieces of paper between pages to bookmark the pages we wanted to remember…  Bookmarking wasn’t something new with Internet browsers).

Gary (am I going to start all my paragraphs with the word “Gary”?  Maybe the next paragraph, I’ll just say “That tall guy”) pointed to a formula on the page and asked me if it was possible to use the computer to make calculations that will help him align motors using this formula.

I told that tall guy (Gary) that we could use a program called “Excel” (from Microsoft) that could be used to solve problems just like that.  So, I grabbed the small sheet of paper off of the Hunzicker Brothers Inc. notepad and wrote down the variables for the formula on one side, and the four formulas on the back side.  Here is what I wrote:

Variables for the Motor Alignment formulas

Variables for the Motor Alignment formulas

Oh yeah.  I think I ripped off the corner of the paper to use as a bookmark because I didn’t like the one Gary was using.  It was too small.

Motor Alignment Formulas (or is it Formulae?)

Motor Alignment Formulas (or is it Formulae?)

I guess at this point I should stop and tell you what is meant by “motor alignment” and why machinists and mechanics are interested in this in the first place.

The alignment that is done with a motor is performed when you are putting a pump back in place or some other equipment like a gear box or fan shaft or… well… a lot of things.  You have to make sure that the shaft on the motor is perfectly aligned with the pump otherwise it will quickly tear something up when you turn it on.

motor coupled to a compressor

motor coupled to a compressor

This picture shows how the motor is aligned up with the compressor so that the red coupling lines up perfectly.  Once it is aligned the coupling can be bolted together to connect the motor to the pump.

Notice that the motor has bolts to mount it to the skid in the front and the back on both sides, as well as the pump.  These are called “Feet”.  Usually when you put the pump and the motor back in place, they don’t line up perfectly, so thin pieces of brass called “shims” are used to raise the various feet just the right amount so that the shaft on the motor and shaft on the pump are looking right at each other.

A special piece of equipment is used to check the alignment.  It is called a “Dial Caliper” and it is mounted to the coupling on the motor and the pump with a magnet and it tests the alignment as it is rotated around.

A mounted dial caliper used to measure the alignment of the motor

A mounted dial caliper used to measure the alignment of the motor

I’m sorry if I’m boring those of you who don’t immediately see the beauty of Motor Alignment.  Try pretending that the dial caliper is something invented by ancient aliens if you need to make this part of the post more interesting (actually, who needs ancient aliens when you have machinists?).

Gary told me that the company was looking into buying laser guided motor alignment machines for only $30,000 a piece.  They would probably buy three of them that could be used between the four main plants.  He said that he didn’t think we needed them if we could use these formulas to calculate exactly how to align the motors.  This would save the company around $90,000 and at the same time show the mechanics the “joy of math”!

So, I made some notes on another page which simplified, (or maybe complicated) the formulas further.  Then I sat down at the computer and began putting them into Excel.  The idea was to have the person doing the motor alignment take some notes, then go to the computer and enter them into the Excel sheet and it would tell them right away how many shims to put under any of the 8 feet (four on the motor and four on the pump).

Here are the notes I made:

Notes made to calculate the motor alignment

Notes made to calculate the motor alignment

If you are Jesse Cheng (or some other old time calculator geek), you can see what I was doing with my notes.  I was thinking of the next steps… which I’ll explain below…. (oh… ok… I’ll tell you… this is the code that you would use if you were creating a program for a Casio calculator).

After creating the spreadsheet, Gary headed out the door to go start aligning a motor using our newfangled motor alignment method.  A little while later he came back into the shop and pulling out his handy dandy notepad he read off the notes he had taken while he put the values into Excel…  When he was finished, he wrote down the results and headed back out the door to add the proper shims to the motor and the pump.

A notepad like this

Handy Dandy Power Plant Notepad

We had to tweak the program a little to work out the bugs, but after a couple of tries it worked very well and Gary was pleased.  Only, there was one problem with this method…  Over the next couple of weeks, Gary would come bursting into the electric shop office interrupting me and Charles Foster while we were having a deep discussion about the virtues of banana peppers on ham sandwiches.

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

So, I suggested to Gary that we could use a calculator to do the same thing that we were doing with the spreadsheet.  That way he wouldn’t have to travel back and forth to the computer.  Instead, he could just stand there at the motor and enter the information and have it display the answers that he was seeking.

Right off the bat (hmm… the second time I have used that “cliche”…. I need to read more often), Gary didn’t understand how a calculator could do this.  So, I explained to him that some calculators are programmable and I can write a program on the calculator that would do just that.  I said, “Let me show you”….. After all, I had grown up in Missouri (the Show Me State)…  So, I took my calculator off of the top of the filing cabinet and placed it on the table.

My Sharp Calculator with the Thermal printer connecting to a tape recorder

My Sharp Calculator with the Thermal printer connecting to a tape recorder

I used the thermal printer to connect the calculator to the tape recorder to store my programs, so I didn’t have to enter them manually after I entered them once.

I took my notes and wrote the following program and entered it into the calculator.

The short quick version of the calculator program

The short quick version of the calculator program

I gave the calculator to Gary and showed him how to run the program and sent him to try it out for himself.  He was very excited about this and offered some suggestions to make the program easier to use.

A few days later Gary caught me walking across the maintenance shop and showed me a catalog with various calculators for sale.  He said he wanted to buy some calculators for the shop so that every person that had been trained to align motors had a calculator with a program on it.  I showed him a Casio calculator that would work for about $70.  So, he ordered a better one.

A Casio CFX-9850G

Gary ordered the Casio CFX-9850G

Even though the language for programming it was different than the Sharp calculator, it didn’t take long for me to write a program for it that did the same thing since I had sort of already written it by that time.  After Gary proved to his foreman that the calculator worked, he ordered several more and when they arrived he asked me if I could program them as well.

It took almost a half hour just to type the program into each calculator, so I bought a small pigtail that connected two calculators together.  This allowed me to copy the program from one calculator to another one.  So, when Gary arrived one day with a box of over 20 calculators for the rest of the plants, it took me longer to open the packages than it did to copy the program from one calculator to the next.

The pigtail I used to connect the calculators

The pigtail I used to connect the calculators

Since the calculator was a graphic calculator, I thought about improving the program by drawing a little picture of a motor shaft and a pump shaft and showing how they were out of alignment after the information was entered, but I never took the time to do that as I was on to another computer project by that time (which I will write about later).

So, think about this.  The company was willing to buy $90,000 worth of laser-guided motor alignment equipment to do something that machinists and mechanics already knew how to do.  The specialized equipment would work, and it might have been faster I suppose.  With the aid of a programmable calculator, however, a mechanic can stand at the motor, takes a few measurements and come up with the same results probably just as fast as the laser-guided motor alignment gizmo could do it.

Either way, the mechanic still had to install the same number of shims under the same feet whether they used the calculator and the dial caliper or the laser beam.  The 26 or so calculators that were purchased for the four plants came up to less than $2,000, which is a savings of $88,000.  I don’t think the laser would have saved that much time.  It still had to be carried over to the motor and plugged in and mounted on the motor.  My guess is that as soon as the laser was dropped on the floor accidentally, it would have been broken anyway.

The best part of this little project was that I was able to help out a True Power Plant Man Gary McCain, that I hadn’t really had the opportunity to help much before.  Gary didn’t need much help as he is one of those Power Plant Men that people seek out when they need advice. So, when he came to me and asked for help with the computer, I was more than glad to do what I could to help him.

Sometimes it is a little difficult for my wife to understand why I keep scraps of paper laying around that have meaningless scribbles on them.  One might be a doodle that some friend of mine created one day while talking on the phone.  Another might be a fortune from a cookie that I opened when I was eating lunch with a coworker.  Today the piece of paper I picked up happened to have a mathematical formula written on the back.

I think my son understands now that when I seem to be picking up trash off of the table and a tear comes to my eye, it isn’t because I have just picked up something rotten, but because I have just been transported back in time to place where I am with some people that I love.  It doesn’t stop him from saying, “Dad?  It’s just a piece of paper.  Geez!”  Well… I know I’m getting old… but that scrap of paper is poetry to me.

Tales of Power Plant Prowess by Ray Eberle

The first time I saw Ray Eberle was during my first summer as a summer help in 1979.  He was standing in the midst of a group of mechanics who sat around him as school children sit around the librarian as a story is being read.  Ray was telling a story to a group of mesmerized Power Plant Men.

Many years later I heard that Ray was invited to tell stories to hunters who were hunting elk in Montana around the campfires at night as an occupation.  I think he passed on that opportunity.  Who would think of leaving the comfort of a Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma to go sit around telling stories by campfires in Montana?

For many years I didn’t have the opportunity to work with Ray.  He had joined the Safety Task Force that we had created at the plant.  He had also become a member of the Confined Space Rescue Team, and was a HAZWOPER Emergency Rescue responder.  I was on all of these teams with Ray, but I really had never worked side-by-side with him.

I know that at times, I had disappointed Ray by not living up to his expectations of what a True Power Plant Man should be.  When we were on the Safety Task Force, after the reorganization, we had shifted gears to be more of an “Idea” task force instead of one that actually fixed safety issues.  I was pushing hard to have the company move to a “Behavior-Based Safety” approach.  It was a misunderstood process and if not implemented correctly would have the exact opposite effect (see the post “ABCs of Power Plant Safety“)

Book about the Behavior-Based Safety Process

Book about the Behavior-Based Safety Process

I know this bothered Ray.  He let me know one day when I received an intra-company envelope with a memo in it.  It said that he was resigning from the team:

Ray's Memo

Ray’s Memo

I hang on to the oddest things.  Some things that lift me up and some things that break my heart.  I figure that there is a lesson for me in this memo.  That is why I have held onto it for the past 20 years.  I suppose this enforces my philosophy of trying to make a “Bad First Impression” (See the post:  “Power Plant Art of Making a Bad First Impression“).

Ray Eberle told me once that he had always thought that I was a lazy stuck up electrician that didn’t like to get dirty and just sat around in the electric shop all the time. (read the post:  “Power Plant Man Becomes an Unlikely Saint“)  He said that he saw me as a “higher than thou” type of person that looked down on others.  Then one day I said something that totally changed his perception of me.  I said, “Don’t get twisted.”

It’s funny to learn sometimes what people actually think of you.  Then it’s even funnier to think what makes them change their mind.  You see… when Ray Eberle was sharing his thoughts about me, we had become very good friends.  He said that he felt that he finally understood me when I uttered those three words “Don’t get twisted.”

I remember the moment I had said that.  As members of the Confined Space Rescue Team, we were responsible for inspecting the SCBAs (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) each month.  We were standing in the control room and had a couple of the SCBAs sitting out while the instructor was showing us the proper way to inspect them.

Man wearing an SCBA

Man wearing an SCBA

Ray had asked a few “what-if” questions (like “What if the pressure is right at the minimum amount?”  or “What if we send a tank off to be refilled and we have an emergency?”) and his questions weren’t being answered.  He was getting a little hot under the collar, so I said, “Don’t get twisted.”

I remember Ray’s reaction.  He turned to me and said, “What did you say?”  I looked him straight in the eye with a grin on my face and repeated “Don’t get twisted.”

At that moment I didn’t know if Ray was going to haul off and belt me one, so I was mentally preparing my various responses…. like…. get ready to duck… just try to stand there as if nothing had happened… run and call a therapist because my ego had been shattered (no… wait… that wasn’t then)….  Anyway… instead Ray just smiled at me and said calmly, “I thought that was what you had said.”  I could see that he was in deep thought.

It was a couple of years later that I found out that at that moment Ray Eberle’s perception of who I was had done a 180.  Isn’t it funny what causes someone to change their mind sometimes?  Maybe he saw a spot of dirt on my tee shirt.

One day during the spring of 1998 my foreman, Alan Kramer told me that Jim Arnold wanted me to be assigned to create “Task Lists” in SAP.

Alan Kramer

Alan Kramer

Task lists are instructions on how to perform jobs associated with trouble tickets.  Jim Arnold (probably to keep me out of trouble) had assigned me to write task lists and Ray Eberle to write Bill of Materials (or BOMs).  Thus began our three year journey together working side-by-side entering data into the computer.

Writing task lists didn’t mean that I just sat in front of the computer all day.  In order to create them, I had to find out what tools a person would use to fix something, and what procedure they would perform in order to do their job.  This meant that a lot of times, I would go up to a crew that was working on something and I would ask them to tell me all the tools they used and how they did their job while standing at the job site.

I will write another post later about how I actually did the task of writing task lists, so I won’t go into any more detail.  After a short while, Ray and I figured out that we needed to be in the front office close to the Master Prints and the room where the “X-Files” (or X-drawings) were kept.

X-Files didn’t have to do with “Aliens”.  X-Files were files in cabinets that had all the vendor information about every piece of equipment at the plant (just about).  They were called X Files because their filing numbers all began with an X.  Like X-160183.

About 50% of my time for the next three years was spent creating task lists.  The rest of the time, I was still doing my regular electrician job, and going to school.  After the first year, I moved into the Master Print Room and Ray and I set up shop working on the computers next to each other.

Ray was a collector of Habanero Sauce bottles.

Habenero Sauce comes in colorful bottles

Habanero Sauce comes in colorful bottles

He would travel the country looking for unique Habanero Sauce bottles.  Each day, Ray would bring a bottle of habanero sauce to work and pour some on his lunch.

I ate the same boring lunch every day.  It consisted of a ham sandwich with a slice of American cheese.  Then I had some kind of fruit, like an apple or an orange.  Since I was no longer eating lunch in the electric shop where Charles would give me peppers with my sandwich, when Ray asked me if I would like some hot sauce for my sandwich I was quick to give it a try.

There is something very addictive about habanero sauce.  After a few days of having this sauce on my sandwich, I went to the grocery store and bought some of my own bottles of habanero sauce and salsa.

Ok.  One side story…

I was sitting at home reading a school book at the dining room table, my 9 year old daughter Elizabeth walked up to the table and took a tortilla chip from my paper plate, dipped it in the (habanero) salsa in the bowl next to it, and began to put it in her mouth.  Without looking up from my book, I said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Thinking that I meant that she shouldn’t be stealing my chips, she went ahead and put it in her mouth.  Grinning because she had stolen my chip, she began to walk away.  Then she started to squeal a little.  Moments later she was hopping all over the kitchen trying to find some way to put out the fire.

I told her the best remedy is to eat more chips.  Don’t drink water.  It makes it worse.  Eat chips without salsa.

End of side story…

I mentioned above that Ray Eberle is a very good storyteller.  He told me a series of stories that I call the “Walt Oswalt Stories”.  These were real life stories about a Power Plant Man at our plant.  They were so funny that I would go home and share them with my wife and she would fold over laughing at them.  She said that Ray needs to write a book about Walt Oswalt.

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

I have shared some of these stories with various people in my later career and the reaction is always the same.  These stories belong in a book.  Later this year, I will share some of the Walt Oswalt stories in a post or two then you will see what I’m talking about.

One time in 2007 when I worked for Dell, I was meeting with the CEO of the world’s leading timekeeping company called Kronos.  His name is Aron Ain.

Aron Ain, Kronos CEO

Aron Ain, Kronos CEO

My director, Chris Enslin was with us in Massachusetts.

Chris Enslin

Chris Enslin

Aron  had taken us out to eat dinner, and Chris asked me to tell Aron some Walt Oswalt stories, so I shared a couple.

Then a couple of years later in 2009, Chris told me that he was at a meeting with CEOs from companies all over the United States, and there was Aron standing in the middle of a group of CEOs telling them a Walt Oswalt story.

Here is a picture of Ray Eberle sitting next to me at our computers in the master print room at the power plant:

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

Each day at lunch, after we had eaten our sandwiches, Ray would reach into his lunch box and pull out a worn black book and begin reading it.  He would spend about 10 to 15 minutes reading.  Sometimes he would stop and tell me something interesting about something he had just read.  When he was done, the book went back into his lunch box and we continued working.

I remember some of the interesting conversations we used to have about that worn black book in his lunch box.  One time we talked about a story in the book about how a hand just appeared out of nowhere and began writing on a wall when this guy named Belshazzar was having a party.  Then this guy named Daniel came and told him what it meant, and that night Belshazzar was killed.  Ray said,  “…. God sent the hand that wrote the inscription.”  What do you think about that?  My response was…. “Yeah.  God sure has class.  He could have just struck the guy down right there and then.  Instead he has a hand appear and write something on the wall.  That way we can now have the saying: The writing on the wall’.”

I always thought if you were going to pick a good friend to have, if you pick one that reads their Bible every day during lunch, they are bound to be trustworthy.  I could tell that I could trust Ray with anything.  So, I spent the three years with Ray telling him everything I knew about myself while Ray shared a good deal of his life story with me.  Of course… being nine and a half years older than I was, he had lived a lot more life than I had.

When I left the Power Plant in 2001 to work for Dell, one of the things I missed the most was sitting next to Ray talking about our lives, eating our lunch with Habanero Sauce, and listening to Ray’s stories about Prominent Power Plant Men!  I have considered Ray a very dear friend for many years and I am honored to have him take me into his confidence.  I only hope that I could be as much of a friend to Ray as he has been to me.

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

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

Conoco (Now Philips 66) Oil refinery

Conoco (Now Philips 66) Oil refinery in Ponca City

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

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

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

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

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

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

The house we rented in Ponca City, Oklahoma

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

A side note…

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

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

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

end of side note…

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

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

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

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

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

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

No.  Even bigger than this air conditioner

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

A Blue Nomex Coat

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

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

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

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

A motor much like this one

A motor much like this one only mounted vertically

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

An Infrared Thermometer

An Infrared Thermometer

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

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

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

See what I mean?

Hulk Hands

Hulk Hands

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

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

A platform Lift Hand Truck like the one we used

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

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

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

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

Battling the Killer Rabbit in the Search for the Holy Grail

Battling the Killer Rabbit in the Search for the Holy Grail

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

Hydrogen Sulfide Warning Sign

Hydrogen Sulfide Warning Sign

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

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

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

How Many Different Power Plant Man Jobs?

In the morning when a Power Plant Man drives through the gate at the plant, with the boilers and smoke stacks looming ahead of them, they know that whatever lies ahead for them can be any one of over 20,000 different Power Plant Man Jobs!  Yes.  That’s right.  There are over 20,000 separate jobs that a person can be assigned on over 1,000 different pieces of equipment.

Power Plant at sunset

Power Plant at sunset

The bravery brings to mind the “Charge of the Light Brigade” (by Alfred Lord Tennyson), where “…All in the Valley of Death rode the six hundred”… only there were about 44 He-men and Women to repair whatever was in need of repair that day.  And as in the commemorative poem about the Battle of Balaclava where “… Cannon to the right of them, Cannon to the Left of them Cannon in front of them… Into the Jaws of Death, Into the Mouth of Hell Rode the Six Hundred.”  Or 44 in the case of the Power Plant Men and Women.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

The Charge of the Light Brigade

It is true of the bravery possessed by True Power Plant Men and Women as they go about their daily quest for perfection.  Unlike the Charge of the Light Brigade, who through an error in the command structure was ordered to perform a suicide mission, Power Plant Men go into daily battle well prepared using the correct tools, Safety Gear, Clearance Procedures and the knowledge of how to perform any one of the 20,000 jobs that could be assigned to them on any given day.  (wait!  Did I just create an extremely long run-on sentence? — No wonder I could never get an A in English class!).

As Lord Tennyson Memorialized the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 by writing the poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, one day when I showed up to work during the spring of 1998, I was assigned a similar task at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.  “What’s that you say? Similar to writing the Charge of the Light Brigade?”  Yeah.  You heard me.  I was given the job of chronicling each and every task that a Power Plant Man or Woman could possibly ever perform at the Power Plant.

For the next three years, I spent 50% of my time at the plant sitting in front of a computer in the Master Print Room (where the master blueprints for the entire plant are kept) entering each task into the program called SAP.  You may have heard me mention this program before.

SAP Logo

SAP Logo

We had started using SAP a year earlier at the Electric Company.  The benefit of using this product was that it connected all of the functions of the company together into one application.  So, as soon as a Power Plant Man took a part out of the warehouse, it was reflected in the finance system on the Asset Balance sheet.  When our time was entered into SAP, the expense was calculated and charged to the actual piece of equipment we had been working on during that day.  It gave us a lot of visibility into where and how the company was spending their money.

This became even more useful if we were able to tell SAP more and more about what we did.  That was where Ray Eberle and I came in.  Ray was assigned to enter all of the Bill of Materials for every piece of equipment at the plant.  I was assigned the task of entering all of the possible jobs that could be performed at the plant into SAP.

I entered jobs into a section called “Task Lists”.  When I created a task about a specific job, I had to tell SAP all about how do perform that job.  This is referred to as “Expert Data” in the world of Enterprise Software. (sorry to bother you with all these boring technical terms).

Each task had to include any Safety Concerns about doing the job.  It included a list of instruction manuals for the equipment that needed to be repaired and where to find them.  I had to the include the Safety clearance procedure that needed to be performed in order to clear out the equipment before working on it.

The Task also included all the parts that could be used to fix the equipment if something was broken along with the warehouse part number.  Then I would add a list of tools that would be used to perform the job.  This would include every wrench size, screwdriver, soft choker, come-along, pry bar, and nasal spray that might be needed for the job (well, you never know… there could be job that required the use of nasal spray).  Ok.  You have me… I only threw that in there because I found this great picture of Nasal Spray on Google Images and this was the only way I think of to show it to you:

Nasal Spray

Nasal Spray

Finally I would list each of the steps that a person would take to fix the equipment they were assigned to repair.  This was a step-by-step procedure about how to perform the job.

My first thought when I was assigned the job of chronicling every possible job a Power Plant Maintenance Man could perform was “Great!  I will get to work on the computer!  Everyone will be glad to help me with this task as it will make their lives easier!”  Well… After I began the task of collecting information about the jobs, I unexpectedly found a lot of opposition to the idea of listing down each of the steps that a Power Plant Man performed to do their job. — Can you guess why?

Well… Yeah.  It’s true that I have an annoying personality, and sometimes I may come across as unpleasant, but that wasn’t the main reason.  Here is what happened….

When a Maintenance Order was created, one of the planners, Either Ben Davis (Planner 3) or Tony Mena (Planner 4) would flag the work order as needing a Task created for that particular job.

Ben Davis

Ben Davis

I would pull up the list of work orders and start creating the task list for that job.  I could tell who was assigned to it, so I figured I would just go up to them and ask them how they were going to fix the equipment.

I remember going up to the first person on my list (Earl Frazier) the first day and explaining to him what I was doing.  I asked him if he could tell me the steps to replacing the tail roller on belt 18 in the Surge Bin Tower.  His response was, “Why should I tell you?  You will just put all of that into the computer and then when you have described how to do all of the jobs, they can just get rid of us and hire some contractors to do our jobs.”

A conveyor Drum Roller similar to the one on the coal conveyor belts

A conveyor Drum Roller similar to the one on the coal conveyor belts

Oh… I hadn’t thought about that.  It seemed unlikely, because there is a big difference between having a low wage contractor working on something and a dedicated Power Plant Man.  There just isn’t any comparison.

In order to write up the task for this job, I just waited until the men were up in the Surge Bin Tower pulling the roller off of the belt, and I went up there and watched them.  I took notes of all of the tools and equipment they were using, and asked one of them the steps they were taking to get the new roller up to the tower, and how they were taking the old one out, etc.

Ok… I wasn’t going to do this… but I can feel your anticipation clear from here while I am writing this, that you really want to know what kind of tools it took to pull the roller from the Surge Bin Tower Conveyor belt….  Here is a list of just the tools needed….  just warning you… reading this list of tools just may cause you to drop whatever you are doing and drive out in the country to your nearest Power Plant and apply for a job…. just to warn you… if you don’t think that would be good for you, you may want to skip this next paragraph.

One 9 Foot Extension Ladder.  Two 1-1/2 ton come-alongs, and one 3/4 come-along. Two large pry bars, a 15/16 in. and 3/4 inch sockets, an air or electric impact wrench (to be used with the sockets).  An 8 foot step ladder.  One can of WD-40.  a 3/8 in. screwdriver.  Oxygen-Acetylene tanks with Torch, a Welding machine, two 8 ft. 2 by 4’s (that’s two pieces of wood).  A hammer, a 1/8 in. wrench.  One small pipe wrench.  One hook to hold up the roller.  Three extension cords, with adapters for the coal-handling safety plug-ins.  One 4 in. electric grinder.  Two 6 in. C Clamps and four 6 ft. Steel Chokers.

I decided that I would make things easier for myself up front by working on all of the electrician maintenance jobs first since I knew how to do most of those already.  So, I spent the first year almost solely working on Electrical and Instrument and Control jobs.  I could easily write the task lists for these, because I new all of the steps.

For instance… If I needed to take a clearance on the A Tripper Drive motor, I knew that the breaker was on the Motor Control Center (MCC) 13B Cubicle 1C already.  I didn’t have to even look that one up. (I often wondered what they were thinking when they put Tripper B on MCC 13B Cubicle 2B.  Why not put it in the same place (1C)  on the next Motor Control Center?  It would make things less confusing  — Just things I think about when I’m sitting on my “thinkin’ chair”).

Power Plant Thinkin' Chair

Power Plant Thinkin’ Chair

Some tasks were short and easy.  Others were novels.  Take “Elevator is Malfunctioning” Maintenance order.  I included all sorts of troubleshooting tips for that one.  I even drew a sort of diagram of relays showing how they should be picked up and dropped out as the elevator went up and down…   When the elevator was going up, I put in a table of relay positions like this (U means the relay is picked up, D means it is dropped out).  Those names at the top are the names of the relays.

Elevator DA UA HS 2LC LR LRD LRU
At Rest D D D D U D D
At Start up D U D U D D D
Running Up D U U U D D D
Slowdown up D D D U D D D
Slowdown 2 up D D D D D D U
Slowdown 3 up D D D D U D U
At Stop up D D D D U D D

I wrote a similar one for when the elevator was going down.

Anyway….I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Ray Eberle and I worked together side-by-side for most of the three years while I was writing the task lists (see the post “Tales of Power Plant Prowess by Ray Eberle“).  After I had written a number of novels about different Electrician jobs in the form of task lists, I began working on the general maintenance tasks.

After a while the Mechanics came around and saw the benefits of the task lists.  I remember one of the men who had been the most vocal about not telling me how to do his job (yes.  Earl Frazier) came up to me after I had written a task list about changing out the number 2 conveyor belt gear box and he asked me to add another wrench to the list.  He said, that they had to go all the way back down the belt at the coal yard, drive back to the shop and retrieve the wrench, all because they hadn’t taken it with them the first time.  I added it in a heartbeat and he left smiling.

Earl-Frazier

Earl Frazier

Every once in a while I would run across a Maintenance Order where I could be somewhat creative.  For instance, I had to write a task list about how to inspect the railroad tracks and right-away from the plant to where the tracks entered the town of Red Rock, Oklahoma about 5 miles away.

After explaining how the person connected the railroad truck to the tracks and drove on the tracks toward the growing Metropolis of Red Rock (population 282).  I explained about how they were to make sure that all the wildlife was being treated well.  I also said that when they arrived at Red Rock, they should go into the feed store and build up our public relations by striking up friendly conversations with the “locals”.

After completing over 10,000 different task lists…..  I had begun to get into a routine where I felt like my creativity was becoming a little stifled.  Then one day, Ray Eberle suggested that when I’m writing my task lists, I should think about how Planner 4 (Tony Mena) would like to see something a little more exciting than the usual…. “this is how you fix this piece of equipment” task list…

One day I remember writing a task list about something called a “Sparser Bar”.  A sparser bar is something that sprays water at the bottom of a sump to stir up the coal when the pump is running so that it doesn’t build up or maybe on a conveyor belt for dust suppression.  Anyway… One of the tasks I needed to write was for a person to “create a new Sparser bar”.

An iron pipe like this with holes in it

An iron pipe like this with holes in it

I wish I had the exact Task List that I wrote.  I know that many years later, Ray Eberle sent me a copy of it when he ran across it one day, but I don’t have it readily available, so I’ll just go by memory (until someone at the plant wants to print it out and send it to me).  I don’t know… I may be able to write a better one now…. let me see….

Here are the instruction:

  1. Cut a one and a quarter inch pipe 30 inches long.
  2. Drill 1/8 inch holes along the pipe so that you have exactly 24 holes evenly distributed across the pipe leaving at least 3 inches on either side of the pipe.
    1. If you accidentally drill 23 holes, then you should add an extra hole so that you end up with exactly 24 holes.
    2. If you drill 25 holes, then you should discard the pipe and start over again.
    3. Note:  Do not drill holes that are larger than 1/8 inches in diameter as this will be too big.  If you drill holes bigger than 1/8 inches, then discard the new sparser bar and begin again.
    4. Another Note:  Do not drill the holes smaller than 1/8 inches in diameter.  If you drill holes that are smaller than 1/8 inches, then obtain a 1/8 inch drill bit and use that to increase the diameter of the holes that you have drilled.
  3. Once you have exactly 24 holes in the new Sparser Bar, then rotate the pipe 30 degrees and drill 24 more holes in the exact same positions as the holes that are now 30 degrees from where you are going to drill the new holes.
    1. Note:  Do not drill the second set of holes at a 40 degree angle from the first set of holes as this is not the correct angle.  Only drill the holes at a 30 degree angle from the first set of holes.
    2. Also Note:  Do not drill the holes at a 20 degree angle, as this is also not the correct angle from the first set of holes.
    3. Caution:  If you find that you have drilled the second set of holes at an angle other than 30 degrees, please discard the sparser bar and begin again.
  4. Once you have exactly 48 holes (count them… 24 + 24) in the sparser bar, thread both ends of the pipe.
  5. After you have threaded both ends of the new sparser bar, put a metal cap on one end of the sparser bar.
    1. Note:  Do Not under any circumstance put a metal cap on both ends of the sparser bar as this will render the sparser bar useless because there will not be any way to attach the sparser bar to the water line.
    2. Caution:  If you find that you have accidentally put a metal cap on both ends of the sparser bar, then remove the metal cap from one end (and only one end) of the sparser bar so that it can be attached to the water line.
  6. After you have completed creating the new sparser bar with two rows of 24  1/8 in. holes each at an angle of exactly 30 degrees, then using a medium pipe wrench attach the new sparser bar to the water line.
  7. Align the holes on the sparser bar so that they will have the maximum desired affect when the water is turned on.

See?  Only 7 easy steps.  I think Tony Mena said he fell asleep trying to read my “Sparser Bar Task List”.  I seem to remember Ray Eberle telling me that Tony said, “Kevin’s a nut!”

So, I have one more story to tell you about writing task lists, and then I will conclude this post with the proper conclusive paragraph….

At the plant, every piece of equipment had their own “Cost Center”.  This came in handy when you were looking for spending trends and things like that.  The structure of the cost center was like this:  SO-1-FD-A-FDFLOP   — I just made that up.  It’s not a real cost center… I just wanted to show you the structure…. The first two characters SO represent the plant.  The following “1” represents the unit.  We had 2 units.  The FD represents a “functional area” like “Force Draft Fan.  The “A” represents the number of the piece of equipment, like A or B or C, etc…. depending on how many there are.  The FDFLOP is the piece of equipment.  In this case it might be a Forced Draft Fan Lube Oil Pump.

I’m explaining this apparently boring aspect of Power Plant Life, because I made an attempt to make it a little more interesting. Here is what I did…. The Ultra Clean water that goes in the boilers and are used to turn the turbine are stored in a couple of large water tanks in front of the main power transformer.  The code for their functional area just happened to be: “AM”.  So, when you were creating a task for working on a piece of equipment on the first of the two tanks, the Functional area would look like this:  SO-1-AM-A…..

See where I’m going with this?  It looks like it is saying… “So I am a….”  This quickly reminded me of Jim Arnold, who was the Superintendent of Maintenance.  The guy that had assigned me to write all of these task lists in the first place.  He always seemed like he was king of the jungle, so I thought I would have a little fun with this….

I created a completely new Functional Area Cost Center for this water tank for a non-existent piece of equipment…. I called it the “Gould Outdoor Detector”.  So, when I created the Cost Center string, it looked like this:  SO-1-AM-A-GOD.  For the Gould Outdoor Detector.  — I know… I was being rotten.

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

Then using this cost center (that looked like “So, I am a God”), I created a Task List called:  “How to be Superintendent of Maintenance”.  I added a lot of steps to the task about how you can humiliate your employees and over work them, and kick them when they are down, and stuff like that.  I don’t remember the details.  Anyway, that was a lot of fun.

I created task lists up until the day before I left the plant.  At my going away party Jim Arnold asked me how many task lists I had created in the last three years… the count was something close to 17,800 task lists.  Yeah.  That’s right.  I wrote over 17,000 descriptions of Power Plant Man jobs in three years.  Our plant had over three times more task lists in SAP than the rest of the entire electric company put together.

You can see that I was proud of some, like my the novel I wrote about Elevator Maintenance.  You can also tell that working side-by-side with Ray Eberle kept us both entertained during those years.  We were the best of friends when I left.  I don’t know how many times I just about passed out because I was laughing so hard while we worked together.

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

If I were to write Power Plant Tasks today, I think I would write the ones that aren’t assigned to a Maintenance Order… they would be more like “How to be a True Power Plant Man”.  It would be a novel that would describe the tremendous character of each and every True Power Plant Man and Woman that I learned to love during my stay at the “Power Plant Palace.”