Tag Archives: Elevator inspection

After Effects of Power Plant Drop Tests

Originally posted March 22, 2013:

I have found that elevators have a way of equalizing personal differences when there are just two of you alone in an elevator. It is one of the few places in a Power Plant where no one is watching or listening (usually) to what is said between two parties. Once the doors open, it is difficult to convince others what has happened because there is only one other witness. Depending on your position, this can be either a good thing or a bad thing.

Soon after I became an electrician I was introduced to “Elevator Maintenance”. The Power Plant has 7 elevators. One that goes to the main office area. One that goes to the Control Room. Two for the boilers. Two for the Smoke Stacks and one that takes you to the top of the Fly Ash Hoppers in the coal yard.

The office and boiler elevators were made by Montgomery. These each had to be inspected regularly to keep them running safely. If not, then the plant ran the risk of having people stuck in the elevators for a period of time, which is never a good situation.

There were times when people were stuck in the plant elevators. I may devote an entire post to that subject at some time. Today I’m more interested in the people that inspect the elevators and the effects that elevator inspections had on them.

I didn’t think about it for a long time, but one day when I was walking by a person that I worked with at Dell, Jeremy Tupa, stopped and said, “I still get chills thinking about what you used to do at the Power Plant.” I didn’t know what he was referring to until he reminded me. He said, “When you had to drop test the elevators.” It took me a while, but I finally remembered when I had told Jeremy about drop testing the stack elevator.

Our team at Dell had gone to Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio for the day. Jeremy and I were sitting next to each other on a ride called “The Scream”. It would raise you up and then you would free-fall down and then it would quickly jerk you back up again and drop you again. That’s when I told him this wasn’t scary to me, because it was just like drop testing a stack elevator.

Scream at Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio

Scream at Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio

Oh yeah. I guess to some people that must seem kind of scary. To the people that actually perform that activity, they do things to their mind to convince themselves that everything is safe. Well. Besides that, when following all the safety precautions, it really is a safe activity (see. I’m still doing it).

When drop testing an elevator, you load the elevator with more weight than what the elevator is designed to carry. Usually by bringing a few pallets of sandblasting sand by forklift to the elevator and then piling them in the elevator until you have reached the desired weight for a drop test.

A clean Elevator Shaft

A clean Elevator Shaft. The plant elevator shaft was always full of coal dust and just dirt.

Once the elevator is weighed down, you climb on top of the elevator and manually operate the elevator using the inspection controls until you have raised it up a couple of floors. Then someone up in the penthouse releases the brake so that the elevator free falls.

Once the elevator obtains a certain speed, a tripping device located in the penthouse rolls over and locks, that causes a locking device on the elevator to engage, which sets the “dogs”. The dogs are clamps that dig into the railing that the elevator uses as sort of a track to go up and down without shaking back and forth.

Once the tripping mechanism in the penthouse is operated. it cuts the power to the elevator. Once the dogs are set, there is a loud bang and the elevator isn’t going anywhere. It comes to an instant stop.

Performing a drop test in an elevator shaft seems rather routine, and it is more trouble resetting everything and filing the track smooth again where the dogs dug in creating a notch, than it is to actually perform the drop test.

The Smoke Stack elevators are a lot more fun.

The smoke stack elevators are these Swedish made three man elevators made by a company named Alimak. They operate like a roller coaster does when it is cranking its way up the first hill. The weight limit for these elevators is much lower obviously, since they only hold 3 people.

I could usually load a few large anchors and maybe an Engineer or two in the stack elevator and run it up 50 feet or so and perform the drop test. In order to perform a drop test on a stack elevator (notice how I use the word “perform” as if this was a work of art…. well… in a way it was), you had to disengage a governor first. The governor would prevent a free-falling stack elevator from just flying to the bottom by engaging a secondary brake when the governor sensed that the elevator was moving too fast.

After installing the special governator (like Arnold Schwarzenegger) to keep the governor from engaging, using a large screwdriver or small prybar (meaning that the large screwdriver also functions as a small prybar), the brake is released allowing the elevator to free fall to the ground or well, until the elevator sensed it was moving way too fast and locked up.

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

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

Did I mention that these activities are performed while standing on top of the stack elevator? Yeah. Right out in the open. The entire elevator inspection was done standing on top of the elevator. That was how you inspected the railing and tight checked all the bolts all the way up and down the 500 foot stack elevator rail.

A large Allen Wrench with a permanent cheater bar was used to tight check the rail bolts.

Large Allen Wrench

Large Allen Wrench without a cheater bar

One time before I was an electrician, when Diana Lucas (later Diana Brien) was pulling down on an allen bolt with the cheater bar, Jerry Day, who was with her, pressed the button to lower the elevator down to the next bolt and left Diana hanging in mid-air 100’s of feet above the ground!

A view of the coalyard from the top of the Smoke Stack

A view of the coalyard from the top of the Smoke Stack

Needless to say, the experience of hanging onto a large Allen wrench stuck in a bolt 100’s of feet up a smoke stack, left Diana a little scarred (no I spelled that right). Diana is a tough Power Plant Woman of the highest degree and I used to perform the elevator inspections with her. She would go up the smoke stack on the top of the elevator, but I generally did the tight check on the bolts and let her run the buttons.

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

This is all just a teaser to the real story behind this post…

In the fall of 1984 Ben Davis and I went to Muskogee on a major overhaul. While I was there, part of the time I lived in a trailer with a guy from Horseshoe Lake named Steve Trammell. To this day, (and Steve does read these posts) we have always referred to each other as “roomie”.

While at Muskogee Ben and I worked out of the electric shop located next to the main switchgear for Unit 6. The Muskogee electricians we worked around were, John Manning, the B Foreman, Jay Harris, Richard Moravek, David Stewart and Tiny.

Tiny would be the one standing in the back

Tiny would be the one standing in the back

All of the electricians Ben and I worked with were great Power Plant Men, and I will write a post later about our experience there. For now, I am just going to focus on one person. David Stewart. Why? Because he inspected the stack elevators at Muskogee, like I did at Sooner Plant.

I don’t know exactly how the conversation was started because I walked into it in the middle when I entered the Electric foreman’s office to eat my lunch. David was semi-arguing with the rest of the he-men in the room. The argument centered around this: David Stewart was convinced that if you were in an elevator and everything failed and it was falling to the ground, if you jumped up as hard as you could at the last moment, you would be all right.

I will pause here while you re-read the last sentence………..

While you are thinking this thought over, watch the following Pink Panther video from 1968 called, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Pink on YouTube. Especially from 4 minutes and 15 seconds to 30 seconds into the film:

At first I thought that this was an ingenious joke that David was playing on everyone in the office because everyone was falling for it (I had actually used this technique before in my own jokes.  This is the joke where you act like you’re really stupid while everyone tries to convince you of something obvious, only to end by grinning with a look like: “Gotcha”). They were all trying to explain to David why it was impossible to jump up in a falling elevator at the last moment and you would be all right. The more I listened, the more I came to realize that David was convinced that this was so.

I took David aside and tried to explain to him that according to the law of gravity and acceleration that you would be falling too fast to be able to jump high enough to make any difference to your falling fate. I presented him with the formula for acceleration and showed him that if you even fell from about 50 feet, you would be crushed.

final velocity = Square root of the initial velocity squared plus 2 times acceleration times distance. With Gravity having an acceleration of 9.81 meters per second and 50 feet being just over 15 meters…

I showed him that his final velocity would be about 17 meters per second, which is equivalent to about 38 miles an hour straight into the ground. From only a 50 foot fall. It didn’t phase him. He was so certain it would work. — I understood. This was his way of coping with doing a drop test on the stack elevator. His mind had convinced him that all he had to do was jump up in the case that the elevator safeties failed.

Fast Forward 5 months. It was in April of 1985 when a man from the Swedish Elevator company would come around and do our yearly stack elevator inspection. During this inspection he told me that we needed to remove the top gear rail from the railing.

The reason was that on a stack in Minnesota, when all the safeties had failed on an elevator, it didn’t stop going up. It went all the way to the top and off the top of the railing and fell to it’s doom. By removing the top gear section, the elevator wouldn’t be able to go high enough to go over the top of the railing.

Anyway, while we were inspecting the elevator I asked him if he would be going to the Muskogee power plant after ours, and he said he would. He knew David Stewart and would most likely be working with him on the Muskogee Stack Elevators.

So, I told him the story that David really believed that he had convinced himself that he could jump up in a falling elevator at the last moment and he would survive. So I convinced the elevator inspector to tell everyone about how they need to remove the top gear section, but that it doesn’t really matter, because it is a proven fact that all you have to do is jump up in the elevator at the last moment and you will be all right.

Fast Forward another year. It was now April 1986…. The elevator inspector and I were up on the stack elevators tight checking all the bolts when I remembered about David. So I asked him, “Hey, did you ever do anything with David and jumping up in the elevator?”

He responded with, “Yeah I did! And until the moment that I had said anything I thought you were playing a joke on me, but here is what happened…. We were all sitting in the electric shop office eating lunch and I told them just like you said. When I got to the part where you could just jump up in the elevator and you would be all right, David jumped out of his chair and yelled ‘See!!! I told you!!!’ It was only then that I believed your story. Everyone in the room broke out in a roar of laughter.” — As much as I love David Stewart, I was glad that the joke was performed with perfect precision.

Now for the clincher…. — Oh. You thought that was it? So, let me explain to you one thing about drop testing the stack elevator… The elevator doesn’t go up and down like regular elevators with cables and rails and rollers. It uses one gear on a central rail that has notches to fit the gear.

The stack elevator had a rail with notches like this only it was a lot stronger

The stack elevator had a rail with notches like this only it was a lot stronger

The gear is heavy duty as well as the rail. You can count on it not breaking. The gear was on a shaft that was tied to the braking mechanism, the governor and the motor through a gearbox. The ultimate clincher is this… The gear… The only thing holding the entire elevator up and the only thing tied to any kind of a brake had one pin in it that kept it from rotating on the shaft. One pin. In mechanical terms, this is called a Key:

A hardened steel Key used to keep a gear or coupling from rotating on a motor shaft

A hardened steel Key used to keep a gear or coupling from rotating on a motor shaft

Everything else on the stack elevator can fail and the elevator will not fall, but if this pin were to fail…. the elevator would free fall to the ground. Thinking back, I must have explained this to Jeremy Tupa, my coworker at Dell back in 2004 when we worked together. It made such an impact on him that I would drop test an elevator that was completely held up by only this one pin. This is the weakest link in the chain.

I know that every now and then I wake up either from a claustrophobic fit because Curtis Love just shut my air off (see the Post: Power Plant Safety as Interpreted by Curtis Love) or while I’m taking a flying leap off of the stack elevator. If only I could have the confidence that David had. If only I could believe that jumping up at the last moment would save me.

Actually, I can picture jumping up and a hand reaching down to grab me and pulling me up… only it pulls me on up to heaven. That’s when I’ll know the truth. David was right. Just jump up as hard as you can. Jump and know that you will be safe. God will catch you.

Comment from the original post:

  1. Monty Hansen June 27, 2014

    I got stuck in the plant elevator once, I was playing – jumping up and down in it, and enjoying it bounce – until it came to a crunching halt between floors – about 8 stories up. And of course I had to do this stunt on THANKSGIVING day when there were no electricians at the plant to save me! The plant was an hour drive from town. The supervisor had to call out an electrician. he said the overspeed brakes had tripped AND the slack cable switch. How embarrassing! I never move in an elevator now.

    Another time my supervisor got stuck in the plant elevator at about 5 in the morning, I was the senior guy on shift and upgradable to foreman, so I upgraded while he was stuck, but since it was so close to time for electricians to start coming on shift, there was no use calling one out. I had a Time off request for 3 hours of floating holiday waiting for him when he came out! It was winter and cold and he was up about level 8 also. Fortunately he had a big heavy coat and was dressed for the occasion.

 

Prolonged Power Plant Pause Before the Panic

Originally posted September 6, 2013:

Today when I attend meetings while on the job at Dell (and now at GM) and the discussion is about something new, and the manager is looking for input from the team, I usually sit there quietly while the others share their thoughts. This is not my usual behavior in other settings as I am usually quick to respond with a quip or something sarcastic.

Later, after everyone else has given their two cents, then if asked, I will wade in with both feet. This hasn’t always been the course of action I would have taken. Actually, I used to be pretty hot-headed. I was usually the first person to respond when someone asked a question. I already had my mind made up about just about everything.

My wife began noticing a change in my behavior a few years after we were married. She would ask me a simple question, like, “Would you like a piece of gum.” I would suddenly go into a momentary comatose state where I would stare off into space and think about it. She would say something like, “The answer doesn’t need a lot of thought. It is either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”

After careful analysis, I finally figured out what happened. The transformation began the day I entered the electric shop at the coal-fired power plant as an electrician. I described that first day in the post “New Home in the Power Plant Electric Shop“. In that post I described my first job as an electrician when I went to the coalyard with my foreman Charles Foster to fix a room heater that wasn’t working.

The first time I used my new tools, Charles told me to remove a screw from a fuse block so that we could lift a wire in order to replace the fuse block.

A small fuse block like this.

A small fuse block like this.

When I was removing the wire (with one hand, as Charles had warned me that an electrician never uses two hands to do this), the screwdriver slipped and shorted out on the mounting screw which caused a brief flash. In the millisecond that the flash occurred, it cut a notch in the tip of my new Stanley screwdriver.

A Stanley screwdriver used by electgricians because of the rubber on the handle

A Stanley screwdriver used by electricians because of the rubber on the handle

This was the beginning of my 18 year career of various minor electrocutions and small explosions. We did things to minimize the chances of shorting out your screwdriver when working on a hot circuit (that means a circuit that has the electricity still turned on). One thing we would do is wrap rubber tape up the metal shank so that if it leaned against something metal with it while the tip was touching something hot, it wouldn’t short out the circuit.

Inevitably, something would happen every now and then and something was going to explode. So you just had to be prepared for that. This is where the “Prolonged Pause” comes in.

Sometimes there is nothing you can do. Let me give you a “For Instance”. One time when we had an overhaul on Unit 1 (we had 2 units at our Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma), Richard Moravek was visiting from the Power Plant in Muskogee, Oklahoma. I have written about him in the Post “Lap o’ Luxury at the Muskogee Power Plant“. Each morning at Muskogee, he and Jay Harris would sing the song, “Nestle’s makes the very best Chocolate”, with Richard whistling as he sang like the Nestle’s rabbit with a whistle in his voice.

The Nestle's Rabbit

The Nestle’s Rabbit

On one particular day, Richard and I were sent to perform a “quick and dirty” elevator inspection on the Unit 1 elevator. It received a lot of wear and tear during overhaul with everyone riding up and down from the 9th floor where you could reach the upper echelons of the boiler. If things didn’t work perfectly every time, then the work would be slowed, and schedules wouldn’t be met.

During our elevator inspection we decided that we needed to change out some lights on the push buttons, because…. well… because some of them were burned out. Which caused them to not light up when they were supposed to, causing some Power Plant workers to become confused because they would forget which button they had pushed when they entered the elevator, thus, allowing them to forget which floor they were supposed to get off (working long hours will do that to you).

Anyway, Richard had taken the screws out of the push button panel and had swung the door on the panel open so that the wiring inside was all exposed. He reached in to pulled out one of the push button assemblies so that he could remove the bulb (oh… electricians call bulbs, Lamps… I mentioned that in the post “Place On Light Duty at the Power Plant“, if you recall).

I had reached down into my tool bucket and pulled out a box of special elevator lamps….. Actually, I think it was a standard 6S6 lamp, but it looked like a bulb to me:

A 12 Volt 6S6 bulb

A 12 Volt 6S6 bulb (or is it a lamp?)

Richard had put his hand out to receive the bulb I had in my hand, so I handed it to him. At that point, a funny thing happened. You see, my other hand was on the elevator scissor gate.

An Elevator Scissor Gate

An Elevator Scissor Gate

As I placed the lamp into Richard’s hand, he suddenly twitched and sort of jumped at the same time. When he did, he pushed into me and he began doing a jig. My legs were twitching and I was sort of doing a jig myself, or maybe a jog.

It became apparent right away what had happened. While Richard’s one hand was in the elevator push button panel taking out the bulb, he had come in contact with the electric circuit. This was fine as long as he wasn’t grounded. That is, he wasn’t touching anything else metal, like the front of the panel.

Being a good electrician, Richard had kept his other hand at his side like Charles Foster had taught me my first day as an electrician. That is, until he raised that hand for me to give him a lamp. When my fingers touched his palm, and my other hand was holding the elevator gate, we suddenly made a circuit to ground. From Richard, to me, to the gate, to the ground, and back to the the main power generator through various grounds and circuits and transformers….

About the time that I realized what was happening, we had separated from each other, and were no longer dancing. It cracked us up and we stood there laughing about it for a minute because both of us had just been dancing in the elevator.

As I explained in the post about being on light duty that I mentioned above, when you went to work on the stack lights, you carried metal prod with you that you used to ground the large capacitors before you worked on the circuit. When you did this, there would be a bright flash and a loud explosion.

If a noise or a flash like that made you jump, you may end up going over the handrail and falling 500 feet to the ground. So, you learned that in the event of a flash, your first reaction is to freeze. Then assess the situation, and then if necessary, Panic.

Many years later (like 16), I became very aware of how well trained we were when something like this happened when I was once again working with Charles Foster in a junction box on the 11 landing of Unit 1 on the west side. We were standing side-by-side and we were working on something hot.

Suddenly there was a bright flash and a loud boom as something shorted out. By that time in our history, we had learned all about wearing fire resistant clothing, so that even though what we were wearing wasn’t fire proof, it also wasn’t going to melt to our skin.

What amazed me about this moment was that we both stood there still for a moment before we panicked. There was about a one second pause where we both restrained ourselves from jumping back. I chalked this up to our years of being around explosive situations. Jumping back as the first reaction can often lead to other injuries.

I took this resistance to panic with me into other situations. Before 1994 when OSHA added a bunch of new laws protecting people in confined spaces, I was crawling inside the main generator bus that goes out to the main power transformer. No hole watch. No one watching me outside that could grab me and pull me out if something went wrong.

A Main Power Transformer

A Main Power Transformer. The bus piping are those three pipes going into the building at the top in the back

I had squeezed myself into one of these pipes to clean the insulators that held the bus in place in the middle of the pipe. This meant that I was crammed into the pipe under the bus bar that ran through the middle of the pipe.

I had made it to the insulator that I needed to clean and wiped it down with the rag I had taken with me. Then I decided I couldn’t go forward anymore to look at any more of the insulators because it was too tight of a fit. So, I started to back myself out.

As I went to push myself back I suddenly realized that I was stuck. It was easy moving forward because I was using the soles of my sneakers to push on the pipe, but as soon as I wanted to go back, there didn’t seem to be anyway to maneuver my body in a way that would back myself out. My arms were stretched out in front of me.  This was one of a few times when I began to feel the panicky feeling of claustrophobia.

I had seen claustrophobia in others and I knew that when you are gripped with it, you can hurt yourself, or even Bob Lillibridge if he happened to be the one grabbing your legs at the time (see the post: Bob Lillibridge Meets the Power Plant Ghost for an explanation.

Here it came… I felt myself swelling up tight in the pipe as the panic was gripping me. I knew I had to do something quickly or it wasn’t going to be pretty…. Well, either way… nothing about this was pretty. So, I forced myself to calm down. I told myself to breathe out, and slowly back in.

Then I decided to use the palms of my hands that were stretched out straight in front of me to push against the pipe to move me back. With that effort, I could see (in the darkness) that I had moved myself back about 1/2 inch. I thought. “Ok, 1/2 inch is something. If I did that 100 more times, that would be more than 4 feet. 200 times and I would be out of this pipe.”

Realizing I could move myself at least a little bit allowed me to calm down and quell the panic. I did nothing but concentrate on pushing with my palms 1/2 inch at a time and eventually, I did climb out of that pipe (What?  You expected me to say I was still in there?).

I don’t know how many times over the years I have woken up in the middle of the night and swung my feet over the side of the bed and taken a few large breaths because I had been dreaming about being in that pipe again. I will discuss the topic of claustrophobia in a later post, but this example fit the topic of training yourself not to panic so I thought I would use it here.

If you ever end up talking to someone that doesn’t quite look at you when they look like they are trying to look at you, then you may think that they are a welder. There are some welders that seem to look at you from the corner of their eye. I suppose it was because the middle of their vision has been burned out because they have looked at the welding arc too many times without their visor down.  Or maybe they had just learned to look away from whatever they are seeing just as a safety habit.

Similarly, if you ever encounter someone that momentarily goes into a comatose state for a few moments when you ask them a simple question, you may now think that maybe this person was a Power Plant Electrician that has learned to have a Prolonged Pause before they Panic… or… respond to your question. If they aren’t from a power plant, then they probably were just trying to ignore you.

Comments from previous repost:

    1. Dan Antion September 11, 2014

      Good advice for anyone in similar situations.

    1. Slowmoto September 11, 2014

      Pause before panic is my response to most stressors perceived by a presenter or an emerging reality. You hit the mark!

  1. Monty Hansen November 26, 2014

    Excellent writing! I felt myself getting panicky with you! As a control room operator I had an electrician drop a screwdriver & blow the unit out from under me at full load + 5% overpressure (2520#)-(It caused a false boiler feedpump saturation temp trip). The power plant has trained me not to startle as well, inside I may be screaming like a schoolgirl, but outside I am calm and handling emergencies as though routine.

After Effects of Power Plant Drop Tests

Originally posted March 22, 2013:

I have found that elevators have a way of equalizing personal differences when there are just two of you alone in an elevator. It is one of the few places in a Power Plant where no one is watching or listening (usually) to what is said between two parties. Once the doors open, it is difficult to convince others what has happened because there is only one other witness. Depending on your position, this can be either a good thing or a bad thing.

Soon after I became an electrician I was introduced to “Elevator Maintenance”. The Power Plant has 7 elevators. One that goes to the main office area. One that goes to the Control Room. Two for the boilers. Two for the Smoke Stacks and one that takes you to the top of the Fly Ash Hoppers in the coal yard.

The office and boiler elevators were made by Montgomery. These each had to be inspected regularly to keep them running safely. If not, then the plant ran the risk of having people stuck in the elevators for a period of time, which is never a good situation.

There were times when people were stuck in the plant elevators. I may devote an entire post to that subject at some time. Today I’m more interested in the people that inspect the elevators and the effects that elevator inspections had on them.

I didn’t think about it for a long time, but one day when I was walking by a person that I worked with at Dell, Jeremy Tupa, stopped and said, “I still get chills thinking about what you used to do at the Power Plant.” I didn’t know what he was referring to until he reminded me. He said, “When you had to drop test the elevators.” It took me a while, but I finally remembered when I had told Jeremy about drop testing the stack elevator.

Our team at Dell had gone to Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio for the day. Jeremy and I were sitting next to each other on a ride called “The Scream”. It would raise you up and then you would free-fall down and then it would quickly jerk you back up again and drop you again. That’s when I told him this wasn’t scary to me, because it was just like drop testing a stack elevator.

Scream at Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio

Scream at Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio

Oh yeah. I guess to some people that must seem kind of scary. To the people that actually perform that activity, they do things to their mind to convince themselves that everything is safe. Well. Besides that, when following all the safety precautions, it really is a safe activity (see. I’m still doing it).

When drop testing an elevator, you load the elevator with more weight than what the elevator is designed to carry. Usually by bringing a few pallets of sandblasting sand by forklift to the elevator and then piling them in the elevator until you have reached the desired weight for a drop test.

A clean Elevator Shaft

A clean Elevator Shaft. The plant elevator shaft was always full of coal dust and just dirt.

Once the elevator is weighed down, you climb on top of the elevator and manually operate the elevator using the inspection controls until you have raised it up a couple of floors. Then someone up in the penthouse releases the brake so that the elevator free falls.

Once the elevator obtains a certain speed, a tripping device located in the penthouse rolls over and locks, that causes a locking device on the elevator to engage, which sets the “dogs”. The dogs are clamps that dig into the railing that the elevator uses as sort of a track to go up and down without shaking back and forth.

Once the tripping mechanism in the penthouse is operated. it cuts the power to the elevator. Once the dogs are set, there is a loud bang and the elevator isn’t going anywhere. It comes to an instant stop.

Performing a drop test in an elevator shaft seems rather routine, and it is more trouble resetting everything and filing the track smooth again where the dogs dug in creating a notch, than it is to actually perform the drop test.

The Smoke Stack elevators are a lot more fun.

The smoke stack elevators are these Swedish made three man elevators made by a company named Alimak. They operate like a roller coaster does when it is cranking its way up the first hill. The weight limit for these elevators is much lower obviously, since they only hold 3 people.

I could usually load a few large anchors and maybe an Engineer or two in the stack elevator and run it up 50 feet or so and perform the drop test. In order to perform a drop test on a stack elevator (notice how I use the word “perform” as if this was a work of art…. well… in a way it was), you had to disengage a governor first. The governor would prevent a free-falling stack elevator from just flying to the bottom by engaging a secondary brake when the governor sensed that the elevator was moving too fast.

After installing the special governator (like Arnold Schwarzenegger) to keep the governor from engaging, using a large screwdriver or small prybar (meaning that the large screwdriver also functions as a small prybar), the brake is released allowing the elevator to free fall to the ground or well, until the elevator sensed it was moving way too fast and locked up.

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

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

Did I mention that these activities are performed while standing on top of the stack elevator? Yeah. Right out in the open. The entire elevator inspection was done standing on top of the elevator. That was how you inspected the railing and tight checked all the bolts all the way up and down the 500 foot stack elevator rail.

A large Allen Wrench with a permanent cheater bar was used to tight check the rail bolts.

Large Allen Wrench

Large Allen Wrench without a cheater bar

One time before I was an electrician, when Diana Lucas (later Diana Brien) was pulling down on an allen bolt with the cheater bar, Jerry Day, who was with her, pressed the button to lower the elevator down to the next bolt and left Diana hanging in mid-air 100’s of feet above the ground!

A view of the coalyard from the top of the Smoke Stack

A view of the coalyard from the top of the Smoke Stack

Needless to say, the experience of hanging onto a large Allen wrench stuck in a bolt 100’s of feet up a smoke stack, left Diana a little scarred (no I spelled that right). Diana is a tough Power Plant Woman of the highest degree and I used to perform the elevator inspections with her. She would go up the smoke stack on the top of the elevator, but I generally did the tight check on the bolts and let her run the buttons.

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

This is all just a teaser to the real story behind this post…

In the fall of 1984 Ben Davis and I went to Muskogee on a major overhaul. While I was there, part of the time I lived in a trailer with a guy from Horseshoe Lake named Steve Trammell. To this day, (and Steve does read these posts) we have always referred to each other as “roomie”.

While at Muskogee Ben and I worked out of the electric shop located next to the main switchgear for Unit 6. The Muskogee electricians we worked around were, John Manning, the B Foreman, Jay Harris, Richard Moravek, David Stewart and Tiny.

Tiny would be the one standing in the back

Tiny would be the one standing in the back

All of the electricians Ben and I worked with were great Power Plant Men, and I will write a post later about our experience there. For now, I am just going to focus on one person. David Stewart. Why? Because he inspected the stack elevators at Muskogee, like I did at Sooner Plant.

I don’t know exactly how the conversation was started because I walked into it in the middle when I entered the Electric foreman’s office to eat my lunch. David was semi-arguing with the rest of the he-men in the room. The argument centered around this: David Stewart was convinced that if you were in an elevator and everything failed and it was falling to the ground, if you jumped up as hard as you could at the last moment, you would be all right.

I will pause here while you re-read the last sentence………..

While you are thinking this thought over, watch the following Pink Panther video from 1968 called, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Pink on YouTube. Especially from 4 minutes and 15 seconds to 30 seconds into the film:

At first I thought that this was an ingenious joke that David was playing on everyone in the office because everyone was falling for it (I had actually used this technique before in my own jokes.  This is the joke where you act like you’re really stupid while everyone tries to convince you of something obvious, only to end by grinning with a look like: “Gotcha”). They were all trying to explain to David why it was impossible to jump up in a falling elevator at the last moment and you would be all right. The more I listened, the more I came to realize that David was convinced that this was so.

I took David aside and tried to explain to him that according to the law of gravity and acceleration that you would be falling too fast to be able to jump high enough to make any difference to your falling fate. I presented him with the formula for acceleration and showed him that if you even fell from about 50 feet, you would be crushed.

final velocity = Square root of the initial velocity squared plus 2 times acceleration times distance. With Gravity having an acceleration of 9.81 meters per second and 50 feet being just over 15 meters…

I showed him that his final velocity would be about 17 meters per second, which is equivalent to about 38 miles an hour straight into the ground. From only a 50 foot fall. It didn’t phase him. He was so certain it would work. — I understood. This was his way of coping with doing a drop test on the stack elevator. His mind had convinced him that all he had to do was jump up in the case that the elevator safeties failed.

Fast Forward 5 months. It was in April of 1985 when a man from the Swedish Elevator company would come around and do our yearly stack elevator inspection. During this inspection he told me that we needed to remove the top gear rail from the railing.

The reason was that on a stack in Minnesota, when all the safeties had failed on an elevator, it didn’t stop going up. It went all the way to the top and off the top of the railing and fell to it’s doom. By removing the top gear section, the elevator wouldn’t be able to go high enough to go over the top of the railing.

Anyway, while we were inspecting the elevator I asked him if he would be going to the Muskogee power plant after ours, and he said he would. He knew David Stewart and would most likely be working with him on the Muskogee Stack Elevators.

So, I told him the story that David really believed that he had convinced himself that he could jump up in a falling elevator at the last moment and he would survive. So I convinced the elevator inspector to tell everyone about how they need to remove the top gear section, but that it doesn’t really matter, because it is a proven fact that all you have to do is jump up in the elevator at the last moment and you will be all right.

Fast Forward another year. It was now April 1986…. The elevator inspector and I were up on the stack elevators tight checking all the bolts when I remembered about David. So I asked him, “Hey, did you ever do anything with David and jumping up in the elevator?”

He responded with, “Yeah I did! And until the moment that I had said anything I thought you were playing a joke on me, but here is what happened…. We were all sitting in the electric shop office eating lunch and I told them just like you said. When I got to the part where you could just jump up in the elevator and you would be all right, David jumped out of his chair and yelled ‘See!!! I told you!!!’ It was only then that I believed your story. Everyone in the room broke out in a roar of laughter.” — As much as I love David Stewart, I was glad that the joke was performed with perfect precision.

Now for the clincher…. — Oh. You thought that was it? So, let me explain to you one thing about drop testing the stack elevator… The elevator doesn’t go up and down like regular elevators with cables and rails and rollers. It uses one gear on a central rail that has notches to fit the gear.

The stack elevator had a rail with notches like this only it was a lot stronger

The stack elevator had a rail with notches like this only it was a lot stronger

The gear is heavy duty as well as the rail. You can count on it not breaking. The gear was on a shaft that was tied to the braking mechanism, the governor and the motor through a gearbox. The ultimate clincher is this… The gear… The only thing holding the entire elevator up and the only thing tied to any kind of a brake had one pin in it that kept it from rotating on the shaft. One pin. In mechanical terms, this is called a Key:

A hardened steel Key used to keep a gear or coupling from rotating on a motor shaft

A hardened steel Key used to keep a gear or coupling from rotating on a motor shaft

Everything else on the stack elevator can fail and the elevator will not fall, but if this pin were to fail…. the elevator would free fall to the ground. Thinking back, I must have explained this to Jeremy Tupa, my coworker at Dell back in 2004 when we worked together. It made such an impact on him that I would drop test an elevator that was completely held up by only this one pin. This is the weakest link in the chain.

I know that every now and then I wake up either from a claustrophobic fit because Curtis Love just shut my air off (see the Post: Power Plant Safety as Interpreted by Curtis Love) or while I’m taking a flying leap off of the stack elevator. If only I could have the confidence that David had. If only I could believe that jumping up at the last moment would save me.

Actually, I can picture jumping up and a hand reaching down to grab me and pulling me up… only it pulls me on up to heaven. That’s when I’ll know the truth. David was right. Just jump up as hard as you can. Jump and know that you will be safe. God will catch you.

Comment from the original post:

  1. Monty Hansen June 27, 2014

    I got stuck in the plant elevator once, I was playing – jumping up and down in it, and enjoying it bounce – until it came to a crunching halt between floors – about 8 stories up. And of course I had to do this stunt on THANKSGIVING day when there were no electricians at the plant to save me! The plant was an hour drive from town. The supervisor had to call out an electrician. he said the overspeed brakes had tripped AND the slack cable switch. How embarrassing! I never move in an elevator now.

    Another time my supervisor got stuck in the plant elevator at about 5 in the morning, I was the senior guy on shift and upgradable to foreman, so I upgraded while he was stuck, but since it was so close to time for electricians to start coming on shift, there was no use calling one out. I had a Time off request for 3 hours of floating holiday waiting for him when he came out! It was winter and cold and he was up about level 8 also. Fortunately he had a big heavy coat and was dressed for the occasion.

 

Prolonged Power Plant Pause Before the Panic

Originally posted September 6, 2013:

Today when I attend meetings while on the job at Dell (and now at GM) and the discussion is about something new, and the manager is looking for input from the team, I usually sit there quietly while the others share their thoughts. This is not my usual behavior in other settings as I am usually quick to respond with a quip or something sarcastic.

Later, after everyone else has given their two cents, then if asked, I will wade in with both feet. This hasn’t always been the course of action I would have taken. Actually, I used to be pretty hot-headed. I was usually the first person to respond when someone asked a question. I already had my mind made up about just about everything.

My wife began noticing a change in my behavior a few years after we were married. She would ask me a simple question, like, “Would you like a piece of gum.” I would suddenly go into a momentary comatose state where I would stare off into space and think about it. She would say something like, “The answer doesn’t need a lot of thought. It is either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”

After careful analysis, I finally figured out what happened. The transformation began the day I entered the electric shop at the coal-fired power plant as an electrician. I described that first day in the post “New Home in the Power Plant Electric Shop“. In that post I described my first job as an electrician when I went to the coalyard with my foreman Charles Foster to fix a room heater that wasn’t working.

The first time I used my new tools, Charles told me to remove a screw from a fuse block so that we could lift a wire in order to replace the fuse block.

A small fuse block like this.

A small fuse block like this.

When I was removing the wire (with one hand, as Charles had warned me that an electrician never uses two hands to do this), the screwdriver slipped and shorted out on the mounting screw which caused a brief flash. In the millisecond that the flash occurred, it cut a notch in the tip of my new Stanley screwdriver.

A Stanley screwdriver used by electgricians because of the rubber on the handle

A Stanley screwdriver used by electricians because of the rubber on the handle

This was the beginning of my 18 year career of various minor electrocutions and small explosions. We did things to minimize the chances of shorting out your screwdriver when working on a hot circuit (that means a circuit that has the electricity still turned on). One thing we would do is wrap rubber tape up the metal shank so that if it leaned against something metal with it while the tip was touching something hot, it wouldn’t short out the circuit.

Inevitably, something would happen every now and then and something was going to explode. So you just had to be prepared for that. This is where the “Prolonged Pause” comes in.

Sometimes there is nothing you can do. Let me give you a “For Instance”. One time when we had an overhaul on Unit 1 (we had 2 units at our Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma), Richard Moravek was visiting from the Power Plant in Muskogee, Oklahoma. I have written about him in the Post “Lap o’ Luxury at the Muskogee Power Plant“. Each morning at Muskogee, he and Jay Harris would sing the song, “Nestle’s makes the very best Chocolate”, with Richard whistling as he sang like the Nestle’s rabbit with a whistle in his voice.

The Nestle's Rabbit

The Nestle’s Rabbit

On one particular day, Richard and I were sent to perform a “quick and dirty” elevator inspection on the Unit 1 elevator. It received a lot of wear and tear during overhaul with everyone riding up and down from the 9th floor where you could reach the upper echelons of the boiler. If things didn’t work perfectly every time, then the work would be slowed, and schedules wouldn’t be met.

During our elevator inspection we decided that we needed to change out some lights on the push buttons, because…. well… because some of them were burned out. Which caused them to not light up when they were supposed to, causing some Power Plant workers to become confused because they would forget which button they had pushed when they entered the elevator, thus, allowing them to forget which floor they were supposed to get off (working long hours will do that to you).

Anyway, Richard had taken the screws out of the push button panel and had swung the door on the panel open so that the wiring inside was all exposed. He reached in to pulled out one of the push button assemblies so that he could remove the bulb (oh… electricians call bulbs, Lamps… I mentioned that in the post “Place On Light Duty at the Power Plant“, if you recall).

I had reached down into my tool bucket and pulled out a box of special elevator lamps….. Actually, I think it was a standard 6S6 lamp, but it looked like a bulb to me:

A 12 Volt 6S6 bulb

A 12 Volt 6S6 bulb (or is it a lamp?)

Richard had put his hand out to receive the bulb I had in my hand, so I handed it to him. At that point, a funny thing happened. You see, my other hand was on the elevator scissor gate.

An Elevator Scissor Gate

An Elevator Scissor Gate

As I placed the lamp into Richard’s hand, he suddenly twitched and sort of jumped at the same time. When he did, he pushed into me and he began doing a jig. My legs were twitching and I was sort of doing a jig myself, or maybe a jog.

It became apparent right away what had happened. While Richard’s one hand was in the elevator push button panel taking out the bulb, he had come in contact with the electric circuit. This was fine as long as he wasn’t grounded. That is, he wasn’t touching anything else metal, like the front of the panel.

Being a good electrician, Richard had kept his other hand at his side like Charles Foster had taught me my first day as an electrician. That is, until he raised that hand for me to give him a lamp. When my fingers touched his palm, and my other hand was holding the elevator gate, we suddenly made a circuit to ground. From Richard, to me, to the gate, to the ground, and back to the the main power generator through various grounds and circuits and transformers….

About the time that I realized what was happening, we had separated from each other, and were no longer dancing. It cracked us up and we stood there laughing about it for a minute because both of us had just been dancing in the elevator.

As I explained in the post about being on light duty that I mentioned above, when you went to work on the stack lights, you carried metal prod with you that you used to ground the large capacitors before you worked on the circuit. When you did this, there would be a bright flash and a loud explosion.

If a noise or a flash like that made you jump, you may end up going over the handrail and falling 500 feet to the ground. So, you learned that in the event of a flash, your first reaction is to freeze. Then assess the situation, and then if necessary, Panic.

Many years later (like 16), I became very aware of how well trained we were when something like this happened when I was once again working with Charles Foster in a junction box on the 11 landing of Unit 1 on the west side. We were standing side-by-side and we were working on something hot.

Suddenly there was a bright flash and a loud boom as something shorted out. By that time in our history, we had learned all about wearing fire resistant clothing, so that even though what we were wearing wasn’t fire proof, it also wasn’t going to melt to our skin.

What amazed me about this moment was that we both stood there still for a moment before we panicked. There was about a one second pause where we both restrained ourselves from jumping back. I chalked this up to our years of being around explosive situations. Jumping back as the first reaction can often lead to other injuries.

I took this resistance to panic with me into other situations. Before 1994 when OSHA added a bunch of new laws protecting people in confined spaces, I was crawling inside the main generator bus that goes out to the main power transformer. No hole watch. No one watching me outside that could grab me and pull me out if something went wrong.

A Main Power Transformer

A Main Power Transformer. The bus piping are those three pipes going into the building at the top in the back

I had squeezed myself into one of these pipes to clean the insulators that held the bus in place in the middle of the pipe. This meant that I was crammed into the pipe under the bus bar that ran through the middle of the pipe.

I had made it to the insulator that I needed to clean and wiped it down with the rag I had taken with me. Then I decided I couldn’t go forward anymore to look at any more of the insulators because it was too tight of a fit. So, I started to back myself out.

As I went to push myself back I suddenly realized that I was stuck. It was easy moving forward because I was using the soles of my sneakers to push on the pipe, but as soon as I wanted to go back, there didn’t seem to be anyway to maneuver my body in a way that would back myself out. My arms were stretched out in front of me.  This was one of a few times when I began to feel the panicky feeling of claustrophobia.

I had seen claustrophobia in others and I knew that when you are gripped with it, you can hurt yourself, or even Bob Lillibridge if he happened to be the one grabbing your legs at the time (see the post: Bob Lillibridge Meets the Power Plant Ghost for an explanation.

Here it came… I felt myself swelling up tight in the pipe as the panic was gripping me. I knew I had to do something quickly or it wasn’t going to be pretty…. Well, either way… nothing about this was pretty. So, I forced myself to calm down. I told myself to breathe out, and slowly back in.

Then I decided to use the palms of my hands that were stretched out straight in front of me to push against the pipe to move me back. With that effort, I could see (in the darkness) that I had moved myself back about 1/2 inch. I thought. “Ok, 1/2 inch is something. If I did that 100 more times, that would be more than 4 feet. 200 times and I would be out of this pipe.”

Realizing I could move myself at least a little bit allowed me to calm down and quell the panic. I did nothing but concentrate on pushing with my palms 1/2 inch at a time and eventually, I did climb out of that pipe (What?  You expected me to say I was still in there?).

I don’t know how many times over the years I have woken up in the middle of the night and swung my feet over the side of the bed and taken a few large breaths because I had been dreaming about being in that pipe again. I will discuss the topic of claustrophobia in a later post, but this example fit the topic of training yourself not to panic so I thought I would use it here.

If you ever end up talking to someone that doesn’t quite look at you when they look like they are trying to look at you, then you may think that they are a welder. There are some welders that seem to look at you from the corner of their eye. I suppose it was because the middle of their vision has been burned out because they have looked at the welding arc too many times without their visor down.  Or maybe they had just learned to look away from whatever they are seeing just as a safety habit.

Similarly, if you ever encounter someone that momentarily goes into a comatose state for a few moments when you ask them a simple question, you may now think that maybe this person was a Power Plant Electrician that has learned to have a Prolonged Pause before they Panic… or… respond to your question. If they aren’t from a power plant, then they probably were just trying to ignore you.

Comments from previous repost:

    1. Dan Antion September 11, 2014

      Good advice for anyone in similar situations.

    1. Slowmoto September 11, 2014

      Pause before panic is my response to most stressors perceived by a presenter or an emerging reality. You hit the mark!

  1. Monty Hansen November 26, 2014

    Excellent writing! I felt myself getting panicky with you! As a control room operator I had an electrician drop a screwdriver & blow the unit out from under me at full load + 5% overpressure (2520#)-(It caused a false boiler feedpump saturation temp trip). The power plant has trained me not to startle as well, inside I may be screaming like a schoolgirl, but outside I am calm and handling emergencies as though routine.

Prolonged Power Plant Pause Before the Panic

Originally posted September 6, 2013:

Today when I attend meetings while on the job at Dell (and now at GM) and the discussion is about something new, and the manager is looking for input from the team, I usually sit there quiety while the others share their thoughts. This is not my usual behavior in other settings as I am usually quick to respond with a quip or something sarcastic.

Later, after everyone else has given their two cents, then if asked, I will wade in with both feet. This hasn’t always been the course of action I would have taken. Actually, I used to be pretty hot-headed. I was usually the first person to respond when someone asked a question. I already had my mind made up about just about everything.

My wife began noticing a change in my behavior a few years after we were married. She would ask me a simple question, like, “Would you like a piece of gum.” I would suddenly go into a momentary comatose state where I would stare off into space and think about it. She would say something like, “The answer doesn’t need a lot of thought. It is either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”

After careful analysis, I finally figured out what happened. The transformation began the day I entered the electric shop at the coal-fired power plant as an electrician. I described that first day in the post “New Home in the Power Plant Electric Shop“. In that post I described my first job as an electrician when I went to the coalyard with my foreman Charles Foster to fix a room heater that wasn’t working.

The first time I used my new tools, Charles told me to remove a screw from a fuse block so that we could lift a wire in order to replace the fuse block.

A small fuse block like this.

A small fuse block like this.

When I was removing the wire (with one hand, as Charles had warned me that an electrician never uses two hands to do this), the screwdriver slipped and shorted out on the mounting screw which caused a brief flash. In the millisecond that the flash occurred, it cut a notch in the tip of my new Stanley screwdriver.

A Stanley screwdriver used by electgricians because of the rubber on the handle

A Stanley screwdriver used by electricians because of the rubber on the handle

This was the beginning of my 18 year career of various minor electrocutions and small explosions. We did things to minimize the chances of shorting out your screwdriver when working on a hot circuit (that means a circuit that has the electricity still turned on). One thing we would do is wrap rubber tape up the metal shank so that if it leaned against something metal with it while the tip was touching something hot, it wouldn’t short out the circuit.

Inevitably, something would happen every now and then and something was going to explode. So you just had to be prepared for that. This is where the “Prolonged Pause” comes in.

Sometimes there is nothing you can do. Let me give you a “For Instance”. One time when we had an overhaul on Unit 1 (we had 2 units at our Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma), Richard Moravek was visiting from the Power Plant in Muskogee, Oklahoma. I have written about him in the Post “Lap o’ Luxury at the Muskogee Power Plant“. Each morning at Muskogee, he and Jay Harris would sing the song, “Nestle’s makes the very best Chocolate”, with Richard whistling as he sang like the Nestle’s rabbit with a whistle in his voice.

The Nestle's Rabbit

The Nestle’s Rabbit

On one particular day, Richard and I were sent to perform a “quick and dirty” elevator inspection on the Unit 1 elevator. It received a lot of wear and tear during overhaul with everyone riding up and down from the 9th floor where you could reach the upper echelons of the boiler. If things didn’t work perfectly every time, then the work would be slowed, and schedules wouldn’t be met.

During our elevator inspection we decided that we needed to change out some lights on the push buttons, because…. well… because some of them were burned out. Which caused them to not light up when they were supposed to, causing some Power Plant workers to become confused because they would forget which button they had pushed when they entered the elevator, thus, allowing them to forget which floor they were supposed to get off (working long hours will do that to you).

Anyway, Richard had taken the screws out of the push button panel and had swung the door on the panel open so that the wiring inside was all exposed. He reached in to pulled out one of the push button assemblies so that he could remove the bulb (oh… electricians call bulbs, Lamps… I mentioned that in the post “Place On Light Duty at the Power Plant“, if you recall).

I had reached down into my tool bucket and pulled out a box of special elevator lamps….. Actually, I think it was a standard 6S6 lamp, but it looked like a bulb to me:

A 12 Volt 6S6 bulb

A 12 Volt 6S6 bulb (or is it a lamp?)

Richard had put his hand out to receive the bulb I had in my hand, so I handed it to him. At that point, a funny thing happened. You see, my other hand was on the elevator scissor gate.

An Elevator Scissor Gate

An Elevator Scissor Gate

As I placed the lamp into Richard’s hand, he suddenly twitched and sort of jumped at the same time. When he did, he pushed into me and he began doing a jig. My legs were twitching and I was sort of doing a jig myself, or maybe a jog.

It became apparent right away what had happened. While Richard’s one hand was in the elevator push button panel taking out the bulb, he had come in contact with the electric circuit. This was fine as long as he wasn’t grounded. That is, he wasn’t touching anything else metal, like the front of the panel.

Being a good electrician, Richard had kept his other hand at his side like Charles Foster had taught me my first day as an electrician. That is, until he raised that hand for me to give him a lamp. When my fingers touched his palm, and my other hand was holding the elevator gate, we suddenly made a circuit to ground. From Richard, to me, to the gate, to the ground, and back to the the main power generator through various grounds and circuits and transformers….

About the time that I realized what was happening, we had separated from each other, and were no longer dancing. It cracked us up and we stood there laughing about it for a minute because both of us had just been dancing in the elevator.

As I explained in the post about being on light duty that I mentioned above, when you went to work on the stack lights, you carried metal prod with you that you used to ground the large capacitors before you worked on the circuit. When you did this, there would be a bright flash and a loud explosion.

If a noise or a flash like that made you jump, you may end up going over the handrail and falling 500 feet to the ground. So, you learned that in the event of a flash, your first reaction is to freeze. Then assess the situation, and then if necessary, Panic.

Many years later (like 16), I became very aware of how well trained we were when something like this happened when I was once again working with Charles Foster in a junction box on the 11 landing of Unit 1 on the west side. We were standing side-by-side and we were working on something hot.

Suddenly there was a bright flash and a loud boom as something shorted out. By that time in our history, we had learned all about wearing fire resistant clothing, so that even though what we were wearing wasn’t fire proof, it also wasn’t going to melt to our skin.

What amazed me about this moment was that we both stood there still for a moment before we panicked. There was about a one second pause where we both restrained ourselves from jumping back. I chalked this up to our years of being around explosive situations. Jumping back as the first reaction can often lead to other injuries.

I took this resistance to panic with me into other situations. Before 1994 when OSHA added a bunch of new laws protecting people in confined spaces, I was crawling inside the main generator bus that goes out to the main power transformer. No hole watch. No one watching me outside that could grab me and pull me out if something went wrong.

A Main Power Transformer

A Main Power Transformer. The bus piping are those three pipes going into the building at the top in the back

I had squeezed myself into one of these pipes to clean the insulators that held the bus in place in the middle of the pipe. This meant that I was crammed into the pipe under the bus bar that ran through the middle of the pipe.

I had made it to the insulator that I needed to clean and wiped it down with the rag I had taken with me. Then I decided I couldn’t go forward anymore to look at any more of the insulators because it was too tight of a fit. So, I started to back myself out.

As I went to push myself back I suddenly realized that I was stuck. It was easy moving forward because I was using the soles of my sneakers to push on the pipe, but as soon as I wanted to go back, there didn’t seem to be anyway to maneuver my body in a way that would back myself out. My arms were stretched out in front of me.  This was one of a few times when I began to feel the panicky feeling of claustrophobia.

I had seen claustrophobia in others and I knew that when you are gripped with it, you can hurt yourself, or even Bob Lillibridge if he happened to be the one grabbing your legs at the time (see the post: Bob Lillibridge Meets the Power Plant Ghost for an explanation.

Here it came… I felt myself swelling up tight in the pipe as the panic was gripping me. I knew I had to do something quickly or it wasn’t going to be pretty…. Well, either way… nothing about this was pretty. So, I forced myself to calm down. I told myself to breathe out, and slowly back in.

Then I decided to use the palms of my hands that were stretched out straight in front of me to push against the pipe to move me back. With that effort, I could see (in the darkness) that I had moved myself back about 1/2 inch. I thought. “Ok, 1/2 inch is something. If I did that 100 more times, that would be more than 4 feet. 200 times and I would be out of this pipe.”

Realizing I could move myself at least a little bit allowed me to calm down and quell the panic. I did nothing but concentrate on pushing with my palms 1/2 inch at a time and eventually, I did climb out of that pipe (What?  You expected me to say I was still in there?).

I don’t know how many times over the years I have woken up in the middle of the night and swung my feet over the side of the bed and taken a few large breaths because I had been dreaming about being in that pipe again. I will discuss the topic of claustrophobia in a later post, but this example fit the topic of training yourself not to panic so I thought I would use it here.

If you ever end up talking to someone that doesn’t quite look at you when they look like they are trying to look at you, then you may think that they are a welder. There are some welders that seem to look at you from the corner of their eye. I suppose it was because the middle of their vision has been burned out because they have looked at the welding arc too many times without their visor down.  Or maybe they had just learned to look away from whatever they are seeing just as a safety habit.

Similarly, if you ever encounter someone that momentarily goes into a comatose state for a few moments when you ask them a simple question, you may now think that maybe this person was a Power Plant Electrician that has learned to have a Prolonged Pause before they Panic… or… respond to your question. If they aren’t from a power plant, then they probably were just trying to ignore you.

Comments from previous repost:

  1. Dan Antion September 11, 2014

    Good advice for anyone in similar situations.

  2. Slowmoto September 11, 2014

    Pause before panic is my response to most stressors perceived by a presenter or an emerging reality. You hit the mark!

  3. Monty Hansen November 26, 2014

    Excellent writing! I felt myself getting panicky with you! As a control room operator I had an electrician drop a screwdriver & blow the unit out from under me at full load + 5% overpressure (2520#)-(It caused a false boiler feedpump saturation temp trip). The power plant has trained me not to startle as well, inside I may be screaming like a schoolgirl, but outside I am calm and handling emergencies as though routine.

After Effects of Power Plant Drop Tests

Originally posted March 22, 2013:

I have found that elevators have a way of equalizing personal differences when there are just two of you alone in an elevator. It is one of the few places in a Power Plant where no one is watching or listening (usually) to what is said between two parties. Once the doors open, it is difficult to convince others what has happened because there is only one other witness. Depending on your position, this can be either a good thing or a bad thing.

Soon after I became an electrician I was introduced to “Elevator Maintenance”. The Power Plant has 7 elevators. One that goes to the main office area. One that goes to the Control Room. Two for the boilers. Two for the Smoke Stacks and one that takes you to the top of the Fly Ash Hoppers in the coal yard.

The office and boiler elevators were made by Montgomery. These each had to be inspected regularly to keep them running safely. If not, then the plant ran the risk of having people stuck in the elevators for a period of time, which is never a good situation.

There were times when people were stuck in the plant elevators. I may devote an entire post to that subject at some time. Today I’m more interested in the people that inspect the elevators and the effects that elevator inspections had on them.

I didn’t think about it for a long time, but one day when I was walking by a person that I worked with at Dell, Jeremy Tupa, stopped and said, “I still get chills thinking about what you used to do at the Power Plant.” I didn’t know what he was referring to until he reminded me. He said, “When you had to drop test the elevators.” It took me a while, but I finally remembered when I had told Jeremy about drop testing the stack elevator.

Our team at Dell had gone to Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio for the day. Jeremy and I were sitting next to each other on a ride called “The Scream”. It would raise you up and then you would free-fall down and then it would quickly jerk you back up again and drop you again. That’s when I told him this wasn’t scary to me, because it was just like drop testing a stack elevator.

Scream at Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio

Scream at Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio

Oh yeah. I guess to some people that must seem kind of scary. To the people that actually perform that activity, they do things to their mind to convince themselves that everything is safe. Well. Besides that, when following all the safety precautions, it really is a safe activity (see. I’m still doing it).

When drop testing an elevator, you load the elevator with more weight than what the elevator is designed to carry. Usually by bringing a few pallets of sandblasting sand by forklift to the elevator and then piling them in the elevator until you have reached the desired weight for a drop test.

A clean Elevator Shaft

A clean Elevator Shaft. The plant elevator shaft was always full of coal dust and just dirt.

Once the elevator is weighed down, you climb on top of the elevator and manually operate the elevator using the inspection controls until you have raised it up a couple of floors. Then someone up in the penthouse releases the brake so that the elevator free falls.

Once the elevator obtains a certain speed, a tripping device located in the penthouse rolls over and locks, that causes a locking device on the elevator to engage, which sets the “dogs”. The dogs are clamps that dig into the railing that the elevator uses as sort of a track to go up and down without shaking back and forth.

Once the tripping mechanism in the penthouse is operated. it cuts the power to the elevator. Once the dogs are set, there is a loud bang and the elevator isn’t going anywhere. It comes to an instant stop.

Performing a drop test in an elevator shaft seems rather routine, and it is more trouble resetting everything and filing the track smooth again where the dogs dug in creating a notch, than it is to actually perform the drop test.

The Smoke Stack elevators are a lot more fun.

The smoke stack elevators are these Swedish made three man elevators made by a company named Alimak. They operate like a roller coaster does when it is cranking its way up the first hill. The weight limit for these elevators is much lower obviously, since they only hold 3 people.

I could usually load a few large anchors and maybe an Engineer or two in the stack elevator and run it up 50 feet or so and perform the drop test. In order to perform a drop test on a stack elevator (notice how I use the word “perform” as if this was a work of art…. well… in a way it was), you had to disengage a governor first. The governor would prevent a free-falling stack elevator from just flying to the bottom by engaging a secondary brake when the governor sensed that the elevator was moving too fast.

After installing the special governator (like Arnold Schwarzenegger) to keep the governor from engaging, using a large screwdriver or small prybar (meaning that the large screwdriver also functions as a small prybar), the brake is released allowing the elevator to free fall to the ground or well, until the elevator sensed it was moving way too fast and locked up.

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

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

Did I mention that these activities are performed while standing on top of the stack elevator? Yeah. Right out in the open. The entire elevator inspection was done standing on top of the elevator. That was how you inspected the railing and tight checked all the bolts all the way up and down the 500 foot stack elevator rail.

A large Allen Wrench with a permanent cheater bar was used to tight check the rail bolts.

Large Allen Wrench

Large Allen Wrench without a cheater bar

One time before I was an electrician, when Diana Lucas (later Diana Brien) was pulling down on an allen bolt with the cheater bar, Jerry Day, who was with her, pressed the button to lower the elevator down to the next bolt and left Diana hanging in mid-air 100’s of feet above the ground!

A view of the coalyard from the top of the Smoke Stack

A view of the coalyard from the top of the Smoke Stack

Needless to say, the experience of hanging onto a large Allen wrench stuck in a bolt 100’s of feet up a smoke stack, left Diana a little scarred. Diana is a tough Power Plant Woman of the highest degree and I used to perform the elevator inspections with her. She would go up the smoke stack on the top of the elevator, but I generally did the tight check on the bolts and let her run the buttons.

This is all just a teaser to the real story behind this post…

In the fall of 1984 Ben Davis and I went to Muskogee on a major overhaul. While I was there, part of the time I lived in a trailer with a guy from Horseshoe Lake named Steve Trammell. To this day, (and Steve does read these posts) we have always referred to each other as “roomie”.

While at Muskogee Ben and I worked out of the electric shop located next to the main switchgear for Unit 6. The Muskogee electricians we worked around were, John Manning, the B Foreman, Jay Harris, Richard Moravek, David Stewart and Tiny.

Tiny would be the one standing in the back

Tiny would be the one standing in the back

All of the electricians Ben and I worked with were great Power Plant Men, and I will write a post later about our experience there. For now, I am just going to focus on one person. David Stewart. Why? Because he inspected the stack elevators at Muskogee, like I did at Sooner Plant.

I don’t know exactly how the conversation was started because I walked into it in the middle when I entered the Electric foreman’s office to eat my lunch. David was semi-arguing with the rest of the he-men in the room. The argument centered around this: David Stewart was convinced that if you were in an elevator and everything failed and it was falling to the ground, if you jumped up as hard as you could at the last moment, you would be all right.

I will pause here while you re-read the last sentence………..

While you are thinking this thought over, watch the following Pink Panther video from 1968 called, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Pink on YouTube. Especially from 4 minutes and 15 seconds to 30 seconds into the film:

At first I thought that this was an ingenious joke that David was playing on everyone in the office because everyone was falling for it (I had actually used this technique before in my own jokes). They were all trying to explain to David why it was impossible to jump up in a falling elevator at the last moment and you would be all right. The more I listened, the more I came to realize that David was convinced that this was so.

I took David aside and tried to explain to him that according to the law of gravity and acceleration that you would be falling too fast to be able to jump high enough to make any difference to your falling fate. I presented him with the formula for acceleration and showed him that if you even fell from about 50 feet, you would be crushed.

final velocity = Square root of the initial velocity squared plus 2 times acceleration times distance. With Gravity having an acceleration of 9.81 meters per second and 50 feet being just over 15 meters…

I showed him that his final velocity would be about 17 meters per second, which is equivalent to about 38 miles an hour straight into the ground. From only a 50 foot fall. It didn’t phase him. He was so certain it would work. — I understood. This was his way of coping with doing a drop test on the stack elevator. His mind had convinced him that all he had to do was jump up in the case that the elevator safeties failed.

Fast Forward 5 months. It was in April of 1985 when a man from the Swedish Elevator company would come around and do our yearly stack elevator inspection. During this inspection he told me that we needed to remove the top gear rail from the railing.

The reason was that on a stack in Minnesota, when all the safeties had failed on an elevator, it didn’t stop going up. It went all the way to the top and off the top of the railing and fell to it’s doom. By removing the top gear section, the elevator wouldn’t be able to go high enough to go over the top of the railing.

Anyway, while we were inspecting the elevator I asked him if he would be going to the Muskogee power plant after ours, and he said he would. He knew David Stewart and would most likely be working with him on the Muskogee Stack Elevators.

So, I told him the story that David really believed that he had convinced himself that he could jump up in a falling elevator at the last moment and he would survive. So I convinced the elevator inspector to tell everyone about how they need to remove the top gear section, but that it doesn’t really matter, because it is a proven fact that all you have to do is jump up in the elevator at the last moment and you will be all right.

Fast Forward another year. It was now April 1986…. The elevator inspector and I were up on the stack elevators tight checking all the bolts when I remembered about David. So I asked him, “Hey, did you ever do anything with David and jumping up in the elevator?”

He responded with, “Yeah I did! And until the moment that I had said anything I thought you were playing a joke on me, but here is what happened…. We were all sitting in the electric shop office eating lunch and I told them just like you said. When I got to the part where you could just jump up in the elevator and you would be all right, David jumped out of his chair and yelled ‘See!!! I told you!!!’ It was only then that I believed your story. Everyone in the room broke out in a roar of laughter.” — As much as I love David Stewart, I was glad that the joke was performed with perfect precision.

Now for the clincher…. — Oh. You thought that was it? So, let me explain to you one thing about drop testing the stack elevator… The elevator doesn’t go up and down like regular elevators with cables and rails and rollers. It uses one gear on a central rail that has notches to fit the gear.

The stack elevator had a rail with notches like this only it was a lot stronger

The stack elevator had a rail with notches like this only it was a lot stronger

The gear is heavy duty as well as the rail. You can count on it not breaking. The gear was on a shaft that was tied to the braking mechanism, the governor and the motor through a gearbox. The ultimate clincher is this… The gear… The only thing holding the entire elevator up and the only thing tied to any kind of a brake had one pin in it that kept it from rotating on the shaft. One pin. In mechanical terms, this is called a Key:

A hardened steel Key used to keep a gear or coupling from rotating on a motor shaft

A hardened steel Key used to keep a gear or coupling from rotating on a motor shaft

Everything else on the stack elevator can fail and the elevator will not fall, but if this pin were to fail…. the elevator would free fall to the ground. Thinking back, I must have explained this to Jeremy Tupa, my coworker at Dell back in 2004 when we worked together. It made such an impact on him that I would drop test an elevator that was completely held up by only this one pin. This is the weakest link in the chain.

I know that every now and then I wake up either from a claustrophobic fit because Curtis Love just shut my air off (see the Post: Power Plant Safety as Interpreted by Curtis Love) or while I’m taking a flying leap off of the stack elevator. If only I could have the confidence that David had. If only I could believe that jumping up at the last moment would save me.

Actually, I can picture jumping up and a hand reaching down to grab me and pulling me up… only it pulls me on up to heaven. That’s when I’ll know the truth. David was right. Just jump up as hard as you can. Jump and know that you will be safe. God will catch you.

Comment from the original post:

  1. Monty Hansen June 27, 2014

    I got stuck in the plant elevator once, I was playing – jumping up and down in it, and enjoying it bounce – until it came to a crunching halt between floors – about 8 stories up. And of course I had to do this stunt on THANKSGIVING day when there were no electricians at the plant to save me! The plant was an hour drive from town. The supervisor had to call out an electricain. he said the overspeed brakes had tripped AND the slack cable switch. How embarrassing! I never move in an elevator now.

    Another time my supervisor got stuck in the plant elevator at about 5 in the morning, I was the senior guy on shift and upgradable to foreman, so I upgraded while he was stuck, but since it was so close to time for electricians to start coming on shift, there was no use calling one out. I had a Time off request for 3 hours of floating holiday waiting for him when he came out! It was winter and cold and he was up about level 8 also. Fortunately he had a big heavy coat and was dressed for the occasion.

 

Prolonged Power Plant Pause Before the Panic — Repost

Originally posted September 6, 2013:

Today when I attend meetings while on the job at Dell and the discussion is about something new, and the manager is looking for input from the team, I usually sit there quiety while the others share their thoughts.  This is not my usual behavior as I am usually quick to respond with a quip or something sarcastic.

Later, after everyone else has given their two cents, then if asked, I will wade in with both feet.  This hasn’t always been the course of action I would have taken.  Actually, I used to be pretty hot-headed.  I was usually the first person to respond when someone asked a question.  I already had my mind made up about just about everything.

My wife began noticing a change in my behavior a few years after we were married.  She would ask me a simple question, like, “Would you like a piece of gum.”  I would suddenly go into a momentary comatose state where I would stare off into space and think about it.  She would say something like, “The answer doesn’t need a lot of thought.  It is either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”

After careful analysis, I finally figured out what happened.  The transformation began the day I entered the electric shop at the coal-fired power plant as an electrician.  I described that first day in the post “New Home in the Power Plant Electric Shop“.  In that post I described my first job as an electrician when I went to the coalyard with my foreman Charles Foster to fix a room heater that wasn’t working.

The first time I used my new tools, Charles told me to remove a screw from a fuse block so that we could lift a wire in order to replace the fuse block.

A small fuse block like this.

A small fuse block like this.

When I was removing the wire (with one hand, as Charles had warned me that an electrician never uses two hands to do this), the screwdriver slipped and shorted out on the mounting screw which caused a brief flash.  In the millisecond that the flash occurred, it cut a notch in the tip of my new Stanley screwdriver.

A Stanley screwdriver used by electgricians because of the rubber on the handle

A Stanley screwdriver used by electricians because of the rubber on the handle

This was the beginning of my 18 year career of various minor electrocutions and small explosions.  We did things to minimize the chances of shorting out your screwdriver when working on a hot circuit (that means a circuit that has the electricity still turned on).  One thing we would do is wrap rubber tape up the metal shank so that if it leaned against something metal with it while the tip was touching something hot, it wouldn’t short out the circuit.

Inevitably, something would happen every now and then and something was going to explode.  So you just had to be prepared for that.  This is where the “Prolonged Pause” comes in.

Sometimes there is nothing you can do.  Let me give you a “For Instance”.  One time when we had an overhaul on Unit 1 (we had 2 units at our Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma), Richard Moravek was visiting from the Power Plant in Muskogee, Oklahoma.  I have written about him in the Post “Lap o’ Luxury at the Muskogee Power Plant“.  Each morning at Muskogee, he and Jay Harris would sing the song, “Nestle’s makes the very best Chocolate”, with Richard whistling as he sang like the Nestle’s rabbit.

The Nestle's Rabbit

The Nestle’s Rabbit

On one particular day, Richard and I were sent to perform a “quick and dirty” elevator inspection on the Unit 1 elevator.  It received a lot of wear and tear during overhaul with everyone riding up and down from the 9th floor where you could reach the upper echelons of the boiler.  If things didn’t work perfectly every time, then the work would be slowed, and schedules wouldn’t be met.

During our elevator inspection we decided that we needed to change out some lights on the push buttons, because…. well… because some of them were burned out.  Which caused them to not light up when they were supposed to, causing some Power Plant workers to become confused because they would forget which button they had pushed when they entered the elevator, thus, allowing them to forget which floor they were supposed to get off.

Anyway, Richard had taken the screws out of the push button panel and had swung the door on the panel open so that the wiring inside was all exposed.  He reached in to pulled out one of the push button assemblies so that he could remove the bulb (oh… electricians call bulbs, Lamps… I mentioned that in the post “Place On Light Duty at the Power Plant“, if you recall).

I had reached down into my tool bucket and pulled out a box of special elevator lamps….. Actually, I think it was a standard 6S6 lamp, but it looked like a bulb to me:

A 12 Volt 6S6 bulb

A 12 Volt 6S6 bulb

Richard had put his hand out to receive the bulb I had in my hand, so I handed it to him.  At that point, a funny thing happened.  You see, my other hand was on the elevator scissor gate.

An Elevator Scissor Gate

An Elevator Scissor Gate

As I placed the lamp into Richard’s hand, he suddenly twitched and sort of jumped at the same time.  When he did, he pushed into me and he began doing a jig.  My legs were twitching and I was sort of doing a jig myself, or maybe a jog.

It became apparent right away what had happened.  While Richard’s one hand was in the elevator push button panel taking out the bulb, he had come in contact with the electric circuit.  This was fine as long as he wasn’t grounded.  That is, he wasn’t touching anything else metal, like the front of the panel.

Being a good electrician, Richard had kept his other hand at his side like Charles Foster had taught me my first day as an electrician.  That is, until he raised that hand for me to give him a lamp.  When my fingers touched his palm, and my other hand was holding the elevator gate, we suddenly made a circuit to ground.  From Richard, to me, to the gate, to the ground, and back to the the main power generator through various grounds and circuits and transformers….

About the time that I realized what was happening, we had separated from each other, and were no longer dancing.  It cracked us up and we stood there laughing about it for a minute because both of us had just been dancing in the elevator.

As I explained in the post about being on light duty that I mentioned above, when you went to work on the stack lights, you carried metal prod with you that you used to ground the large capacitors before you worked on the circuit.  When you did this, there would be a bright flash and a loud explosion.

If a noise or a flash like that made you jump, you may end up going over the handrail and falling 500 feet to the ground.  So, you learned that in the event of a flash, your first reaction is to freeze.  Then assess the situation, and then if necessary, Panic.

Many years later (like 16), I became very aware of how well trained we were when something like this happened when I was once again working with Charles Foster in a junction box on the 11 landing of Unit 1 on the west side.  We were standing side-by-side and we were working on something hot.

Suddenly there was a bright flash and a loud boom as something shorted out.  By that time in our history, we had learned all about wearing fire resistant clothing, so that even though what we were wearing wasn’t fire proof, it also wasn’t going to melt to our skin.

What amazed me about this moment was that we both stood there still for a moment before we panicked.  There was about a one second pause where we both restrained ourselves from jumping back.  I chalked this up to our years of being around explosive situations.  Jumping back as the first reaction can often lead to other injuries.

I took this resistance to panic with me into other situations.  Before 1994 when OSHA added a bunch of new laws protecting people in confined spaces, I was crawling inside the main generator bus that goes out to the main power transformer.  No hole watch.  No one watching me outside that could grab me and pull me out if something went wrong.

A Main Power Transformer

A Main Power Transformer.  The bus piping are those three pipes going into the building at the top in the back

I had squeezed myself into one of these pipes to clean the insulators that held the bus in place in the middle of the pipe.  This meant that I was crammed into the pipe under the bus bar that ran through the middle of the pipe.

I had made it to the insulator that I needed to clean and wiped it down with the rag I had taken with me.  Then I decided I couldn’t go forward anymore to look at any more of the insulators because it was too tight of a fit.  So, I started to back myself out.

As I went to push myself back I suddenly realized that I was stuck.  It was easy moving forward because I was using the soles of my sneakers to push on the pipe, but as soon as I wanted to go back, there didn’t seem to be anyway to maneuver my body in a way that would back myself out.  This was one of a few times when I began to feel the panicky feeling of claustrophobia.

I had seen claustrophobia in others and I knew that when you are gripped with it, you can hurt yourself, or even Bob Lillibridge if he happened to be grabbing your legs at the time (see the post:  Bob Lillibridge Meets the Power Plant Ghost for an explanation.

Here it came… I felt myself swelling up tight in the pipe as the panic was gripping me.  I knew I had to do something quickly or it wasn’t going to be pretty…. Well, either way… nothing about this was pretty.  So, I forced myself to calm down.  I told myself to breathe out, and slowly back in.

Then I decided to use the palms of my hands that were stretched out straight in front of me to push against the pipe to move me back.  With that effort, I could see (in the darkness) that I had moved myself back about 1/2 inch.  I thought.  “Ok, 1/2 inch is something.  If I did that 100 more times, that would be more than 4 feet.  200 times and I would be out of this pipe.”

Realizing I could move myself at least a little bit allowed me to calm down and quell the panic.  I did nothing but concentrate on pushing with my palms 1/2 inch at a time and eventually, I did climb out of that pipe (What you expected me to say I was still in there?).

I don’t know how many times over the years I have woken up in the middle of the night and swung my feet over the side of the bed and taken a few large breaths because I had been dreaming about being in that pipe again.  I will discuss the top of claustrophobia in a later post, but this example fit the top of training yourself not to panic so I thought I would use it here.

If you ever end up talking to someone that doesn’t quite look at you when they look like they are trying to look at you, then you may think that they are a welder.  There are some welders that seem to look at you from the corner of their eye.  I suppose it was because the middle of their vision has been burned out because they have looked at the welding arc too many times without their visor down.

Similarly, if you ever encounter someone that momentarily goes into a comatose state for a few moments when you ask them a simple question, you may now think that maybe this person was a Power Plant Electrician that has learned to have a Prolonged Pause before they Panic… or.. well, respond to your question.  If they aren’t, then they probably were just trying to ignore you.

After Effects of Power Plant Drop Tests — Repost

Originally posted March 22, 2013:

I have found that elevators have a way of equalizing personal differences when there are just two of you alone in an elevator. It is one of the few places in a Power Plant where no one is watching or listening (usually) to what is said between two parties. Once the doors open, it is difficult to convince others what has happened because there is only one other witness. Depending on your position, this can be either a good thing or a bad thing.

Soon after I became an electrician I was introduced to “Elevator Maintenance”. The Power Plant has 7 elevators. One that goes to the main office area. One that goes to the Control Room. Two for the boilers. Two for the Smoke Stacks and one that takes you to the top of the Fly Ash Hoppers in the coal yard.

The office and boiler elevators were made by Montgomery. These each had to be inspected regularly to keep them running safely. If not, then the plant ran the risk of having people stuck in the elevators for a period of time, which is never a good situation.

There were times when people were stuck in the plant elevators. I may devote an entire post to that subject at some time. Today I’m more interested in the people that inspect the elevators and the effects that elevator inspections had on them.

I didn’t think about it for a long time, but one day when I was walking by a person that I worked with at Dell, Jeremy Tupa, stopped and said, “I still get chills thinking about what you used to do at the Power Plant.” I didn’t know what he was referring to until he reminded me. He said, “When you had to drop test the elevators.”  It took me a while, but I finally remembered when I had told Jeremy about drop testing the stack elevator.

Our team at Dell had gone to Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio for the day.  Jeremy and I were sitting next to each other on a ride called “The Scream”.  It would raise you up and then you would free-fall down and then it would quickly jerk you back up again and drop you again.  That’s when I told him this wasn’t scary to me, because it was just like drop testing a stack elevator.

Scream at Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio

Scream at Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio

Oh yeah. I guess to some people that must seem kind of scary. To the people that actually perform that activity, they do things to their mind to convince themselves that everything is safe. Well. Besides that, when following all the safety precautions, it really is a safe activity (see. I’m still doing it).

When drop testing an elevator, you load the elevator with more weight than what the elevator is designed to carry. Usually by bringing a few pallets of sandblasting sand by forklift to the elevator and then piling them in the elevator until you have reached the desired weight for a drop test.

A clean Elevator Shaft

A clean Elevator Shaft. The plant elevator shaft was always full of coal dust and just dirt.

Once the elevator is weighed down, you climb on top of the elevator and manually operate the elevator using the inspection controls until you have raised it up a couple of floors. Then someone up in the penthouse releases the brake so that the elevator free falls.

Once the elevator obtains a certain speed, a tripping device located in the penthouse rolls over and locks, that causes a locking device on the elevator to engage, which sets the “dogs”. The dogs are clamps that dig into the railing that the elevator uses as sort of a track to go up and down without shaking back and forth.

Once the tripping mechanism in the penthouse is operated. it cuts the power to the elevator. Once the dogs are set, there is a loud bang and the elevator isn’t going anywhere. It comes to an instant stop.

Performing a drop test in an elevator shaft seems rather routine, and it is more trouble resetting everything and filing the track smooth again where the dogs dug in creating a notch, than it is to actually perform the drop test.

The Smoke Stack elevators are a lot more fun.

The smoke stack elevators are these Swedish made three man elevators made by a company named Alimak. They operate like a roller coaster does when it is cranking its way up the first hill. The weight limit for these elevators is much lower obviously, since they only hold 3 people.

I could usually load a few large anchors and maybe an Engineer or two in the stack elevator and run it up 50 feet or so and perform the drop test. In order to perform a drop test on a stack elevator (notice how I use the word “perform” as if this was a work of art…. well… in a way it was), you had to disengage a governor first. The governor would prevent a free-falling stack elevator from just flying to the bottom by engaging a secondary brake when the governor sensed that the elevator was moving too fast.

After installing the special governator (like Arnold Schwarzenegger) to keep the governor from engaging, using a large screwdriver or small prybar (meaning that the large screwdriver also functions as a small prybar), the brake is released allowing the elevator to free fall to the ground or well, until the elevator sensed it was moving way too fast and locked up.

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

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

Did I mention that these activities are performed while standing on top of the stack elevator? Yeah. Right out in the open. The entire elevator inspection was done standing on top of the elevator. That was how you inspected the railing and tight checked all the bolts all the way up and down the 500 foot stack elevator rail.

A large Allen Wrench with a permanent cheater bar was used to tight check the rail bolts.

Large Allen Wrench

Large Allen Wrench without a cheater bar

One time before I was an electrician, when Diana Lucas (later Diana Brien) was pulling down on an allen bolt with the cheater bar, Jerry Day, who was with her, pressed the button to lower the elevator down to the next bolt and left Diana hanging in mid-air 100’s of feet above the ground!

A view of the coalyard from the top of the Smoke Stack

A view of the coalyard from the top of the Smoke Stack

Needless to say, the experience of hanging onto a large Allen wrench stuck in a bolt 100’s of feet up a smoke stack, left Diana a little scarred. Diana is a tough Power Plant Woman of the highest degree and I used to perform the elevator inspections with her. She would go up the smoke stack on the top of the elevator, but I generally did the tight check on the bolts and let her run the buttons.

This is all just a teaser to the real story behind this post…

In the fall of 1984 Ben Davis and I went to Muskogee on a major overhaul. While I was there, part of the time I lived in a trailer with a guy from Horseshoe Lake named Steve Trammell. To this day, (and Steve does read these posts) we have always referred to each other as “roomie”.

While at Muskogee Ben and I worked out of the electric shop located next to the main switchgear for Unit 6. The Muskogee electricians we worked around were, John Manning, the B Foreman, Jay Harris, Richard Moravek, David Stewart and Tiny.

Tiny would be the one standing in the back

Tiny would be the one standing in the back

All of the electricians Ben and I worked with were great Power Plant Men, and I will write a post later about our experience there. For now, I am just going to focus on one person. David Stewart. Why? Because he inspected the stack elevators at Muskogee, like I did at Sooner Plant.

I don’t know exactly how the conversation was started because I walked into it in the middle when I entered the Electric foreman’s office to eat my lunch. David was semi-arguing with the rest of the he-men in the room. The argument centered around this: David Stewart was convinced that if you were in an elevator and everything failed and it was falling to the ground, if you jumped up as hard as you could at the last moment, you would be all right.

I will pause here while you re-read the last sentence………..

While you are thinking this thought over, watch the following Pink Panther video from 1968 called, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Pink on YouTube. Especially from 4 minutes and 15 seconds to 30 seconds into the film:

At first I thought that this was an ingenious joke that David was playing on everyone in the office because everyone was falling for it (I had actually used this technique before in my own jokes). They were all trying to explain to David why it was impossible to jump up in a falling elevator at the last moment and you would be all right. The more I listened, the more I came to realize that David was convinced that this was so.

I took David aside and tried to explain to him that according to the law of gravity and acceleration that you would be falling too fast to be able to jump high enough to make any difference to your falling fate. I presented him with the formula for acceleration and showed him that if you even fell from about 50 feet, you would be crushed.

final velocity = Square root of the initial velocity squared plus 2 times acceleration times distance. With Gravity having an acceleration of 9.81 meters per second and 50 feet being just over 15 meters…

I showed him that his final velocity would be about 17 meters per second, which is equivalent to about 38 miles an hour straight into the ground. From only a 50 foot fall. It didn’t phase him. He was so certain it would work. — I understood. This was his way of coping with doing a drop test on the stack elevator. His mind had convinced him that all he had to do was jump up in the case that the elevator safeties failed.

Fast Forward 5 months. It was in April of 1985 when a man from the Swedish Elevator company would come around and do our yearly stack elevator inspection. During this inspection he told me that we needed to remove the top gear rail from the railing.

The reason was that on a stack in Minnesota, when all the safeties had failed on an elevator, it didn’t stop going up. It went all the way to the top and off the top of the railing and fell to it’s doom. By removing the top gear section, the elevator wouldn’t be able to go high enough to go over the top of the railing.

Anyway, while we were inspecting the elevator I asked him if he would be going to the Muskogee power plant after ours, and he said he would. He knew David Stewart and would most likely be working with him on the Muskogee Stack Elevators.

So, I told him the story that David really believed that he had convinced himself that he could jump up in a falling elevator at the last moment and he would survive. So I convinced the elevator inspector to tell everyone about how they need to remove the top gear section, but that it doesn’t really matter, because it is a proven fact that all you have to do is jump up in the elevator at the last moment and you will be all right.

Fast Forward another year. It was now April 1986…. The elevator inspector and I were up on the stack elevators tight checking all the bolts when I remembered about David. So I asked him, “Hey, did you ever do anything with David and jumping up in the elevator?”

He responded with, “Yeah I did! And until the moment that I had said anything I thought you were playing a joke on me, but here is what happened…. We were all sitting in the electric shop office eating lunch and I told them just like you said. When I got to the part where you could just jump up in the elevator and you would be all right, David jumped out of his chair and yelled ‘See!!! I told you!!!’ It was only then that I believed your story. Everyone in the room broke out in a roar of laughter.” — As much as I love David Stewart, I was glad that the joke was performed with perfect precision.

Now for the clincher…. — Oh. You thought that was it? So, let me explain to you one thing about drop testing the stack elevator… The elevator doesn’t go up and down like regular elevators with cables and rails and rollers. It uses one gear on a central rail that has notches to fit the gear.

The stack elevator had a rail with notches like this only it was a lot stronger

The stack elevator had a rail with notches like this only it was a lot stronger

The gear is heavy duty as well as the rail. You can count on it not breaking. The gear was on a shaft that was tied to the braking mechanism, the governor and the motor through a gearbox. The ultimate clincher is this… The gear… The only thing holding the entire elevator up and the only thing tied to any kind of a brake had one pin in it that kept it from rotating on the shaft. One pin. In mechanical terms, this is called a Key:

A hardened steel Key used to keep a gear or coupling from rotating on a motor shaft

A hardened steel Key used to keep a gear or coupling from rotating on a motor shaft

Everything else on the stack elevator can fail and the elevator will not fall, but if this pin were to fail…. the elevator would free fall to the ground. Thinking back, I must have explained this to Jeremy Tupa, my coworker at Dell back in 2004 when we worked together. It made such an impact on him that I would drop test an elevator that was completely held up by only this one pin. This is the weakest link in the chain.

I know that every now and then I wake up either from a claustrophobic fit because Curtis Love just shut my air off (see the Post: Power Plant Safety as Interpreted by Curtis Love) or while I’m taking a flying leap off of the stack elevator. If only I could have the confidence that David had. If only I could believe that jumping up at the last moment would save me.

Actually, I can picture jumping up and a hand reaching down to grab me and pulling me up… only it pulls me on up to heaven. That’s when I’ll know the truth. David was right. Just jump up as hard as you can. Jump and know that you will be safe. God will catch you.

Prolonged Power Plant Pause Before the Panic

Today when I attend meetings while on the job at Dell and the discussion is about something new, and the manager is looking for input from the team, I usually sit there quiety while the others share their thoughts.  This is not my usual behavior as I am usually quick to respond with a quip or something sarcastic.

Later, after everyone else has given their two cents, then if asked, I will wade in with both feet.  This hasn’t always been the course of action I would have taken.  Actually, I used to be pretty hot-headed.  I was usually the first person to respond when someone asked a question.  I already had my mind made up about just about everything.

My wife began noticing a change in my behavior a few years after we were married.  She would ask me a simple question, like, “Would you like a piece of gum.”  I would suddenly go into a momentary comatose state where I would stare off into space and think about it.  She would say something like, “The answer doesn’t need a lot of thought.  It is either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”

After careful analysis, I finally figured out what happened.  The transformation began the day I entered the electric shop at the coal-fired power plant as an electrician.  I described that first day in the post “New Home in the Power Plant Electric Shop“.  In that post I described my first job as an electrician when I went to the coalyard with my foreman Charles Foster to fix a room heater that wasn’t working.

The first time I used my new tools, Charles told me to remove a screw from a fuse block so that we could lift a wire in order to replace the fuse block.

A small fuse block like this.

A small fuse block like this.

When I was removing the wire (with one hand, as Charles had warned me that an electrician never uses two hands to do this), the screwdriver slipped and shorted out on the mounting screw which caused a brief flash.  In the millisecond that the flash occurred, it cut a notch in the tip of my new Stanley screwdriver.

A Stanley screwdriver used by electgricians because of the rubber on the handle

A Stanley screwdriver used by electricians because of the rubber on the handle

This was the beginning of my 18 year career of various minor electrocutions and small explosions.  We did things to minimize the chances of shorting out your screwdriver when working on a hot circuit (that means a circuit that has the electricity still turned on).  One thing we would do is wrap rubber tape up the metal shank so that if it leaned against something metal with it while the tip was touching something hot, it wouldn’t short out the circuit.

Inevitably, something would happen every now and then and something was going to explode.  So you just had to be prepared for that.  This is where the “Prolonged Pause” comes in.

Sometimes there is nothing you can do.  Let me give you a “For Instance”.  One time when we had an overhaul on Unit 1 (we had 2 units at our Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma), Richard Moravek was visiting from the Power Plant in Muskogee, Oklahoma.  I have written about him in the Post “Lap o’ Luxury at the Muskogee Power Plant“.  Each morning at Muskogee, he and Jay Harris would sing the song, “Nestle’s makes the very best Chocolate”, with Richard whistling as he sang like the Nestle’s rabbit.

The Nestle's Rabbit

The Nestle’s Rabbit

On one particular day, Richard and I were sent to perform a “quick and dirty” elevator inspection on the Unit 1 elevator.  It received a lot of wear and tear during overhaul with everyone riding up and down from the 9th floor where you could reach the upper echelons of the boiler.  If things didn’t work perfectly every time, then the work would be slowed, and schedules wouldn’t be met.

During our elevator inspection we decided that we needed to change out some lights on the push buttons, because…. well… because some of them were burned out.  Which caused them to not light up when they were supposed to, causing some Power Plant workers to become confused because they would forget which button they had pushed when they entered the elevator, thus, allowing them to forget which floor they were supposed to get off.

Anyway, Richard had taken the screws out of the push button panel and had swung the door on the panel open so that the wiring inside was all exposed.  He reached in to pulled out one of the push button assemblies so that he could remove the bulb (oh… electricians call bulbs, Lamps… I mentioned that in the post “Place On Light Duty at the Power Plant“, if you recall).

I had reached down into my tool bucket and pulled out a box of special elevator lamps….. Actually, I think it was a standard 6S6 lamp, but it looked like a bulb to me:

A 12 Volt 6S6 bulb

A 12 Volt 6S6 bulb

Richard had put his hand out to receive the bulb I had in my hand, so I handed it to him.  At that point, a funny thing happened.  You see, my other hand was on the elevator scissor gate.

An Elevator Scissor Gate

An Elevator Scissor Gate

As I placed the lamp into Richard’s hand, he suddenly twitched and sort of jumped at the same time.  When he did, he pushed into me and he began doing a jig.  My legs were twitching and I was sort of doing a jig myself, or maybe a jog.

It became apparent right away what had happened.  While Richard’s one hand was in the elevator push button panel taking out the bulb, he had come in contact with the electric circuit.  This was fine as long as he wasn’t grounded.  That is, he wasn’t touching anything else metal, like the front of the panel.

Being a good electrician, Richard had kept his other hand at his side like Charles Foster had taught me my first day as an electrician.  That is, until he raised that hand for me to give him a lamp.  When my fingers touched his palm, and my other hand was holding the elevator gate, we suddenly made a circuit to ground.  From Richard, to me, to the gate, to the ground, and back to the the main power generator through various grounds and circuits and transformers….

About the time that I realized what was happening, we had separated from each other, and were no longer dancing.  It cracked us up and we stood there laughing about it for a minute because both of us had just been dancing in the elevator.

As I explained in the post about being on light duty that I mentioned above, when you went to work on the stack lights, you carried metal prod with you that you used to ground the large capacitors before you worked on the circuit.  When you did this, there would be a bright flash and a loud explosion.

If a noise or a flash like that made you jump, you may end up going over the handrail and falling 500 feet to the ground.  So, you learned that in the event of a flash, your first reaction is to freeze.  Then assess the situation, and then if necessary, Panic.

Many years later (like 16), I became very aware of how well trained we were when something like this happened when I was once again working with Charles Foster in a junction box on the 11 landing of Unit 1 on the west side.  We were standing side-by-side and we were working on something hot.

Suddenly there was a bright flash and a loud boom as something shorted out.  By that time in our history, we had learned all about wearing fire resistant clothing, so that even though what we were wearing wasn’t fire proof, it also wasn’t going to melt to our skin.

What amazed me about this moment was that we both stood there still for a moment before we panicked.  There was about a one second pause where we both restrained ourselves from jumping back.  I chalked this up to our years of being around explosive situations.  Jumping back as the first reaction can often lead to other injuries.

I took this resistance to panic with me into other situations.  Before 1994 when OSHA added a bunch of new laws protecting people in confined spaces, I was crawling inside the main generator bus that goes out to the main power transformer.  No hole watch.  No one watching me outside that could grab me and pull me out if something went wrong.

A Main Power Transformer

A Main Power Transformer.  The bus piping are those three pipes going into the building at the top in the back

I had squeezed myself into one of these pipes to clean the insulators that held the bus in place in the middle of the pipe.  This meant that I was crammed into the pipe under the bus bar that ran through the middle of the pipe.

I had made it to the insulator that I needed to clean and wiped it down with the rag I had taken with me.  Then I decided I couldn’t go forward anymore to look at any more of the insulators because it was too tight of a fit.  So, I started to back myself out.

As I went to push myself back I suddenly realized that I was stuck.  It was easy moving forward because I was using the soles of my sneakers to push on the pipe, but as soon as I wanted to go back, there didn’t seem to be anyway to maneuver my body in a way that would back myself out.  This was one of a few times when I began to feel the panicky feeling of claustrophobia.

I had seen claustrophobia in others and I knew that when you are gripped with it, you can hurt yourself, or even Bob Lillibridge if he happened to be grabbing your legs at the time (see the post:  Bob Lillibridge Meets the Power Plant Ghost for an explanation.

Here it came… I felt myself swelling up tight in the pipe as the panic was gripping me.  I knew I had to do something quickly or it wasn’t going to be pretty…. Well, either way… nothing about this was pretty.  So, I forced myself to calm down.  I told myself to breathe out, and slowly back in.

Then I decided to use the palms of my hands that were stretched out straight in front of me to push against the pipe to move me back.  With that effort, I could see (in the darkness) that I had moved myself back about 1/2 inch.  I thought.  “Ok, 1/2 inch is something.  If I did that 100 more times, that would be more than 4 feet.  200 times and I would be out of this pipe.”

Realizing I could move myself at least a little bit allowed me to calm down and quell the panic.  I did nothing but concentrate on pushing with my palms 1/2 inch at a time and eventually, I did climb out of that pipe (What you expected me to say I was still in there?).

I don’t know how many times over the years I have woken up in the middle of the night and swung my feet over the side of the bed and taken a few large breaths because I had been dreaming about being in that pipe again.  I will discuss the top of claustrophobia in a later post, but this example fit the top of training yourself not to panic so I thought I would use it here.

If you ever end up talking to someone that doesn’t quite look at you when they look like they are trying to look at you, then you may think that they are a welder.  There are some welders that seem to look at you from the corner of their eye.  I suppose it was because the middle of their vision has been burned out because they have looked at the welding arc too many times without their visor down.

Similarly, if you ever encounter someone that momentarily goes into a comatose state for a few moments when you ask them a simple question, you may now think that maybe this person was a Power Plant Electrician that has learned to have a Prolonged Pause before they Panic… or.. well, respond to your question.  If they aren’t, then they probably were just trying to ignore you.

After Effects of Power Plant Drop Tests

I have found that elevators have a way of equalizing personal differences when there are just two of you alone in an elevator.  It is one of the few places in a Power Plant where no one is watching or listening (usually) to what is said between two parties.  Once the doors open, it is difficult to convince others what has happened because there is only one other witness.  Depending on your position, this can be either a good thing or a bad thing.

Soon after I became an electrician I was introduced to “Elevator Maintenance”.  The Power Plant has 7 elevators.  One that goes to the main office area.  One that goes to the Control Room.  Two for the boilers.  Two for the Smoke Stacks and one that takes you to the top of the Fly Ash Hoppers in the coal yard.

The office and boiler elevators were made by Montgomery.  These each had to be inspected regularly to keep them running safely.  If not, then the plant ran the risk of having people stuck in the elevators for a period of time, which is never a good situation.

There were times when people were stuck in the plant elevators.  I may devote an entire post to that subject at some time.  Today I’m more interested in the people that inspect the elevators and the effects that elevator inspections had on them.

I didn’t think about it for a long time, but one day when I was walking by a person that I worked with at Dell, Jeremy Tupa, stopped and said, “I still get chills thinking about what you used to do at the Power Plant.”  I didn’t know what he was referring to until he reminded me.  He said, “When you had to drop test the elevators.”

Oh yeah.  I guess to some people that must seem kind of scary.  To the people that actually perform that activity, they do things to their mind to convince themselves that everything is safe.  Well.  Besides that, when following all the safety precautions, it really is a safe activity (see.  I’m still doing it).

When drop testing an elevator, you load the elevator with more weight than what the elevator is designed to carry.  Usually by bringing a few pallets of sandblasting sand by forklift to the elevator and then piling them in the elevator until you have reached the desired weight for a drop test.

A clean Elevator Shaft

A clean Elevator Shaft.  The plant elevator shaft was always full of coal dust and just dirt.

Once the elevator is weighed down, you climb on top of the elevator and manually operate the elevator using the inspection controls until you have raised it up a couple of floors.  Then someone up in the penthouse releases the brake so that the elevator free falls.

Once the elevator obtains a certain speed, a tripping device located in the penthouse rolls over and locks, that causes a locking device on the elevator to engage, which sets the “dogs”.  The dogs are clamps that dig into the railing that the elevator uses as sort of a track to go up and down without shaking back and forth.

Once the tripping mechanism in the penthouse is operated.  it cuts the power to the elevator.  Once the dogs are set, there is a loud bang and the elevator isn’t going anywhere.  It comes to an instant stop.

Performing a drop test in an elevator shaft seems rather routine, and it is more trouble resetting everything and filing the track smooth again where the dogs dug in creating a notch, than it is to actually perform the drop test.

The Smoke Stack elevators are a lot more fun.

The smoke stack elevators are these Swedish made three man elevators made by a company named Alimak.  They operate like a roller coaster does when it is cranking its way up the first hill.  The weight limit for these elevators is much lower obviously, since they only hold 3 people.

I could usually load a few large anchors and maybe an Engineer or two in the stack elevator and run it up 50 feet or so and perform the drop test.  In order to perform a drop test on a stack elevator (notice how I use the word “perform” as if this was a work of art…. well… in a way it was), you had to disengage a governor first.  The governor would prevent a free-falling stack elevator from just flying to the bottom by engaging a secondary brake when the governor sensed that the elevator was moving too fast.

After installing the special governator (like Arnold Schwarzenegger) to keep the governor from engaging, using a large screwdriver or small prybar (meaning that the large screwdriver also functions as a small prybar), the brake is released allowing the elevator to free fall to the ground or well, until the elevator sensed it was moving way too fast and locked up.

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

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

Did I mention that these activities are performed while standing on top of the stack elevator?  Yeah.  Right out in the open.  The entire elevator inspection was done standing on top of the elevator.  That was how you inspected the railing and tight checked all the bolts all the way up and down the 500 foot stack elevator rail.

A large Allen Wrench with a permanent cheater bar was used to tight check the rail bolts.

Large Allen Wrench

Large Allen Wrench without a cheater bar

One time before I was an electrician, when Diana Lucas (later Diana Brien) was pulling down on an allen bolt with the cheater bar, Jerry Day, who was with her, pressed the button to lower the elevator down to the next bolt and left Diana hanging in mid-air 100’s of feet above the ground!

A view of the coalyard from the top of the Smoke Stack

A view of the coalyard from the top of the Smoke Stack

Needless to say, the experience of hanging onto a large Allen wrench stuck in a bolt 100’s of feet up a smoke stack, left Diana a little scarred.  Diana is a tough Power Plant Woman of the highest degree and I used to perform the elevator inspections with her.  She would go up the smoke stack on the top of the elevator, but I generally did the tight check on the bolts and let her run the buttons.

This is all just a teaser to the real story behind this post…

In the fall of 1984 Ben Davis and I went to Muskogee on a major overhaul.   While I was there, part of the time I lived in a trailer with a guy from Horseshoe Lake named Steve Trammell.  To this day, (and Steve does read these posts) we have always referred to each other as “roomie”.

While at Muskogee Ben and I worked out of the electric shop located next to the main switchgear for Unit 6.  The Muskogee electricians we worked around were, John Manning, the B Foreman, Jay Harris, Richard Moravek, David Stewart and Tiny.

Tiny would be the one standing in the back

Tiny would be the one standing in the back

All of the electricians Ben and I worked with were great Power Plant Men, and I will write a post later about our experience there.  For now, I am just going to focus on one person.  David Stewart.  Why?  Because he inspected the stack elevators at Muskogee, like I did at Sooner Plant.

I don’t know exactly how the conversation was started because I walked into it in the middle when I entered the Electric foreman’s office to eat my lunch.  David was semi-arguing with the rest of the he-men in the room.  The argument centered around this:  David Stewart was convinced that if you were in an elevator and everything failed and it was falling to the ground, if you jumped up as hard as you could at the last moment, you would be all right.

I will pause here while you re-read the last sentence………..

While you are thinking this thought over, watch the following Pink Panther video from 1968 called, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Pink on YouTube.  Especially from 4 minutes and 15 seconds  to 36 seconds into the film:

At first I thought that this was an ingenious joke that David was playing on everyone in the office because everyone was falling for it (I had actually used this technique before in my own jokes).  They were all trying to explain to David why it was impossible to jump up in a falling elevator at the last moment and you would be all right.  The more I listened, the more I came to realize that David was convinced that this was so.

I took David aside and tried to explain to him that according to the law of gravity and acceleration that you would be falling too fast to be able to jump high enough to make any difference to your falling fate.  I presented him with the formula for acceleration and showed him that if you even fell from about 50 feet, you would be crushed.

final velocity = Square root of the initial velocity squared plus 2 times acceleration times distance.  With Gravity having an acceleration of 9.81 meters per second and 50 feet being just over 15 meters…

I showed him that his final velocity would be about 17 meters per second, which is equivalent to about 38 miles an hour straight into the ground.  From only a 50 foot fall.  It didn’t phase him.  He was so certain it would work.  — I understood.  This was his way of coping with doing a drop test on the stack elevator.  His mind had convinced him that all he had to do was jump up in the case that the elevator safeties failed.

Fast Forward 5 months.  It was in April of 1985 when a man from the Swedish Elevator company would come around and do our yearly stack elevator inspection.  During this inspection he told me that we needed to remove the top gear rail from the railing.

The reason was that on a stack in Minnesota,  when all the safeties had failed on an elevator, it didn’t stop going up.  It went all the way to the top and off the top of the railing and fell to it’s doom.  By removing the top gear section, the elevator wouldn’t be able to go high enough to go over the top of the railing.

Anyway, while we were inspecting the elevator I asked him if he would be going to the Muskogee power plant after ours, and he said he would.   He knew David Stewart and would most likely be working with him on the Muskogee Stack Elevators.

So, I told him the story that David really believed that he had convinced himself that he could jump up in a falling elevator at the last moment and he would survive.  So I convinced the elevator inspector to tell everyone about how they need to remove the top gear section, but that it doesn’t really matter, because it is a proven fact that all you  have to do is jump up in the elevator at the last moment and you will be all right.

Fast Forward another year.  It was now April 1986….  The elevator inspector and I were up on the stack elevators tight checking all the bolts when I remembered about David.  So I asked him, “Hey, did you ever do anything with David and jumping up in the elevator?”

He responded with, “Yeah I did!  And until the moment that I had said anything I thought you were playing a joke on me, but here is what happened….  We were all sitting in the electric shop office eating lunch and I told them just like you said.  When I got to the part where you could  just jump up in the elevator and you would be all right, David jumped out of his chair and yelled ‘See!!!  I told you!!!’  It was only then that I believed your story.  Everyone in the room broke out in a roar of laughter.”  — As much as I love David Stewart, I was glad that the joke was performed with perfect precision.

Now for the clincher….  — Oh.  You thought that was it?  So, let me explain to you one thing about drop testing the stack elevator…  The elevator doesn’t go up and down like regular elevators with cables and rails and rollers.  It uses one gear on a central rail that has notches to fit the gear.

The stack elevator had a rail with notches like this only it was a lot stronger

The stack elevator had a rail with notches like this only it was a lot stronger

The gear is heavy duty as well as the rail.  You can count on it not breaking.  The gear was on a shaft that was tied to the braking mechanism, the governor and the motor through a gearbox.   The ultimate clincher is this…  The gear… The only thing holding the entire elevator up and the only thing tied to any kind of a brake had one pin in it that kept it from rotating on the shaft.  One pin.  In mechanical terms, this is called a Key:

A hardened steel Key used to keep a gear or coupling from rotating on a motor shaft

A hardened steel Key used to keep a gear or coupling from rotating on a motor shaft

Everything else on the stack elevator can fail and the elevator will not fall, but if this pin were to fail…. the elevator would free fall to the ground.  Thinking back, I must have explained this to Jeremy Tupa, my coworker at Dell back in 2004 when we worked together.  It made such an impact on him that I would drop test an elevator that was completely held up by only this one pin.  This is the weakest link in the chain.

I know that every now and then I wake up either from a claustrophobic fit because Curtis Love just shut my air off (see the Post:  Power Plant Safety as Interpreted by Curtis Love) or while I’m taking a flying leap off of the stack elevator.  If only I could have the confidence that David had.  If only I could believe that jumping up at the last moment would save me.

Actually, I can picture jumping up and a hand reaching down to grab me and pulling me up… only it pulls me on up to heaven.  That’s when I’ll know the truth.  David was right.  Just jump up as hard as you can.  Jump and know that you will be safe.  God will catch you.