Tag Archives: guardian angel

Angel of Death Passes by the Precipitator Door

Originally published on May 25, 2012:

Either this was the luckiest day of my life, or a day where stupidity seemed to be my natural state of mind. This particular day occurred sometime during September 1983. The Main Power transformer for Unit 1 had  shutdown because of an internal fault during an exceptionally hot day during the summer and was being replaced.

While the unit was offline, while I was on the labor crew, I was asked to help out the electricians who were doing an overhaul on the Precipitator. The Precipitator takes the ash out of the boiler exhaust before it goes up the smoke stack. Without it, you would see thick smoke, instead, you see only clear exhaust. At the time the electricians I worked with were Sonny Kendrick and Bill Rivers. I had already applied for a job in the electric shop and was waiting to see if I was going to be offered the job. This gave me the chance to show the electricians what a brilliant worker I was.

Bill Rivers told me to go in the precipitator and wipe down the insulators that held the wire racks in place. He showed me where they were. I wore a regular half-face respirator because the fly ash is harmful to inhale.

Half-face respirator

Just before I went in the precipitator door to begin wiping down the insulators using a Scotch Brite Pad, Bill Rivers pointed to my flashlight and said, “Don’t drop your flashlight in a hopper otherwise you will have to make sure that you get it out of the hopper before we go back online.” I told him I would be sure to hold onto my flashlight (noticing that Bill had a string tied to his flashlight which was slung over his shoulder) and I entered the precipitator door.

Yellow Flashlight similar to the one I carried

The inside of the precipitator was dark. 70 foot tall plates are lined up 9 inches apart. Wires hang down between the plates and when the precipitator is turned on, the wires are charged up to around 45,000 volts of electricity. The wires each have a 30 pound weight on the bottom to keep the wires straight, and the wires are kept apart and lined up by a rack at the bottom. One end of the rack which is about 25 feet long is held in place by an electrical insulator about 3 feet long. This is what I was supposed to clean. The light from the flashlight lit up the area around me because everything was covered with the fine white powder reflecting the light.

The first hopper I came to was full of ash up to the top of the hopper, but just below where the insulator was mounted to the edge of the hopper. So, I worked my way down to the ledge along the edge of the hopper and dangled my feet down into the ash as I prepared to wipe down the first of the four insulators on this particular hopper. Just as I began, the precipitator suddenly went dark as my flashlight fell from my hand and down into the hopper. — Oh boy, that didn’t take long.

Fly Ash Hoppers. Our hoppers were 12 foot by 12 foot at the top.

I sat there for a minute in the dark as my eyes grew accustomed to the small amount of light that was coming through the doors. After I could see again, I reached my hand into the ash to feel for my flashlight. The ash was very fluffy and there was little or no resistance as I flailed my hand around searching for it. I leaned over farther and farther to reach down deeper into the ash. I was at the point where I was laying down flat on the ledge trying to find the flashlight, and it was no where to be found.

I pulled myself over to the side edge of the hopper and dropped myself down into the ash so that I could reach over where I had dropped the light, but I was still not able to find it. At that point, I was leaning out into the hopper with only my one index finger gripping the ledge around the hopper. I had a decision to make… I thought I would just bail off into the ash to see if I could find the flashlight, or I could give up and go tell Bill Rivers that I had done the one thing that he told me not to do, and in record time.

I don’t usually like to give up until I have exhausted every effort, so here was my dilemma. Do I let go and dive into this ash to retrieve my flashlight? Or do I leave the hopper and go tell Bill? I regretfully decided to go tell Bill. So, I climbed up out of the hopper, with my clothes covered with Ash (as we did not have fly ash suits at the time and I was wearing my coveralls). I made my way to the precipitator door and once I was outside, I determined which hopper I had been in when I dropped my flashlight.

I found Bill and told him that I had dropped my flashlight in a hopper full of ash. He told me to get the key for that hopper and open the door at the bottom and see if I could find the flashlight. Unlike the picture of the hoppers above, we had a landing around the base of the hoppers by the access door so you didn’t need a ladder to reach them.

Curtis Love had been watching the door of the precipitator for me while I was supposed to be wiping off the insulators. He came down with me, and we proceeded to open the access door at the bottom on the side of the hopper. When I opened the door both Curtis and I were swept backward as a stream of fly ash shot from the door. The ash fell through the grating to the ground below. We regained our footing and watched as a tremendous pile of ash grew below us. If the flashlight had come out of the doorway, it would have remained on the landing since it was too big to go through the grating, but it never came out.

After the ash had finished pouring out of the hopper as if it were water, I reached down into the remaining ash to see if I could feel the flashlight. Still I was unable to find it. There was about 4 more feet from the doorway to the bottom of the hopper, so I emptied out as much ash as I could using my hard hat for a shovel. Then I pulled my body head first into the hopper and I reached down as far as I could in the bottom of the hopper, but I couldn’t find the flashlight.

So, in my infinite wisdom, I asked Curtis Love to hold onto my legs as I lowered myself down to the throat at the bottom of the hopper. I lowered myself down until I had half of my face laying in the ash. At this point only one of the two filters on my respirator was able to function as the other one was down in the ash. I reached my hand into the top of the feeder at the bottom of the hopper and with my finger tips I could just feel the flashlight. I had reached as far as I could, but I couldn’t reach far enough to grip the flashlight.

All of the sudden my head dipped down into the ash and my hand went around the flashlight. I was not able to breathe as my respirator (and my entire head) was entirely immersed in ash. Everything went dark. I struggled to get up, as Curtis had let go of my legs and I had plunged head first into the bottom of the hopper. I had one hand free as the other one held the flashlight. I used it to push against the opposite wall of the hopper to raise my head up out of the ash. I still couldn’t breathe as my respirator was now clogged solid with ash. When I tried to inhale, the respirator just gripped my face tighter. Finally with my one free hand pushing against the hopper wall to hold my head out of the ash, I reached up with the hand that held the flashlight and pushed against my respirator enough to break the seal around my face so that I was able to get a breath of air.

Then I quickly pulled myself out of the precipitator as I heard Curtis saying the mantra that I had heard one other time (as I indicated in the post about Power Plant Safety as Interpreted by Curtis Love). He was saying over and over again, “I’mSorry,I’mSorry, KevinI’mSorry, ThoseGuysWereTicklingMe. I’mSorry,IDidn’tMeanToLetGo,ITriedToHoldOn, butThoseGuysWereTicklingMe.”

Looking around I spied a few Labor Crew hands sneaking away. As this happened before when I was sandblasting in the sand filter tank when Curtis Love had turned off my air, this wasn’t the first encounter I had with Power Plant Men In-Training playing a Power Plant joke on me. I told Curtis to forget it. I had retrieved my flashlight and everything was all right. I was covered from head-to-toe with fly ash, but that washes off pretty easily.

It dawned on me then that when I had dropped the flashlight, it had sunk clear to the bottom of the hopper and down into the throat of the feeder at the bottom. If I had dived into the ash in the hopper from up above, I would have fallen right down to the bottom of the hopper and been engulfed in ash. My feet would have been pinned down in the feeder pipe, and that would have been the end of me. It probably would have taken many hours to figure out where I was, and they would have found only a corpse.

While I was hanging on the edge of the hopper with only the tip of my index finger gripping the ledge, I was actually considering letting go. There never would have been an electrician at the power Plant named Kevin Breazile. I never would have married my wife Kelly, and had my two children Elizabeth and Anthony. I would not be writing this story right now. If it had been left to my own stupidity, none of those things would have happened.

I believe it was my guardian angel that had talked me out of letting go (or had actually been standing on my finger). As stubborn as I was, and against my nature, that day I had decided to give up searching for my flashlight and seek help. That one momentary decision has made all the difference in my life.

Since that day I have had a certain appreciation for the things that happen to me even when they seem difficult at the time. I have lived a fairly stress-free life because each day is a gift. Currently I work in a stress-filled job where individual accomplishments are seldom rewarded. From one day to the next I may be laid off at any time. I still find a lot of satisfaction in what I do because it was possible that it never would have happened. I have been kept alive for a purpose so I might as well enjoy the ride.

I find a special love for the people I work with today, because they are all gifts to me. I try to pay them back with kindness… when that doesn’t work.. I try to annoy them with my presence… Just to say….. — I am still here!

Comments from previous repost:

  1. Dan Antion May 27, 2014

    Scary thought there at the end. Sounds like quick sand.

  2. Ron May 27, 2014

    I’m glad you chose to “give up” on going after a flashlight! There is a Proverb that says “There is a way which seems right to a man, but the end thereof is the way death.” Sounds like you found one of those “ways”. To choose to find your flashlight and lose your life would be the ultimate bad choice. God, give us the wisdom to choose the way of life.

  3. A.D. Everard August 4, 2014

    Wow. So close! You have a book with all these adventures, you really do. I’m enjoying reading these pages very much. I’m so glad you survived to write them!

  4. inmytwisteddreams August 17, 2014

    You are a very good story teller! I was drawn in from the first sentence, and engulfed in your words until the last. Great Story! I mean, not so great at the time, but glad you brought it full circle in the end! I always say, “You must never hesitate” – a simple statement, whose words most might take for granted. As humans, it’s typically against our nature to trust our first (or gut) instinct, but as you know, it is there for a reason! Good story! 🙂

    ~Nikki

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Power Plant Lady of the Labor Crew

Originally Posted on October 19, 2012:

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

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

Power Plant Sunflower Seeds

Power Plant Sunflower Seeds

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

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

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

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

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

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

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

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

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

Backhoe

Here is a picture of a Backhoe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We finally bought a Honey Wagon like this

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

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

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

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

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

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

The little Darth Vader from the Volkwagen commercial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments from the original post:

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

    Helluva skill.

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

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

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

Power Plant Snitch

Originally Posted March 16, 2013:

Seventeen years before Harry Potter captured the Snitch in the movie “Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone”, the Coal-fired Power Plant in north central Oklahoma was plagued by a similar elusive snitch. Unlike the snitch in Harry Potter, which was a small ball with wings that held a special secret only revealed in the last moments of the last Harry Potter Book (and movie) “The Deathly Hallows”, the Power Plant snitch had a more sinister character.

The Snitch from Harry Potter, "The Sorcerer's Stone"

The Snitch from Harry Potter, “The Sorcerer’s Stone”

The Power Plant Snitch reminded me once again of the phrase that “Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.” I had experienced this phenomenon only a few years earlier when I was in High School and my father was a victim of this type of corruption. This made me especially abhorrent of deceit and dishonesty in the workplace. This was the reason why I had become so upset while I was a janitor and I learned a little “lie” that Jack Ballard had cooked up to force the employees to use their floating Holiday first so that they couldn’t use it around Christmas (See the post Power Plant Secrets Found during the Daily Mail Run).

You see, in the Lone Power Plant stationed out in the middle of the country, a plot had been hatched by the Evil Plant Manager that rivaled a James Bond conspiracy to take over the world. Only in this case, it was a conspiracy to take over the personal dignity of honest, descent Power Plant Men. Men who said their prayers each night when they went to bed. Men who went to work each day to provide for their children. Men who held God and country in the highest esteem.

As I mentioned above, I had seen this abuse of power before when I was in High School. It had affected my personality in a way that I became instantly angry at the site of dishonesty. This was something I had to learn to deal with throughout the years as I interacted with men of less than honorable dignity. In order to understand why, I will divert into a side story:

My parents had kept their financial difficulties and other stress out of our lives while I was in Junior High and High school back in the mid ’70’s. They didn’t tell me that my father, who was listed in the top 20 Veterinarians in the world, and among the top 5 bird specialists, was being targeted by the Dean and his minions at the University of Missouri Veterinary College.

I remember that my mother was introducing new foods to our palate, such as Lentils and other types of rice and bean dishes. She had even gone to work as a secretary at Stephen’s College to make ends meet. At the same time, I had traveled with my dad when I was 13 to Europe where I met Veterinarians around the world that all greeted my father as if he were some kind of king.

I remember walking down the road on the way to Liverpool from the University (a 5 mile walk) where a group of bird specialists from around the world were meeting to determine the universal Latin names of every part of the bird’s anatomy (which at that point had not been defined). The Veterinarian walking with me from India told me after I had made some offhand comment about my father.  He said, “You don’t realize who your dad is. In India, your dad is the Father of Physiology! Your dad wrote the bible of Veterinary Physiology used around the world!”  

I knew the book he was referring to. My dad had worked for three years day and night writing this book. Collaborating with renown Veterinarians around the world to compile a comprehensive book of Veterinary Physiology. The first of it’s kind. Before this book was written, you could only find the Physiology of a Pig, or the Physiology of a Dog. My dad had created a masterpiece that included an all-encompassing Veterinary Physiology in one book.

My Dad's book

My Dad’s book

I say this, not to lift my father on a higher pedestal than he already is, but to put in perspective, how an important person such as James E. Breazile, DVM was treated by the “Evil Dean” of the Veterinary College at the University of Missouri in 1974 and until the day he resigned on January 16, 1978. Actually, the day my father brought the gold bound copy of the book home and presented it to my mother, she stopped talking to him for about a month for the first time in her life (for a totally unrelated reason which I may relay in a future post). Though the publishing company made a lot of money for years after this book was published, the total amount my dad received for his years of work totaled no more than $10,000 over a three year period.

Anyway. To make a long story short, (because I could go on for days about this), my father was not able to get a job at any another University in the United States, because he had tried to bring the corruption of the leaders of the Veterinary School (who had been stealing money from the University through bogus expense reports) to light, only to be told by the Chancellor of the University at the time, Herbert Schooling, “Boys will be boys.” It was just like the moment when Saruman told Gandalf, “We must join with him!”

Saruman Tells Gandalf that he must join with the forces of evil in the Lord of the Rings

Saruman Tells Gandalf that he must join with the forces of evil in the Lord of the Rings

It was only because my father had worked for Oklahoma State University before, when I was very young, that they didn’t need “permission” from University of Missouri to hire him, and take the multi-million dollar contracts that he had with Purina (and other businesses that had funded their electron microscope and other expensive scientific equipment at the time) with him, that we were able to escape the firewall that had been placed around my father’s career (ok. that sentence is long enough for an entire paragraph).

Anyway (again)…. I can’t let this story go until I give you the moment that was the “clincher” for me. The moment that I finally believed that my mother and my father hadn’t just gone off their rocker and become extremely paranoid living in a “James Bond” world….

My father (secretly) obtained a job from the Oklahoma State University in the Veterinary College. He was to start on January 9, 1978 with tenure (meaning that he couldn’t be fired without a really good reason). One week before he was going to resign from the University of Missouri. As usual, Oklahoma State University would begin classes one week before the University of Missouri after Christmas break.

During Christmas break (when I was a senior in High School), we would sneak into my father’s office at the Vet School in Columbia Missouri to remove his books and personal items from his office. We would go to this office at 10 o’clock at night after the school was closed for the night. At this point, I believed that both my mom and my dad had gone off their rocker and I was already planning on going through the phone book to find them a good Psychologist, or a priest to help them out.

Until Sunday morning, January 1, 1978. New Years Day. My mother and I were on our way to an early morning Church service at Our Lady Of Lourdes. My mom said that she thought it would be safe to drop by the Veterinary school and pick up some of dad’s things from his office (Dad had already left for Stillwater, Oklahoma to deliver a load of books and personal belongings).

As we pulled into the parking lot at the Veterinary College, my mom told me that I couldn’t go in because that was “Brown’s” car on the parking lot. — She had names for the different “bad guys” in the department. The Dean was “Whitey”. There was an older lady professor named “Brown”. Then there was the one that I recognized the most…. “McClure”.

I told my mom… “Look. It’s 9 am on Sunday morning. New Year’s Day. She was insistent that “Brown” was in the building. Then finally she told me. “Ok. go downstairs (where my father’s office was) and look around. If no one is there, then grab some of his books.”

Then one of the most bizarre moments of my life occurred. I still remember every detail. It was like I had gone into a dream where fantasy suddenly became reality. I entered the dark building using my father’s key. Immediately turned left and went down the stairs into the darkness. I had to feel my way down the stairs, holding onto the handrail.

As I stepped into the subterranean hallway, I turned north toward my father’s office. I immediately stopped. About 50 yards ahead of me I could see two offices next to each other with their doors open and their lights on. The rest of the hallway was totally dark as we were below ground. Having been a “spelunker” in my youth, the darkness didn’t bother me, however, the existence of lights ahead were a total surprise.

I briskly walked down the hallway past the two doors. In the first office a lady was sitting at a desk. In the second, a man. I quietly walked on by. Then I turned around and walked passed the door where the man was sitting and stopped between the two doors. I could tell that both the man and the woman were talking on the phone. After listening for a moment I could tell that they were talking to each other, though I couldn’t hear what they were saying.

As a seventeen year old High School student, I suddenly realized that everything my mother and father had been saying for the past 5 years had been true. All the bugs found in my dad’s phone. All the threatening notes. The reason why he hadn’t received a raise in 5 years… All made sense! These guys were crazy!

I walked south to the stairway and turned around and looked back. “Brown” (the lady), was standing in the hallway with her hands on her hips like Professor Umbridge in Harry Potter!

Professor Umbridge Holding her wand

Professor Umbridge Holding her wand

I stood there for a second looking at her silhouetted against the light from her office, knowing that she couldn’t tell who I was in the darkness. then I darted up the stairs. Ran outside to the car. Jumped in the driver’s seat of the Pontiac Station Wagon and told my mom what I had seen.

My mom explained to me that this was “Brownie”. They talk on the phone so that no one can say that they have been seen talking together. You see…. they are supposed to be at a conference or some other “official” business this weekend so they can claim expenses for flights, hotel and food. That is why “Whitey” can live in a big ranch south of town on his measly salary. This is what my father had told the Chancellor of the University who told him that “boys will be boys”.

I didn’t know whether to lean over and kiss my mom when I suddenly realized that the list of insane people didn’t include my mother and father, or to peel out of the parking lot before Professor Umbridge made it up the stairs! Anyway. On News Years Day 1978 I had a totally new perspective on life. I can tell you that for certain.

To finish up with this side (non Power Plant) story…. in 1980 when Barbara Uehling became the Chancellor at the University of Missouri (from Oklahoma University, where I had attended school two years before), she began to clean house. I remember the day I learned that she had fired “Whitey” the dean of the Veterinary school.

I woke from my sleep very early in the morning when the phone rang. It was my father from Stillwater, Oklahoma. He had received a call from Iowa State from a Veterinarian, Deiter Delman, who had told him that they had just fired Whitey the Dean of the Veterinary College at Missouri. I told dad that was great, and I crawled back to my bed to finish my nightly ritual of sleep.

Moments later I was woken by another phone call. One of my professors from the College of Psychology Dr. Wright had called me. He said, “I have some news that your father will probably like to know. It is really top secret! I said, “Does it have to do with “Whitey” being fired? In my head I could see Dr. Wright’s one fake eye spinning around in his head like Professor Moody in Harry Potter (even though he hadn’t been thought of yet in 1981).

Professor Moody... Or is it Professor Wright in the MU Psychology Department?

Professor Moody… Or is it Professor Wright in the MU Psychology Department?

Professor Moody… I mean Dr. Wright…. said, “What? How do you know? This is “Top Secret?” the meeting was over just minutes ago? I told him that Dr. Middleton had called Dr. Delman, who had immediately called my father, who had already called me moments ago. — To put this in perspective…… The whole world knew within minutes. I wrote a letter to the Chancellor Barbara Uehling explaining the events that I knew about. She wrote back saying that the Provost would be looking into the additional names I had given her.

End of side story…..

Back to the Power Plant Snitch… (I can tell… this has already become a long post and is probably going to break my record of the longest post of all time).

In September 1984, not one year after I had joined the electric shop, Bill Bennett, our A Foreman, came down to the electric shop (which was normal. Since he ate lunch with us every day). This time, he locked the doors. The door to the Turbine room, the door to the main switchgear and the front door…. — all locked. He said, “What is said here doesn’t go outside this shop.”

Ok…. We all went instantly into “serious” mode. Bill explained that there was something up with the grubby looking janitor (I’m sorry… I don’t remember what name he was assuming to use at the time — I’ll call him “Bonzo” from now on). The janitor “Bonzo” had been neglecting his duties as a janitor, so Pat Braden (the lead janitor) had gone to Marlin McDaniel to have him fired. Marlin McDaniel had gone to the Assistant Plant Manager, Bill Moler to start the process of firing “Bonzo”.

Marlin McDaniel (who had been my A foreman while I was a Janitor and on Labor crew after Chuck Ross had left) was told by Bill Moler that he was not going to fire “Bonzo” under any circumstance. It didn’t matter to him that he wasn’t doing his job. Marlin was told to forget about it and not bring it up again.

Bill Bennett told every person in the electric shop…. “Keep clear of this guy. I don’t know what is going on, but something is definitely wrong.” At that point everyone in the Electric shop knew that “Bonzo” was a snitch. Don’t talk to the Snitch…. Ok… from now on I’ll refer to “Bonzo” as the “Snitch”.

I know I have bored all of you by the personal story of my father and the trials that he went through, so I’ll try to keep this short: I knew a year and three months ago when I first started writing about the “Goodness” of the Power Plant Man that I would eventually come to this story. I know that the Power Plant men that read this blog knew that this story had to eventually be written. So, here it is.

Through unforeseen circumstances… and I attribute it to my Guardian Angel who has kept me out of serious trouble up to this point, I was called to Oklahoma City by my girlfriend Kelly Burgess (who ten months and 11 days later became my wife and is ’til death do us part) on February 10, 1985. I called in to Howard Chumbley on February 11 and told him I would not be able to make it to work that day. I would be taking my floating holiday.

The following Monday morning when I had climbed into Bill River’s Station wagon at the bowling alley where we met, with Rich Litzer and Yvonne Taylor and we were on our way to work, I learned about what had happened the Friday before. The day that would forever be referred to at the plant as “Black Friday.”

Bill Rivers explained the entire scenario to me during the 25 minute drive to the plant. I can’t say that I was in tears because my system had gone into shock and I was zombified by each new revelation. If I could have cried, I would have. My system had just gone into shock. All emotion had shut down.

Bill explained to me that on Friday morning (February 11, 1985), a plant-wide meeting had been held. Everyone at the plant had been informed that a drug and theft ring at the plant had been found and eliminated. This included one lady who was a janitor. A machinist named Dink Myers. The Lead Janitor Pat Braden and two of the Electricians Craig Jones and Jim Stevenson.

Drug and Theft ring? Really? At our Power Plant?

Except for the female janitor (I can’t even remember her name), I had a personal relationship with every other person on this list (whether they knew it or not). I never worked directly with Craig Jones, but as an electrician, I did know that everyone held him in the highest esteem. I later found out that Dink Myers was a distant relation of mine when two years later I attended my grandfather’s funeral. Jim Stevenson was a close friend to the point that I used to give him Swedish Massages that would ease the pain of his rampant Eczema. Pat Braden…. Well. Pat Braden.. my Janitor lead. I loved him most of all.

I invited Pat Braden to sit next to my wife and I at my wedding 10 months later, even though the Evil Assistant Plant Manager would be serving as a deacon in the wedding ceremony (he didn’t come.. I understood why). Next to Charles Foster, Pat Braden was my next dearly beloved friend. — Other Power Plant Men, such as Mickey Postman and Ed Shiever, share in my total love for Pat Braden to this day. — Not that I have asked them… I just know… They used to work for this saint.

Here is what had happened…..

Eldon Waugh (the evil plant manager) had heard from a study that came out early in 1984 that 10% of a typical workforce were either on drugs or were robbing their employer. I know. I had read the same study. The company had hired the snitch to become a janitor at the best power plant in the country to infiltrate their troops and bring out the worst in them.

I distinctly remember the snitch walking into the electric shop once as I was walking out…. He paused… looked at me as if to say something, then went on…. (– my interpretation…. “oh… a victim….”…. Guardian angel response…. “This isn’t the droids you are looking for…”) He went on without saying a word.

These aren't the droids you ar looking for ( Star Wars -- A New Hope

These aren’t the droids you ar looking for (Star Wars — A New Hope)

So the Snitch nailed a good friend of mine, Jim Stevenson…. I remember in January just before the verdict came down….. Leroy Godfrey had gone on a frenzied hunt for the portable electric generator. It had turned up missing…. Everyone in the shop was sent to look for it… After a day of searching, when it was time to go home…. I remember that as we were walking out the door to the parking lot that Jim Stevenson said, “They are never going to find the generator.” Bill Ennis asked, “Why Not?” Jim answered,. “Because their snitch has it. If they are going to let a crook like that work here, they are going to have to live with the consequences. He took the generator.”

A few months after “Black Friday”, Jim Stevenson was suing the company, and the specifically the Plant Manager and the Assistant Plant Manager.  Lawyers came from Oklahoma City and interviewed people that had worked with Jim Stevenson and Craig Jones. I was in a quandary. I knew if they asked me about this situation I would have to tell them what Jim Stevenson had said. Jim had been fired for helping the snitch load the generator in the back of his truck months earlier. The funny thing was… I was the only one in the shop that they didn’t interview. I had never been on Jim’s crew, so I wasn’t on their list. At that point, if they didn’t ask me, I wasn’t going to volunteer.

The thing about this whole event was that it was setup from the beginning…. The Snitch asked Jim if he would help him lift the generator into the back of his truck…. This by itself was nothing out of the ordinary, since people could “check out” the generator for their personal use.

Portable Generator

Portable Generator

Jim had known that the Snitch had taken the portable generator and said to Bill Ennis that if they wanted to keep scum around like that, then they should incur the cost of that decision. What Jim didn’t know was that he was being secretly taped while he was being entrapped into loading the generator into the back of the Snitch’s truck. Jim reminded me of Dabney Coleman:

Dabney Colement reminds me of Jim Stevenson

Dabney Coleman reminds me of Jim Stevenson

I won’t go much into the stories of Dink Myers, who shared a joint with the Snitch in the locker room, and Craig Jones who pulled up some “hemp” on the road to the river pumps to swap for a “stolen knife set” (though he didn’t know they were stolen) since these were “no-brainer” stupid moments in the life of young Power Plant Men… but I will defend Pat Braden…. The most honest and loving of souls (and again… I apologize for the length of this post).

In previous posts I have mentioned that Pat Braden reminded me of Red Skelton.

This Picture of Red Skelton reminds me of Pat Braden

This Picture of Red Skelton reminds me of Pat Braden

Today, when I want to reminisce about Pat Braden. All I have to do is watch an old episode of Red Skelton. As kind as Red Skelton was in real life… there was Pat Braden. If you don’t know about Red Skelton… Google him…. He was a sincere soul… He was a soul-mate to Pat Braden.

This is how Pat Braden was fired…… The snitch came to him one day and asked for the key to the closet so that he could get the VCR….. Weeks later, the VCR turned up missing and Pat was asked if he knew where the VCR went. He didn’t know. When I was a janitor I used to do go to Pat on a weekly basis and ask for the key to closet for the VCR. I had to regularly move it to the control room or the Engineer’s shack for training sessions. It was just part of our regular job and Pat Braden would have not thought twice about it.

As it turned out, the snitch had taken the VCR from the closet and had brought it straight to Bill Moler, the Assistant Plant Manager and handed it to him and told him that he had stolen it (even though technically, it hadn’t been stolen). Then about a month later, Bill sent out the request to find the VCR. At that point, Pat, who was the same age as my father (It’s funny, but a lot of people at the plant were the same age as my father), and on blood pressure medication that made his head swim when he stood up, didn’t remember anyone taking the VCR four weeks earlier… So, he was included in the “Theft and Drug ring at Sooner Plant on February 11, 1985”.

The story about Jim Stevenson is almost as tragic, though he had enough money to take the Electric Company to court. Pat’s income of $10 an hour didn’t quite leave him in a position to complain about being unjustly fired.

As the Tape recorder tapes revealed about Jim Stevenson (yeah… Like Watergate)… The evil Plant Manager, Eldon Waugh had told the Snitch to specifically target Jim Stevenson. The way it was explained in the recording between Eldon Waugh and the Snitch (as recorded by Jack Ballard, the head of HR at the Plant at the time), if Jim Stevenson were gone, then Leroy Godfrey’s only friend would be gone… Then Leroy would have to turn to Bill Moler or Eldon for friendship….. I want to continue printing periods as you ponder this thought…..

So…. Eldon and Bill had Jim Stevenson fired as part of a bogus “Drug and Theft” ring so that Leroy Godfrey would be their friend?….. How bizarre is that? You know… I can put this all in writing because it all became public knowledge when it became part of a trial between Jim Stevenson and the Electric Company a year later. The s**t hit the fan on January 23, 1986 when Bill Moler and Eldon Waugh were attending Jack Ballard’s funeral.

Immediately after the graveside services were finished in Ponca City at the Odds Fellows Cemetery, Jim’s lawyer hit them both with a Subpoena to appear in court… The lawyer wanted to make sure the trial took place in Kaw County (Ponca City). A year later, these two individuals and the company settled out of court after news about the snitch was coming out and the company didn’t want any publicity surrounding this. Both the Plant Manager and the Assistant Plant Manager were “early retired” which opened the door for a new era of Power Plant Management. Jim Stevenson walked away with an undisclosed sum of money that was at least six digits.

Pat? I found out a few years later that my wife had been working with Pat in Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Ponca City. One day after, we had moved to Stillwater, and Kelly was talking to a friend from Ponca City, the subject of Pat Braden came up. When she had hung up the phone, I asked her, “Pat Braden who?” When she explained that she had worked with a security guard named Pat Braden in Ponca City, and that he was the nicest guy you would ever meet. He cared about one thing in life and that was his daughter… I knew she was talking about our Pat Braden.

Everyone that ever met this kind soul was touched by him. It was ironic that my wife Kelly had worked with Pat for a couple of years at the hospital and I didn’t even have a clue. I knew that Pat must have known…. After all…. I was the only Breazile in the phone book in Ponca City at the time. From what I understand… Pat is still around in Ponca City doing something….. Jim Stevenson still runs “Stevenson Refrigeration Services”. Both of these are honorable men.

Note that the True Power Plant Men mourned their loss for years after this event. A certain amount of “innocence” or “decency” had been whittled away. That is until 1994 rolled around….. But…. That is another story for a much later time….

Comments from the orignal post:

  1. Old Sicilian saying: “Rats get fat, while Good Men die”.

  2. Ron Kilman March 18, 2013:

    I of course heard about “Black Friday” at Sooner, but it was from Eldon’s perspective. It is evil when innocent people are set up to be fired like that.

    We didn’t hire any snitches at Seminole.

  3. An entertaining study of the use of power in a university and in a power plant…with applications to government available!

Moon Walk in a Power Plant Precipitator

Originally Posted May 25, 2013;

Just because there isn’t any smoke pouring out of the smoke stacks at a Coal-fired Power Plant, it doesn’t mean that the plant is offline.  The power plant where I worked as an electrician in north central Oklahoma had two large Buell (later GE) electrostatic precipitators.  This is what takes the smoke out of the exhaust.  The smoke is referred to as “Fly Ash”.  The electrostatic precipitator when running efficiently should take out 99.98% of the ash in the exhaust.  When running with excellent efficiency, the exhaust can have less ash than dust in the air (or 99.999%).

Sonny Kendrick, the electric specialist and Bill Rivers an electronics whiz were my mentors when I joined the electric shop.  These two Power Plant Men taught me how to maintain the precipitator.  I wrote about the interaction between these two men in the post:  Resistance in a Coal-Fired Power Plant.  It is funny to think, 30 years later that the skills they were teaching me would determine my career for the next 18 years.  You see….. I later became the Precipitator guru of the power plant.  I once thought it was sort of a curse to become good at one thing, because then you were kind of expected to do that the rest of your life.

When I first joined the electric shop and they were deciding who was going to fix all the manhole pumps, the electrical A Foreman replied by saying, “Let Kevin do it.  He likes to get dirty.”  At that point… I think I understood why they really wanted me in the electric shop.  Charles Foster had mentioned to me when I was a janitor and he had asked me if I would consider being an electrician because I cleaned things so well, and a lot of being a Power Plant electrician involved cleaning…  Now those words took on their full meaning.

I knew I was destined to work on the precipitator from the beginning.  Sonny had been banished to work on only the precipitator, as Bill Rivers had made clear to me when I was still a janitor (see the power plant post:  Singin’ Along with Sonny Kendrick).  I was his chance to be lifted from the curse that had been placed on him by our Electrical Supervisor, Leroy Godfrey.  I had accepted that.  I knew that I would eventually be the one to maintain the precipitators from day one.

So, here I was…  One month before becoming an electrician, I had a near death experience inside the precipitator (See the post:  Angel of Death Passes by the Precipitator Door).  Now I was going into the precipitator again with Bill Rivers.  I think at that time we were just wearing half-faced respirators and no fly ash suit.  Just a rain suit.

A man wearing a half faced respirator -- not me... just an image I found on Google Images

A man wearing a half faced respirator — not me… just an image I found on Google Images

Not a lot of protection….

I followed Bill Rivers into the precipitator while it was offline for overhaul.  I had my flashlight securely strapped around my neck with a string.  I had  a small notepad with a pen tied to it also around my neck for taking notes.

A notepad like this

A notepad like this

So, as Bill entered the dark cavern of the precipitator, I found that we had just entered a new world.  It was dark… Like the dark side of the moon.  We were at the intake of the precipitator and we were walking on top of the ash as it was more like sand at this point.  We just left footprints where we only sank about 2 inches into the pile of ash that had built up there.

Bill took his flashlight and shined it up between two sets of plates that are exactly 9 inches apart.  He swung the light up toward the top of the precipitator 70 feet above.  At first as the light was reflecting on all the white ash, I was blinded to the detail that Bill was trying to show me.  Eventually I realized that he was pointing his flashlight at a clip.  There was some kind of a clip that held one plate in line with the next.

Once I had confirmed to Bill that I saw where he was looking, he lowered the flashlight to about 45 feet above us, where there was another clip.  Then even lower.  About 10 feet above us.  A third clip.  — Now at this point… I was almost ready to resign myself to another lesson like the one I had learned from Ken Conrad as he had poured his heart and soul into his description of how to lay the irrigation hose and position the water gun 3 years earlier (See, “When a Power Plant Man Talks, It pays to Listen“),  then I remembered…. “I know this is boring… but you have to learn it….”  A Phrase that I made good use of 15 years later when I was teaching switching to a group of True Power Plant Men that would find themselves equally bored with the necessary material they had to learn.

Bill explained….. Each clip must (and he emphasized “Must’) be aligned with the next plate.  Every clip must be in their place.  Don’t start up this precipitator until this is so.  Ok.  I understood…. Let’s see… there are three clips between each of the four plates… or 9 clips per row…. and there were 44 rows of plates for each section…. and there were 6 sections across the precipitator, and  7 sections…. hmmm… that added up to oh… only 16,632 clips that I needed to check during each overhaul… ok… I took a note on my notepad…

Bill explained….. Clean each insulator.  there is one on the side of each bottle rack holding all the wires in place.There were only 4 for each 2 hoppers.  there were 84 hoppers,   Great.  Only 168 insulators on the bottle racks….  Then he pointed out that there were also insulators on the precipitator roof.  two on each section over each pair of hoppers… One on the tension hosue on one connected to the transformer, or 336 more… making a total of 504 insulators that need to be inspected and cleaned during each overhaul.

Bill explained…. you need to check each of the wires to make sure they aren’t caught on a clip or broken.  Let’s see…. there were 44 rows of wires in each section… with 16 wires in each row…. and there were 6 sections across each set of hoppers…. that came out to exactly 29568 wires that needed to be inspected during each overhaul.

Bill explained…. each rapper on the roof needs to be tested to make sure they are rapping with the correct force.  That meant that they each needed to lift at least 6 inches before they dropped the 15 pound slug (to knock the ash off of the plates into the hoppers below.  Hmm… For each 4 hoppers, there were 6 rows of 12 rappers each.  There were two sets across the precipitator and there were 7 sets of rappers.  In other words…. there were 672 rappers on the roof of the precipitator.

Bill explained…. each vibrator on the roof needs to be calibrated to provide the maximum vibration to the wires inside the precipitator in order to make sure they cleaned the wires of any ash buildup as they are responsible for delivering the static electricity to the precipitator that collects the ash on the plates.  In order to calibrate them, you had to adjust the gap between the main bracket and the magnetic coil to within a few thousands of an inch… I don’t remember the exact setting now… but we used a set of shims to set them correctly.  There were 12 vibrators for each of the two sides of each of the seven sections of hoppers.   This came out to 168 vibrators that need to be adjusted during each overhaul.  Oh.  And each vibrator had an insulator connected to the wire rack…adding 168 more insulators.

So, we had 16,632 clips, 672 insulators, 29568 wires, 672 rappers and 168 vibrators that all needed to be in good working order at the end of each overhaul (on each of the two units).  Throughout the years that I worked inspecting, adjusting and wrestling with plates, clips and wires, I became personally attached to each wire, insulator, clip, rapper and vibrator. For a number of my 18 years as an electrician, I was the only person that entered the precipitator to inspect the plates, wires, clips and internal insulators.  Some of my closest friends were precipitator components.  Each diligently performing their tasks of cleaning the environment so that millions of people wouldn’t have to breathe the toxins embedded in the ash particles.

We hired contractors to go into the precipitator to help me.  I would spend an entire day teaching them how to wear their full face respirator and fly ash suit…. How to inspect the clips and wires…. how to walk along the narrow beams along the edge of each row of 84 hoppers on each unit to find and repair the things that were not in proper alignment.  I would check out all their equipment and give them their safety training only to have them not show up for work the next day.

Contractors would gladly be paid to weld in the boiler hanging from a sky climber in the middle of space 200 feet above the bottom ash hopper, but give them one day in the precipitator and they would rather be thumbing a ride to Texas….  I should have felt insulted… after all this was my home…. Mark Fielder the head of the welders once called it my “baby”.  I knew he had never had to endure the walk on the moon when you entered the tail end of the precipitator and found yourself buried waste deep in light fly ash.  I told Mark Fielder to not call the precipitator my baby…  Not until he could find a contractor that was willing to work alongside me inside it.  He apologized.  He explained that he meant it with affection.

At the back end of the precipitator, you just sank to the bottom of a pile of fly ash when you stepped into it.  The fly ash particles there are less than 2 microns in diameter.  That meant that they would infiltrate your filter and bounce around inside your respirator on their way down into your lungs.  Building up a permanent wall of silicon in your innards that will be there until the day you die.

I noticed that after a few days of working in the precipitator that I would feel like I had the flu.  This would happen after I would smell this certain scent in the precipitator that would develop after the unit had been offline for a week or so.  I noticed that when I burped, I could taste that smell in my mouth.  I also noticed that if I had to pass some gas, that the smell would also include the smell that I was experiencing in the precipitator.

I didn’t think much about it until one day when I went to the tool room and Bud Schoonover told me that they were out of the regular hepa-filters for my respirator.  So, instead he gave me a pair of organic filters.  They had a different carbon filter that absorbed organic particles.  I said, “Thanks Bud.” and I headed out to climb into the precipitator to continue my inspection of some 30,000 wires, and 16,000 clips.

To my astonishment, when I used the carbon filters right away, I didn’t smell the acrid smell.  The flu symptoms went away, as well as the smelly burping flavors.  Not to mention (oh.. but I am) the passing of gas without the additional smell of precipitator internals….  Crazy as these seems… I became obsessed with finding out why.

You see… at the same time that this particular smell arose in the precipitator, any ash that was built up on the plates would clump up and with a simple bang on the plates with a rubber mallet would cause all the ash to fall off leaving a perfectly clean plate.  Before this smell was there, you could bang on the plates all day, and the ash would remain stuck to the plates like chalk on a chalkboard.

I had our famous chemist (well…. he was famous to me… see the post:  A Power Plant Doctor Does a Jig in a Puddle of Acid), come out to the precipitator to give it a whiff.  He said it had some kind of  a sewer smell to it…. I didn’t expand on my personal sewer experience I had had with it, though I did tell him about the burping….

He encouraged me to have the safety department come out and test it to see if they could identify the chemical that was causing this smell.  You see…. It was important to me because if we could pin this down, then we might be able to inject a substance into the precipitator while it was online to clean it without having to bring the unit offline if the precipitator was to become fouled up.

There was a young lady from the safety department (I think her name was Julia, but I can’t remember her full name).  She came from Oklahoma City and gave me some monitors to put in the precipitator while the smell was present to try to track down the chemical.  Unfortunately, we never found out what it was.  In the meantime, I had learned all I could about Van Der Waals forces.  This is the week molecular force that would cause the ash to stick to the plate.

I studied the chemical makeup of the ash to see if I could identify what chemical reactions could take place… Unfortunately, though I knew the chemical makeup of the ash, the chemicals were bound in such a way from the high temperatures of the boiler, that I couldn’t tell exactly how they were arranged without the use of  an electron microscope.  I wasn’t about to go to Ron Kilman (who was the plant manager at the time) and ask him for one.  I had already upset him with another matter as you will learn in a much later post.

So, I just continued wearing the organic filters.  This gave me the strength to continue my inspections without the flu-like symptoms.  Later on, I taught Charles Foster and Scott Hubbard how to maintain the precipitator.  When I finally left in 2001, I know I left the precipitators in competent hands.  They knew everything I did.

One main lesson I learned from my experience as the precipitator guru is this….. You can be a genius like Bill Rivers or Sonny Kendrick….. when you are given a particular job to do and you do it well, you are usually pigeon-holed into that job.  One of the main reasons I write about Power Plant Men is because they are for the most part a group of geniuses. At least they were at the plant where I worked in North Central Oklahoma.  They just happened to stumble onto the jobs that they had.  They would probably spend the rest of their working career doing what they did best…. never moving onto something where their genius would shine and others would know about them… That is why I write about them.

Do a job well, and you will be doing it until the day you die…. that’s what it seemed to be.  I didn’t feel like I was banished to the precipitator as Sonny Kendrick was by Leroy Godfrey, who did it consciously.  No.  I was “banished” to the precipitator for the next 18 years because I was good at it.  I loved it.   I may have mentioned before, but I had a personal relationship with the 168 precipitator control cabinets.

I had carefully re-written the programs on each of the eprom chips on the Central Processing Unit in each cabinet to fit the personality of each section of the precipitator.  I had spend hours and hours standing in front of each cabinet talking to them.  Coaxing them.  Telling them that they could do it with my handheld programmer in hand…. helping them along by adjusting their programming ever so slightly to give them the freedom that they needed to do their job.  If they had been human……. I would have given them names like “Mark”, or “Thomas”, or “Millie”.  Instead, I knew them as 2E11 or 1B7.  But they were each my friends in their own way.

You see… I look at friends like this…. It’s not what they can do for me…. It’s “what can I do for them?”  I have had some precipitator cabinets that I have given extra attention because they seemed to need it more than the others, only to have them crap out on me.  I wouldn’t have done anything different if I had known all along that they wouldn’t pull through.

I have my own understanding of who I should be.  My wife may call it “stubbornness”, and that may be what it is.  I would try and try to coax a control cabinet to do what it was created to do, only to have it fail over and over again….  What was I going to do?  Give up?  How could I do that to a friend?  I would tell the cabinets that were especially difficult (when I was alone with them – which was usually), “You create your own Karma.  That isn’t going to change who I am.”

Today I am called an IT Business Analyst.  I work for Dell  Computers.  It is an honor to work for a company that serves the entire world.  I see the same pattern.  When you do something well, when you love your work and become attached to it, you become pigeon-holed into a particular job.  You become invaluable.  Almost unreplaceable.  People look to you for answers.  They are comforted to know that someone who cares is taking care of business.  I am glad to be able to serve them.

Weeks before I left the power plant, Bill Green, the plant manager asked Jim Arnold (the supervisor over maintenance) again….. “What degree is Kevin getting again?”  Arnold replied, “Oh.  nothing anyone wants.”  (an MIS degree from the college of business at Oklahoma State University). Bill was concerned that if I left they wouldn’t have anyone to take care of the precipitators.  No.  I wouldn’t do that.  Like I said… Each of the 168 precipitator control cabinets were my friends…. I had given them the best guardians I could find… Scott Hubbard and Charles Foster.

Scott Hubbard

Charles Foster

Recently Charles Foster has retired from the plant, and his health is not good.  His son, Tim Foster has taken his place.  One of the last things Tim has told me recently was that he was going with Scott Hubbard to work on the precipitator.  I wanted to reply back to his e-mail… take care of my friends Tim….  I know Scott understands….

Each clip, each wire… I often dream about them….  Row after row….. looking 70 feet up, then down… swinging my flashlight in the darkness.   Betty, Tom, Martin…. all the clips on this plate are in their place…. Sandy, David, Sarah… lined up correctly…  Fred, Chuck, Bill…. good… good…  next row….

Power Plant Lady of the Labor Crew

Originally Posted on October 19, 2012:

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

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

Power Plant Sunflower Seeds

Power Plant Sunflower Seeds

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

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

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

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

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

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

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

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

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

Backhoe

Here is a picture of a Backhoe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We finally bought a Honey Wagon like this

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

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

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

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

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

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

The little Darth Vader from the Volkwagen commercial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments from the original post:

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

    Helluva skill.

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

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

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

Moon Walk in a Power Plant Precipitator

Originally Posted May 25, 2013;

Just because there isn’t any smoke pouring out of the smoke stacks at a Coal-fired Power Plant, it doesn’t mean that the plant is offline.  The power plant where I worked as an electrician in north central Oklahoma had two large Buell (later GE) electrostatic precipitators.  This is what takes the smoke out of the exhaust.  The smoke is referred to as “Fly Ash”.  The electrostatic precipitator when running efficiently should take out 99.98% of the ash in the exhaust.  When running with excellent efficiency, the exhaust can have less ash than dust in the air.

Sonny Kendrick, the electric specialist and Bill Rivers an electronics whiz were my mentors when I joined the electric shop.  These two Power Plant Men taught me how to maintain the precipitator.  I wrote about the interaction between these two men in the post:  Resistance in a Coal-Fired Power Plant.  It is funny to think, 30 years later that the skills they were teaching me would determine my career for the next 18 years.  You see….. I later became the Precipitator guru of the power plant.  I once thought it was sort of a curse to become good at one thing, because then you were kind of expected to do that the rest of your life.

When I first joined the electric shop and they were deciding who was going to fix all the manhole pumps, the electrical A Foreman replied by saying, “Let Kevin do it.  He likes to get dirty.”  At that point… I think I understood why they really wanted me in the electric shop.  Charles Foster had mentioned to me when I was a janitor and he had asked me if I would consider being an electrician because I cleaned things so well, and a lot of being a Power Plant electrician involved cleaning…  Now those words took on their full meaning.

I knew I was destined to work on the precipitator from the beginning.  Sonny had been banished to work on only the precipitator, as Bill Rivers had made clear to me when I was still a janitor (see the power plant post:  Singin’ Along with Sonny Kendrick).  I was his chance to be from the curse that had been placed on him by our Electrical Supervisor, Leroy Godfrey.  I had accepted that.  I knew that I would eventually be the one to maintain the precipitators from day one.

So, here I was…  One month before becoming an electrician, I had a near death experience inside the precipitator (See the post:  Angel of Death Passes by the Precipitator Door).  Now I was going into the precipitator again with Bill Rivers.  I think at that time we were just wearing half-faced respirators and no fly ash suit.  Just a rain suit.

A man wearing a half faced respirator -- not me... just an image I found on Google Images

A man wearing a half faced respirator — not me… just an image I found on Google Images

Not a lot of protection….

I followed Bill Rivers into the precipitator while it was offline for overhaul.  I had my flashlight securely strapped around my neck with a string.  I had  a small notepad with a pen tied to it also around my neck for taking notes.

A notepad like this

A notepad like this

So, as Bill entered the dark cavern of the precipitator, I found that we had just entered a new world.  It was dark… Like the dark side of the moon.  We were at the intake of the precipitator and we were walking on top of the ash as it was more like sand at this point.  We just left footprints where we only sank about 2 inches into the pile of ash that had built up there.

Bill took his flashlight and shined it up between two sets of plates that are exactly 9 inches apart.  He swung the light up toward the top of the precipitator 70 feet above.  At first as the light was reflecting on all the white ash, I was blinded to the detail that Bill was trying to show me.  Eventually I realized that he was pointing his flashlight at a clip.  There was some kind of a clip that held one plate in line with the next.

Once I had confirmed to Bill that I saw where he was looking, he lowered the flashlight to about 45 feet above us, where there was another clip.  Then even lower.  About 10 feet above us.  A third clip.  — Now at this point… I was almost ready to resign myself to another lesson like the one I had learned from Ken Conrad as he had poured his heart and soul into his description of how to lay the irrigation hose and position the water gun 3 years earlier (See, “When a Power Plant Man Talks, It pays to Listen“),  then I remembered…. “I know this is boring… but you have to learn it….”  A Phrase that I made good use of 15 years later when I was teaching switching to a group of True Power Plant Men that would find themselves equally bored with the necessary material they had to learn.

Bill explained….. Each clip must (and he emphasized “Must’) be aligned with the next plate.  Every clip must be in their place.  Don’t start up this precipitator until this is so.  Ok.  I understood…. Let’s see… there are three clips between each of the four plates… or 9 plates per row…. and there were 44 rows of plates for each section…. and there were 6 sections across the precipitator, and  7 sections…. hmmm… that added up to oh… only 16,632 clips that I needed to check during each overhaul… ok… I took a note on my notepad…

Bill explained….. Clean each insulator.  there is one on the side of each bottle rack holding all the wires in place.There were only 4 for each 2 hoppers.  there were 84 hoppers,   Great.  Only 168 insulators on the bottle racks….  Then he pointed out that there were also insulators on the precipitator roof.  two on section over each pair of hoppers… One on the tension hosue on one connected to the transformer, or 336 more… making a total of 504 insulators that need to be inspected and cleaned during each overhaul.

Bill explained…. you need to check each of the wires to make sure they aren’t caught on a ciip or broken.  Let’s see…. there were 44 rows of wires in each section… with 16 wires in each row…. and there were 6 sections across each set of hoppers…. that came out to exactly 29568 wires that needed to be inspected during each overhaul.

Bill explained…. each rapper on the roof needs to be tested to make sure they are rapping with the correct force.  That meant that they each needed to lift at least 6 inches before they dropped the 15 pound slug (to knock the ash off of the plates into the hoppers below.  Hmm… For each 4 hoppers, there were 6 rows of 12 rappers each.  There were two sets across the precipitator and there were 7 sets of rappers.  In other words…. there were 672 rappers on the roof of the precipitator.

Bill explained…. each vibrator on the roof needs to be calibrated to provide the maximum vibration to the wires inside the precipitator in order to make sure they cleaned the wires of any ash buildup as they are responsible for delivering the static electricity to the precipitator that collects the ash on the plates.  In order to calibrate them, you had to adjust the gap between the main bracket and the magnetic coil to within a few thousands of an inch… I don’t remember the exact setting now… but we used a set of shims to set them correctly.  There were 12 vibrators for each of the two sides of each of the seven sections of hoppers.   This came out to 168 vibrators that need to be adjusted during each overhaul.  Oh.  And each vibrator had an insulator connected to the wire rack…adding 168 more insulators.

So, we had 16,632 clips, 672 insulators, 29568 wires, 672 rappers and 168 vibrators that all needed to be in good working order at the end of each overhaul (on each of the two units).  Throughout the years that I worked inspecting, adjusting and wrestling with plates, clips and wires, I became personally attached to each wire, insulator, clip, rapper and vibrator. For a number of my 18 years as an electrician, I was the only person that entered the precipitator to inspect the plates, wires, clips and internal insulators.  Some of my closest friends were precipitator components.  Each diligently performing their tasks of cleaning the environment so that millions of people wouldn’t have to breathe the toxins embedded in the ash particles.

We hired contractors to go into the precipitator to help me.  I would spend an entire day teaching them how to wear their full face respirator and fly ash suit…. How to inspect the clips and wires…. how to walk along the narrow beams along the edge of each row of 84 hoppers on each unit to find and repair the things that were not in proper alignment.  I would check out all their equipment and give them their safety training only to have them not show up for work the next day.

Contractors would gladly be paid to weld in boiler hanging from a sky climber in the middle of space 200 feet above the bottom ash hopper, but give them one day in the precipitator and they would rather be thumbing a ride to Texas….  I should have felt insulted… after all this was my home…. Mark Fielder the head of the welders once called it my “baby”.  I knew he had never had to endure the walk on the moon when you entered the tail end of the precipitator and found yourself buried waste deep in light fly ash.  I told Mark Fielder to not call the precipitator my baby…  Not until he could find a contractor that was willing to work alongside me inside it.  He apologized.  He explained that he meant it with affection.

At the back end of the precipitator, you just sank to the bottom of a pile of fly ash when you stepped into it.  The fly ash particles there are less than 2 microns in diameter.  That meant that they would infiltrate your filter and bounce around inside your respirator on their way down into your lungs.  Building up a permanent wall of silicon in your innards that will be there until the day you die.

I noticed that after a few days of working in the precipitator that I would feel like I had the flu.  This would happen after I would smell this certain scent in the precipitator that would develop after the unit had been offline for a week or so.  I noticed that when I burped, I could taste that smell in my mouth.  I also noticed that if I had to pass some gas, that the smell would also include the smell that I was experiencing in the precipitator.

I didn’t think much about it until one day when I went to the tool room and Bud Schoonover told me that they were out of the regular hepa-filters for my respirator.  So, instead he gave me a pair of organic filters.  They had a different carbon filter that absorbed organic particles.  I said, “Thanks Bud.” and I headed out to climb into the precipitator to continue my inspection of some 30,000 wires, and 16,000 clips.

To my astonishment, when I used the carbon filters right away, I didn’t smell the acrid smell.  The flu symptoms went away, as well as the smelly burping flavors.  Not to mention (oh.. but I am) the passing of gas without the additional smell of precipitator internals….  Crazy as these seems… I became obsessed with finding out why.

You see… at the same time that this particular smell arose in the precipitator, any ash that was built up on the plates would clump up and with a simple bang on the plates with a rubber mallet would cause all the ash to fall off leaving a perfectly clean plate.  Before this smell was there, you could bang on the plates all day, and the ash would remain stuck to the plates like chalk on a chalkboard.

I had our famous chemist (well…. he was famous to me… see the post:  A Power Plant Doctor Does a Jig in a Puddle of Acid), come out to the precipitator to give it a whiff.  He said it had some kind of  a sewer smell to it…. I didn’t expand on my personal sewer experience I had had with it, though I did tell him about the burping….

He encouraged me to have the safety department come out and test it to see if they could identify the chemical that was causing this smell.  You see…. It was important to me because if we could pin this down, then we might be able to inject a substance into the precipitator while it was online to clean it without having to bring the unit offline if the precipitator was to become fouled up.

There was a young lady from the safety department (I think her name was Julia, but I can’t remember her full name).  She came from Oklahoma City and gave me some monitors to put in the precipitator while the smell was present to try to track down the chemical.  Unfortunately, we never found out what it was.  In the meantime, I had learned all I could about Van Der Waals forces.  This is the week molecular force that would cause the ash to stick to the plate.

I studied the chemical makeup of the ash to see if I could identify what chemical reactions could take place… Unfortunately, though I knew the chemical makeup of the ash, the chemicals were bound in such a way from the high temperatures of the boiler, that I couldn’t tell exactly how they were arranged without the use of  an electron microscope.  I wasn’t about to go to Ron Kilman (who was the plant manager at the time) and ask him for one.  I had already upset him with another matter as you will learn in a much later post.

So, I just continued wearing the organic filters.  This gave me the strength to continue my inspections without the flu-like symptoms.  Later on, I taught Charles Foster and Scott Hubbard how to maintain the precipitator.  When I finally left in 2001, I know I left the precipitators in competent hands.  They knew everything I did.

One main lesson I learned from my experience as the precipitator guru is this….. You can be a genius like Bill Rivers or Sonny Kendrick….. when you are given a particular job to do and you do it well, you are usually pigeon-holed into that job.  One of the main reasons I write about Power Plant Men is because they are for the most part a group of geniuses. At least they were at the plant where I worked in North Central Oklahoma.  They just happened to stumble onto the jobs that they had.  They would probably spend the rest of their working career doing what they did best…. never moving onto something where their genius would shine and others would know about them… That is why I write about them.

Do a job well, and you will be doing it until the day you die…. that’s what it seemed to be.  I didn’t feel like I was banished to the precipitator as Sonny Kendrick was by Leroy Godfrey, who did it consciously.  No.  I was “banished” to the precipitator for the next 18 years because I was good at it.  I loved it.   I may have mentioned before, but I had a personal relationship with the 168 precipitator control cabinets.

I had carefully re-written the programs on each of the eprom chips on the Central Processing Unit in each cabinet to fit the personality of each section of the precipitator.  I had spend hours and hours standing in front of each cabinet talking to them.  Coaxing them.  Telling them that they could do it with my handheld programmer in hand…. helping them along by adjusting their programming ever so slightly to give them the freedom that they needed to do their job.  If they had been human……. I would have given them names like “Mark”, or “Thomas”, or “Millie”.  Instead, I knew them as 2E11 or 1B7.  But they were each my friends in their own way.

You see… I look at friends like this…. It’s not what they can do for me…. It’s “what can I do for them?”  I have had some precipitator cabinets that I have given extra attention because they seemed to need it more than the others, only to have them crap out on me.  I wouldn’t have done anything different if I had known all along that they wouldn’t pull through.

I have my own understanding of who I should be.  My wife may call it “stubbornness”, and that may be what it is.  I would try and try to coax a control cabinet to do what it was created to do, only to have it fail over and over again….  What was I going to do?  Give up?  How could I do that to a friend?  I would tell the cabinets that were especially difficult (when I was alone with them – which was usually), “You create your own Karma.  That isn’t going to change who I am.”

Today I am called an IT Business Analyst.  I work for Dell  Computers.  It is an honor to work for a company that serves the entire world.  I see the same pattern.  When you do something well, when you love your work and become attached to it, you become pigeon-holed into a particular job.  You become invaluable.  Almost unreplaceable.  People look to you for answers.  They are comforted to know that someone who cares is taking care of business.  I am glad to be able to serve them.

Weeks before I left the power plant, Bill Green, the plant manager asked Jim Arnold (the supervisor over maintenance) again….. “What degree is Kevin getting again?”  Arnold replied, “Oh.  nothing anyone wants.”  (an MIS degree from the college of business at Oklahoma State University). Bill was concerned that if I left they wouldn’t have anyone to take care of the precipitators.  No.  I wouldn’t do that.  Like I said… Each of the 168 precipitator control cabinets were my friends…. I had given them the best guardians I could find… Scott Hubbard and Charles Foster.

Recently Charles Foster has retired from the plant, and his health is not good.  His son, Tim Foster has taken his place.  One of the last things Tim has told me recently was that he was going with Scott Hubbard to work on the precipitator.  I wanted to reply back to his e-mail… take care of my friends Tim….  I know Scott understands….

Each clip, each wire… I often dream about them….  Row after row….. looking 70 feet up, then down… swinging my flashlight in the darkness.   Betty, Tom, Martin…. all the clips on this plate are in their place…. Sandy, David, Sarah… lined up correctly…  Fred, Chuck, Bill…. good… good…  next row….

Angel of Death Passes by the Precipitator Door

Originally published on May 25, 2012:

Either this was the luckiest day of my life, or a day where stupidity seemed to be my natural state of mind. This particular day occurred sometime in September 1983. The Main Power transformer for Unit 1 had  shutdown because of an internal fault during an exceptionally hot day during the summer and was being replaced. While the unit was offline, while I was on the labor crew, I was asked to help out the electricians who were doing an overhaul on the Precipitator. The Precipitator takes the ash out of the boiler exhaust before it goes up the smoke stack. Without it, you would see thick smoke, instead, you see only clear exhaust. At the time the electricians I worked with were Sonny Kendrick and Bill Rivers. I had already applied for a job in the electric shop and was waiting to see if I was going to be offered the job. This gave me the chance to show the electricians what a brilliant worker I was.

Bill Rivers told me to go in the precipitator and wipe down the insulators that held the wire racks in place. He showed me where they were. I wore a regular half-face respirator because the fly ash is harmful to inhale.

Half-face respirator

Just before I went in the precipitator door to begin wiping down the insulators using a Scotch Brite Pad, Bill Rivers pointed to my flashlight and said, “Don’t drop your flashlight in a hopper otherwise you will have to make sure that you get it out of the hopper before we go back online.” I told him I would be sure to hold onto my flashlight (noticing that Bill had a string tied to his flashlight which was slung over his shoulder) and I entered the precipitator door.

Yellow Flashlight similar to the one I carried

The inside of the precipitator was dark. 70 foot tall plates are lined up 9 inches apart. Wires hang down between the plates and when the precipitator is turned on, the wires are charged up to around 45,000 volts of electricity. The wires each have a 30 pound weight on the bottom to keep the wires straight, and the wires are kept apart and lined up by a rack at the bottom. One end of the rack which is about 25 feet long is held in place by an electrical insulator about 3 feet long. This is what I was supposed to clean. The light from the flashlight lit up the area around me because everything was covered with the fine white powder reflecting the light.

The first hopper I came to was full of ash up to the top of the hopper, but just below where the insulator was mounted to the edge of the hopper. So, I worked my way down to the ledge along the edge of the hopper and dangled my feet down into the ash as I prepared to wipe down the first of the four insulators on this particular hopper. Just as I began, the precipitator suddenly went dark as my flashlight fell from my hand and down into the hopper. — Oh boy, that didn’t take long.

Fly Ash Hoppers. Our hoppers were 12 foot by 12 foot at the top.

I sat there for a minute in the dark as my eyes grew accustomed to the small amount of light that was coming through the doors. After I could see again, I reached my hand into the ash to feel for my flashlight. The ash was very fluffy and there was little or no resistance as I flailed my hand around searching for it. I leaned over farther and farther to reach down deeper into the ash. I was at the point where I was laying down flat on the ledge trying to find the flashlight, and it was no where to be found.

I pulled myself over to the side edge of the hopper and dropped myself down into the ash so that I could reach over where I had dropped the light, but I was still not able to find it. At that point, I was leaning out into the hopper with only my one index finger gripping the ledge around the hopper. I had a decision to make… I thought I would just bail off into the ash to see if I could find the flashlight, or I could give up and go tell Bill Rivers that I had done the one thing that he told me not to do, and in record time.

I don’t usually like to give up until I have exhausted every effort, so here was my dilemma. Do I let go and dive into this ash to retrieve my flashlight? Or do I leave the hopper and go tell Bill? I regretfully decided to go tell Bill. So, I climbed up out of the hopper, with my clothes covered with Ash (as we did not have fly ash suits at the time and I was wearing my coveralls). I made my way to the precipitator door and once I was outside, I determined which hopper I had been in when I dropped my flashlight.

I found Bill and told him that I had dropped my flashlight in a hopper full of ash. He told me to get the key for that hopper and open the door at the bottom and see if I could find the flashlight. Unlike the picture of the hoppers above, we had a landing around the base of the hoppers by the access door so you didn’t need a ladder to reach them.

Curtis Love had been watching the door of the precipitator for me while I was supposed to be wiping off the insulators. He came down with me, and we proceeded to open the access door at the bottom on the side of the hopper. When I opened the door both Curtis and I were swept backward as a stream of fly ash shot from the door. The ash fell through the grating to the ground below. We regained our footing and watched as a tremendous pile of ash grew below us. If the flashlight had come out of the doorway, it would have remained on the landing since it was too big to go through the grating, but it never came out.

After the ash had finished pouring out of the hopper as if it were water, I reached down into the remaining ash to see if I could feel the flashlight. Still I was unable to find it. There was about 4 more feet from the doorway to the bottom of the hopper, so I emptied out as much ash as I could using my hard hat for a shovel. Then I pulled my body head first into the hopper and I reached down as far as I could in the bottom of the hopper, but I couldn’t find the flashlight.

So, in my infinite wisdom, I asked Curtis Love to hold onto my legs as I lowered myself down to the throat at the bottom of the hopper. I lowered myself down until I had half of my face laying in the ash. At this point only one of the two filters on my respirator was able to function as the other one was down in the ash. I reached my hand into the top of the feeder at the bottom of the hopper and with my finger tips I could just feel the flashlight. I had reached as far as I could, but I couldn’t reach far enough to grip the flashlight.

All of the sudden my head dipped down into the ash and my hand went around the flashlight. I was not able to breathe as my respirator (and my entire head) was entirely immersed in ash. Everything went dark. I struggled to get up, as Curtis had let go of my legs and I had plunged head first into the bottom of the hopper. I had one hand free as the other one held the flashlight. I used it to push against the opposite wall of the hopper to raise my head up out of the ash. I still couldn’t breathe as my respirator was now clogged solid with ash. When I tried to inhale, the respirator just gripped my face tighter. Finally with my one free hand pushing against the hopper wall to hold my head out of the ash, I reached up with the hand that held the flashlight and pushed against my respirator enough to break the seal around my face so that I was able to get a breath of air.

Then I quickly pulled myself out of the precipitator as I heard Curtis saying the mantra that I had heard one other time (as I indicated in the post about Power Plant Safety as Interpreted by Curtis Love). He was saying over and over again, “I’mSorry,I’mSorry, KevinI’mSorry, ThoseGuysWereTicklingMe. I’mSorry,IDidn’tMeanToLetGo,ITriedToHoldOn, butThoseGuysWereTicklingMe.”

Looking around I spied a few Labor Crew hands sneaking away. As this happened before when I was sandblasting in the sand filter tank when Curtis Love had turned off my air, this wasn’t the first encounter I had with Power Plant Men In-Training playing a Power Plant joke on me. I told Curtis to forget it. I had retrieved my flashlight and everything was all right. I was covered from head-to-toe with fly ash, but that washes off pretty easily.

It dawned on me then that when I had dropped the flashlight, it had sunk clear to the bottom of the hopper and down into the throat of the feeder at the bottom. If I had dived into the ash in the hopper from up above, I would have fallen right down to the bottom of the hopper and been engulfed in ash. My feet would have been pinned down in the feeder pipe, and that would have been the end of me. It probably would have taken many hours to figure out where I was, and they would have found only a corpse.

While I was hanging on the edge of the hopper with only the tip of my index finger gripping the ledge, I was actually considering letting go. There never would have been an electrician at the power Plant named Kevin Breazile. I never would have married my wife Kelly, and had my two children Elizabeth and Anthony. I would not be writing this story right now. If it had been left to my own stupidity, none of those things would have happened. I believe it was my guardian angel that had talked me out of letting go (or had actually been standing on my fingers). As stubborn as I was, and against my nature, that day I had decided to give up searching for my flashlight and seek help. That one momentary decision has made all the difference in my life.

Since that day I have had a certain appreciation for the things that happen to me even when they seem difficult at the time. I have lived a fairly stress-free life because each day is a gift. Currently I work in a stress-filled job where individual accomplishments are seldom rewarded. From one day to the next I may be laid off at any time. I still find a lot of satisfaction in what I do because it was possible that it never would have happened. I have been kept alive for a purpose so I might as well enjoy the ride.

I find a special love for the people I work with today, because they are all gifts to me. I try to pay them back with kindness… when that doesn’t work.. I try to annoy them with my presence… Just to say….. — I am still here!

Comments from previous repost:

  1. Dan Antion May 27, 2014

    Scary thought there at the end. Sounds like quick sand.

  2. Ron May 27, 2014

    I’m glad you chose to “give up” on going after a flashlight! There is a Proverb that says “There is a way which seems right to a man, but the end thereof is the way death.” Sounds like you found one of those “ways”. To choose to find your flashlight and lose your life would be the ultimate bad choice. God, give us the wisdom to choose the way of life.

  3. A.D. Everard August 4, 2014

    Wow. So close! You have a book with all these adventures, you really do. I’m enjoying reading these pages very much. I’m so glad you survived to write them!

  4. inmytwisteddreams August 17, 2014

    You are a very good story teller! I was drawn in from the first sentence, and engulfed in your words until the last. Great Story! I mean, not so great at the time, but glad you brought it full circle in the end! I always say, “You must never hesitate” – a simple statement, whose words most might take for granted. As humans, it’s typically against our nature to trust our first (or gut) instinct, but as you know, it is there for a reason! Good story! 🙂

    ~Nikki

Power Plant Snitch

Originally Posted March 16, 2013:

Seventeen years before Harry Potter captured the Snitch in the movie “Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone”, the Coal-fired Power Plant in north central Oklahoma was plagued by a similar elusive snitch. Unlike the snitch in Harry Potter, which was a small ball with wings that held a special secret only revealed in the last moments of the last Harry Potter Book (and movie) “The Deathly Hallows”, the Power Plant snitch had a more sinister character.

The Snitch from Harry Potter, "The Sorcerer's Stone"

The Snitch from Harry Potter, “The Sorcerer’s Stone”

The Power Plant Snitch reminded me once again of the phrase that “Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.” I had experienced this phenomenon only a few years earlier when I was in High School and my father was a victim of this type of corruption. This made me especially abhorrent of deceit and dishonesty in the workplace. This was the reason why I had become so upset while I was a janitor and I learned a little “lie” that Jack Ballard had cooked up to force the employees to use their floating Holiday first (See the post Power Plant Secrets Found during the Daily Mail Run).

You see, in the Lone Power Plant stationed out in the middle of the country, a plot had been hatched by the Evil Plant Manager that rivaled a James Bond conspiracy to take over the world. Only in this case, it was a conspiracy to take over the personal dignity of honest, descent Power Plant Men. Men who said their prayers each night when they went to bed. Men who went to work each day to provide for their children. Men who held God and country in the highest esteem.

As I mentioned above, I had seen this abuse of power before when I was in High School. It had affected my personality in a way that I became instantly angry at the site of dishonesty. This was something I had to learn to deal with throughout the years as I interacted with men of less than honorable dignity. In order to understand why, I will divert into a side story:

My parents had kept their financial difficulties and other stress out of our lives while I was in Junior High and High school back in the mid ’70’s. They didn’t tell me that my father, who was listed in the top 20 Veterinarians in the world, and among the top 5 bird specialists, was being targeted by the Dean and his minions at the University of Missouri Veterinary College.

I remember that my mother was introducing new foods to our palate, such as Lentils and other types of rice and bean dishes. She had even gone to work as a secretary at Stephen’s College to make ends meet. At the same time, I had traveled with my dad when I was 13 to Europe where I met Veterinarians around the world that all greeted my father as if he were some kind of king.

I remember walking down the road on the way to Liverpool from the University (a 5 mile walk) where a group of bird specialists from around the world were meeting to determine the universal Latin names of every part of the bird’s anatomy (which at that point had not been defined). The Veterinarian walking with me from India told me afterI had made some offhand comment about my father.  He said, “You don’t realize who your dad is. In India, your dad is the Father of Physiology! Your dad wrote the bible of Veterinary Physiology used around the world!”  

I knew the book he was referring to. My dad had worked for three years day and night writing this book. Collaborating with renown Veterinarians around the world to compile a comprehensive book of Veterinary Physiology. The first of it’s kind. Before this book was written, you could only find the Physiology of a Pig, or the Physiology of a Dog. My dad had created a masterpiece that included an all-encompassing Veterinary Physiology in one book.

My Dad's book

My Dad’s book

I say this, not to lift my father on a higher pedestal than he already is, but to put in perspective, how an important person such as James E. Breazile, DVM was treated by the “Evil Dean” of the Veterinary College at the University of Missouri in 1974 and until the day he resigned on January 16, 1978. Actually, the day my father brought the gold bound copy of the book home and presented it to my mother, she stopped talking to him for about a month for the first time in her life (for a totally unrelated reason which I may relay in a future post). Though the publishing company made a lot of money for years after this book was published, the total amount my dad received for his years of work totaled no more than $10,000 over a three year period.

Anyway. To make a long story short, (because I could go on for days about this), my father was not able to get a job at any another University in the United States, because he had tried to bring the corruption of the leaders of the Veterinary School (who had been stealing money from the University through bogus expense reports) to light, only to be told by the Chancellor of the University at the time, Herbert Schooling, “Boys will be boys.” It was just like the moment when Saruman told Gandalf, “We must join with him!”

Saruman Tells Gandalf that he must join with the forces of evil in the Lord of the Rings

Saruman Tells Gandalf that he must join with the forces of evil in the Lord of the Rings

It was only because my father had worked for Oklahoma State University before, when I was very young, that they didn’t need “permission” from University of Missouri to hire him, and take the multi-million dollar contracts that he had with Purina (and other businesses that had funded their electron microscope and other expensive scientific equipment at the time) with him, that we were able to escape the firewall that had been placed around my father’s career (ok. that sentence is long enough for an entire paragraph).

Anyway (again)…. I can’t let this story go until I give you the moment that was the “clincher” for me. The moment that I finally believed that my mother and my father hadn’t just gone off their rocker and become extremely paranoid living in a “James Bond” world….

My father (secretly) obtained a job from the Oklahoma State University in the Veterinary College. He was to start on January 9, 1978 with tenure (meaning that he couldn’t be fired without a really good reason). One week before he was going to resign from the University of Missouri. As usual, Oklahoma State University would begin classes one week before the University of Missouri after Christmas break.

During Christmas break (when I was a senior in High School), we would sneak into my father’s office at the Vet School in Columbia Missouri to remove his books and personal items from his office. We would go to this office at 10 o’clock at night after the school was closed for the night. At this point, I believed that both my mom and my dad had gone off their rocker and I was already planning on going through the phone book to find them a good Psychologist, or a priest to help them out.

Until Sunday morning, January 1, 1978. New Years Day. My mother and I were on our way to an early morning Church service at Our Lady Of Lourdes. My mom said that she thought it would be safe to drop by the Veterinary school and pick up some of dad’s things from his office (Dad had already left for Stillwater, Oklahoma to deliver a load of books and personal belongings).

As we pulled into the parking lot at the Veterinary College, my mom told me that I couldn’t go in because that was “Brown’s” car on the parking lot. — She had names for the different “bad guys” in the department. The Dean was “Whitey”. There was an older lady professor named “Brown”. Then there was the one that I recognized the most…. “McClure”.

I told my mom… “Look. It’s 9 am on Sunday morning. New Year’s Day. She was insistent that “Brown” was in the building. Then finally she told me. “Ok. go downstairs (where my father’s office was) and look around. If no one is there, then grab some of his books.”

Then one of the most bizarre moments of my life occurred. I still remember every detail. It was like I had gone into a dream where fantasy suddenly became reality. I entered the dark building using my father’s key. Immediately turned left and went down the stairs into the darkness. I had to feel my way down the stairs, holding onto the handrail.

As I stepped into the subterranean hallway, I turned north toward my father’s office. I immediately stopped. About 50 yards ahead of me I could see two offices next to each other with their doors open and their lights on. The rest of the hallway was totally dark as we were below ground. Having been a “spelunker” in my youth, the darkness didn’t bother me, however, the the existence of lights ahead were a total surprise.

I briskly walked down the hallway past the two doors. In the first office a lady was sitting at a desk. In the second, a man. I quietly walked on by. Then I turned around and walked passed the door where the man was sitting and stopped between the two doors. I could tell that both the man and the woman were talking on the phone. After listening for a moment I could tell that they were talking to each other, though I couldn’t hear what they were saying.

As a seventeen year old High School student, I suddenly realized that everything my mother and father had been saying for the past 5 years had been true. All the bugs found in my dad’s phone. All the threatening notes. The reason why he hadn’t received a raise in 5 years… All made sense! These guys were crazy!

I walked south to the stairway and turned around and looked back. “Brown” (the lady), was standing in the hallway with her hands on her hips like Professor Umbridge in Harry Potter!

Professor Umbridge Holding her wand

Professor Umbridge Holding her wand

I stood there for a second looking at her silhouetted against the light from her office, knowing that she couldn’t tell who I was in the darkness. then I darted up the stairs. Ran outside to the car. Jumped in the driver’s seat of the Pontiac Station Wagon and told my mom what I had seen.

My mom explained to me that this was “Brownie”. They talk on the phone so that no one can say that they have been seen talking together. You see…. they are supposed to be at a conference or some other “official” business this weekend so they can claim expenses. That is why “Whitey” can live in a big ranch south of town on his measly salary. This is what my father had told the Chancellor of the University who told him that “boys will be boys”.

I didn’t know whether to lean over and kiss my mom when I suddenly realized that the list of insane people didn’t include my mother and father, or to peel out of the parking lot before Professor Umbridge made it up the stairs! Anyway. On News Years Day 1978 I had a totally new perspective on life. I can tell you that for certain.

To finish up with this side (non Power Plant) story…. in 1980 when Barbara Uehling became the Chancellor at the University of Missouri (from Oklahoma University, where I had attended school two years before), she began to clean house. I remember the day I learned that she had fired “Whitey” the dean of the Veterinary school.

I woke from my sleep very early in the morning. It was my father from Stillwater, Oklahoma. He had received a call from Iowa State from a Veterinarian, Deiter Delman, who had told him that they had just fired Whitey the Dean of the Veterinary College at Missouri. I told dad that was great, and I crawled back to my bed to finish my nightly ritual of sleep.

Moments later I was woken by another phone call. One of my professors from the College of Psychology Dr. Wright had called me. He said, “I have some news that your father will probably like to know. It is really top secret! I said, “Does it have to do with “Whitey” being fired? In my head I could see Dr. Wright’s one fake eye spinning around in his head like Professor Moody in Harry Potter (even though he hadn’t been thought of yet in 1981).

Professor Moody... Or is it Professor Wright in the MU Psychology Department?

Professor Moody… Or is it Professor Wright in the MU Psychology Department?

Professor Moody… I mean Dr. Wright…. said, “What? How do you know? This is “Top Secret?” the meeting was over just minutes ago? I told him that Dr. Middleton had called Dr. Delman, who had immediately called my father, who had already called me moments ago. — To put this in perspective…… The whole world knew within minutes. I wrote a letter to the Chancellor Barbara Uehling explaining the events that I knew about. She wrote back saying that the Provost would be looking into the additional names I had given her.

End of side story…..

Back to the Power Plant Snitch… (I can tell… this has already become a long post and is probably going to break my record of the longest post of all time).

In September 1984, not one year after I had joined the electric shop, Bill Bennett, our A Foreman, came down to the electric shop (which was normal. Since he ate lunch with us every day). This time, he locked the doors. The door to the Turbine room, the door to the main switchgear and the front door…. — all locked. He said, “What is said here doesn’t go outside this shop.”

Ok…. We all went instantly into “serious” mode. Bill explained that there was something up with the grubby looking janitor (I’m sorry… I don’t remember what name he was assuming to use at the time — I’ll call him “Bonzo” from now on). The janitor “Bonzo” had been neglecting his duties as a janitor, so Pat Braden (the lead janitor) had gone to Marlin McDaniel to have him fired. Marlin McDaniel had gone to the Assistant Plant Manager, Bill Moler to start the process of firing “Bonzo”.

Marlin McDaniel (who had been my A foreman while I was a Janitor and on Labor crew after Chuck Ross had left) was told by Bill Moler that he was not going to fire “Bonzo” under any circumstance. It didn’t matter to him that he wasn’t doing his job. Marlin was told to forget about it and not bring it up again.

Bill Bennett told every person in the electric shop…. “Keep clear of this guy. I don’t know what is going on, but something is definitely wrong.” At that point everyone in the Electric shop knew that “Bonzo” was a snitch. Don’t talk to the Snitch…. Ok… from now on I’ll refer to “Bonzo” as the “Snitch”.

I know I have bored all of you by the personal story of my father and the trials that he went through, so I’ll try to keep this short: I knew a year and three months ago when I first started writing about the “Goodness” of the Power Plant Man that I would eventually come to this story. I know that the Power Plant men that read this blog knew that this story had to eventually be written. So, here it is.

Through unforeseen circumstances… and I attribute it to my Guardian Angel who has kept me out of serious trouble up to this point, I was called to Oklahoma City by my girlfriend Kelly Burgess (who ten months and 11 days later became my wife and is ’til death do us part) on February 10, 1985. I called in to Howard Chumbley on February 11 and told him I would not be able to make it to work that day. I would be taking my floating holiday.

The following Monday morning when I had climbed into Bill River’s Station wagon at the bowling alley where we met, with Rich Litzer and Yvonne Taylor and we were on our way to work, I learned about what had happened the Friday before. The day that would forever be referred to at the plant as “Black Friday.”

Bill Rivers explained the entire scenario to me during the 25 minute drive to the plant. I can’t say that I was in tears because my system had gone into shock and I was zombified by each new revelation. If I could have cried, I would have. My system had just gone into shock. All emotion had shut down.

Bill explained to me that on Friday morning (February 11, 1985), a plant-wide meeting had been held. Everyone at the plant had been informed that a drug and theft ring at the plant had been found and eliminated. This included one lady who was a janitor. A machinist named Dink Myers. The Lead Janitor Pat Braden and two of the Electricians Craig Jones and Jim Stevenson.

Drug and Theft ring? Really? At our Power Plant?

Except for the female janitor (I can’t even remember her name), I had a personal relationship with every other person on this list (whether they knew it or not). I never worked directly with Craig Jones, but as an electrician, I did know that everyone held him in the highest esteem. I later found out that Dink Myers was a distant relation of mine when two years later I attended my grandfather’s funeral. Jim Stevenson was a close friend to the point that I used to give him Swedish Massages that would ease the pain of his rampant Eczema. Pat Braden…. Well. Pat Braden.. my Janitor lead. I loved him most of all.

I invited Pat Braden to sit next to my wife and I at my wedding 10 months later, even though the Evil Assistant Plant Manager would be serving as a deacon in the wedding ceremony (he didn’t come.. I understood why). Next to Charles Foster, Pat Braden was my next dearly beloved friend. — Other Power Plant Men, such as Mickey Postman and Ed Shiever, share in my total love for Pat Braden to this day. — Not that I have asked them… I just know… They used to work for this saint.

Here is what had happened…..

Eldon Waugh (the evil plant manager) had heard from a study that came out early in 1984 that 10% of a typical workforce were either on drugs or were robbing their employer. I know. I had read the same study. The company had hired the snitch to become a janitor at the best power plant in the country to infiltrate their troops and bring out the worst in them.

I distinctly remember the snitch walking into the electric shop once as I was walking out…. He paused… looked at me as if to say something, then went on…. (– my interpretation…. “oh… a victim….”…. Guardian angel response…. “This isn’t the droids you are looking for…”) He went on without saying a word.

These aren't the droids you ar looking for ( Star Wars -- A New Hope

These aren’t the droids you ar looking for (Star Wars — A New Hope)

So the Snitch nailed a good friend of mine, Jim Stevenson…. I remember in January just before the verdict came down….. Leroy Godfrey had gone on a frenzied hunt for the portable electric generator. It had turned up missing…. Everyone in the shop was sent to look for it… After a day of searching, when it was time to go home…. I remember that as we were walking out the door to the parking lot that Jim Stevenson said, “They are never going to find the generator.” Bill Ennis asked, “Why Not?” Jim answered,. “Because their snitch has it. If they are going to let a crook like that work here, they are going to have to live with the consequences. He took the generator.”

A few months after “Black Friday”, Jim Stevenson was suing the company, and the specifically the Plant Manager and the Assistant Plant Manager.  Lawyers came from Oklahoma City and interviewed people that had worked with Jim Stevenson and Craig Jones. I was in a quandary. I knew if they asked me about this situation I would have to tell them what Jim Stevenson had said. Jim had been fired for helping the snitch load the generator in the back of his truck months earlier. The funny thing was… I was the only one in the shop that they didn’t interview. I had never been on Jim’s crew, so I wasn’t on their list. At that point, if they didn’t ask me, I wasn’t going to volunteer.

The thing about this whole event was that it was setup from the beginning…. The Snitch asked Jim if he would help him lift the generator into the back of his truck…. This by itself was nothing out of the ordinary, since people could “check out” the generator for their personal use.

Portable Generator

Portable Generator

Jim had known that the Snitch had taken the portable generator and said to Bill Ennis that if they wanted to keep scum around like that, then they should incur the cost of that decision. What Jim didn’t know was that he was being secretly taped while he was being entrapped into loading the generator into the back of the Snitch’s truck. Jim reminded me of Dabney Coleman:

Dabney Colement reminds me of Jim Stevenson

Dabney Colement reminds me of Jim Stevenson

I won’t go much into the stories of Dink Myers, who shared a joint with the Snitch in the locker room, and Craig Jones who pulled up some “hemp” on the road to the river pumps to swap for a “stolen knife set” (though he didn’t know they were stolen) since these were “no-brainer” stupid moments in the life of young Power Plant Men… but I will defend Pat Braden…. The most honest and loving of souls (and again… I apologize for the length of this post).

In previous posts I have mentioned that Pat Braden reminded me of Red Skelton.

This Picture of Red Skelton reminds me of Pat Braden

This Picture of Red Skelton reminds me of Pat Braden

Today, when I want to reminisce about Pat Braden. All I have to do is watch an old episode of Red Skelton. As kind as Red Skelton was in real life… there was Pat Braden. If you don’t know about Red Skelton… Google him…. He was a sincere soul… He was a soul-mate to Pat Braden.

This is how Pat Braden was fired…… The snitch came to him one day and asked for the key to the closet so that he could get the VCR….. Weeks later, the VCR turned up missing and Pat was asked if he knew where the VCR went. He didn’t know. When I was a janitor I used to do go to Pat on a weekly basis and ask for the key to closet for the VCR. I had to regularly move it to the control room or the Engineer’s shack for training sessions. It was just part of our regular job and Pat Braden would have not thought twice about it.

As it turned out, the snitch had taken the VCR from the closet and had brought it straight to Bill Moler, the Assistant Plant Manager and handed it to him and told him that he had stolen it (even though technically, it hadn’t been stolen). Then about a month later, Bill sent out the request to find the VCR. At that point, Pat, who was the same age as my father (It’s funny, but a lot of people at the plant were the same age as my father), and on blood pressure medication that made his head swim when he stood up, didn’t remember anyone taking the VCR four weeks earlier… So, he was included in the “Theft and Drug ring at Sooner Plant on February 11, 1985”.

The story about Jim Stevenson is almost as tragic, though he had enough money to take the Electric Company to court. Pat’s income of $10 an hour didn’t quite leave him in a position to complain about being unjustly fired.

As the Tape recorder tapes revealed about Jim Stevenson (yeah… Like Watergate)… The evil Plant Manager, Eldon Waugh had told the Snitch to specifically target Jim Stevenson. The way it was explained in the recording between Eldon Waugh and the Snitch (as recorded by Jack Ballard, the head of HR at the Plant at the time), if Jim Stevenson were gone, then Leroy Godfrey’s only friend would be gone… Then Leroy would have to turn to Bill Moler or Eldon for friendship….. I want to continue printing periods as you ponder this thought…..

So…. Eldon and Bill had Jim Stevenson fired as part of a bogus “Drug and Theft” ring so that Leroy Godfrey would be their friend?….. How bizarre is that? You know… I can put this all in writing because it all became public knowledge when it became part of a trial between Jim Stevenson and the Electric Company a year later. The s**t hit the fan on January 23, 1986 when Bill Moler and Eldon Waugh were attending Jack Ballard’s funeral.

Immediately after the graveside services were finished in Ponca City at the Odds Fellows Cemetery, Jim’s lawyer hit them both with a Subpoena to appear in court… The lawyer wanted to make sure the trial took place in Kaw County. A year later, these two individuals and the company settled out of court. Both the Plant Manager and the Assistant Plant Manager were “early retired” which opened the door for a new era of Power Plant Management. Jim Stevenson walked away with an undisclosed sum of money that was at least six digits.

Pat? I found out a few years later that my wife had been working with Pat in Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Ponca City. One day after, we had moved to Stillwater, and Kelly was talking to a friend from Ponca City, the subject of Pat Braden came up. When she had hung up the phone, I asked her, “Pat Braden who?” When she explained that she had worked with a security guard named Pat Braden in Ponca City, and that he was the nicest guy you would ever meet. He cared about one thing in life and that was his daughter… I knew she was talking about our Pat Braden.

Everyone that ever met this kind soul was touched by him. It was ironic that my wife Kelly had worked with Pat for a couple of years at the hospital and I didn’t even have a clue. I knew that Pat must have known…. After all…. I was the only Breazile in the phone book in Ponca City at the time. From what I understand… Pat is still around in Ponca City doing something….. Jim Stevenson still runs “Stevenson Refrigeration Services”. Both of these are honorable men.

Note that the True Power Plant Men mourned their loss for years after this event. A certain amount of “innocence” or “decency” had been whittled away. That is until 1994 rolled around….. But…. That is another story for a much later time….

Comments from the orignal post:

  1. Old Sicilian saying: “Rats get fat, while Good Men die”.

  2. Ron Kilman March 18, 2013:

    I of course heard about “Black Friday” at Sooner, but it was from Eldon’s perspective. It is evil when innocent people are set up to be fired like that.

    We didn’t hire any snitches at Seminole.

  3. An entertaining study of the use of power in a university and in a power plant…with applications to government available!

Power Plant Lady of the Labor Crew — Repost

Originally Posted on October 19, 2012:

In the Power Plant posts, I generally tend to focus on the Power Plant Men that taught their Power Plant culture to me while I was fortunate enough to grace the boilers and conveyors of the Coal-fired Power Plant out in the north central plains of Oklahoma. Every once in a while during this journey there were True Power Plant Ladies that came along that took their place right alongside the Power Plant Men, and generally held their own when it came to the amount of work, their tenacity, and even for some, their ability to hit a spittoon from 6 feet. — Ok. I made up the part about hitting a spittoon. Everyone just used the floor drains for spittoons in the early days before they became responsible for cleaning them out themselves, after the summer help found more grass to mow. — The choice spitting material was…. Sunflower seed shells.

In the first few years, there was Leta Cates who worked out of the welding shop (I believe… Well, she hung around there a lot), and later became a clerk. Then there was Opal Brien who was in the maintenance shop and worked in the garage one year when I was a summer help. Of course, there was Darlene Mitchell who worked in the warehouse with Dick Dale, Mike Gibbs and Bud Schoonover. There was also Diana Lucas (later Diana Brien), who was one of the Electric Shop A team super heroes. Later came Julienne Alley that became the “Mom” of the welding shop. Some more came and went…. Especially the person that we referred to as “Mom” while I was on labor crew. Doretta Funkhouser.

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

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

Once on the labor crew, it was very rare that anyone left this crew to go to another position in the plant. They usually had to leave the company altogether, or find a job at another plant in order to escape. This was especially true after the summer of 1982 when the oil boom went bust in Oklahoma making jobs harder to find, and less people left the plant to go somewhere else to work.

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

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

Backhoe

Here is a picture of a Backhoe

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

My first thought was oh boy…. I shouldn’t do this…. I can hardly stop this thing and I know I will probably run right into the side of Jim’s new truck and he’s going to have a fit. So, I did the only thing I could do. I proceeded to drive around to the side of Jim’s truck to pour the load of ash into the bed of his truck. Now… either it was Jim’s guardian angel, or it was mine (protecting me from the bodily harm Jim may have inflicted on me out of stress had I put a big dent in the side of his new truck) that stopped the backhoe just at the right spot, I’ll never know for sure. But something did. The backhoe for once stopped right where I would have liked it to stop and I dumped the ash in the truck filling it to the brim. I waved to Jim, and he drove away.

Later when I went back to the Coal Yard Maintenance building (where the Labor Crew called home) I saw Jim in the office, so I went to talk to him. I smiled and said, “I hope I didn’t make you nervous dumping that ash in your truck.” Jim said “No.” It didn’t bother him one bit. He said he knew I could handle it. So I told him that was the first time I had ever operated a backhoe and the brakes don’t work too well, and I wasn’t even sure if I could keep the backhoe from running into the side of his truck. I remember Jim’s reaction. He said, “Ok, now I’m nervous.” Having done my share of passing the nervous energy over to Jim, I went next door to the break room to enjoy my lunch.

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

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

We finally bought a Honey Wagon like this

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

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

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

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

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

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

The little Darth Vader from the Volkwagen commercial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments from the original post:

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

    Helluva skill.

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

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

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

Angel of Death Passes by the Precipitator Door — Repost

Originally published on May 25, 2012:

Either this was the luckiest day of my life, or a day where stupidity seemed to be my natural state of mind. This particular day occurred sometime in September 1983. The Main Power transformer for Unit 1 had  shutdown because of an internal fault during an exceptionally hot day during the summer and was being replaced. While the unit was offline, while I was on the labor crew, I was asked to help out the electricians who were doing an overhaul on the Precipitator. The Precipitator takes the ash out of the boiler exhaust before it goes up the smoke stack. Without it, you would see thick smoke, instead, you see only clear exhaust. At the time the electricians I worked with were Sonny Kendrick and Bill Rivers. I had already applied for a job in the electric shop and was waiting to see if I was going to be offered the job. This gave me the chance to show the electricians what a brilliant worker I was.

Bill Rivers told me to go in the precipitator and wipe down the insulators that held the wire racks in place. He showed me where they were. I wore a regular half-face respirator because the fly ash is harmful to inhale.

Half-face respirator

Just before I went in the precipitator door to begin wiping down the insulators using a Scotch Brite Pad, Bill Rivers pointed to my flashlight and said, “Don’t drop your flashlight in a hopper otherwise you will have to make sure that you get it out of the hopper before we go back online.” I told him I would be sure to hold onto my flashlight (noticing that Bill had a string tied to his flashlight which was slung over his shoulder) and I entered the precipitator door.

Yellow Flashlight similar to the one I carried

The inside of the precipitator was dark. 70 foot tall plates are lined up 9 inches apart. Wires hang down between the plates and when the precipitator is turned on, the wires are charged up to around 45,000 volts of electricity. The wires each have a 30 pound weight on the bottom to take out the tension, and the wires are kept apart and lined up by a rack at the bottom. One end of the rack which is about 25 feet long is held in place by an electrical insulator about 3 feet long. This is what I was supposed to clean. The light from the flashlight lit up the area around me because everything was covered with the fine white powder reflecting the light.

The first hopper I came to was full of ash up to the top of the hopper, but just below where the insulator was mounted to the edge of the hopper. So, I worked my way down to the ledge along the edge of the hopper and dangled my feet down into the ash as I prepared to wipe down the first of the four insulators on this particular hopper. Just as I began, the precipitator suddenly went dark as my flashlight fell from my hand and down into the hopper. — Oh boy, that didn’t take long.

Fly Ash Hoppers. Our hoppers were 12 foot by 12 foot at the top.

I sat there for a minute in the dark as my eyes grew accustomed to the small amount of light that was coming through the doors. After I could see again, I reached my hand into the ash to feel for my flashlight. The ash was very fluffy and there was little or no resistance as I flailed my hand around searching for it. I leaned over farther and farther to reach down deeper into the ash. I was at the point where I was laying down flat on the ledge trying to find the flashlight, and it was no where to be found.

I pulled myself over to the side edge of the hopper and dropped myself down into the ash so that I could reach over where I had dropped the light, but I was still not able to find it. At that point, I was leaning out into the hopper with only my one index finger gripping the ledge around the hopper. I had a decision to make… I thought I would just bail off into the ash to see if I could find the flashlight, or I could give up and go tell Bill Rivers that I had done the one thing that he told me not to do, and in record time. I don’t usually like to give up until I have exhausted every effort, so here was my dilemma. Do I let go and dive into this ash to retrieve my flashlight? Or do I leave the hopper and go tell Bill? I regretfully decided to go tell Bill. So, I climbed up out of the hopper, with my clothes covered with Ash (as we did not have fly ash suits at the time and I was wearing my coveralls). I made my way to the precipitator door and once I was outside, I determined which hopper I had been in when I dropped my flashlight.

I found Bill and told him that I had dropped my flashlight in a hopper full of ash. He told me to get the key for that hopper and open the door at the bottom and see if I could find the flashlight. Unlike the picture of the hoppers above, we had a landing around the base of the hoppers by the access door so you didn’t need a ladder to reach them.

Curtis Love had been watching the door of the precipitator for me while I was supposed to be wiping off the insulators. He came down with me, and we proceeded to open the access door at the bottom on the side of the hopper. When I opened the door both Curtis and I were swept backward as a stream of fly ash shot from the door. The ash fell through the grating to the ground below. We regained our footing and watched as a tremendous pile of ash grew below us. If the flashlight had come out of the doorway, it would have remained on the landing since it was too big to go through the grating, but it never came out.

After the ash had finished pouring out of the hopper as if it were water, I reached down into the remaining ash to see if I could feel the flashlight. Still I was unable to find it. There was about 4 more feet from the doorway to the bottom of the hopper, so I emptied out as much ash as I could using my hard hat for a shovel. Then I pulled my body head first into the hopper and I reached down as far as I could in the bottom of the hopper, but I couldn’t find the flashlight.

So, in my infinite wisdom, I asked Curtis Love to hold onto my legs as I lowered myself down to the throat at the bottom of the hopper. I lowered myself down until I had half of my face laying in the ash. At this point only one of the two filters on my respirator was able to function as the other one was down in the ash. I reached my hand into the top of the feeder at the bottom of the hopper and with my finger tips I could just feel the flashlight. I had reached as far as I could, but I couldn’t reach far enough to grip the flashlight.

All of the sudden my head dipped down into the ash and my hand went around the flashlight. I was not able to breathe as my respirator (and my entire head) was entirely immersed in ash. Everything went dark. I struggled to get up, as Curtis had let go of my legs and I had plunged head first into the bottom of the hopper. I had one hand free as the other one held the flashlight. I used it to push against the opposite wall of the hopper to raise my head up out of the ash. I still couldn’t breathe as my respirator was now clogged solid with ash. When I tried to inhale, the respirator just gripped my face tighter. Finally with my one free hand pushing against the hopper wall to hold my head out of the ash, I reached up with the hand that held the flashlight and pushed against my respirator enough to break the seal around my face so that I was able to get a breath of air.

Then I quickly pulled myself out of the precipitator as I heard Curtis saying the mantra that I had heard one other time (as I indicated in the post about Power Plant Safety as Interpreted by Curtis Love). He was saying over and over again, “I’mSorry,I’mSorry, KevinI’mSorry, ThoseGuysWereTicklingMe. I’mSorry,IDidn’tMeanToLetGo,ITriedToHoldOn, butThoseGuysWereTicklingMe.”

Looking around I spied a few Labor Crew hands sneaking away. As this happened before when I was sandblasting in the sand filter tank when Curtis Love had turned off my air, this wasn’t the first encounter I had with Power Plant Men In-Training playing a Power Plant joke on me. I told Curtis to forget it. I had retrieved my flashlight and everything was all right. I was covered from head-to-toe with fly ash, but that washes off pretty easily.

It dawned on me then that when I had dropped the flashlight, it had sunk clear to the bottom of the hopper and down into the throat of the feeder at the bottom. If I had dived into the ash in the hopper from up above, I would have fallen right down to the bottom of the hopper and been engulfed in ash. My feet would have been pinned down in the feeder pipe, and that would have been the end of me. It probably would have taken many hours to figure out where I was, and they would have found only a corpse.

While I was hanging on the edge of the hopper with only the tip of my index finger gripping the ledge, I was actually considering letting go. There never would have been an electrician at the power Plant named Kevin Breazile. I never would have married my wife Kelly, and had my two children Elizabeth and Anthony. I would not be writing this story right now. If it had been left to my own stupidity, none of those things would have happened. I believe it was my guardian angel that had talked me out of letting go (or had actually been standing on my fingers). As stubborn as I was, and against my nature, that day I had decided to give up searching for my flashlight and seek help. That one momentary decision has made all the difference in my life.

Since that day I have had a certain appreciation for the things that happen to me even when they seem difficult at the time. I have lived a fairly stress-free life because each day is a gift. Currently I work in a stress-filled job where individual accomplishments are seldom rewarded. From one day to the next I may be laid off at any time. I still find a lot of satisfaction in what I do because it was possible that it never would have happened. I have been kept alive for a purpose so I might as well enjoy the ride.

I find a special love for the people I work with today, because they are all gifts to me. I try to pay them back with kindness… when that doesn’t work.. I try to annoy them with my presence… Just to say….. — I am still here!