Tag Archives: hardhat

Tragedy Occurs During Power Plant Safety Meeting

Originally posted August 16, 2014.

I knew that we had our work cut out for us when Unit 1 was taken offline for a major overhaul on February 19, 1994 at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma. I had learned to expect the unexpected. I just never suspected this to happen. As acting foreman, I had a crew that consisted of a few of our own electricians, as well as a number of contract workers. I was also coordinating efforts between Brown & Root contractors that were going to be doing some major work inside the Precipitator (that takes the smoke out of the exhaust from the boiler) during the 12 weeks we were going to be offline and a Vacuum Truck Company that was going to vacuum ash out of the hoppers where the ash is collected and blown through pipes to the coal yard to be trucked away to make concrete.

The plant has a similar electrostatic precipitator, only ours is twice as long

The plant has a similar electrostatic precipitator, only ours is twice as long. You can see the hoppers at the bottom

When I inspected the precipitator during the first week, I had found numerous hoppers that had filled up with ash. One in particular hopper was so full that the ash had built up between the plates over 5 feet above the top of the hopper. Because of this, I had to coordinate with hoppers that were available for the Brown and Root contractors to begin building scaffolding, and those hoppers the vacuum truck needed to vacuum out first.

I had learned to deal with full hoppers the first time I entered the precipitator back when I was on the Labor Crew in 1983. Since that day, I had understood the potential dangers lying in wait. Especially with hoppers full of ash. See the Post “Angel of Death Passes By the Precipitator Door“.

The crew I was directly managing was on the Precipitator roof working on vibrators, insulators, transformers and rappers. I worked inside the precipitator aligning plates, and removing broken wires and cleaning insulators. The vacuum truck company vacuumed out the full hoppers by attaching a vacuum hose from a large vacuum truck to clean out pipes at the bottom of the hoppers. The Brown and Root crew climbed into the hoppers through an access door near the bottom of the hopper and constructed scaffolding in order to work at the top of the hoppers immediately below the plates.

Vacuum Truck

Vacuum Truck

This operation had been going on for 3 days and had seemed to be going smoothly. The Brown and Root crews and the vacuum truck crews were working shifts 24 hours a day. I would come in the morning and see the progress that had been made during the night. We kept a sheet taped to a beam in the hopper area that the vacuum truck would update when they had finished a hopper, and the Brown and Root crew indicated where they had finished building their scaffold.

On Thursday March 3, 1994, just after lunch, instead of making my way out to the precipitator to continue my work, I went up to the office area to meet in the conference room with the Safety Task Force. I was the leader of the task force, and we were meeting with upper management to work out some issues that I outlined in last week’s post. See “Taking Power Plant Safety To Task“. As you may have noticed, the last two weekly posts are a continuation of a long story.

Our meeting began shortly after 12:30 and we were discussing ways in which the Safety Task Force could work in a more cooperative way with the Maintenance Supervisor, Ken Scott. I felt that we were making good progress. We seemed to have come up with a few solutions, and we were just working out the details.

At 1:10 pm, the Electric A Foreman knocked on the door and opened it. He explained that there had been an accident at the precipitator in one of the hoppers and he thought that I might have been in the hopper at the time. He was checking to see if I was in the meeting. Once he was assured that I was all right, he left (presumably to tell the rest of my crew that I was not involved in the accident).

At this point, my head started to spin. What could have happened? None of my crew would have been in the hoppers. Maybe someone fell off of a scaffold and hurt themselves. I know I had locked out all of the electricity to the precipitator and grounded the circuits that have up to 45,000 volts of electricity when charged up, so, I’m pretty sure no one would have been electrocuted. Bill’s voice seemed real shaky when he entered the room, and when he saw me he was very relieved.

When working in a Power Plant, the Power Plant Men and Women become like a real family. Everyone cares about each other. Bill Bennett in some ways was like a father to me. In other ways, he was like an older brother. The nearest picture I have of Bill is a picture of Bill Cosby, as they looked similar:

Bill Cosby trying to look like Bill Bennett

Bill Cosby trying to look like Bill Bennett just after he has called me a “Scamp”

I don’t know how long I was staring off into space counting my crew and thinking about what each of them would be doing. I was sure they were all on the roof. I knew that if a Brown & Root hand had been hurt that their own Safety Coordinator would be taking care of their injury. The thought of someone being hurt in a hopper sent flashbacks of the day I nearly dived off into the hopper full of ash ten and a half years earlier.

After about 5 minutes, Bill Bennett came back to the conference room, where we were still trying to focus on the task at hand. I don’t remember if we were doing any more good or not since I wasn’t paying any attention. Bill said that he needed for me to leave the meeting because they needed me out at the precipitator. Someone had been engulfed in fly ash!

Then I realized that the first time Bill had come to the room to check on me, he had mentioned that. I think I had blocked that from my mind. He had said that someone had been engulfed in ash, and they couldn’t tell if it was me or someone else. That was why he was so shaken up. Bill had thought that I may have died, or at least been seriously injured. The pain he was feeling before he saw me sitting in the room, alive and well, flooded my thoughts.

I quickly stood up and left the room. Bill and I quickly made our way to the precipitator. He said that Life Flight was on the way. One of the vacuum truck workers had climbed into the hopper to get the last bits of ash out of the hopper when a large amount of ash had broken loose above him and immediately engulfed him in the hopper.

When that happened there was a large boom and a cloud of ash came pouring out from the side of the precipitator. Scott Hubbard, who would have been my twin brother if I had been able to pick my own twin brother (though I never had a real twin brother)… heard the boom on the roof and when he looked down and saw the cloud of ash, immediately thought that I may have been hurt. I suppose he had called Bill Bennett on the radio and told him.

As we arrived at the precipitator, a young man was being carried out on a stretcher. A Life Flight from Oklahoma City was on it’s way, and landed just a few minutes later. I looked at the man all covered with ash. I could see how someone may have mistaken him for me. He was dressed like I was. A white t-shirt and jeans. He was unconscious.

Without going into detail as to the cause of the accident, as that will be in a later post, let me tell you about the heroic Power Plant Men and their actions before I had arrived on the scene…

James Vickers, a 26 year old vacuum truck worker, had climbed in the hopper carrying a shovel. He had a hole watch standing out the door keeping an eye on him. They had sucked out the hopper from the outside pipes and had banged on the walls in order to knock down any ash build up on the sides until they figured they had cleaned out the hopper.

James had opened the door to the hopper, and maybe because he saw some buildup on the hopper walls, he decided to climb in the hopper in order to knock it down with the shovel. While he was doing this, a large amount of ash that had bridged up in the plates above was knocked free all at once and immediately filled up the hopper probably more than half full.

James was crammed down into the throat of the hopper, which at the bottom is only about 8 inches in diameter with a plate across the middle about 2 feet above the throat of the hopper. He was immediately knocked unconscious by the impact.

The person assigned to be the hole watch was standing at the door to the hopper and when the ash fell down, he was knocked back about 6 or 7 feet when the ash came pouring out of the door. Panicking, He ran to the edge of the walkway yelling for help. Luckily, he was not also knocked unconscious, or this would pretty much have been the end of the story.

Men came running. Especially a couple of Power Plant Men working in the area. I wish I could remember who they were. When I try to think of the most heroic Power Plant Men I knew at the plant at the time, the list is about a long as my arm, so it is hard to narrow it down.

The Power Plant Men began to frantically dig the ash out of the hopper to uncover James Vickers. When they reached his head, they immediately cleared his face to where they could perform Mouth-to-Mouth resuscitation. They began breathing for James as soon as they could, and continued mouth-to-mouth as they dug out more of the ash.

As they dug the ash out, they were using their hardhats for shovels. When they tried to move James, they found that he had been crammed down into the bottom of the hopper to where he was trapped in the throat of the hopper. Heroically they continued without hesitation to breath for James, while simultaneously working to free him from the hopper. The shovel had been wedged into the bottom of the hopper with him.

Almost immediately after the accident happened, the control room became aware that someone had been engulfed in a hopper, they called Life Flight in Oklahoma City. A helicopter was immediately dispatched. By the time James was safely removed from the hopper, placed on a stretcher and carried out to the adjacent field, the Life Flight Helicopter was landing to take him to the Baptist Medical Center. I would say the helicopter was on the ground a total of about 3 or so minutes before it was took off again.

Bill and I inspected the hopper where the accident had taken place. On the ground below under the grating was a pile of ash, just like I had experienced years before when I almost bailed off into the hopper to look for my flashlight. I was suddenly filled with a tremendous amount of sorrow.

I was sorry for James Vickers, though I didn’t know who he was at the time. I was sorry for Bill Bennett who thought for a while that I had died in that hopper. I remembered hanging by one finger in a hopper only two rows down from this one, ten years ago with my life hanging by a thread, and I just wanted to cry.

So, I gave Bill a big hug as if I was hugging my own father and just started to cry. The whole thing was just so sad.

Meanwhile, in Oklahoma City….

On the roof of the Baptist Medical Center, a Triage unit had been setup waiting for the helicopter to arrive with James. Hazardous Waste protective suits were being worn by the people that were going to begin treating James. They had heard that he had been engulfed in hazardous chemicals which consisted of: Silica, Aluminum Oxide, Hexavalent Chromium, arsenic and other unsavory and hard to pronounce chemicals. The Life Flight People on the helicopter had to be scrubbed down by the Hazmat team as soon as they exited the helicopter to clean off the hazardous Fly Ash. The news reporters were all standing by reporting the incident.

Yes. The same fly ash that I went swimming in every day during the overhaul. The same fly ash that I tracked through the Utility Room floor when I came home at night. The same fly ash used to create highways all across the country. It’s true it has some carcinogenic material in it. I’m sure I have my share of Silica in my lungs today, since it doesn’t ever really clear out of there.

Besides the psychological trauma of a near-death experience, Jame Vickers was fairly unharmed considering what he went through. He came out of the ordeal with an eye infection. Randy Dailey pointed out that this was because the Safety Coordinator from Brown & Root had opened his eyes to check if he was alive when he was laying on the stretcher, and had let ash get in his eyes. Otherwise, he most likely wouldn’t have developed an eye infection.

When I arrived at home that evening I explained to my wife what had happened. She had heard something on the news about it, but hadn’t realized they were talking about our plant since the person was in Oklahoma City when the reporters were talking about it.

All I can say is… Some Safety Meetings in the past have been pretty boring, but nothing made me want to improve my Safety Attitude like the Safety Meeting we had that afternoon. I’m glad that I had to experience that only once in my career as a Plant Electrician.

 

Comments from the original post

    1. Dan Antion August 16, 2014

      Too close.

       

    1. Ron Kilman August 16, 2014

      I remember when this happened. I know some prayers went up for James.

      They had to “decontaminate” the helicopter too. It was always amusing for me to see a hazmat worker strain at a “gnat” removing every molecule of fly ash, then take his respirator and suit off and light up his “camel” cigarette!

       

    1. Garfield Hug August 16, 2014

      Thankfully glad you made it to safety *blessings*

    1. Donna Westhoff Collins August 16, 2014

      Hope you don’t mind I posted on my Innovative Safety Solutions facebook page along with a link back to the blog. Good article!

    1. Anna Waldherr August 17, 2014

      What a harrowing account! Clearly, those of us not in the industry have no idea of its dangers.

    1. T. Foster August 19, 2014

      I remember hearing about that on the news that day. Also that Dad told us how strange it seemed that they were wearing the haz mat suits to deal with flyash.

    1. createthinklive September 14, 2014

      Work at the power plant sounds sexy: vibrators, insulators and rappers

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Power Plant Pigeons Wars Continue

Power Plant Pigeons actually believe that the entire reason Power Plants were built in the first place was to provide new rent-free Pigeon roosts for Power Plant Pigeons.  Large lakes are placed alongside the Power Plant so that the pigeons can spend their days frolicking away in the immense Pigeon Bird Bath supplied by the electric company.  Fields of grain are planted throughout the power plant realm in order to provide a nutritional diet to Power Plant Pigeons.  Even men with bright yellow hardhats are supplied for pigeons to fly over and target practice their Power Plant Pigeon Poop dropping skills by aiming at the bright hardhat dots below.

One Power Plant Pigeon

One Power Plant Pigeon

I wrote about the pursuit to remove Power Plant Pigeons from the Power Plant Realm two years ago when I wrote the post “Poison Pill for Power Plant Pigeons“.  In that post I explained how we had put out live traps to capture Power Plant Pigeons.  Jody Morse taught me that it was better to persuade than to try to force the pigeons into the live traps.

After I joined the electric shop, we came up with a few other ways to rid the area of pigeons.  This was more of a personal crusade, since I spent a lot of time working on the roof of the precipitator, which was a favorite haunt of Power Plant pigeons.  I had spent a lot of time with a broom sweeping up the Power Plant Pigeon leavings only to come back a few weeks later to find the entire area redecorated with artistic renditions of Salvadore Dali paintings of melting clocks.

See the resemblance?

See the resemblance?

One day when when Bill Bennett strolled into the electric shop…. well… “Strutted” is a better word to describe Bill Bennett’s type of strolling.  Bill was a skinnier version of a skinny Bill Cosby… for those of you who have not heard me mention him before….

Bill Cosby trying to look like Bill Bennett

Bill Cosby trying to look like Bill Bennett

Anyway, Bill strutted into the electric shop carrying a box one day and brought it into the office.  He told me that he had ordered some equipment that was going to help me on the precipitator roof with the pigeons.  He pulled a smaller box out of the big box and handed it to me.  It was a highly technical piece of equipment known as a Sonic Bird Repeller:

 

Sonic Bird Repeller

Sonic Bird Repeller

Bill had bought 8 of these.  Four for each precipitator.  They were guaranteed to keep the pigeons away.  Evidently they make a high pitched noise that you can’t hear, but the pigeons can and it annoys the heck out of them.  I thanked Bill for thinking about me..  I think I was so touched by his concern that I gave him a hug…. or… maybe that was for some other reason…. it’s been a while.  This was some time around 1989.

Anyway.  I took four of the boxes and headed for the precipitator roof to try them out.  On the way there as I was thinking about the noise that these four bird repellers were going to make, I hoped that the birds were going to be able to hear the annoying sound emanating from the little speakers over the incredibly loud noises of 168 vibrators buzzing constantly and the 672 rappers all banging away as 20 pound slugs of metal pound their anvils in order to shake the ash from the plates inside the precipitator.

You see, the roof of the precipitator is one of the noisiest places on the Power Plant Planet next to all the steam lines pushing thousands of pounds of pressure of steam through them, or next to the large fans blowing air into and out of the boiler.  — Actually, the plant was a noisy place in general… so I just hoped that the bird repellers were going to be successful in their attempt to annoy the pigeons with their imperceptible buzzing noise, or whatever noise they made.

When I arrived on the roof, I placed the 4 sonic bird repellers in the four strategic positions on the roof in order to cover the widest area possible…. that is, toward the four corners where the four electrical plug-ins were mounted on the coffin houses.  It was thoughtful of the construction hands to have placed those four receptacles just where I wanted to plug in the four sonic bird repellers ten years later.

I tried to see if I could hear anything when I turned them on, but I didn’t hear anything.  I figured that was a good thing since I wasn’t supposed to hear anything according to the instructions.  So, at least they passed the first test.

I hoped that this wasn’t a situation where the “Emperor Has No Clothes”, except in this case “The Sonic Bird Repeller Has No Sound”.  How could I tell?  I figured I would wait around and see what happened.

They didn’t interrupt the melodic symphony of rappers and vibrators as they beat and buzzed out their rendition of Brandenburg’s Concerto #3…. well, that’s what I liked to pretend anyway, since I had to spend hours at a time listening to them as I tested and adjusted rappers and vibrators as part of my normal Precipitator Roof Maintenance program.

I thought I would hang around for a while and do some adjustments on the rapper/vibrator cabinets while the pigeons all fled the scene in order to escape the atrocious sonic repellent rhapsody emanating from those four tyrannical jukeboxes I had just placed on the roof.  Glancing over my shoulder from time to time, I kept a watch on Fred and Mabel that were perched on one of the side beams not too far from one of the Sonic Sound Machines.  They seemed to be more interested in what I was doing than being annoyed by the new song in town.

I could have swore that after a half hour or so, those two pigeons had developed a new way of bobbing their heads as they hid from me.  It was normal for the pigeons to climb along the beams overhead and periodically peak over the edge to see what I was up to.  I didn’t mind too much when their little heads were peering over the side, it was only when their tails waved over the side that I became attentive.  That was always a bad sign.  They did it so nonchalantly as if they were just trying to turn around on that narrow beam so they could head back in the other direction, but I knew better.

We kept the Sonic Repellers on the roof for about eight months.  I never really noticed a decrease in the pigeon population, but I do think a few operators changed their routine hangout to some other part of the boiler.  Even Glenn Morgan stopped hanging out around the transformers where he used to go hide when he was trying to “meditate” somewhere where he wouldn’t be disturbed.

I finally figured out that even though I couldn’t hear the sonic bird repellers they would give me a headache.  I don’t normally have headaches, so when I do, I know something out of the ordinary is happening…. such as I am being poisoned by Carbon Monoxide, or Curtis Love is telling me how sorry he is that he almost killed me again, or in this case…. I am working for a long period of time in the vicinity of one of the sonic bird repellers. After I figured that out, I would turn them off when I was working around them and my headaches would cease.

I suspected that when we were not on the precipitator roof, the smarter bunch of Power Plant Pigeons probably re-calibrated the repellers so that they would cause headaches in humans, so the pesky humans would leave the pigeons in peace.  They weren’t smart enough to figure out that all I had to do was unplug them temporarily.  So their backup plan was to drop special packages on my shoulder while I was working under tail causing me to forget to plug the sonic repellers back on when I left in a hurry to go wash up.

One Power Plant Pigeon

One of the more intelligent Power Plant Pigeons

After the failed and back-fired experiment with the Sonic Bird Repellers, Bill Bennett had another course of action up his sleeve.  He had contacted someone that was known as “The Bird Lady”.  She had her own company where she would go around and persuade pigeons (and other birds) to leave their roosts using another unconventional means that was deemed “less cruel” than feeding them to the welder ET (who had moved to Muskogee anyway), and outright poisoning them (which was against company policy).

Her approach was to give them something more like “food poisoning” without killing them.  After first meeting her in Bill Bennett’s office, I followed her to her car in the parking lot.  She opened her trunk and took a bucket and filled it with grain from a larger tub.  then she took some kind of powder and poured it in the bucket.  Then she stirred the bucket of grain until the powder had worked its way throughout the grain.  She was wearing the same kind of gloves you would wear if you were doing dishes and didn’t want to get dishpan hands.

Like this except she only had two hands

Like this except she only had two hands

She explained that the powder contained her special mixture of cayenne peppers and other spices that would upset even the most hardened pigeon gizzard in the Power Plant Kingdom.  After they ate her grain, they would decide that the food around this establishment just isn’t up to code and they will fly away to find “greener pastures”.

I took her to the top of the precipitator and she poured some piles of grain not far from where I had tried the sonic bird repellers a couple of years earlier.  She didn’t want to place the grain out in the open where the regular songbirds and other flying beasties would eat it.

She came to the plant once each month for about 3 months, and that was about it.  The pigeons didn’t seem to like the grain that much, so they left it alone for the most part, except when they were in the mood for Mexican.

The third and final way that we tried Power Plant Pigeon Population Control was by the use of Pellet Guns.  Scott Hubbard and I were working on the precipitator roof during an overhaul and the pigeons were being extra pesky.  They would pick up twigs and small rocks and stuff and would drop them on our heads in an attempt to chase us away.  So, we decided to retaliate.  After all, one can only take so much abuse.

So, the next day, we brought our pellet guns from home to work with us and clandestinely carried them to the precipitator roof where we could shoot the birds that were pestering us.  I killed one with my first shot which really impressed Scott Hubbard, since I had never mentioned in all the years we carpooled together that I was a hunter (which I wasn’t).  That was just beginner’s luck.  Scott killed a few more pigeons that day, but not that many when you get down to it.

Daisy Pellet Rifle

Daisy Pellet Rifle

It didn’t take long for the pigeons to realize what we were up to, so they would just stay hidden on the beams over our heads.  This didn’t give us the opportunity to just take pot shots at them, and since we didn’t have all day to just stand around and wait for their little heads to peer over the side of a beam, and since their tails didn’t really contain any “shootable” material, we just left them alone for the most part.

So, we finally decided to do the next best thing than to try to run the pigeons off or kill them.  We decided to live with them.  I had a few discussions with some of their leaders about where they should NOT poop and I agreed that I would stop calling them names like “Poop Head” hence the names “Fred” and “Mabel”.  And after that we sort of got along a lot better.  This was a new skill I had learned after I realized that I had to do the same thing for a couple of upper management people at the plant.  If I could do it with them, certainly I could learn to get along with a group of Power Plant Pigeons.

I could end this story by saying that we lived happily ever after and maybe we did.  I will share a story about what happened once when the pigeons decided to just pack up and leave one day.  I can tell you.  The result was not pretty.  But that is a story for next year (which is only a little more than a month away).

As an addendum to this story:

Years later after I had left the Power Plant to work for Dell in Texas, one day I was while wearing one of my coveted Power Plant shirts, something happened that reminded me of the days on the Precipitator roof.  I took this opportunity to let everyone around me experience a little bit of the thrill that I used to experience on a weekly basis…

While painting the ceiling in my son’s bedroom one day, I happened to drip some white paint on my shirt in just the right spot to make it look like a pigeon had pooped on my shirt.  Recognizing right away the significance of this, I quickly changed my shirt into a white t-shirt to continue painting.

Instead of quickly rubbing the paint off of the shirt, which probably would have smeared all over and ruined the shirt, I let it dry just as it was.  For the past 8 years I have proudly worn this shirt every opportunity I have knowing that when others see me, they will automatically assume that I have been “pooped on” by a bird.

Of course, I have no reaction when I see their inquisitive expression.  I just act as if nothing is wrong, which is easy, because nothing is.  Here is a picture of the shirt with the pseudo-bird dropping:

Shirt with white paint to celebrate pigeon droppings

Shirt with white paint to celebrate pigeon droppings

Notice that I continue wearing this shirt even though the collar has become frayed over the years.  I keep expecting it to disappear one day into the box on the front doorstep that is sent off to help Disabled Vets.  Even though I would be honored to have a disabled vet wear my shirt, I think it would be more likely to end up in a rag box.

 

Power Plant Spider in the Eye

If you have been following my posts for very long, you may have the idea that I just like to write posts about spiders.  After writing two posts about Spider Wars (see posts:  “Power Plant Spider Wars and Bugs in the Basement” and “Power Plant Spider Wars II – The Phantom Menace“), another post about spiders just seems like a bit much.  Even though there is a spider in this story, another appropriate title could be something like “Another night in the Life of a Power Plant Electrician”.  Without further ado, here is the story.

Ninety nine times out of a hundred, when the phone rang in the middle of the night, it was the Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma calling.  I don’t remember a time when the Shift Supervisor on the other end of the phone wasn’t very polite.  They knew they were waking someone from their sleep to ask them to drive 30 miles out to the plant in the wee hours of the morning.

The Shift Supervisor, whether it was Joe Gallahar, Jim Padgett, Jack Maloy, or Gary Wright, they would all start out with something like, “Hey, sorry to wake you buddy…”.  After such an apologetic introduction, how could you be upset that your sleep had just been interrupted?  Then they would proceed to tell you why they needed your assistance.  For me, it was usually because the coal dumper had stopped working while a train was dumping their coal.  This meant that 110 cars tied to three or four engines was sitting idle unable to move.

Each car on the train would be dumped one at a time as it was pulled through the rotary dumper.  The process was automated so that the operator in the control room watching out of the window only had to push one switch to dump each car.

A rotary dumper much like the one that was at our Power Plant

A rotary dumper much like the one that was at our Power Plant

The train would move forward to the next car automatically as a large arm on a machine called a Positioner would come down on the coupling between the cars and pull the entire train forward to the next car.

The piece of equipment with the large wheels is the positioner It can pull a coal train full of coal forward to precisely the proper position

The piece of equipment with the large wheels is the positioner It can pull a coal train full of coal forward to precisely the proper position

There were so many moving parts involved in positioning the car in place and rolling it over to dump the coal, that it was common for something to go wrong.  When that happened the entire process would come to a halt and the train would just have to sit there until someone came to fix it.  That was usually an electrician since the dumper and the positioner was all controlled by relays much like the elevator controls, only more complicated.

This particular night, Joe Gallahar had called me.  It seemed that there was an intermittent problem with the dumper that didn’t seem to make much sense and they couldn’t figure out why it was acting so strange.  One of the train cars had actually been damaged as the positioner arm would start coming up from the coupling to the point where the holding arm on the other end of the dumper had come up, then the positioner arm began going back down, causing the train to move on it’s own only to have the arm on the positioner scrape the side of the train car as it rolled backward uncontrolled.

Though it was less frequent, it was not so strange to have a train damaged by erratic dumper controls.  I have seen the side of a train car smashed in by the positioner arm when it decided to inappropriately come down.  This night, the problem was acting like that.  So, instead of damaging the train further, they decided to call me out to have a look at it.

I always had the philosophy when being called out in the middle of the night to be just as polite back to the Shift Supervisor when I answered the phone.  I had a Marketing professor at Oklahoma State University named Dr. Lee Manzer, who explained this one day.

Here is a short side story about Dr. Manzer —

Dr. Manzer told a story in class one day about how he was travelling home one day from a long and difficult trip where everything had gone wrong.  It was very late at night when he arrived at his house (which, incidentally was just down the street from my parent’s house), he was really beat.  He went into his bedroom and began preparing for bed.

About the time he was taking off his tie, his wife rolled over in bed and welcomed him home.  Then she said, “Oh, by the way.  I forgot to buy milk (or maybe it was ice cream).  Do you think you could run down to the store and buy some?”

Dr. Manzer explained his decision making process at that point like this:  “I could either go on a rant and tell my wife what a long and tiring day I had just had and now you are asking me to go buy milk? , and then I would go get the milk.  Or I could say, ‘Of course Dear.  I would be glad to go buy some milk.’  Either way, I was going to go buy the milk.  So, I could do it one of two ways.  I could complain about it or I could be positive.  I could either score points or lose them…. hmm…. Let’s see…. what did I do?  I said, ‘Of course Dear.'”

— End of the side story about Dr. Lee Manzer who by the way was a terrific Marketing Professor.  I understand he still teaches to this day.

So, when Joe Gallahar called me that night, and explained that the dumper was acting all erratic, Instead of saying “Yes Dear.”  as that wouldn’t have been appropriate, I told him, “No problem.  I’ll be there as soon as I can.”  My wife Kelly knew who was on the other end of the phone when she heard my answer.  She had heard it many times before.  I usually only had to say one word after hanging up the phone, “Dumper”, and she knew what that meant.

A Power Plant Electrician’s spouse knows that this is part of the job.  As I pulled on the jeans that I had laid out before I went to bed, Kelly would usually say something in her sleep like, “Be careful”.  I would give her a hug and tell her I’ll be back in a while, even though, sometimes I would be gone for two days working on the precipitator during a start up or some major catastrophe.  Usually, it was just a couple of hours before I came crawling back in bed.

This particular night I drove to work in silence with the window open so that the cool air would keep me awake.  Normally I had the radio on some rock station so that I would be singing along (in my terribly off-key singing voice) in order to stay awake.  Sometimes I would just take the 25 minutes of silence to just think.

My thought that night was that it was nice to be wanted.  There is some comfort in knowing that the Shift Supervisor could call me with enough confidence to know that I would be able to come out on my own and fix a problem that was costing the company a large amount of money each hour the dumper was offline.  Some might think that I would be annoyed to be wakened in the middle of the night to go fix something at the plant.  That night, as most nights I was feeling honored.

That wasn’t always the case, and I’ll soon write a post about another call out in the middle of the night where Scott Hubbard and I wondered exactly why they called us… but that’s another story.

When I arrived at the plant, I rolled my car up to the speaker at the front gate and said, “Hello” with an arrogant English accent.  I don’t know why, but I always liked doing that.  I think it was Billy Epperson who answered back.  I told him I was here to work on the dumper.  He thanked me and opened the gate and I drove the 1/2 mile down the hill to the plant parking lot.  As I went over the hill, in the moonlight I could see the train up at the coal yard looking like a long silver snake.

I walked into the maintenance shop and grabbed a truck key off of the hook and drove around to the electric shop to pick up my hard hat and tool bucket.

This is an actual picture of my tool bucket

This is an actual picture of my tool bucket

I took the long way around to the coal yard since the train blocked the shortest route.  We had a tunnel on the west end of the coal yard that went under the tracks for just this occasion.

When I arrived at the dumper, Stanley Robbins explained that he had tried troubleshooting this problem himself, but he couldn’t find anything that would explain the strange behavior.  Since the last downsizing, we were all able to sort of mix our skills so that an operator could do simple electric tasks if they felt comfortable with it.  Stanley knew enough to fix your normal minor dumper issues.  This one was a little different.

Since I had been an electrician for the past 15 years at this point, I felt pretty confident that I would quickly find the problem and be heading back home soon.  So, I walked into the dumper switchgear where the dumper controls are found.  I asked Stanley to go turn on the power to the dumper so that I could watch the relays.  When the power was on, I began tracing the circuits looking for the point of failure.

The problem was intermittent, and when Stanley started the dumper back up, everything seemed to be working just fine.  Stanley explained that this was why they couldn’t use the dumper because they couldn’t be sure when it was going to malfunction.  They had even uncoupled the train and pulled it apart right where the positioner arm was so that I could see what was happening.

Using radios (walkie talkies), I asked Stanley to move the positioner arm up and down while I checked it.  He lowered it and raised it back up without any problem.  When he began lowering it the second time, it suddenly stopped halfway down.  Watching the controls, I could see that it indicated that it had come all the way down.  It would be this case that would tell the holding arm on the far side of the dumper to go back up, which is what happened when the train rolled back earlier that night.

Then the relays rattled like they were picking up and dropping out rapidly.  Then the problem cleared up again.  Somehow the positioner arm had thought it had come down on the car clamps when it was still up in the air.  That was not likely to happen because when something fails it usually doesn’t see what it’s supposed to see, not the other way around.  It doesn’t usually see something that isn’t there.

So, I had Stanley lower the positioner arm down so that it was level with the ground, so that I could check the connections to the electric eye that was on the positioner clamp that detected the train car clamp when it came down.  I couldn’t find any lose connections or anything that would explain it.

So I told Stanley that I was going to look up from under the car clamp to look at the electric eye.  So, I asked him to kill the power to the positioner so that it wouldn’t move while I was doing that and crush me like a bug.  Kneeling on the train track, I took my flashlight and looked up at the electric eye from under the car clamp, and this is what I saw:

A spider almost like this

A spider almost like this

This spider had built a spider web in front of the electric eye on the positioner and was sitting right in the middle causing the positioner to think it was down on the car clamp when it wasn’t.  Stanley was watching me from the window of the dumper control room when he saw me stand up quickly and look up at him with a big grin on my face.  I gave him a thumbs up.

You know the phrase, “Everyone has 10 minutes of fame….”  It indicates that some time in most people’s lives they are famous for a brief moment.  It may or may not define the rest of their life.  Well.  This was that spiders claim to fame.  This one spider had successfully stranded a coal train with 110 cars of coal.  A train crew, a coal yard operator, and one lone electrician that had traveled 30 miles to watch it act out it’s drama of catching gnats on it’s web being constantly watched by one large electric eye.

I did not drive home in silence that early morning.  I laughed out loud all the way home.  I still laugh to myself to this day when I think about this night.  Phrases like, “Isn’t life wonderful” comes to my mind.  Or “Even Spiders desire attention every now and then.”  Could there have been a better malfunction than to have a spider dancing in front of an electric eye out in the plains of Oklahoma saying, “Look at me!  Look at me!”  and by golly.  Someone did!  I’m just glad it was me.

Do Power Plant Men and Corporate Headquarters Mix?

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

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

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy acting like Power Plant Men!

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

SAP Logo

SAP Logo

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

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

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

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

Mike Gibbs

Mike Gibbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bacon lettuce and Tomato Sandwich

Power Plant Man sized Bacon lettuce and Tomato Sandwich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are the 500 foot smoke stacks

Our Coal Fired Power Plant

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

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

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

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

Power Plant in Muskogee Oklahoma

Power Plant in Muskogee Oklahoma

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

 

Horseshoe Lake Plant as it looked back then

Horseshoe Lake Plant as it looked back then

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

360 Degrees of Power Plant Grief Counselling

The first time I sat through a Performance Review was with my mentor Larry Riley when I was on Labor Crew.  On a scale of 1000 I was somewhere around 850.  He said that this was the highest he had ever rated anyone so I should be proud, and I was.  As I walked out of the room and returned to work, I suddenly felt depressed.  I thought this was a strange response after just being told I was Larry’s “Star Pupil”.

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

Larry Riley 16 years after my first performance review

Throughout the years, the Performance Review process changed a number of times.  The scale was changed to 1 to 10, then 1 to 5, then the numbers were taken away altogether and replaced with, Exceeds Expectations, Meets Expectations, and Fails to Meet Expectations.

The different scales all meant the same thing, and that was that if someone was applying for a job or up for a promotion, then this number became significant.  The number was used to rank employees.  Anyone who had a particularly low score was told they were on probation, and if they didn’t improve, then they would lose their job some time in the future.

The only person I can remember that was placed on probation was Curtis Love.  Later, Curtis was let go because he had dented the truck (while still on probation) when he backed it into a yellow post and didn’t tell his foreman Larry.  Curtis didn’t know that Larry saw it happen standing about 100 yards away in front of the Labor Crew Building.

An example of yellow poles protecting an area

An example of yellow poles protecting an area

For more about Curtis, read the post “Power Plant Safety As Interpreted by Curtis Love“.  Other than that, it was nearly impossible to lose your job… Unless, of course, you upset Jim Arnold.

After the reorganization in 1994, a woman from HR came to our Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma from Corporate Headquarters in Oklahoma City.  She chose some people randomly to interview about how to make the performance review process better.  I happened to be one of the people she randomly chose…  Go figure.  I had my own ideas about Performance Reviews.

I did what I usually did, and waited my turn to speak… Well… sometimes I do that anyway…. like, in this case.  Ok.  This was a rare case.  I wanted to wait until everyone else gave their two cents before I gave her my dollar fifty, so I waited until she asked me specifically what I thought.

I began with the sentence that went something like this:  “I don’t think the performance review should be tied to a person’s promotions, or job opportunities.  I think if the purpose for the performance review is to improve performance, then it has to be uncoupled from any kind of retribution or promotion.”

I continued…. “When the performance review is tied to your promotions, then a game is played with upper management where the scores are adjusted and comments are changed after the initial rating by the manager so that only one person can have the highest rating in a department or a team for example.  If we really want to improve our performance then the program should be changed so that it focuses on behavior and how it can be approved.”

After blurting out… I mean, carefully laying out my ideas…. I could see the HR lady’s wheels turning in her head.  That was what I thought anyway.  I could tell she could see what I was saying and she was ready to take that back to Oklahoma City.  I thought, “Poor young lady, she still has ideals from her youth that the system can be changed.  She is in for a rude awakening when she goes back to Corporate Headquarters and tries to pitch an idea like that.”  In a way I felt like I had set her up for failure.

I was surprised several months later when volunteers were elicited to become “Assessment Counselors”.  Of course, I signed up as soon as I heard about it.  After all, the reason I first decided to work toward a psychology degree was because I was thinking about becoming a High School Counselor.  I had seen the effects of both very bad counselors (I won’t mention all their names here) and a very good one (Mr. Klingensmith at Jefferson Junior High in Columbia, Missouri) and thought it was important to have good counselors in schools.

By the time I decided that my major would be psychology I had already worked at the Power Plant for one summer as a summer help, and didn’t realize that the allure of working with such a great group of men and women had already seeped into my blood, so I still thought there was some other job waiting for me out there besides “Power Plant Janitor”.  Silly me.  I mean, where else do you get to work where you can wear a yellow hard hat, safety glasses, mop floors and still get to look out over a beautiful lake with all the wildlife just a few yards away?

I went to “Assessment Counselor” training and learned that the new “Performance Review” was going to consist of performing a “360 degree Assessment” every two years on each employee.  What this means is that each person will rate their own performance. Then they will rate their coworkers.  Their manager will rate each of their direct reports.  Direct Reports will rate their managers.  Customers from other teams, preferably people that have observed your work throughout the year when you performed jobs for them will rate you.

A 360 degree assessment is when everyone around you rates you.  Sealed packets are mailed to each person that needs to rate each other.  So, each person at the plant would be rating a lot of people.  Then the packets are mailed back in, put in the computer and a final report is created.

The person that is going to be rated either enters who they want to be their assessment counselor, or if they don’t, then one is appointed to them.  That was where I came in.  I was a 360 degree Assessment Counselor for 4 years.   Right up until the day I left the plant in 2001.

The longest lasting benefit I received from being an assessment counselor was that at one point the assessment counselors were given a special High Quality OGIO Sports duffel bag:

My OGIO Sport Assessment Counselor Duffel Bag

My OGIO Sport Assessment Counselor Duffel Bag

This duffel bag has been around the world from Malaysia to Brazil, as I have traveled the world counselling people.  Well, giving them my two cents anyway.  It has finally worn out it’s usefulness and now sits prominently in the Power Plant Museum I maintain in my closet (or what my wife refers to as “pile of junk”).

The way the assessment worked was that I would receive a sealed envelope in the mail with all the material needed to perform the assessment on a person.  I would then schedule a meeting with them to go over their results.  Power Plant Men are very uncomfortable with this sort of thing.  I know I always disliked performance reviews ever since I received my first one from Larry, even though it was a glowing review.

The first thing I would explain to the Power Plant Men was that this review belongs to only them and no one else.  No one will see it except them, and well, myself.  It will not be used to decide your raise or promotions or anything else.  This is solely for their own benefit to see what other people think about how they work and to try to improve.

The real benefit was that you could see the comments left by other “anonymous” coworkers which gave you a pretty good picture how others viewed your work.  Sometimes that can be an eye opener.  Then it was my job to help the Power Plant Men develop a plan to improve their “Areas of Opportunities”.

For the typical Power Plant Man at our plant, it was a difficult job to even find one hidden “area of opportunity” because just about everyone at our plant had been hand picked from a much larger group of workers over the years to be where they were today.  Being the cream-of-the-crop meant that “Opportunities for Improvement” were far and few between.  Well, I say that, but there was always Gene Day….

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

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

I could sit all day with Gene and come up with 30 ways he could improve himself, but that was because I had been studying him for so many years… Actually, I don’t remember if I was ever Gene’s Assessment Counselor, I was just thinking of who could use the most improvement, and suddenly Gene came to mind.  See the post “Power Plant Humor and Joking with Gene Day“.

For those unfortunate enough to have me as their assessment counselor, they found that what they thought was going to be the typical 10 minute review of their performance usually turned into a 3 hour session where I wouldn’t let them leave the room until we had three specific action items to work on for the next year.

Many times it came down to one comment from one person that alluded to some small behavior that could be improved.  Even though it might be vague, I would use it to start a discussion about how the person might be able to improve in that area.  Then we would come up with some measurable way the person could work to improve that particular attribute.  It could be “I will do such and such at least 2 times each month for the next 4 months”.

It took a couple of years before the Power Plant Men became comfortable enough to see any benefit at all from the 360 assessment, but one thing for sure…. It was better than going through a performance review that was written by your foreman and then edited three times by people higher up who didn’t know how your really worked before it was presented to you.

By the third year I had a growing reputation as someone that took the 360 degree assessment seriously and like a priest in a confessional, kept everything confidential. That is why even today, I can only tell you all about Gene Day’s performance review and how much he needed to improve because I don’t ever remember being his assessment counselor, although I wish I had, so that I could have helped straighten him out some… But then… you can’t teach an old Gene new tricks and Gene was the oldest of the old (I say that, because I know he occasionally reads these posts).

I mentioned in the post “Power Plant Lock Out – Tag Out or Just Tag Out” that my favorite “roomie” who was/is a foreman at the Power Plant in Harrah, Oklahoma on a lake called “Horseshoe Lake” asked me to be his assessment counselor in 2001.  We met at the Perkins Restaurant in Stillwater to go over it.

Steve Trammel had been my roommate when we were on a 10 week overhaul in Muskogee Oklahoma in 1984 just before Christmas (See the post “Something is in the Water at the Muskogee Power Plant“).  We have always remained good friends, and I was honored that he had asked for me to be his assessment counselor 15 years later.

There were three situations where I felt like I was unable to help the people I was assigned to counsel.  The first situation was when the person reading the comments would focus on trying to figure out who said what.  As we would go over each of the comments, they would say something like, “Yeah.  I know who said that.  They just said that because of….”  Then we would read another comment and they would say something similar.

I could still work with people that initially took this approach because we could talk about why the person would say what they said and figure out how we could go about changing the other person’s attitude toward the person I was counselling.  Maybe by taking the tactics I had taken when Jim Padgett had become mad at me.  (See the post:  “Making Friends From Foes – A Tale of Power Plant Woes“).

The second situation that I found difficult was when the comments were broad attacks about the person.  In the sense that the person should look for another type of work, or something of that sort.  I had one female operator who was particularly upset about comments like that on her 360 assessment.  Even though we eventually came up with three ways she could improve, most of the time was spent helping her recover from the grief caused by the apparent insult in her assessment.

The third and most difficult situation I encountered while being a 360 degree assessment counselor was when I counseled someone from upper management that was planning to retire in a few years.  This person made it clear by saying right off the bat that it didn’t matter what their assessment said, he wasn’t going to change anything.  That didn’t stop me from going through all of the steps with him to create an action plan to improve his behavior.

All and all, I knew that most people didn’t take their action items and do anything about them.  That didn’t bother me.  I figured that during those three hours where we spent sitting their talking about their behavior was enough for most of them to put a thought in the back of their minds that would help them adjust their behavior at least a little when certain situations would arise.

As I mentioned before.  The people I was chosen to counsel were the best men and women in the Power Plant Industry.  The majority of the time as I watched each of them leave the room after sitting with them for three hours, I was proud to have been given the opportunity to sit with them and tell each of them that their coworkers and customers thought the world of them!

For a counselor who is looking to change the world, having to counsel this particular bunch of Power Plant People would have been very frustrating since there was barely any opportunity for improvement.  For me, this was the greatest job in the world.  “Here Fred (Generic Fred, not Fred Turner, well, it could have been Fred Turner), Look what your coworkers said about you!  Isn’t this great!?!”

Power Plant Final Presentation

August 16, 2001 was my final day at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.  I had stepped onto the plant grounds May 7, 1979, 22 years earlier.  Now I was leaving to change careers and moving to Round Rock, Texas to work for Dell Computers.  During my final day, a going away party was held in my honor by the Power Plant Men and Women that I had the privilege to work alongside during the past 22 years.

A few minutes before the party began, I slipped into the office bathroom/locker room and changed into a navy blue suit and tie.  Combed my hair.  Put on black socks with my shiny black shoe.  Grabbed my briefcase and headed for the break room.  When I walked in the room, it was packed full of Power Plant Men and Women all waiting to say goodbye to one of their family.

Many wondered who it was that had joined their party of one of their own.  Who was this person in the suit and tie?  Ed Shiever told me later that he didn’t even recognize me.  It wasn’t until I reached out and shook his hand that he realized that his was Kevin Breazile.  The same person he had known since he was a temp employee working in the tool room.

When the Power Plant Men finally realized that I was the person they had been waiting for, they broke out in applause as I walked around shaking their hands.  I would have broke out in tears if I hadn’t been thinking about what a great person each of them had been over the many years we had known each other.

I made my way to the front of the room where I had set up a computer and hooked it to the big screen TV.  I had a special surprise waiting for them.  One that would temporarily change the plant policy on going away parties after I was gone.  I had prepared a special PowerPoint presentation for them (insert evil grin here).

I set my briefcase next to the computer on the end of the table acting as if the computer had nothing to do with the party.  Then I stood there as the “going away” part of the party began.

It was typical for people to stand up and tell a story or two about the person leaving, so Jim Arnold (the Supervisor of Maintenance and part time nemesis) was first.  He explained how I had been working on SAP for the past three years creating tasks lists that are used to describe each possible job in the plant.

He turned to me and asked me how many task lists I had created in the last 3 years.   I replied, “About 17,800”.  Jim said that this boggled his mind.  It was three times more than the entire rest of the company put together.

Jim made a comment about how he wasn’t sure he would want a job where you have to dress up in a suit and tie.

Andy Tubbs stood up and presented me with my 20 year safety sticker and a leather backpack for working 20 years without an accident, which was completed on August 11, just 5 days before.  I had worked four summers as a summer help, which counted as one year of service, then I had completed 19 years as a full time employee that very same week.

I worked 20 years without an accident

I worked 20 years without an accident

I like being roasted, but that didn’t really happen.  A few other people told some stories about me, that I can’t recall because I was busy thinking about the PowerPoint presentation.  I had memorized my entire script, and the presentation was pretty much automatic and timed, and I had to keep to my script or pause the presentation.

Then Jim Arnold asked me (Bill Green, the Plant Manager was gone that day visiting the Muskogee Plant) if I had anything I would like to say before I left…. That was the cue I had been waiting for.  I replied, “Actually, I have a PowerPoint presentation right here, and I hit a key, and the TV lit up….

I will present each of the 26 slides below with the comments I made during each one.  Since many of the slides are animated, I will try to describe how that worked as I made my presentation… so, hang on… this is going to be a lot of slides….  I broke it down into about 45 pictures.  The Script is what I said for each slide:

Slide 1

Slide 1

Script:

Remember when Mark Draper came here for a year and when he was getting ready to leave he gave a presentation about where he thought we were doing well, and how we could improve ourselves?

I thought that since I have spent 20 years with you guys I might be able to come up with a few comments.  Especially as opinionated as I am.

 

Slide 2 part 1

Slide 2 part 1

Script:

In 1979, I came to work here as a summer help.  The plant was still being built and I was really impressed with the special quality of people I met and looked up to.

Slide 2, Part 2

Slide 2, Part 2

Script continues as these three pictures slide in:

Like for instance there was Sonny Karcher and another was Jerry Mitchell.  It has been a while since I have seen these two guys, and I know that Jerry has passed on, but this is the way I remember them.

And of course Larry Riley was there.

Larry was the one I worked with back then that seemed to know what was going on.  I will always consider him a good friend.

When I was on Labor Crew I would call him “Dad”.  He would never own up to it.  He said I was never the same after I fell on my head when I was a kid.

I used to get real dirty when I worked in the coal yard right alongside Jerry Mitchell.  He would stay perfectly clean.  He told me that I knew I was good when I could keep myself clean.  —

Well.  I have found a better way to do that.  And once again I would like to thank OG&E for paying for my education.

I encourage all the new guys to seriously consider taking advantage of the free education benefit.

Slide 3

Slide 3

Script:

Then of course there was our Plant Manager and Assistant Manager back then.

This is how I remember them.

 

Slide 4 part 1

Slide 4 part 1

Script:

After hiring on permanently as a janitor in ’82, and getting on Labor crew in the spring of ’83.  I was able to get into the electric shop in November 1983.

I vividly remember my first day as an electrician.  The first thing I worked on, I shorted it to ground.

Slide 4 part 2

Slide 4 part 2

Script continues as Charles Foster’s picture slides in:

With no prior experience as an electrician I was allowed to join the electric shop.  Charles Foster was instrumental in getting me into the shop, and I am grateful.  As everyone knows, Charles is a long time friend of mine.

For years and years Charles would tell the story about how he fought tooth and nail for me against the evil Plant Manager and His diabolic Assistant who wanted me to be banished to the Labor Crew for eternity.

Not too long ago I told Charles that if he hadn’t pushed so hard to get me into the electric shop, I probably would have left OG&E and went back to school years ago ( like my mom wanted me to do), and made something of myself long before now.

Slide 5

Slide 5

Script:

These are the electricians that were there when I first joined the electric shop.  These are the only ones left.  I think we started out with 16.

The electricians were always a tight knit group.  It amazed me to see a electricians who couldn’t stand each other sit down and play dominos three times a day, every day, year after year.

Jimmie Moore joined the shop some time later.

And of course.  Bill Bennett was around back then.

When I arrived in the electric shop I was 23 years old and I replaced Diana Brien as the youngest electrician in the shop.  As I leave, I am almost 41 years old, and I am still the youngest electrician.  As I leave, I relinquish the title back to Diana Brien who once again will be the youngest electrician.

As a side note…. I don’t know why I forgot about Ben Davis.  He reminded me after the presentation… I don’t know how… Here is a picture of Ben:

Ben Davis

Ben Davis

Slide 6 part 1

Slide 6 part 1

Script:

I suppose you all remember what happened on February 15th, 1985.  The day we refer to as “Black Friday”.  The day that the “Drug and Theft” ring was busted at Sooner Station.  That was the day that a very dear friend of mine, Pat Braden, whom everyone knew as a kind easy going person turned out to be some evil leader of a theft ring.

Slide 6 part 2

Slide 6 part 2

Note:  As I was saying the above statement, This mummy walked across the slide…

Slide 6 part 3

Slide 6 part 3

Note:  Then Barney slide across in the other direction…

Script continued:

Well.  I know better than that. I will always remember Pat Braden with a smile on his face.  Mickey Postman, I know you would agree with me about Pat and just about everyone else who knew him well.

It has been 16 years since this took place and the company has gone through a lot of changes, but don’t ever think something like this couldn’t happen again.

Slide 3

Slide 3

Note… The hammers come in and stomp the images off the slide….

Slide 7 part 2

Slide 7 part 2

Script:

Then there was the first Reorganization.  The old people retired on October 1st.  That was the end of the Moler and Waugh regime.

Slide 7 part 3

Slide 7 part 3

Script:

At first we thought we were all on vacation. Our new plant manager came in the first meeting with us and told a joke.

We all looked at each other and wondered, “Can plant managers even do that?”

I’m sure you guys remember Ron Kilman.  Bless his heart.

Slide 8 part 1

Slide 8 part 1

Script:

The second part of the first reorganization allowed people without jobs to find a position in the company over a 8 month period.

Slide 8 part 2

Slide 8 part 2

Note:  Pictures of Scott Hubbard fly in along with the words:  “Hubbard Here!”  then each one disappears leaving this:

Slide 8 part 3

Slide 8 part 3

Script:

That is when Scott Hubbard joined the electric shop.

Scott and I drove to work together for a long time and we became good friends.

I’ll miss Scott when I leave.  I’ll remember that “Hubbard is Here”, while I’ll be down there – in Texas.

 

Slide 9 part 1

Slide 9 part 1

Script:

Do you remember the Quality Process?  They said it was a process and not a program because when a program is over it goes away, and a process is something that will always be here.  — Yeah right.

Note:  While I was saying this, the screen all of the sudden went dark as I kept talking… I could tell that people wondered if I realized that the presentation had suddenly disappeared….

Slide 9 part 2

Slide 9 part 2

Script:

This is all we have left of the Quality Process.

Note:

When I said the line “This is all we have left of the Quality Process”  pointing my thumb over my shoulder with a look of disappointment on my face, the room suddenly burst out into cheers and applause as they realized that the blank screen represented the current state of the Quality process at the plant.

Slide 10 part 1

Slide 10 part 1

Script:

The first reorganization was done in a somewhat orderly manner.

They retired the old guys out first and brought in the new management, then they informed those that didn’t have positions and gave them time to find a job before they let them go.

Note:  The sounds of gun shots were barely heard from the computer speaker, as splats occurred on the slide until it looked like this:

Slide 10 part 2

Slide 10 part 2

Script continued:

The second reorganization.  Well.  It was a massacre.

It was a very lousy way to do this, and very humiliating.

Note:

Jim Arnold at this point was about to jump out of his chair and stop the show (since he was instrumental in making the downsizing as brutal as possible), so I was quick to go to the next slide…

Slide 11

Slide 11

Script:

With the redesign came another Plant Manager.  One of the first things I remember about Bill Green was that one morning I was stopped at the front gate and given a 9 volt battery for my smoke detector.

I took the battery home and put it in my smoke detector, and – guess what? – The battery was dead.  And I thought, “Oh well.  These things happen.”

Well a couple of years later, there was Bill Green handing out smoke detector batteries again.

I checked it out and sure enough, it was dead also.

 

Slide 12

Slide 12

Note:  As I was talking during this slide, the marbles dropped in and bounced around then at the end the hat and moustache landed on Bill Green.

Script:

 

I am just wondering. I want to test out a theory I have.   How many of you was given a dead battery?

—  OK, I see.  Just the trouble makers.  I understand.  It all makes sense to me now.

Second Note:  Bill Green had a jar full of marbles and each color represented a type of injury someone has when they do something unsafe.  Most of the marbles were blue and meant that nothing happened, the other colors represented increasingly worse injuries.  Two marbles in the jar signified fatalities.

The numbers went like this:

Out of 575 incidents where someone does something unsafe, here are the consequences:

390 Blue Marbles:   Nothing happens

113 Green Marbles:  A First Aid injury

57 White Marbles:  A Recordable Accident

8 Pink Marbles:  Up to 30 days lost work day injury occurs

5 Red Marbles:  60 or  more lost workdays injury occurs

2 Yellow Marbles:  A Fatality occurs

Slide 13 part 1

Slide 13 part 1

Script:

The Maintenance workers are the best people I know.  Everyone one of them has treated me with respect, and I consider each of you a friend.

You are the people I will miss.  Not the coal dust, not the fly ash. —  Just the people.

Note:  Over the next set of slides, I showed the Power Plant Men I worked with… I will show you a couple of pictures of some slides to show you the animation that I had slide in and I’ll explain them.. I didn’t say much during the following slides.  They flashed by fairly quickly:

Slide 13 part 2

Slide 13 part 2

Note:  The circle with the slash over Bob Blubaugh represented him being recently fired… The story around this is on some of the last slides… and was a tragedy.  The military cap landed on Randy Daily (in the lower right) because he was an Army Medic and was always in charge when it came to safety.

Slide 14 part 1

Slide 14 part 1

slide 14 part 2

slide 14 part 2

The donut flew up to Danny Cain because if there was ever free food somewhere, Danny would find it… Especially if they were donuts.

 

Slide 15 part 1

Slide 15 part 1

Slide 15 part 2

Slide 15 part 2

The words “Huh, Huh?” flew to Jody Morse, because he had the habit of saying something and ending his sentence with “Huh, Huh?”

Slide 16

Slide 16

Slide 17

Slide 17

Note:  That was the end of the pictures of the Maintenance Power Plant Men….  I didn’t have pictures of the Operators, and they weren’t at the party…

Slide 18

Slide 18

Script:

Without these two, you wouldn’t get paid, and you wouldn’t get parts.

I agree with what Jerry Osborn said about Linda Shiever.  There isn’t anyone out here that can do the job Linda does every day.

Slide 19 part 1

Slide 19 part 1

Script:

The maintenance foremen have treated me with respect and I would like to thank all of you for that.

Note:  Then Jim Arnold flew in:

Slide 19 part 2

Slide 19 part 2

Script:

I realize that you have to do certain things some times because there is someone looking over your shoulders directing every move you make.

Note:  At this point, Jim leaned forward in his chair to get a better look… wondering if that was his face on this picture of God…

Slide 20

Slide 20

Script:

Yes, Jim Arnold does take care of us, and we know that he doesn’t want to retire and leave us to fend for ourselves.

Note:  There was a policy where you could retire once your age and years of service added up to 80 years.  Jim Arnold’s added up to 100, but wouldn’t retire.

Slide 21

Slide 21

Note:  Still talking about Jim Arnold:

Script:

Therefore he has devised a plan in case of an untimely death.

So don’t be smilin’ too big!!

Slide 22

Slide 22

Note: Still talking about Jim Arnold….

Script:

He will be able to direct the plant operations from his heavenly throne.

So don’t worry.  He is NOT going away.

Second Note:  At this point the PowerPoint presentation locked up on the computer… I had to shut down the presentation and restart it, and quickly go back to the next slide… I remembered the Alt-F4 closes the active application, so I was able to do this within about 15 seconds.

Slide 23 part 1

Slide 23 part 1

Script:

Do you remember when Bill Moler decided that you had to wear a hardhat to go fishin’ in the discharge?

He said it was because he wanted everyone to be safe.

As you can see, this made Johnny Keys rather upset.

Note:  As I was speaking, Hardhats dropped onto the people:

Slide 23 part 2

Slide 23 part 2

Script:

Some bird might fly overhead and  drop something on you.

Everyone knew the real reason.  He didn’t want anyone fishing out there so he was making it more difficult to do that.

He used “Safety” as an excuse.  Because of this, he lost credibility when it came to safety issues.

Slide 24

Slide 24

Note:  The Hard hats disappeared and Cell phones and pagers dropped down as I said the following:

Script:

When you start making policies that use safety as an excuse, but it isn’t the real reason, you lose your credibility.

Second Note:  At this point, Jim Arnold was jumping up from his seat… You see, Jim Arnold had fired Bob Blubaugh a few months earlier because Bob carried a cell phone with him while he was working.  Jim told him he couldn’t use his cell phone during the day.  When Bob refused to stop carrying a cell phone Jim Arnold fired him for insubordination.

Today that seems crazy as everyone carries cell phones.  Jim’s excuse was that carrying a cell phone was not safe, though he couldn’t exactly explain why.

That’s why Jim jumped out of his chair… I thought it was over, and I had two more slides to go….  So, I quickly clicked to the next slide… and Jim sat back down…. whew….

Slide 25 part 1

Slide 25 part 1

Script:

I would like to say goodbye to Doug Black.  I have been blessed to have been able to spend time with you the past three years.

Note:

Then Doug slid off the slide leaving a picture of Toby:

Slide 25 part 2

Slide 25 part 2

Script:

I would like to say goodbye to Toby, you have been a good friend, and I’ll stay in touch.

Note:  Then Toby slid off and Ray Eberle’s picture was left:

Slide 25 part 3

Slide 25 part 3

Script:

Ray, I had to hide this picture from you, because you sat next to me as I created this presentation.  I just want to say that the last three years we have spent working on SAP have meant a lot to me and you will always be one of my best friends.  Thank you.

Slide 26

Slide 26

Script:

With that I will say “Good bye” to all of you.  Thank you!

Note:  This is a picture of Jim Arnold and Louise Kalicki stepping off of Air Force One.  I super-imposed their faces over Bill and Hillary Clinton.

This is the end of the presentation….  With that I was ready to leave the plant and begin the next stage of my life.  I will explain more in the post next week.

After I had left, I heard that when the next person had a going away party, Bill Green announced that PowerPoint Presentations are no longer allowed during going away parties!

Where Do Knights of the Past Go To Fight Dragons Today

Originally posted on April 27, 2012:

It may not seem obvious what fighting dragons has to do with Power Plant Men but when I was a Power Plant Man in-training I was able to witness quite the battle between the Power Plant Men and a Dragon one night.  The main weapon they used was a Lance and the Dragon spewed hot scalding water in their faces as they stood against it to fell that foul beast!  The Hot fiery breath blew two men off of a landing with one of them ending up hospitalized.

I was in training to be a Power Plant Man my first four years as a summer help.  The first summer I worked in the maintenance shop as a helper on different crews of mechanics.  The second summer (1980), however, was when I began learning the skills to become a Knight of the Power Plant Kingdom.  I was first introduced to my weapons of battle by Stanley Elmore when he attempted to train the fresh summer help crew by giving each of us a Weed Wacker:

The first feeble try at chopping weeds

 

We were driven to the road leading out to the dam. A three mile stretch of guard rails on both sides with weeds growing up around them and down the dike to the water.  Our job was to chop all of the weeds from there to the dam on both sides of the road.  And when we were done, there were plenty of other roadways that needed to be cleared.  Sort of Chain Gang style only without the chains.  Needless to say, we came back for break and all of our weed wackers were broken.  We were chopping large weeds, a lot of them full grown sunflowers taller than us.  The weed wackers just bent back and forth until they quickly fell apart.

So, Stanley went to the welders and had them weld the blades back on the weed wackers using angle iron.  This worked a little better, but the flimsy blades were no match for the thousands of sunflowers and thistles and small bushes.

An Army of Sunflowers invading the land!

So Stanley did the next best thing.  The next day he brought us some heavy duty brush choppers that he had the welding shop reinforce, making them weigh about 15 pounds.

Our Weed Choppers were reinforced with extra metal on the blade and the handle

Armed with this I found that chopping Sunflowers became enjoyable.  With each swing of this heavy weight I could lay a sunflower down without missing a stride.  I was well on my way as squire of the Power Plant Knights.  Later Stanley gave us gas powered Industrial sized weed-eaters with saw blades.  The weed-eater attached to a harness so you could swing it back and forth all day mowing down the enemy.  I wore a face shield and ear muffs attached to my hardhat to guard against flying debris.  This was much like the helmets worn by knights, and probably as hot I’m sure as we cleared away miles and miles of roadway of weeds under the searing sun.

But nothing prepared me as much as one Saturday after shoveling coal since 8 in the morning until 5 in the evening during coal clean-up when we were told that the Number 1 Boiler had a large buildup of ash in the bottom ash hopper and the clinker grinder couldn’t break it up.  If we weren’t able to break it up quickly the boiler would have to come off line and we would stop producing electricity (as number 2 boiler was not yet online).   So, the Power Plant Men who had been shoveling coal since the break of day made their way to the bottom ash hopper under the boiler.

Some began building a scaffold (as if they had done this before).  Chuck Ross was in charge along with Cleve Smith and they had developed a plan where the Power Plant Men would stand on the scaffold back away from the hopper while someone would pop open the hopper door by standing off to one side (I think this was Cleve Smith) and one unlucky guy standing on the landing directly in front of the hopper door would guide a 30 foot lance into the portal and into the jaws of the dragon.  Once there, the he-men in the back would stab the rock hard bottom ash with all of their might as steaming hot water came gushing out the doorway.

I don’t remember if we drew lots or someone just said, “Let the summer help do it.” but I was the person chosen to stand directly in front of the door of the bottom ash hopper when it was knocked open as Cleve hit the latch with a sledge hammer.  I was told that water was going to come blasting out of the doorway, so be prepared, because it was important that I guide the lance into the portal so that it could be used to smash up the bottom ash clinkers enough to allow the clinker grinder to do it’s work.

I wasn’t really prepared when the door was knocked open.  First there was a loud boom as the door flew open and hit the side of the structure.  I was blown back against the handrail by hot water (The stairway came up the side then, not like it is today).  After gaining my footing, I was able to guide the lance through the door so the 6 or so he-men behind me could go to work thrusting the lance in, backing it out, and thrusting it back in all while I was guiding it so that it remained lined up with the doorway.  I also was not prepared for the hot water to turn into scalding hot water as the water level in the bottom ash hopper became lower.  The main hopper gate wasn’t able to close the first few times because of the clinkers, so all I could do was hope that I didn’t end up like a boiled egg by the time we were through.

After the door was closed, the operators went to work filling the hoppers back up with water, as Chuck and Cleve watched the Clinker grinder to see if it was able to crush the clinkers.  You could tell by looking at the shaft that would go one way, then stop and go the other way when it wasn’t able to crush the clinkers.

We repeated these steps over and over until the clinker grinder was finally able to function.  At one point when the hopper was being filled, everyone took off running when all of the sudden water was pouring out from up above all over the bottom area of the boiler.  I didn’t understand how that could have happened until someone explained to me that the bottom ash hopper sits underneath the boiler, but the boiler is suspended from the top and floats over the bottom ash hopper, and when the hopper was filled with water too high, it overflowed, and spilled out the space between the hopper and the boiler. (Remember the Bottom Ash Overflow Sump Pump from a previous post?  Well, it wasn’t working that night).

We all went up to the break room to take a break.  It was about 10 pm.  We were given big “atta boys” for saving the company tons of money because they didn’t have to shutdown the boiler to clear the hopper.  We waited around to see if they would send us home for the night.  A little while later, we found out that there was a section of ash that was still built up on the side of the boiler just above the hopper and they were afraid that if it were to fall into the hopper all at once, it would jam up the clinker grinder again and leave us in the same predicament as before.  So we went back to work trying to figure out how to knock down the shelf of hard ash piece at a time.

It turned out that if you shoot the ash with a fire hose, the ash would sort of explode because of the cold water hitting such a hot object.  So, a fire hose was used to knock down most of the ash shelf and it worked pretty good.  After a while there was only one more spot to knock down and we could all go home.  The only problem was that it was directly above the hatchway door on one side of the boiler, and it was too far across the boiler to hit it with the fire hose.  So Mike Vogle was called out (he was a new welder that hadn’t been at the plant too long at this point).  It was Mike’s job to weld the fire hose nozzle to the end of a long pipe (the second lance of the evening) so that it could be extended into the boiler far enough to shoot water on the ash shelf above the hatchway door on the far side.

At one point Chuck told me to go see how Mike was doing with the pipe, and I went to the welding shop and asked him how long it would be.  He told me not much longer, maybe 15 minutes.  I was on my way back to the boiler when I met Cleve Smith and Chuck Ross on their way back to the shop by way of the locker room.  So, I followed along behind them in the dark.

I told them Mike would be done in about 15 minutes and they said that it was all right because the ash was knocked down.  They didn’t need it anymore.  As they passed by the tool room back door, by the light from the window I could see blood running down the arms of both Chuck and Cleve.  So, I said, “Hey Chuck.  Do you know you’re bleeding?”  He replied that he did, and then I realized that both of them had been injured.

They both walked straight into the shower and Mike Grayson came in and explained to me that they had tried to knock down the ash from the hatchway directly underneath the shelf of ash, and when they did, the shelf broke loose and fell.  When that happened, it sent a blast of hot air through the doorway knocking Chuck and Cleve off of the landing as their arms went up to protect their faces.

Mike Grayson was my ride home.  We left shortly after the ambulance left to bring Chuck to the hospital in Stillwater.  It was close to 2 in the morning.  Mike was a new employee also.  We both sat silently in the truck on the way home numbed by the accident and worn out from shoveling coal and lancing the boiler, which we had started 21 hours before.

I was so tired I took Mike’s lunch box by mistake.  I was surprised when he called me the next morning and told me, but when I looked in the lunchbox, sure enough.  There was his worn Bible, a typical item in a Power Plant Man’s lunch box.  My dad drove me by his house near the hospital to exchange lunch boxes.  After that I went to visit Chuck in the hospital where he had both of his arms bandaged up.  Other than those burns, he was all right.

No one knows more than Chuck and Cleve that they paid dearly for not waiting for Mike Vogle to finish the nozzle extension.  Something happens when you’ve been up all day working hard, meeting one frustration after another.  When you are up at the crack of dawn, and it becomes past midnight, it is easy to let your guard down.  When fighting dragons, if you leave any opportunity for them to strike back they will.  We defeated the dragon that night, but not without its victims.  Chuck recovered and was quickly ready for the next battle.  All of those men that were there that night are heroes to me.  Today I don’t remember everyone that was there, but they were all on my list of True Power Plant Knights!

Comments from the original Post:

rjdawarrior April 28, 2012

That was awesome! I love Dragons :) but I love sunflowers so I was sad to here they were slaughtered.

  1. Plant Electrician April 29, 2012

    Thanks Warrior, We just cut the sunflowers down to size… they were back before we knew it. Shining like the sun.

  • martianoddity April 30, 2012

    I really like how you’ve likened the work you men did to fighting dragons. In its essence it’s pretty much the same thing. :-P It takes courage, resourcefulness and teamwork.
    I really enjoyed reading this story!

  • jackcurtis October 6, 2012

    Thanks for the ride to the industrial past…
    I was a Telephone Man in the day that too had meaning. Those and many other occupations meant something we seem to have lost along the way: It was important to be a MAN, something one had to live up to…and work was a serious challenge to be attacked and mastered, not a necessary evil imposed upon us.
    You paint a memorable picture of another time and bring history to life, a very good work indeed.

Power Plant Invocations and Imitations of Sonny Karcher

Originally Posted on June 16, 2012:

I have mentioned before that Sonny Karcher was one of the first Power Plant Men that taught me how to work my way up the ladder of Power Plant Ingenuity (In the post titled, In Memory of Sonny Karcher A True Power Plant Man).  I used to come home from work after Steve Higginbotham dropped me off at the duplex where we were living at the time, and my family couldn’t wait to hear what Sonny Karcher had said or done that day.

Sonny Karcher

Sonny Karcher

Soon after I had arrived at the plant one day, after coming back from the coal yard, Sonny had just dropped me off at the front of the Maintenance shop where I was going to the tool room to get some tools for something we were going to work on.  Sonny was going to drive around behind the tool room in a yellow Cushman cart to pick up some larger equipment, and I was going to meet him there.

Like this only Yellow

Like this only Yellow

As he was backing out of the shop he suddenly made a motion with his left hand.  To me it looked like he was making the movement that someone would make if they were taking the lid off of a jar.  I thought this meant that he wanted me to do something, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.

Various things went through my head, such as, I should get something to help remove lids from barrels.  Or I needed to look inside of a jar to find one of the parts I was going to pick up.  Nothing made much sense to me, so I waved for him to come back.

When he did, I asked him what he wanted me to do.  He asked me what I meant.  I told him that when he made that motion to open a jar, I couldn’t figure out what he wanted.  So he told me.   “I was just waving goodbye.”

He gave me a big smile and backed out of the shop again.  Each time Sonny Karcher waved goodbye, he used a different motion with his hand.  Sometimes he would look like he was twirling something on his finger.  Sometimes it seemed like he was trying to get something sticky off of his fingers.  Sometimes he just drew circles in the air with a couple of fingers.  Other times he looked like he was giving an awkward kind of salute.  Sonny made an art out of simple things like a wave goodbye.

That first summer it seemed like everyone was always munching on Sunflower seeds.  There were bags of sunflower seeds everywhere you looked.  Sonny already looked somewhat like a chipmunk with puffy round cheeks that formed from years of wearing a grin on his face.  They were extra prominent when his cheeks were full of sunflower seeds.  These were seeds still in their shells.

Power Plant Sunflower Seeds

Power Plant Sunflower Seeds

So, it was normal to see someone take a step back while standing around talking, turn their head and drop a few sunflower seed shells from their mouth into the floor drains that were spaced evenly across the maintenance shop floor.  There came a time when those drains had to be cleaned out because it seemed that every drain was packed solid full of sunflower seed shells.

Sunflowers weren’t the only items found in the drains, since chewing (or dipping) tobacco (such as Skoal) was used by a lot of the men in the Power Plant.

Just a pinch between your cheek and gums.... Never tried it myself.

Just a pinch between your cheek and gums…. Never tried it myself.

Cleaning out a drain full of sunflower seeds, dipping tobacco and spit was a job that might cause a lot of people to gag, and I know I had to fight it back at the time.  Most of the time I felt like I was having too much fun to get paid for working at the plant, but when it came time for cleaning out those drains, I felt like I was really working very hard for the $3.89 an hour that I was getting paid my first summer (1979) as a summer help.

But anyway, back to Sonny.  I remember one evening when I came home after working with Sonny during the day, and we were sitting around the dinner table eating supper when my dad said something surprising.  I don’t remember exactly what he said, but I remember what my response was.  It came out before I thought what I was saying, and I said it with the same surprised smile Sonny would have.  I replied,  “Well S–t the bed!”  With a heavy emphasis on each word.

That was a common phrase that Sonny used, and it was his response to anything surprising.  Needless to say, I don’t normally use four letter words that have to be edited out of a post.  It was just the matter of fact way that Sonny would use that phrase that made it seem all right to say at the time.  If I remember correctly, both my mom and my dad stared at me for a second in disbelief, then broke out laughing as they had never heard that particular phrase.  It was kind of like hearing “…Bless his heart” for the first time when used following an obvious insult.

In the year 1990 the Power Plant had a program that they called, “We’ve Got the Power”.  I will talk more about this in a later post, so I will just say that it was a program where we broke up into teams and tried to find ways to save the company money.  But long before “We’ve Got the Power”, there was Sonny Karcher.  He was often trying to figure out how we could make electricity cheaper, or even come up with other ways of making a profit.

One day Sonny asked me this, “Kev, your smart because you learn things from all those books at school so tell me this… someone said the other day that diamonds are made out of coal.  Is that true?”  I told him it was.  Then he said, “Well, what if we had one of those big dirt movers full of coal drive over some coal a bunch of times, would we be able to make diamonds?”

Dirt Mover full of coal

I told him that wouldn’t work because it takes a lot more pressure to make a diamond.  So, he asked me if it would work if we put some coal on the railroad track and we let an entire train full of coal run over it.  Would it make a diamond then?  I assured him that even that wouldn’t make a diamond.  He accepted it and just said, “Well, it’s too bad since we have that big pile of coal there, we ought to be able to come up with some way of making them into diamonds.

Another time when we were cleaning out the fish baskets at the intake (a job as smelly as it sounds) next to the 4 big intake pumps.  These are the pumps that pump around 189,000 gallons of water per minute each.  Sonny told me how big those pumps were and how much water they pumped.  Then he said, “You know, that entire boiler is there just to make steam to turn the turbine to make electricity.  It seems to me that we could just take these four pumps and have them pump water through the turbine and have it turn the turbines, then we wouldn’t need those big boilers.  Why don’t we do something like that?”  I assured Sonny that we would never be able to make enough electricity to make up for the electricity it took to turn the pumps that were pumping the water.  He shook his head and said that it just seemed to him that those pumps could turn that turbine pretty fast.

One day I watched as Sonny watched another Power Plant man walk into the shop with a new type of lunch box.  It was an Igloo Little Playmate.  Sonny made a comment about how neat this guy’s new lunch box was.  It was a new design at the time.

One exactly like this.  These were a new kind of lunch box at the time.

Sonny immediately went out and bought one.  The next week he came to work with his shiny new Little Playmate lunch box.  I admit.  I went and bought one myself a few weeks later.  But this was the beginning of a trend that I noticed with Sonny.  I began to notice that Sonny seemed to pick one item from each of the people he admired, and went and bought one for himself.  Or he would pick up a phrase that someone else would say, and would start using that.

At first I thought it might just be a coincidence, so I started to test my hypothesis.  When I would see something new that Sonny brought to work, I would look around to see who else had one of those, and sure enough.  Someone close by would have one.  Then I would hear Sonny talk a certain way.  His accent would change and he would say something like he was imitating someone else, and usually I could tell right away who talked like that and knew that Sonny had borrowed that phrase from that person.

Some may think that this would be annoying, but I think with Sonny it was an act of endearment.  It was his way of connecting with those people that he admired.  Sonny had a small yellow orange Ford truck and I figured that someone else must have a truck like that, so I started looking all around for one like it.  It took me a couple of weeks, but one morning while we were carpooling our way to the power plant, we came up behind the same kind of truck that Sonny had on its way to the plant.  It was green instead of yellow, but it was undoubtedly the same model of truck.  It was owned by Ken Reece, who was the manager over the tool room and warehouse.

Sonny imitated a voice that had me puzzled for a while.  I had checked out all the Power Plant Men around trying to figure out who Sonny was imitating.  Every once in a while Sonny would change his way of talking when he was making a point where he would let his lower lip come forward and work its way left and right as he talked, and he would close one eye more than the other and talk in a strange sort of a southern drawl.  I just knew he was imitating someone because it was so different than just the regular Sonny.

Finally, one day when I was walking through the shop I heard someone in the welding area talking just like Sonny would talk when he used that voice.  There was no mistake.  That had to be the person.  I could hear every inflection in his voice and it had to be the voice that Sonny was imitating because it had been much more honed and refined to give just the right effect.  So, I changed the course I was travelling so that I could make my way around to the welders to see who it was that was talking like that.

There in the middle of the welding shop was a heavier set man standing in the middle of a group of welders telling a story.  Everyone was listening to him quietly just as if it was story time at the library.  So, I stopped and watched.  This man wasn’t wearing an Electric Company hard hat.  He was wearing a Brown and Root hard hat, which indicated that he worked for the construction company that was building the plant.

This guy was undoubtedly a master storyteller.  When it came to the climactic part of the story, the bottom of his mouth would stick out with his lip moving left and right and left again, and one eye was partially closed to show the intensity of the situation and the drawl would intensify.  Finally.  I had found the man that Sonny Karcher had admired enough to take one of his favorite traits and connect it to himself.  I could see why Sonny admired him so much.  He had everyone within listening distance captivated by his story.

This Brown and Root hand soon became an employee of the Electric Company within a couple of weeks after I left at the end of the summer (on September 9, 1979).  This heavier set person was still working at the plant when I first posted this story last year, but has since retired. He was one of this country’s leading Turbine mechanics and he can still tell a story like no one else.  He is no longer as heavy.  He is rather thin in comparison.  He improved his health after realizing that if he really loved his family, he needed to take better care of himself.

I consider this True Power Plant Man, Ray Eberle, to be a dear friend of mine.  I have never met anyone that looked more like my own grandfather than Ray.  Not that he was that much older.  No.  He looked almost exactly like my grandfather looked when he was Ray’s age.  There was no nicer man than my dad’s dad, and there is no nicer Power Plant Man than Ray Eberle.

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

Comments from the re-post:

  1. Ron Kilman June 19, 2013:

    The Janitors at Seminole showed me how the PPM (Power Plant Men) were spitting their tobacco juice inside I-beam webs, in tight corners, and other hard to clean spots. They asked me to put out a memo asking the spitters to just spit out in the middle of the floor so they could clean it up much easier, which I did. I can’t remember for sure, but it seems like the puddles of stinky gross slime around the Plant tailed off for a while.

    Good story, Kevin. I hadn’t thought about Ray Eberle for a long time. He was a super turbine man I always enjoyed being around. I just remember his competence and his positive attitude.

  2. Monty Hansen August 17, 2013:

    It’s both amusing, and comforting to know the same things happen at power plants everywhere, we went through a “sunflower seed phase” which plugged the drains & the plant finally came up with a “NO MORE SUNFLOWER SEEDS” rule!

Luxuries and Amenities of a Power Plant Labor Crew

Originally Posted on August 11, 2012.  Added a picture of Larry Riley:

When I was a janitor at the Power Plant there were times when we were christened by being allowed to work with the Labor Crew on jobs that needed to be done in a hurry.  Larry Riley was the foreman of the Labor Crew.  I had worked with Larry Riley during the summers when I was a summer help, and I always held him in high esteem.

I think he knew that, and he said he was glad to have me working for him whenever they were in a pinch to complete a job in a hurry.  I have described Larry as reminding me of the Marlboro Man, as he had a moustache that looked like his.

Yep. That’s the Marlboro Man

I finally found a picture of Larry taken a couple of decades later… Here he is:

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

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

The wonderful thing about working in a Power Plant is that when you drive through the gate in the morning, you never know what you might be doing that day.   Even after 20 years at the plant, I was still amazed by the diversity of jobs a person could do there.  Anyone who spent those 20 years actually working instead of doing a desk job, would know a lot about all kinds of equipment and instruments, and temperatures.

When I was young I was able to go to Minnesota to visit my cousins in a place called “Phelp’s Mill”.  Named after an old mill along a river that was a “self service” museum.  Across the road and on the hill loomed a big foreboding house where my cousins lived during the summers.  We would play hide-and-seek in that mill, which was mainly made out of wood.  It was 4 stories high if you include the basement and had a lot of places to hide.

Phelps Mill, MN where we played as a boy.  You can see the house on the hill in the background

This is a picture of the inside of Phelps Mill by Shawn Turner: http://www.flickr.com/photos/32364049@N04/7174048516/

When I began working in the Power Plant, I realized one day that this was like that old mill only on a much bigger scale.  You could spend half of a life time wandering around that plant before you actually knew where everything was.  Each day brought something new.  My first years as a summer help, most of the “emergencies” that I would take part in had to do with cleaning up coal.  When I was able to work with the Labor Crew, things became a lot more interesting.

One day in the spring of 1983 when I arrived at work ready to mop the floor and sweep and dust the Turbine Generators, I was told that I needed to get with Chuck Ross an A foreman over the Labor Crew at the time, because I was going to work with the Labor Crew that day.  I was told to bring my respirator… Which usually had meant it was time to shovel coal.  This day was different.

Chuck brought me to the Tool room and asked Bif Johnson to give me a new Rubber Mallet.

New Rubber Mallet just like this

I went with the labor crew up on #1 Boiler just above the Air Preheater Baskets that I didn’t know existed at the time…  The Boiler had been shutdown over night because there was a problem with the airflow through the boiler and we had to go in the duct and clean the Slag Screen.

Diagram of a boiler

Diagram of a boiler

Below the Economizer and above the air preheater in the diagram above.

“Slag Screen,” I thought… That sounds like a fancy word for something that was  probably just some kind of filter or something….  I knew that Power Plant Engineers liked to give fancy words to make the Plant sound more like a Palace.

As I mentioned before… there are places like:  The Tripper Gallery.  Hopper Nozzle Booster Pump. Generator Bathtub.  The Gravimetric Feeder Deck — I liked that one, it sounded like you were on a ship.  Travelling Water Screens.  There were long names for some, like “Force Draft Fan Inboard Bearing Emergency Lube Oil Pump” (try saying that with a lisp).  Anyway, I could go on and on.

Larry Riley explained to us that we needed to work as fast as we could to clean the slag screen because they wanted to bring this unit back online in the evening.  We couldn’t wait for the unit to cool down much, so we were only allowed to go in the hot air duct for 10 minutes at a time because of the heat.

So, in I went.  The first thing I noticed as I stuck my head in the door was that there wasn’t any immediate place to stand.  There was only a hole below me that went down into the darkness.  So I looked around for something to grab onto to pull myself in.  Once my body was in the door I was able to walk along a beam next to this big screen.  It looked similar to a screen on a window at home only the wires were about 1/2 inch apart.  Something like this:

A picture of a similar slag screen

Oh, and there was one more thing that I noticed…. It was incredibly HOT.  I was wearing leather gloves so I could grab onto the structure to hold myself up, but if I leaned against the screen with my arm, it would burn it.  I was just wearing a tee shirt.  I don’t know the exact temperature, but I have worked in similar heat at other times, and I would say that it was around 160 degrees.  I was not wearing my  hard hat because there was a strong wind blowing to try and cool the boiler down.

The problem is that we were on the tail end of the air flowing out of the boiler, and it was carrying all that heat right onto us.  At 160 degrees your hard hat will become soft so that you can squish it like a ball cap.  I was wearing Goggles as well, and that helped keep my eyes from drying out since everything else went dry the moment I stuck my head in there.

Anyway, I threw the lanyard for my safety belt around a pipe that ran diagonal across my path, and held onto it with one hand while with my other hand I began pounding on the screen with the rubber mallet.  I had to breathe very shallow because the air was so hot.  Breathing slowly gave the air time to cool off a bit before it went down into my throat.

This was a new adventure for me.  There are some Brave Power Plant Men that work on the “Bowl Mill” crew that have worked in these conditions for weeks at a time.  I suppose you grow used to it after a while.  Kind of like when you eat something with Habenero Sauce.  The first time it just very painful.  Then a few weeks later, you’re piling it on your tortilla chips.

After my first 10 minutes were over, someone at the door, (which was hard to see) hollered for me, so I made my way back to the door and emerged into the cool air of the morning.  I noticed that Larry Riley gave me a slightly worried look and I wondered what it meant.  I realized what it was moments later when I went to remove the respirator off of my face.  I only had one filter cartridge in the respirator.

Half-face respirator

The other one was missing.  I thought that was silly of me to go in there with only one filter.  No wonder it seemed like I was breathing a lot of dust.  Then I thought…. No.  I know I had both filters when I went in the duct.  I must have lost one while I was in there.  Maybe with all that banging I knocked it off.

Anyway, 10 minutes later it was time for me to go back in there, and this time I made sure my filters were securely screwed onto the respirator.  I worried in the back of my mind that I may have ruined my lungs for life by breathing all that silicon-based fly ash because I was feeling a little out of breathe (for the next 10 years).

Anyway, halfway through my 10 minutes in the duct I reached up with my hand to make sure my filters were still tightly screwed in place, and to my astonishment, they weren’t tight.  I tried tightening them, but I couldn’t screw them tight.  The respirator itself had become soft in the heat and the plastic was no longer stiff enough to keep the filter tight.  It made sense then why I had lost my filter the first time.  It must have fallen down into the abyss of darkness that was right behind me while I was banging on that slag screen.

After working on the screen for an hour or so, we took a break.  When we returned the temperature in the boiler had dropped considerably, and I was able to stay in the duct the rest of the day without having to climb in and out all the time.

Larry had an air powered needle gun brought up there and someone used that for a while cleaning the screen.  It is what it sounds like.  It has rods sticking out the end of a gun looking tool that vibrate wildly when you pull the trigger.  I don’t know what the real name is for it, but it cleaned slag screens a lot faster than my beating the screen with the rubber mallet all day.

Needle Gun

I did beat that screen all day.  When it was time to leave I brought the mallet back to the tool room, and it looked like this:

Rubber Mallet after banging on a slag screen all day

I had worn the rubber off of the  mallet.  When I brought the mallet back to the tool room, Bif said, “What is this?”  I said I was just returning the mallet that I had borrowed that morning.  He said something about how I must be some kind of a he-man or crazy.   I was too worried about my lungs to think about how much my wrists were aching from taking that pounding all day.

A couple of months later I was promoted to the Labor Crew.  Chuck Ross had kept saying that he couldn’t wait for me to go to the Labor Crew because he wanted me to work for him.  The very day that I started on the Labor Crew, the plant had a going-away party for Chuck Ross.  He was leaving our plant to go work at another one in Muskogee.

During the party Chuck presented me with the rubber mallet that I had used that day cleaning the slag screen.  He said he had never seen anything like that before.  He was sorry he was going to leave without having the opportunity to have me working for him.

I felt the same way about Chuck.  I have always kept that rubber mallet laying around the house since 1983 when I received it.  My wife sometimes picks it up when she is cleaning somewhere and says, “Do you still want this?” With a hopeful look, like someday I may say that it is all right if she throws it away.

Of course I want to keep it.  It reminds me of the days when I was able to work with True Power Plant Men in their natural environment.  The slag screen was later deemed unnecessary and was removed from the boiler.

It also reminds me of other things.  Like how quickly something can happen that changes your life forever.

Questions from that day have always remained with me.

How much ash did I breathe in?  I couldn’t see much more than a few feet in front of me as I banged on that screen knocking ash down all over me.  What did it do to my lungs?

What if I had taken a step back or slipped off of that beam before I had walked to the other end to secure my safety lanyard?  I know now what was below me then.  I would have fallen about 20 feet down to some fins, and then down another 20 feet onto the air preheater baskets.  It would have taken a while to retrieve me, once someone figured out that I was missing.

What does that much heat do to your body… or your brain?

I know these are things that go through the minds of True Power Plant Men.  I worked with them for years improving the safety of the power plant.  All-in-all, no one ever died when I was there, though some came close.  The Slogan over the Shift Supervisor’s Office said, “Safety is job #1”.  That wasn’t there to try to convince us that Safety was important.  It was there as a testimony to everyone who had already made that decision.

Comments from the previous repost:

  1. Jonathan Caswell August 12, 2014

    GLAD that you made it….even if the mallet didn’t!!!

    I can dig it. When I was hired for Security at one post…I really looked forward to working with and for that particular Supervisor who’d hired me. No such luck–she was gone in a month or two. THAT hurt! 🙂

  2. Ron Kilman August 13, 2014

    If the environment is too hot for a respirator to function properly in, it’s too hot for people to work in (if safety is actually job #1). I saw too many examples of “Get the Unit Back On is Job #1″.

 

“Take a Note Jan” said the Supervisor of Power Production

Originally Posted August 24, 2012:

I remember the first time Martin Louthan, the supervisor over all the power plants, came to the Power Plant to meet with all the Power Plant Men a couple of months before Unit 1 came on line in 1979. I don’t know what he expected when he arrived, but I don’t think he expected the greeting he received when the meeting began and he asked us what we all wanted to talk about.

There were about 200 Power plant Men all crowded into the break room. Some sitting and a lot standing, as there was no leaning room against the walls. Martin Louthan began the meeting by saying that he wanted to come and meet with all the Power plant men every 6 months without the management in the room so that we could all speak freely. I don’t think that Martin actually thought the Power Plant Men would actually take him up on it. But they did.

Martin Louthan was from the Old School of Power Plant Men. He was what I would call a “Power Broker” Man. You can definitely tell that he had worked his way up through the ranks of Power Plant Politics and was very comfortable in his position as ruler of all the power plants. Martin had started as a Power Plant engineer and had spent time working at almost all of the power plants that had been built up to that time, including the Osage Plant that I had talked about in an earlier blog about the Power Plant Pioneers (Pioneers of Power Plant Fame Finally Find Peace).

Once again I must remind the reader that the Power Plant Manager at the time, Eldon Waugh enjoyed ruling over his power plant kingdom and any time he could find a way to wield his power, he would. He had created many miscellaneous rules at the plant to demonstrate this authority. Most of which were designed to be a nuisance to the average employee under his domain.

When Martin Louthan asked the crowded room if anyone had anything to say while the plant manager and their own foremen were out of the room, the Power Plant Men took the opportunity to let loose a barrage of grievances against the Power Plant Manager and his assistant.

The main topic was the rule that no one could fish on plant grounds. The Power Plant Men had been told that Oklahoma City (Corporate Headquarters) had made a rule that no one could fish in the lake from the plant grounds. This included the discharge where the warm water went into the lake from the condenser, which was not far from the engineer’s shack parking lot where everyone had to park at the time. Martin acted surprised. He said he hadn’t heard of a rule like that.

Not being able to fish on plant grounds meant a long walk (about a mile) across an often muddy field

Sitting next to Martin Louthan was his secretary Janice Baker (Brady). Martin would say, “I’ll look into it. Take A note Jan! I’ll let you know what I find out.” Jan would write something down on her notepad. Then complaint after complaint kept coming, and Martin kept saying “Take a note Jan.” I remember Jan’s expression throughout the meeting. I couldn’t tell if it was one of wonder or a look of someone that was having writer’s cramp.

A notepad like this

A Power Plant notepad Jan may have been using

After a few more visits from Martin, “Take a note Jan” became a phrase at the plant for something that needed to be looked into, but we knew we would never hear about again. It wasn’t long before Martin’s 6 month meetings turned into yearly meetings, and then eventually, he stopped having meetings with the Power Plant Men all together.

The nail in the coffin of Martin Louthan’s meetings happened when I was on Labor Crew. Martin had his yearly meeting some time in the middle of the summer of 1983. I was on the labor crew that summer.

One of the main complaints that year was that the assistant plant manager and the plant manager were constantly lying to us about one thing and then another. Martin asked the Power Plant Men for an example. Well. No one could come up with one on the spot. It was something you knew when you heard it, but if you didn’t write them down, then the next day you were too busy keeping the plant operational to remember the troubles of the day before.

Martin Louthan told the Power Plant Men that if they didn’t have any examples, then he would not be able to take any action. So, Jan didn’t have to take a note about that.

The Labor Crew bore the brunt of the next rule that came down from up above, and we were told that it had come from Oklahoma City (which is where Corporate Headquarters is located). A lot of people on labor crew had been there for a long time. Some had been there for about 2 years and were looking for an opportunity to move into maintenance or become an operator.

The economy had slowed down during those years as we were still recovering from the high unemployment and the downturn in the oil market in Oklahoma. Reaganomics hadn’t kicked in full steam yet, so those people who would have migrated onto other jobs were staying put.

Finally it was announced that a new crew was going to be started at the plant. It would be the Testing crew. An excellent opportunity for some of the people to finally leave the labor crew where they seemed to be held captive during those years.

Unfortunately for most, it was soon made known that the new positions required that the person have a college degree. It didn’t matter in what, as long as they had one. That left Jim Kanelakos and I as the only two power plant men-in-training that were eligible. I had a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology, and Jim had a Masters of Arts in Psychology.

Together we would stand out in the front of the Labor Crew building analyzing the other Power Plant Men using all of our education to help us determine the motivation for each person. Jim might say, “Do you ever notice how Charles Peavler will go off to do coal cleanup and then you don’t see him until lunch when he comes back completely clean, and nothing seems to have been cleaned?” And I would respond by saying, “Yes, I wonder how he manages to keep so clean when he’s obviously doing twice the work, both cleaning up the reclaim and messing it all back up again. What drives a man to be so… um… Productive?” Jim might respond by saying something like, “It is probably because he hates his father and this is his way of seeking revenge on him for all the times he made him clean his bedroom after his brother had messed it up.”

No. We really didn’t say that, but I’m sure we thought about it often enough.

Then came the clincher… It seems that when Eldon Waugh learned that requiring a college degree didn’t automatically disqualify all of the labor crew hands, a new rule came down. “No one already employed by the Electric Company could be considered for the job.” Again we were told, “This had come down from Oklahoma City.”

To compound the issue, a new program had been put in place just that summer called the Employee Application Program which included a new job announcement process that allowed everyone access across the company to apply for job opening anywhere in the company.

Now, this seemed like an obvious example of what Martin Louthan had been looking for. A perfect example of the Power plant men being lied to by the Plant Manager. Our A foreman Marlin McDaniel asked Jim Kanelakos and I to apply for the jobs. He wanted to have actual proof that the applications would not be considered even though we met the minimum qualifications.

We applied, and our applications were turned down. We went through the proper procedures and up the chain of command and asked the Supervisor of Maintenance Ken Scott to have a meeting with us to discuss the situation.

Ken listened to our grievance, and said that he would go talk to the assistant plant manager to find out what he could about the reason why we couldn’t be considered for the new testing jobs. He came back with the answer from Bill Moler, the assistant plant manager, that we could not be considered for the testing jobs because they were new positions, and no one that currently worked for the Electric Company could be considered for newly created positions. “This had come down from Oklahoma City.”

The labor crew as a group said that they wanted to have a meeting with Martin Louthan to talk about this. Ken came back and said that the next time that Martin Louthan was at the plant, he would meet with the labor crew.

Finally one day about a week later, at 4:00 we were told that Martin Louthan was at the plant and that he would be willing to meet with us. The end of our day was at 4:30. We went up to the conference room and sat down with Martin to discuss the issue. Ken Scott sat in the meeting as an advocate stating exactly what he had been told, and what had happened.

As 4:40 rolled around, I was aware that I had three people in the car waiting for me to drive them home, and I reluctantly had to leave the meeting right after Martin Louthan told us that he had never heard of such a rule that if you worked for the company you couldn’t be considered for a job. He asked to have Bill Moler and Eldon Waugh brought into the meeting.

I had to hear what happened the next day because I missed the rest of the meeting. When Bill Moler and Eldon Waugh came into the meeting, Martin Louthan asked Eldon Waugh why he didn’t consider anyone at the plant for the new testing jobs, Eldon (the plant manager) replied by saying, “We did consider people at the plant. (which was a lie)” Then Bill Moler (the assistant plant manager) replied, “No we didn’t.” Martin asked, “Well why not?” (Maybe with a little more flowery language than I am using). Bill Moler said, “Because you told us not to.” Martin then said, “No I didn’t!” Bill Moler responded by shrugging his shoulders and saying, “Then it must have been a misunderstanding.”

That was it. The meeting was over. The misunderstanding was cleared up, but by that time the new testing crew had already been hired, and it was all water under the bridge. The Labor Crew men were still stuck digging ditches and doing coal cleanup. Martin Louthan didn’t have anymore meetings with just the Power Plant Men without the management in the room after that.

Every now and then I wonder what Jan was really writing in her notebook whenever Martin said, “Take a Note Jan.” I do know that after the first meeting, we were allowed to fish at the discharge, but only if we wore our hardhats. Our families and friends however could not. Then after much back-and-forth with Oklahoma City it was decided that not only did we not need to wear our hardhat while fishing at the discharge, but we could even bring our family and friends with us as well.

Martin Louthan retired with the other Power Broker men in the 1987-88 downsizing. The next June during the summer of 1988, Jan Brady became known as Janice Louthan, as she had married Martin Louthan. Martin’s first wife had died in 1981.

Janice Louthan's Facebook picture

Janice Louthan’s Facebook picture

Martin lived 23 years after he retired from the Electric Company where he had worked for 40 years. He died in his home on November 29, 2010. Janice was most likely right there by his side. In my mind with her notepad handy, ready and willing to hear the words, “Take a note Jan” just one more time.

Take a look at Martin Louthan and tell me this guy doesn’t mean business…

Martin Louthan