Tag Archives: heart attack

Power Plant Catholic Calibrating Cathodic Protection

Originally posted October 25, 2015.

It was no secret at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma that I was Catholic. When I was a summer help and working on the labor crew, I wore a large crucifix under my tee shirt. I had worn the crucifix since I was 13 years old.

I wore a crucifix like this

I wore a crucifix just like this only one size larger

When I joined the electric shop I had to take it off. Electricians should not wear any kind of metal jewelry for the obvious reason that if it were to come into contact with a “hot” circuit, the effect would be the same as if I wrapped the live electric wire around my neck. In other words… I could easily have been electrocuted.

In place of the crucifix, I wore a Scapular instead. Wearing a cord around my neck was unsafe enough, but it didn’t take much for the cord to break away from the piece of cloth on either end.

The Brown Scapular. It is worn so that one of cloth is in the front and the other is in the back.

The Brown Scapular. It is worn so that one of cloth is in the front and the other is in the back.

So, as I said, most everyone at the plant knew that I was Catholic. It was common for someone to see the cloth with the picture on it sticking out the back of my tee shirt and ask me, “What is that around your neck with the postage stamp on it?” I usually hesitated to answer the question because I understood that living in Oklahoma where there was only a 5% Catholic population, the Catholic Church was greatly misunderstood and I really didn’t want to enter a lengthy discussion about why Catholics do what they do.

Diana Brien (my bucket buddy) helped me out one day when someone asked me why I wore the scapular, and I was hesitating trying to decide if they wanted a short answer or a long one, when Diana broke in and said, “It’s a Catholic thing.” I quickly agreed. “Yeah. It’s a Catholic thing. It reminds me to be good. I need all the reminders I can get. Sort of like ‘Catholic Protection’.”

Before I discuss what a Power Plant Catholic has to do with checking Cathodic Protection, let me just add that though I wasn’t the only Catholic at the plant, I was sort of the “Token” Catholic. Which meant, when someone wanted a straight answer about what the Catholic Church believes about any subject, I was the person that they turned to for answers.

Living in the midst of the Bible Belt, Monday mornings is when most of the questions would be asked. Preachers from various religions would occasionally say something during their Church service about Catholics and their “strange” beliefs. So, the next day, some would come to me to hear the other side of the story.

I will list a few questions…. “Why do Catholics say, ‘Hell Mary’?” “Is it true that the Pope has 666 on his Tiara?” “Is it true that Catholics are not able to say the entire ‘Our Father’?” “Are Catholics really against abortion because they need newborn babies to sacrifice in the basement of their Church?” “Is it true that Catholics can’t say for sure that they are going to heaven?” Aren’t Catholics cannibals by believing they are eating the real Body and Blood of Jesus?” “Don’t Catholics believe that they can do anything wrong they want because they know that they can just go to confession and have it forgiven?”

These are all actual questions I was asked when I was an electrician at the power plant. I understood why the Power Plant Men were asking me the questions, and I respectfully answered them. I would rather they felt comfortable asking me these questions than just going around thinking that I was some kind of barbaric pagan behind my back.

By feeling free to talk to me about being Catholic, I knew that I was respected by the Power Plant Men even though I was from a religion that they viewed as far from their own. There was one day when this became obvious to me.

I was on the second landing on Unit 2 boiler just about to enter the boiler enclosure when Floyd Coburn walked out. He was nicknamed “Coal Burner” partly because he was black, and partly because he worked in the coal yard for a long time, but mostly because his last name was Coburn which sounds a lot like Coal Burner. Someone figured that out one day, and called him that, and it stuck. When Floyd came out of the enclosure he stopped me. He tapped me on the arm and signaled for me to follow him.

We stepped out of the walkway a short distance and he held out his fist in front of me. Floyd was built like a wrestler. Actually, he was State Champion of the 148 lb weight class for 4A High Schools in Oklahoma in 1972 and 1973. This meant a lot because in Oklahoma, Wrestling was an important sport. He also had earned an associates degree at Rogers State College in Claremore.

Not once did I ever hear Floyd Coburn brag about his accomplishments, or even mention them. I suspect that few people if any knew much about Floyd’s background because as much fun as he was to work with, he was very humble, as are most True Power Plant Men.

Floyd was grinning at me as if he was about to show me a trick or a joke or something. Then he opened his fist. In the middle of his palm he held a small crucifix. The size of one on a typical rosary.

A rosary

A rosary

When I saw the cross I looked up at Floyd and he was grinning ear-to-ear. I gave him a puzzled looked. Then he told me. “I found Jesus! I just wanted you to know. I know you would understand.”

I felt very privileged that Floyd felt like sharing his experience with me. I thanked him for letting me know. I patted him on the shoulder and we went on our way.

Throughout the years after that, Floyd would set me down every now and then and share how he was expanding his faith with Jesus. He finally became a minister and re-opened a Church in Ponca City where his family used to worship when he was a boy. Floyd was the Pastor of the Broken Heart Ministers Church.

I always felt blessed that he came to me to tell me about his journey. The last time I talked with Floyd Coburn was around Christmas, 2005. I had dropped in at the plant to say hello while I was visiting Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Floyd wanted to talk to me about the progress he was making as Pastor of the Church in Ponca City. He explained the troubles he was having and asked for my prayers. He felt as if the devil was fighting against him. I assured him I have always kept him in my prayers.

One day around the end of October 2006, I felt compelled to write to the plant about a Power Plant Man David Hankins, who had died after my first summer as a summer help in 1979. I have always remembered him on November 1, All Saints Day, because I know that he’s in heaven as he had a tremendous heart.

I hadn’t written to the plant for some time. When I did, I received a couple of e-mails back telling me that Floyd Coburn had died on August 25 during his son’s birthday party. He died of a sudden heart attack.

Though I felt very sorrowful for Floyd’s family because of the circumstance surrounding his death, I felt a great relief for Floyd. I know he had a great desire to be united with Jesus Christ.

So. Now that I discussed some of my experience as a Catholic at the Power Plant, let me tell you about Cathodic Protection (that is not a misspelling of ‘Catholic Protection’).

Have you ever noticed on a car battery how one post is more shiny, than the other post? Especially after it has been in your car for a while. It’s not real noticeable so you may not have realized it. The shiny post is the Cathode or Positive post. Well. Cathodic Protection is just that.

You see the main ingredient besides Power Plant Men at a Power Plant is Iron. The boilers are almost entirely made from the stuff. There are underground and above ground pipes running all over the place. Well. You can paint most of the iron that is above the ground to keep it from rusting, but it doesn’t work very well when you bury the pipes and structure in the dirt.

So, how do you protect your investment? The answer is by using Cathodic Protection. There is a grounding grid made of copper wires buried in the dirt that ties to all the metal objects around the plant grounds. This not only helps absorb things like lightening strikes, but it also allows for the seemingly miraculous anti-rust system known as “Cathodic Protection”.

This is how Cathodic Protection works… You bury a large piece of metal in the dirt and you tie a negative DC (direct current) power source to it. Then you tie the positive power to the grounding grid. By creating a positive charge on the boiler structure and the piping you inhibit rusting, while you enhance the corrosion on the large piece of buried metal with the negative charge.

A nifty trick if you ask me. The only thing about using cathodic protection is that you have to keep an eye on it because the large piece of buried metal will eventually need to be replaced, or the charge will need to be adjusted as it decays in order to protect all the other metal in the plant.

A Cathodic Protection Rectifier liek those at the Power Plant

A Cathodic Protection Rectifier like those at the Power Plant

The Power Plant doesn’t just have one source for cathodic protection. There are numerous boxes placed around the plant that protected a specific set of equipment and buildings. So, when it came time to do Cathodic Protection checks, we would go to each station and take readings. If there were anomalies in the readings then someone would be alerted, and tap settings may be adjusted. In extreme cases, the large piece of metal would need to be replaced with a new one…. Though I never saw that happen.

Once I understood the concept of how Cathodic Protection worked I came to the conclusion that what Catholic Protection was doing for me, Cathodic Protection was doing for the Power Plant. It was helping to prevent corrosion.

If you don’t keep a close watch on how well your Cathodic Protection is doing, then you won’t realize when it needs to be re-calibrated. I have found the same thing applies with how well I am doing as a person. Sometimes I find I need to do a little adjustment to keep myself in line…

When checking a Cathodic Protection rectifier, when you use your multimeter to check the voltages, you have to put your leads and usually your hands into a container of transformer oil. This is somewhat messy and unpleasant. But we realize that it is something that just has to be done. We may wear latex disposable gloves to help keep our hands from soaking in the oil, but inevitably, I would end up dripping some on my jeans.

It’s the same way when trying to adjust myself to be a better person. It seems a little unpleasant at first, but you know it’s the right thing to do. Sometimes it’s swallowing your pride. Sometimes it’s admitting that you are wrong. Sometimes it is just getting off your duff and stop being so lazy.

This is why I always felt so honored working with such True Power Plant Men. They were the ones that, even though they struggled in their individual lives like the rest of us, they always kept their mind on what was right and used that as a guide to make the right decisions.

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Making Friends from Foes – A Tale of Power Plant Woes

Originally posted April 25, 2014:

Later in life, thinking back to when I was young, I sometimes wonder at how my first real friend, Mark Schlemper remained my friend throughout my childhood.  I remember as a boy, there were times when I wasn’t the friendliest friend.  Sometimes I was downright selfish.  Mark, on the other hand, was always considerate.  Not in an Eddie Haskell way, but in a sincere way.  I learned a lot about being a kinder person from Mark, and I’m forever grateful.

Mark Schlemper with his Mother. Two very good people.

My favorite picture of Mark Schlemper with his Mother

I think if Mark had not been my friend during my childhood, then this story would have a very different ending.

Last Friday (April 18, 2014), I posted a story called “Vertan or Sand and Making Enemies of a Power Plant Man“.  At the end of that post I explained that I had become the enemy of a team leader during the “We’ve Got The Power” program.  I explained this program in the post:  “Power Plant ‘We’ve Got The Power’ Program“.  With all that said, here is the story:

I was a plant electrician at a coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma when we took part in the “We’ve Got The Power” program.  At the time, I was in charge of maintaining the Unit 1 precipitator.  The precipitator is what takes the ash out of the exhaust from the boiler, so that you don’t normally see smoke coming out of a Power Plant Smokestack.

My bucket buddy in the Electric Shop, Diana Brien was on a team that tried an experiment on the Unit 1 precipitator by injecting sand into the intake duct in the hope that it would increase the performance.  I didn’t put much faith in the experiment, because it was based on something that had happened almost a year earlier when sand was burned in the boiler in order to burn off the oil that had been soaked into the sand.

I hadn’t seen any sand build up in front of the precipitator during the next overhaul, and didn’t believe that any of it had been able to make it’s way through the economizer and the air preheaters to the precipitator.

Diagram of a boiler

Diagram of a boiler.  The precipitator is after the air preheater where it is labelled “Flue gas”

When Ron Kilman asked me about it, I said that I didn’t think it would do any good, but also, it wouldn’t do any harm either, so I told Ron that I couldn’t see any reason not to do the experiment.  Who knows.  Maybe something unexpected would happen.  — Something did, but not quite in the way anyone would have expected.

On the day of the experiment, sand was blown into the intake duct of the precipitator.  When the experiment was taking place, Diana Brien sat at the precipitator computer behind the Unit 1 Alarm Panel in the Control Room.  She was printing out readings every so many minutes as the experiment progressed.

At times, I walked by and checked on her to see how it was going.  One time when I was standing there watching the readings on the computer, all of the sudden the Opacity shot up.  Opacity is used to measure how much smoke is going out of the smoke stack.  Something definitely happened to cause a large puff of smoke.

I switched screens to look at the power on each of the control cabinets.  After a few seconds I found that cabinet 1A10 had zero Volts on the secondary side of the transformer.  It should have been somewhere above 40 Kilovolts.  The cabinet hadn’t tripped, but it wasn’t charging up the plates.  Cabinet 1A10 was in the very back row of the precipitator, and when the power shuts off on the cabinet it readily lets go of the ash that had built up on it when the rappers on the roof strike the plates.

When I saw the puff occur, I knew where to go look, because this happened whenever one of the back cabinets was turned off.  I told Dee that it looked like a fuse had blown on the cabinet.  The ash was going to continue billowing out of the precipitator for a couple of hours if I didn’t go do something about it.  So, I told Dee that I was going to go to the Precipitator Control Room and replace the fuse.

I passed through the electric shop to grab my tool bucket and headed out to the precipitator.  When I arrived, I found the cabinet just as it had indicated on the computer.  The fuse had obviously failed.  Interesting timing.  Coincidence?  I thought it was.  The fuses controlling the back cabinets were usually the ones that blew because we ran them at a much higher voltage than the rest of the cabinets (at the time).

This is a picture of the exact fuse I replaced, except the writing was pink instead of blue

This is a picture of the exact fuse I replaced, except the print was orange instead of blue

I quickly replaced the fuse (after attaching grounding cables to the leads, and using a pair of high voltage gloves).  Then I powered the cabinet back on.

 

High Voltage gloves like this

High Voltage gloves like this

I returned to the Control Room and told Dee that I replaced the fuse on cabinet 1A10.  The opacity had returned to normal.  I watched a few more minutes to make sure everything had stabilized, and then I left.

When Ron Kilman was evaluating the results of the experiment, he could plainly see that something strange had happened.  Smoke had been pouring out of the smoke stack in the middle of the experiment.  So, he asked me what I thought about it.

First of all, as a disclaimer, our team had our own experiments we had been conducting on the precipitator in hopes of coming up with money savings ideas.  So, when I told Ron what had happened with the fuse blowing, I wondered if he would trust me to tell the truth, since I had my own skin in the game.

I explained in detail to Ron how the fuse had blown and that I was standing next to Dee watching the computer when the smoke started blowing out of the stack.  I could tell that a fuse had blown by looking at the readings, so I went out and replaced the fuse.  I told him that fuses do blow periodically in the back of the precipitator, but I couldn’t explain why it happened to fail at that particular time.  After I gave him my explanation, he seemed satisfied that I was telling the truth.

I think a token amount of points were awarded to the team because something obviously had happened during the experiment, though it wasn’t clear that sand had anything to do with it.  On the other hand, our team was awarded a large amount of points for increasing the precipitator performance using a different method that I may bring up in a later post.  To the team that burned the sand, this looked a lot like foul play.

The leader of the team was the Shift Supervisor Jim Padgett.  He became very upset when he found out that I had gone to the precipitator control room during the experiment and worked on the equipment.  Our team had been awarded a lot of points that was enough to purchase the dining room table set that I have in my dining room today:

Dining Room Table received as an award from the "We've Got The Power" program

Dining Room Table received as an award from the “We’ve Got The Power” program

It became known throughout the control room and the electric shop that Jim Padgett viewed me as his enemy.  The other electricians would jokingly refer to Jim as my “friend”, knowing that Jim had basically declared “war” on me.  Any time someone in the shop would have something to say about Jim, they would say, “Kevin’s friend” Jim Padgett….”

When I first became aware that Jim was upset with me, I understood why.  If I had been in his shoes I would probably feel the same way.  It’s a rotten feeling when you believe that someone has cheated you out of something important.  So, I decided up front that I was going to become Jim’s best friend.  This is where I think my memory of Mark Schlemper with his patience for me as a boy helped me with this decision.

I had determined that any time Jim asked me to do something I wouldn’t hesitate to help him.  It took about a year before Jim could look at me without grimacing.  Finally, one day, he asked me if I would go look at something for him to see if we needed a clearance, or if it was something that could be fixed right away.  It was something minor, but I knew that this was an indicator that the ice was finally beginning to melt.  I was able to fix the problem on the spot, and returned to let him know.

Once we were on semi-speaking terms again, I took an opportunity one day to ask Jim if he would like to join our Computer Club.  I had started a Computer Club in the Electric Shop.  Anyone could join it for a one time fee of $5.00 that was used to buy shareware and disk cases.  For a while I also published a newsletter letting the members of the club know what games and such we had that could be checked out.

Once Jim Padgett joined the Computer Club, it was much easier to have a regular conversation outside of the normal daily business.  I had put the thought in my mind when I decided that Jim was going to become my best friend that nothing would make me happier than to be able to do something for Jim.  That way, no matter what I was doing at the time, if Jim asked me to do something for him, I would drop whatever I was doing and do my best to help.

I could go on and on explaining how gradually over time, not only was Jim my friend, but Jim acted more and more as if I was his friend as well.  Let me just say that the entire process took almost exactly ten years.  I can remember the exact moment when Jim indicated to me that I had become his friend.

Here is what happened:

The phone next to my bed rang at 2:15 in the morning on Thursday February 17, 2000.  I instantly knew what it meant when the phone rang in the middle of the night.  It meant that someone at the plant was calling because there was a problem.  Who else would be up on in the middle of the night?  The night shift of course.

When I answered the phone, Jim Padgett said, “I hate to wake you up buddy.”  I replied, “No.  That’s okay.  What’s up?”  Jim explained that the dumper was down and a train was about halfway through dumping the coal and everything was dead in the water.  I said, “Ok.  I’ll be right out.”

I turned to Kelly and told her that I had to go fix the dumper.  She already knew of course.  I pulled on a pair of jeans, a flannel shirt, and on the way out the door, I slipped on my work boots and laced them up.  Then I drove the 30 miles out to the plant.

It was just before 3:00 am when I arrived.  I grabbed my hardhat from the electric shop and took the elevator up to the Control Room.  Jim apologized again and told me that how the dumper acted when it shutdown.  I went back down the elevator to the electric shop where I grabbed the key to the pickup truck and my tool bucket and left the electric shop into the cool night air.

Power Plants at night take on magical properties.  It’s hard to explain.  Lights shining from the 25 story boilers, noises from steam pipes.  Hums from motors and transformers.  Night Hawks screeching.

When I arrived at the coalyard, I went straight into the Dumper Switchgear where the relays that controlled the dumper were mounted.  Having worked on the dumper for the past 17 years, I could troubleshoot the circuits in my sleep.  — Actually, I may have done just that.  It didn’t take long, and I had replaced a contact on a relay that had broken and had the Coalyard Operator test the dumper long enough to know it was going to work.

When I returned back to Control Room Jim was sitting in the Shift Supervisor’s office.  I walked in and showed him the small relay contact that had caused the failure.  Jim, looked at me and said something that I thought only a friend would say so casually.  I won’t use his exact words, though I remember not only the exact words, I remember his exact expression.  He indicated to me that he had passed some gas, and he was apologizing about it.  I replied, “Well.  That happens.” (No.  Not the other thing that happens).  I told him I was going to go home.  It was about 3:40 by that time.

Jim wished me a good night, and smiling with gratitude, thanked me again for coming  out.  As I was going back to the parking lot, and on the way home driving through the dark, tired from being woken up in the middle of the night, I had a great feeling of peace.  That brief conversation with Jim just before I left was so pleasant in an odd way that I knew we had become friends.  This was such a long way from where we had been 10 years earlier when Jim had literally wanted to kill me (well, not that he actually would…).

When I arrived home, I peeled my clothes off in the utility room to keep from tracking coal all over the house.  I set the small broken relay contact on the kitchen table as a token to my wife, so she could see why I was called out when she wakes up in the morning.  I climbed back into bed around 4:15 to sleep for another two hours.

That morning when I arrived at the plant, the first thing I learned was that about the time that my alarm had woken me up that morning, Jim Padgett had left his shift and driven to his home in Ponca City.  When he walked in the door to his house, he collapsed and died instantly of a heart attack.  That would have been about 3 hours after the moment that we had said goodbye.

 

Jim Padgett is on the far left along with his crew of True Power Plant Men

Jim Padgett is on the far left along with his crew of True Power Plant Men

I grieved for Jim’s wife Jane, who had worked for a while at the plant before marrying Jim, but I didn’t grieve for Jim.  Something told me, and maybe it was Jim, that he was at peace.  In the moment that I heard about Jim’s death, I burned the conversation we had just had that morning into my mind so that I would never forget it.

To this day whenever I know that someone is upset with me for something that I have done to them personally (which still happens occasionally), I am determined that they will become one of my best friends.  I will do anything for that person if they ask (unless, of course it is to “not be their friend”).  I have my childhood friend Mark Schlemper to thank for the attitude that helped me decide to reach out to Jim Padgett.  Without that experience while growing up, Jim and I would never have become friends.

I would like to leave you with a song that reminds me of Jim whenever I hear it.  It is called “Bright Eyes” from the movie “Watership Down”. Art Garfunkel sings it:

Note:  If you are not able to watch the video above, try clicking this link:  Bright Eyes, Art Garfunkel

 

Comments from the original post:

  1. Dan Antion April 26, 2014

    I’m glad that you were able to work through a tough situation and reach the point of friendship. although, it does make the loss harder to accept.

  2. Jack Curtis May 6, 2014

    Your story would have been a matter of course for my grandparents and immediately understood and admired by my parents. I suspect that telling it to today’s children might draw blank stares …

    Midwestern values likely still include such behaviors, at least for a reasonable number of people. I doubt many folk on the coasts would identify with it. We have lost a lot and have yet to learn the price of that, seems to me.

A Window Into the Power Plant Man Bedroom

It is not clear how many heart attacks one Power Plant Man can have.  Walt Oswalt probably had a heart attack on a monthly basis, but rarely let anyone know about it.  Ray Eberle dropped by Walt’s farm one day to visit and found Walt out in the pasture passed out next to his combine as if dead.  When Ray began following the ABC’s for safety he found that Walt was still breathing.  Upon reviving him, Walt just said that he was tired and decided to take a nap.  Ray knew that he had just had another heart attack but didn’t want to admit it.

The best way to revive Walt at this point, we found, was to say out loud that we were going to take him to the hospital in Ponca City.  At that time, no one would be caught dead going there…. or maybe they would.  At least when they were discharged.

Walt had a different way of looking at the world.  It was probably brought on by a combination of being a long time Power Plant Man and being partly insane… in a likable sort of way… if you already have a good sense of humor.  If your sense of humor is lacking, then Walt may have appeared annoying.

Either way, Walt bounced between one adventure to another.

One day Ray Eberle, who considered Walt a dear friend, dropped by to visit Walt (which was a common occurrence).  When Ray walked into the living room of Walt’s double-wide, he found two coffin-like boxes laying in the middle of the floor.  Ray asked Walt why he had two wooden coffins laying on his living room floor, half thinking that maybe Walt was thinking ahead and found a deal on a couple of cheap coffins on the Internet.

Walt explained that the two boxes contained a marketing tool that was going to be the key to his success.  Walt decided to open one of the boxes and show Ray instead of trying to explain his new idea, so he took a pry bar and pried open the lid on one of the wooden coffins.  In all of Ray’s imagination, he had not figured on seeing what he saw when the lid was lifted from the box.

Carefully stacked inside the box were 50 high dollar pool cues.

Pool Cue

Pool Cue

Walt pulled one of the pool cues out of the box and showed Ray that each one was carefully engraved with the following words:

“Walt’s Excavating and Dirt Movers – Why go anywhere else when Walt can cheat you just the same?”   Then it had his phone number.

Walt explained to Ray that all he had to do was go down to each of the bars in the Morrison and Pawnee areas and hand out these pool cues to everyone, and before long, everyone in town will see his advertisement because “Everyone shoots pool and drinks beer.”

Ray looked at the satisfied look on Walt’s face as he was explaining his new business adventure and replied, “But I don’t shoot pool and drink beer.”  Walt said, “Yeah, but everyone else does.”  Walt also added that people will think that the part about “cheating you as good as anyone else” is a joke…. but it isn’t.

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

Ray was curious as he examined the very expensive pool cues and the fine engraving, so he asked Walt how much each of these pool cues cost.  Walt explained that since he had ordered 100 of them, he was able to get them at a discount of $75 each (or so.  I don’t remember the exact cost).  I do know that this added up to $7,500 worth of pool cues that Walt was going to give away for free.

Walt’s dream was that his tractor with the scoop shovel and dirt grater was going to be busy all over the county leveling roads and moving dirt.  Ray watched as Walt’s wife walked through the room with a slightly disgusted look on her face as she glanced over at the two coffins on the living room floor.  Ray decided to keep quiet until the storm had passed.

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

When Ray was telling me this story, I wondered how many times Walt’s wife had a heart attack.

On another occasion, Ray Eberle went to visit with Walt after work.  Walt invited Ray into the kitchen to have a drink of water.  Ray was admiring the new carpet Walt just had installed in the house.

As they sat there talking, Ray noticed that a complete window frame with the glass already installed was next to the kitchen table leaning against the wall.  Since Walt didn’t mention the window frame right away, Ray finally asked, “Walt, what are you planning on doing with this Window?”

A window like this, only new

A window like this, only new

Walt explained that he bought the window on sale and since he wanted to put another window in kitchen, he bought it.  Ray looked around the kitchen and wondered where Walt could possibly add a new window.  He wasn’t sure where Walt could add a window.  So, knowing Walt, he figured that the fastest way to find out was to ask….

“Walt, where in the kitchen are you going to put the window?”  Walt pointed to the wall directly behind Ray where there was a blank white wall.  “I’m going to put the window right there.”

Ray saw a flaw in this logic immediately, but decided to wait 30 seconds or so in order to check his logic with reality, just to make sure he wasn’t mistaken…. when he was sure, Ray replied, “But Walt…. Isn’t your bedroom on the other side of that wall?”

Without pausing Walt said, “Yeah.  I want to be able to see what’s happening in the kitchen when I’m in bed.”  Ray’s right hand slowly grabbed the edge of the table in order to steady himself, so that he didn’t spill the glass of water in his left hand.

At this point, Walt ensured Ray that he always wanted to have a window right there as he reached into a kitchen drawer and retrieved a claw hammer.

Claw Hammer

Claw Hammer

Walt walked over to the wall and said, “I am going to put that window right here… and using the claw on the hammer, he began tearing a hole in the sheet rock.  Ray, a little shocked backed off to give Walt room as he began destroying the wall in the kitchen.

Sheet rock was flying all over the new carpet, and Ray noticed that as Walt was attacking the wall, he was grinding the sheet rock dust into the carpet even further as he walked on the fallen bits of chalk.  Before long there was a gaping hole in the wall, more in a circle than the square hole that would be needed to mount the window.  Sheet rock fragments were all over the kitchen table, floor and spilling out into the living area.

About this time Walt’s wife returned home from work.  She took one look at the disaster in the kitchen.  Ray thought that she was either going to cry, have another heart attack or… well, some other kind of attack….  So, Ray thought it would be a good time to go home to see his own wife Barbara.

Ray said his quick goodbye’s and skedaddled through the front door amazed at the sudden destruction of the wall in the kitchen and the new carpet.

Ray decided not to visit Walt for a few days, just to let things “work themselves out”.  Finally when Ray came over for another visit with Walt, when he entered the living room and looked toward the wall in the kitchen, he could see that there was no window mounted in the wall, and the entire wall was back to the way it was before anything had happened.

A little confused, Ray asked Walt, “What happened to the window you were putting in the kitchen?”  Walt explained that when he went to put the window in the wall, he broke the glass, so he decided not to put a window there after all.  So, he asked Jerry Osborn if he would patch the wall up.

I mentioned in the last week’s post that Jerry Osborn was one of Walt’s “Guardian Angels”, see the post:  “When Power Plant Ingenuity Doesn’t Translate“.  He was the one that would clean up after Walt’s experiments.  Walt was always thinking outside the box.

Walt’s wife walked into the living room with a cheerful satisfied look on her face, “How are you doing today Ray?”, she asked, as she sat down on the couch.  Ray thought he knew how the window was broken.

One of Walt’s other ventures had to do with miniature ponies.  Walt had decided that even though he had no experience in the “miniature pony” arena, he had read up about the business on the Internet and decided that just by looking at a picture of a miniature pony on the Internet, he could tell if a pony was a keeper or not.

Much like his purchase of the truck in Chesapeake Bay (see the post:  “Mr. Frog’s Wild Power Plant Ride“), Walt decided to buy some miniature ponies from someone in Louisiana, sight unseen.  Before long, Walt owned some miniature ponies, and was in business.

Miniature Pony by Andrew Fuller

Miniature Pony by Andrew Fuller

Ray knew Walt really was in the miniature pony business the day he walked into Walt’s house and there in the middle of the floor in the living room were two large wooden boxes, that looked like two coffins.  Can you guess what was in them?

Walt couldn’t wait to show Ray his new batch of pool cues.  He pulled one out of the box, and there written on the side it said, “Walt’s Miniature Ponies, Why buy from someone else when Walt can cheat you just the same.”  Walt explained, “You know Ray… Everyone shoots pool and drinks beer… well, except for you.”

Rest in Peace Walt, and thanks for the great adventures!  The Power Plant Men of North Central Oklahoma wouldn’t have known what to do without you!

Life and Death on the Power Plant Lake

Originally posted on August 18, 2012:

I have just finished watching the movie “Godfather II” with my son.  Toward the end of the movie Fredo Corleone and Al are going fishing.  There is a scene where the motor boat in the boat house is lowered down into the water.  I have seen one boat house like this before where the boat is hoisted out of the water in the boat house so that it can be stored dry while hovering a few feet over the water.  The Coal-fired Power Plant where I worked as a summer help had a very similar boat house.

The Power Plant had a boat house because each month during the summer months the chemist had to go to various locations in the lake to take the temperature and a water sample.  He would take the water samples back to the chemist lab where they could be analyzed.  Each bottle was carefully labeled indicating where in the lake the sample was taken.  In order to take the samples out in the middle of the lake…. A motor boat was required.  Thus the need for the boat house.

The second summer as a Summer Help (before the boathouse was built) I was asked to go along on this journey with George Dunagan, a new chemist at the time.  Larry Riley usually manned the motor, as it was known that the motor for the boat had a tendency to cut out and die at random times and the best person that could be counted on to fix a stranded boat out in the middle of the lake was Larry Riley.  I know I always felt safe.

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

I have seen Larry dismantle part of the motor out in the middle of the lake, clean a fuel filter and put the thing back together again with a minimum number of tools at his disposal.  I would sit patiently as the boat rocked back and forth with the waves (Oklahoma winds usually kept a steady flow of waves) waiting for Larry to repair the motor.  I didn’t have any fear of missing lunch because Larry was in the boat.  So, I would just sit and watch the ducks and other birds fly by or look into the water to see what I could see.

Power Plant at sunset

Power Plant at sunset across the lake

Larry would pull something out of the motor and say, “Well, look at that!  No wonder this thing died.”  Right on queue.  A few minutes later and he would start the boat up again and off we would go speeding across the lake.

During the time I was a summer help, there were various tragic events that took place.  One man committed suicide by drowning at the park while his sister and wife waited on the shore to tell whoever was first to arrive.  Summer Helps were there, but I was on an errand to Oklahoma City at the time and only heard about it when I returned.  He had wrapped himself up in some brush. Evidently, he was in some kind of legal trouble at the time and was expected to show up to serve jail time the following Monday.

Another tragedy which was very sad was when a man was swimming with his son on his shoulders out to the dock that was placed out in the water so that swimmers could swim out to it, when he had a heart attack while his daughter was waiting for them on the shore.  When the summer help arrived, the daughter told them that her father and brother just went under the water and never came up.  One of the Summer Help, David Foster jumped in and found them both drowned.  It was a traumatic experience for him, which I’m sure lives on in his memory to this day.  Both the father and son had drowned.

Another man was fishing where the river pumps discharged into the lake.  This was a popular place to fish at a certain part of the day.  A large man had waded out into the water, and at some point fell over.  He could not swim (maybe because he had too much to drink) and was also drowned.

These tragic events were a constant reminder that water sports of all kinds have their dangers.  Following Safety rules is very important.  I believe that two of those 4 people would have not drowned if they had on a life preserver.

Another more humorous tragedy (depending on how you look at it) occurred not far from the boat ramp at the park located closer to Hwy 177.  The story as I heard it was that this stubborn farmer who had become rich when they found oil on his land (and I won’t mention his name, because I don’t remember it.  Heck.  I can’t even remember his initials, if you can believe that), had bought his first boat.  Not knowing much about boating, he wanted to make sure he was well equipped, so he attached the biggest motor he could buy to it.

He lowered it into water at the boat ramp at the park, and turned it around so that it pointed out into the lake.  Then he opened it up to full throttle.  The nose of the boat proceeded to point straight up in the air, and the boat sank motor first. The man swam over to the shore.  Climbed in his truck and drove away.  Leaving the boat on the floor of the lake.  Now… I figure that someone must have seen this happen, because I’m sure that the person didn’t go around telling everyone that he met what he had done… — That is, until he had a few beers in him… maybe.

I would like to tell you some more about George Dunagan, the chemist that went with us to take the water samples.  He looked like the type of person that would make a good Sergeant in the Army.  A solid facial structure, and a buzz haircut reminded me of the Sergeant Carter on the Gomer Pyle TV show.  Here is a picture of Sergeant Carter and George Dunagan when he was younger:

Sergeant Carter

George Dunagan

Or does he look more like Glenn Ford?

George was in his mid-40s when I first met him.  He was 4 months older than my father.  He went about his business as a man that enjoyed his job.  Occasionally, something might get under his craw, and he would let you know about it, but you always knew that he was the type of person that was looking out for you, even when you thought you didn’t need it.

I considered George a True Power Plant Chemist.  He was a genius in his own field.  When I was young and I worked around George, I felt like he was passionate about his job and that he wanted to teach it to others.  He would explain to me what the different chemical processes in the Water Treatment were doing.  He would take any opportunity to explain things in detail.  Some people would think that he was kind of grumpy sometimes, and sometimes they would be right.  He cared passionately about things that involved “right” and “wrong”.  When he saw something that he considered wrong, he rarely sat still.

I considered George to be a passionate teacher that loved to see others learn.  I made it a point to stop and nod my head like I was really listening when he was telling me something because I could see the joy in his face that knowledge was being bestowed upon someone.

As he took the water samples in the lake, he explained to me why he was doing what he was doing.  How the EPA required these for so many years to show that the lake was able to cool the power plant steam back to water without disturbing the wildlife that inhabited the lake (that the electric company had created).

At that particular time, they were still taking a baseline of how the water was with just one unit running.  Later when both units are running they would see how it held up by comparing the year before when no unit was running, then this year with one, and next year with two units.

I listened intently.  Not so much because the topic interested me.  I wouldn’t tell George that I was struggling to pay attention because the particulars about how he had to label each sample and put them in order in the box were not as interesting as things that came to my own imagination.  I imagined things like… “Wouldn’t it be neat if you could breathe under water?”  Or,  “If the boat tipped over, and we were in the middle of the lake, would I stay with the boat or try to swim to the shore….”  “Was that my stomach rumbling?  Am I getting hungry already?”  I would put my own imagination aside.

I listened intently, mainly because I could see that George would brighten up to find such an attentive pupil in the boat.  I was grinning inside real big to watch George with such a satisfied look.  I suppose inside as George was explaining the world of water temperature and bacteria growth, I was thinking, “I wonder if George used to be a Sergeant in the Army.”  “Does he teach his own children the same way he does me?”.  “I wonder what George did before he came here.  Was he a chemist somewhere else?”

At the beginning of this year I began writing this Power plant Man Blog because I felt a great need to capture on paper (well.  Virtual paper anyway), some stories about the people I was blessed to work with at the Power Plant.  Sonny Karcher, who I considered a good friend had died a couple of months earlier.  I needed to write about these men, because if I didn’t, I feared these stories would be lost to the world.  These are too great of men to just fade away into history without something being left behind to record at least some memorable events in their lives.  16 days after I wrote my first post this year (on January 18, 2012), George Dunagan died in the Ponca City Medical Center.

One thing I was not surprised to learn about George was that he used to be a teacher.  He had a Master Degree in Education and had taught at the Chilocco Indian School for 11 years before going to work at the power plant.  This explained why he seemed to go into the “Teacher” mode when he was explaining something.

 

I also learned that he was in the U.S. Navy where he enlisted in 1954.  This didn’t surprise me either.  As I mentioned above, George reminded me of the Sergeant Carter on Gomer Pyle, and not in the humorous way, but in the way he carried himself like someone in the military.  George Dunagan reached the rank of Master Sergeant in the Army Reserves where he retired in 1994, two years after retiring from the Power Plant life.

The movie Godfather II seemed to be about how one man struggled to build a secure home for his family and fellow countrymen through any means necessary, and about how his son destroyed his own family to the point where he was left completely alone with his family destroyed at the end.

Power Plant Men had their own struggles at home.  They were not immune to family strife any more than anyone else.  The nature of their work gave them a great sense of dignity and feeling of accomplishment.  This sense of dignity helps relieve some stress in the family unit.  To realize every day that the work that you perform directly impacts the lives of everyone that receives the electricity being produced at the Power Plant.

When something goes wrong and a base unit trips suddenly, the lights flicker in every school room, every store and every house of 2 million people reminding us that this fragile system is so stable because of the due diligence of True Power Plant Men with the sense to care as much as George Dunagan a True Power Plant Chemist.

Comment from previous repost:

  1. Monty Hansen November 3, 2014

    Your story about George brought back warm memories of my own plant chemist, from long ago. “Chet Malewski”, a brilliant man in his own field, very kind, with a love of teaching and I was happy to soak up any knowledge he was willing to pass on. I took Chet fishing once & we spent the day in my boat. I find it amazing how much our power plant lives have paralleled. Chet resembled Albert Einstein in appearance.

A Power Plant Day to Remember

Originally posted June 1, 2013:

There seem to be some days of the year where every few years, I am not surprised to learn something out of the ordinary has happened. Almost as if it was a personal holiday or anniversary for some unknown reason. One of those days of the year for me is June 25. It is 2 days before my sister’s birthday and another grade school friend of mine…. It is a few days after the beginning of summer…. It is exactly 6 months or 1/2 year from Christmas. We sometimes jokingly refer to June 25 as the “anti-Christmas”.

June 25 was the date my son was born. Exactly 14 years later to the day, Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett both died on the same day, as well as a relative of mine.

Farrah Fawcett

Farrah Fawcett

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson

A day my son remembers well. He told me that we went out to eat at Logan’s Roadhouse for dinner, and reminds me of the people that died on that day. He has a detailed memory of his 14th birthday and what we did during the day on June 25, 2009.

June 25 exactly 10 years to the day before my son was born, I have a very vivid memory of the events that took place that day. Because the events of this day are often in my mind, I will share them with you. It was a day where I spent some time with a True Power Plant Man, met a true hero and dealt with the emotions of two great tragedies. The day was June 25, 1985.

I had been an electrician at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma for a little over a year and a half, which still made me an electrical apprentice at the time. Surprisingly, that morning Bill Bennett told me that he wanted me to go with Ben Davis to Enid to find a grounded circuit. He said that it would be a good opportunity to learn more about the auxiliary generators that were in Enid Oklahoma. They were peaking units that we would use only during high demand days during the summer.

The reason I was surprised was because I didn’t normally get to work with Ben. I had worked with him the previous fall at the Muskogee Power Plant when we were on “Overhaul”. You can read about that “adventure” in the post: “Lap O’ Luxury at the Muskogee Power Plant“. Ben wasn’t on my crew in the electric shop, so we rarely ever worked with each other.

Ben Davis

Ben Davis

Ben and I loaded some equipment into the back of the Ford Pickup and climbed into the truck. Ben was driving. The normal route to take to Enid would be to go south on Highway 177 and then go west on the turnpike straight to Enid. Ben had worked at Enid a lot in the past, and over the years, had taken different routes for a change of scenery, so he asked me if I would mind if we took a different route through the countryside. It was a nice sunny morning and it was early enough that the heat hadn’t kicked in, so we took the scenic route to Enid that morning.

I remember going by an old farmhouse that over 12 years later, Ray Eberle shared a horror story about. I remember the drive. We were pretty quiet on the way. We didn’t talk much. Ben was usually a quiet person, and I didn’t think he would appreciate my tendency to ramble, so I just smiled and looked out the window. I was glad that I was with Ben and that I was given the opportunity to work with him. I looked up to him. To me he was one of the True Power Plant Men that gave you the confidence that no matter how bad things may become… everything would be all right, because men like Ben were there to pull you out of the fire when you needed a helping hand.

When we arrived in Enid, it was nearing the time that we would normally take a break. Ben asked if I minded if we stopped by Braum’s to get something for breakfast. Of course, I didn’t mind. I have always had a special affinity for food of any kind. Braum’s has an especially good assortment of delicious meals…. and deserts.

Braum's is a great place to go for a Chocolate Malt and a Burger. It is only found around Oklahoma and the surrounding states not too far from the Oklahoma border.

Braum’s is a great place to go for a Chocolate Malt and a Burger. It is only found around Oklahoma and the surrounding states not too far from the Oklahoma border.

We pulled into the Braum’s Parking lot and Ben parked the pickup toward the far end away from any other cars. Somewhere where we could watch it as we ate. I climbed out of the truck and walked toward the entrance. As I passed the handicap parking space next to the front door, I noticed a white Lincoln parked there with a license plate embossed with a Purple Heart.

On like this, on this one didn't belong to Sam

One like this, only this one didn’t belong to Sam

When I saw this license plate, I wondered who it belonged to in the in restaurant. When I walked in, I immediately knew. There was the hero sitting in the corner booth. There were two elderly men sitting there drinking their coffee. I had wanted to buy them breakfast, but it looked like they had already eaten. I went up to the counter and ordered a sausage biscuit and a drink. Then I walked back around by their table. I paused and looked at them. I smiled….

I wanted to say, “Is that your white car parked right out there?” After one of them said yes, I wanted to say, “Thank you for serving our country.” For some reason I didn’t say anything. I just smiled at the two of them and sat down two booths down the row from them. I’m not usually one for keeping my mouth shut when something comes to mind, but that morning, I kept quiet. This is one of the reasons I think about this day often. Whenever I see a purple heart on a license plate, I think of the two elderly heroes sitting in Braum’s that morning on June 25, 1985.

After eating our breakfast we left Braum’s at 9:30 and Ben drove us to the Auxiliary Generators so that we could find the grounded circuit and repair it. There were some other chores we were going to work on, but that was the most interesting one. Ben had worked on enough grounded circuits in this mini-power plant to know that the first place to look was in a mult-connector, where cables came into the control room and connected to the cables that led to the control panels.

a multi-pole connector like this only bigger.

a multi-pole connector like this only bigger.

Ben was right. We quickly found the grounded wire in the connector and did what we could to clear it. As we were finishing this up, the phone rang. The phone was in the garage, and we were in a control room that was like a long trailer parked out back. A bell had been placed outside of the garage so that people working on the generators or in the control room could hear the phone ringing. Ben went to answer it while I finished insulating the connector and connecting the circuit back up.

After a few minutes, Ben came back into the control room and told me that we needed to go back to the plant. He explained that on June 25, 1985 at 9:30 his father had a heart attack in Shidler, Oklahoma. They weren’t sure of his condition, but it didn’t look good. They were going to life-flight him to Tulsa. I immediately knew how he felt.

Life Flight from Tulsa

Life Flight from Tulsa

I remember the morning in my dorm room in college in Columbia Missouri when my mother called me to tell me that my own father had a heart attack and that he was in the hospital in Stillwater, Oklahoma and was being life-flighted to Tulsa. I called up one of my professors at the College of Psychology and told him that I wouldn’t be attending class that morning. He told me he would pass it on to the other professors. Later, when I was in Tulsa, many professors from the University of Missouri in Columbia sent flowers to him in the hospital in Tulsa.  My dad used to teach at the University of Missouri.

I remember grabbing a small suitcase, throwing some clothes in it and going straight to my car and driving the 345 miles to Tulsa. It is a long drive. It becomes an even longer drive under these circumstances. That is why as we were driving back to the plant, and Ben was going faster and faster down the highway, I understood him completely. I was praying for the safety of his father and the safety of the two of us.

Ben had expected that by the time we made it back to the plant that his father would be on his way to Tulsa. I suppose he figured that he would go to Shidler and pick up his mother and any other family members and would head to Tulsa. Unfortunately, when we walked into the electric shop, he found out that his father was still in Shidler. No Life Flight would be coming for him. Not for a while at least.

You see, another event had taken place at 9:30 on June 25, 1985. Let me explain it to you like this….. When Ben and I walked out of the Braum’s in Enid, Oklahoma that morning, directly down the road from this Braum’s 100 miles east, just outside of a town named Hallett, an electrical supplies salesman was driving from Tulsa to our power plant in North Central Oklahoma. He was on the Cimarron Turnpike going west.

The salesman looked to the south and he saw something that was so bizarre that it didn’t register. It made no sense. There was a herd of cattle grazing out in a pasture, and while he was watching them, they began tumbling over and flying toward him. He said it was so unreal his mind couldn’t make any sense out of it. Suddenly his car went skidding sideways off the road as a deafening roar blasted his car. He came safely to a stop and just sat there stunned by what had just happened.

Looking to the south, the salesman could see a large mushroom cloud rising in the distance. Something that looked like a nuclear explosion. After composing himself for a few minutes, he drove back onto the road and continued on his way to the plant, not sure what had happened. Upon arriving at the plant, he learned (as did the rest of the employees at the plant) that a fireworks plant had exploded in Hallett, Oklahoma. Here is an article about the explosion: “Fireworks Plant Explosion Kills 21 in Oklahoma“. This was a tragedy much like the West Texas Fertilizer explosion on April 17, 2013 at 8 pm.

What this tragedy meant for Ben was that there wasn’t going to be a Life Flight from Tulsa for his father. They had all been called to Hallett for the tragedy that had occurred there. I believe that Ben’s father survived the heart attack from that day. It seemed like he was taken by ambulance instead.

The timing of these events made me think about Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars.

Obi Wan Kenobi

Obi Wan Kenobi

When Darth Vader was trying to persuade Princess Leia to tell him where the rebel base was hidden he blew up her home planet. When this happened Obi Wan Kenobi was on the Millenium Falcon with Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. Obi Wan felt the sudden loss of life in the universe when the planet exploded.

This made me wonder….. what about Ben’s father? Had Ben’s father experienced some hidden distress from the sudden tragedy of what happened 60 miles almost directly south of Shidler? The timing and location is interesting. Ben and I were almost due west, and Ben’s Father was almost due North of Hallett that morning when the explosion took place.

Even if it was all coincidental, I have made it into something that is important to me. Don’t most of us do that? Where were you when the Murrah Building was bombed on April 19, 1995 at 9:02 am? What were you doing that morning? I will write about that morning much later. Where were you on the morning of September 11, 2001 at 8:46 am? I remember where I was sitting and what I was doing at that moment. On June 25, 1985 at 9:30 am. I know what I was doing at that moment. Our break was over. Ben and I walked out of Braum’s, climbed into the Pickup truck and made our way to the Auxiliary Generators.

That one day, I had the opportunity to spend some time with a True Power Plant Man, Ben Davis. I spent some time sharing his grief for his father and his mother. I met an elderly hero that had been wounded while serving his country. We all grieved for the loss of young lives from the explosion at the fireworks plant in Hallett. June 25, 1985.

Power Plant Catholic Calibrating Cathodic Protection

Originally posted October 25, 2015.

It was no secret at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma that I was Catholic. When I was a summer help and working on the labor crew, I wore a large crucifix under my tee shirt. I had worn the crucifix since I was 13 years old.

I wore a crucifix like this

I wore a crucifix just like this only one size larger

When I joined the electric shop I had to take it off. Electricians should not wear any kind of metal jewelry for the obvious reason that if it were to come into contact with a “hot” circuit, the effect would be the same as if I wrapped the live electric wire around my neck. In other words… I could easily have been electrocuted.

In place of the crucifix, I wore a Scapular instead. Wearing a cord around my neck was unsafe enough, but it didn’t take much for the cord to break away from the piece of cloth on either end.

The Brown Scapular. It is worn so that one of cloth is in the front and the other is in the back.

The Brown Scapular. It is worn so that one of cloth is in the front and the other is in the back.

So, as I said, most everyone at the plant knew that I was Catholic. It was common for someone to see the cloth with the picture on it sticking out the back of my tee shirt and ask me, “What is that around your neck with the postage stamp on it?” I usually hesitated to answer the question because I understood that living in Oklahoma where there was only a 5% Catholic population, the Catholic Church was greatly misunderstood and I really didn’t want to enter a lengthy discussion about why Catholics do what they do.

Diana Brien (my bucket buddy) helped me out one day when someone asked me why I wore the scapular, and I was hesitating trying to decide if they wanted a short answer or a long one, when Diana broke in and said, “It’s a Catholic thing.” I quickly agreed. “Yeah. It’s a Catholic thing. It reminds me to be good. I need all the reminders I can get. Sort of like ‘Catholic Protection’.”

Before I discuss what a Power Plant Catholic has to do with checking Cathodic Protection, let me just add that though I wasn’t the only Catholic at the plant, I was sort of the “Token” Catholic. Which meant, when someone wanted a straight answer about what the Catholic Church believes about any subject, I was the person that they turned to for answers.

Living in the midst of the Bible Belt, Monday mornings is when most of the questions would be asked. Preachers from various religions would occasionally say something during their Church service about Catholics and their “strange” beliefs. So, the next day, some would come to me to hear the other side of the story.

I will list a few questions…. “Why do Catholics say, ‘Hell Mary’?” “Is it true that the Pope has 666 on his Tiara?” “Is it true that Catholics are not able to say the entire ‘Our Father’?” “Are Catholics really against abortion because they need newborn babies to sacrifice in the basement of their Church?” “Is it true that Catholics can’t say for sure that they are going to heaven?” Aren’t Catholics cannibals by believing they are eating the real Body and Blood of Jesus?” “Don’t Catholics believe that they can do anything wrong they want because they know that they can just go to confession and have it forgiven?”

These are all actual questions I was asked when I was an electrician at the power plant. I understood why the Power Plant Men were asking me the questions, and I respectfully answered them. I would rather they felt comfortable asking me these questions than just going around thinking that I was some kind of barbaric pagan behind my back.

By feeling free to talk to me about being Catholic, I knew that I was respected by the Power Plant Men even though I was from a religion that they viewed as far from their own. There was one day when this became obvious to me.

I was on the second landing on Unit 2 boiler just about to enter the boiler enclosure when Floyd Coburn walked out. He was nicknamed “Coal Burner” partly because he was black, and partly because he worked in the coal yard for a long time, but mostly because his last name was Coburn which sounds la lot like Coal Burner. Someone figured that out one day, and called him that, and it stuck. When Floyd came out of the enclosure he stopped me. He tapped me on the arm and signaled for me to follow him.

We stepped out of the walkway a short distance and he held out his fist in front of me. Floyd was built like a wrestler. Actually, he was State Champion of the 148 lb weight class for 4A High Schools in Oklahoma in 1972 and 1973. This meant a lot because in Oklahoma, Wrestling was an important sport. He also had earned an associates degree at Rogers State College in Claremore.

Not once did I ever hear Floyd Coburn brag about his accomplishments, or even mention them. I suspect that few people if any knew much about Floyd’s background because as much fun as he was to work with, he was very humble, as are most True Power Plant Men.

Floyd was grinning at me as if he was about to show me a trick or a joke or something. Then he opened his fist. In the middle of his palm he held a small crucifix. The size of one on a typical rosary.

A rosary

A rosary

When I saw the cross I looked up at Floyd and he was grinning ear-to-ear. I gave him a puzzled looked. Then he told me. “I found Jesus! I just wanted you to know. I know you would understand.”

I felt very privileged that Floyd felt like sharing his experience with me. I thanked him for letting me know. I patted him on the shoulder and we went on our way.

Throughout the years after that, Floyd would set me down every now and then and share how he was expanding his faith with Jesus. He finally became a minister and re-opened a Church in Ponca City where his family used to worship when he was a boy. Floyd was the Pastor of the Broken Heart Ministers Church.

I always felt blessed that he came to me to tell me about his journey. The last time I talked with Floyd Coburn was around Christmas, 2005. I had dropped in at the plant to say hello while I was visiting Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Floyd wanted to talk to me about the progress he was making as Pastor of the Church in Ponca City. He explained the troubles he was having and asked for my prayers. He felt as if the devil was fighting against him. I assured him I have always kept him in my prayers.

One day around the end of October 2006, I felt compelled to write to the plant about a Power Plant Man David Hankins, who had died after my first summer as a summer help in 1979. I have always remembered him on November 1, All Saints Day, because I know that he’s in heaven as he had a tremendous heart.

I hadn’t written to the plant for some time. When I did, I received a couple of e-mails back telling me that Floyd Coburn had died on August 25 during his son’s birthday party. He died of a sudden heart attack.

Though I felt very sorrowful for Floyd’s family because of the circumstance surrounding his death, I felt a great relief for Floyd. I know he had a great desire to be united with Jesus Christ.

So. Now that I discussed some of my experience as a Catholic at the Power Plant, let me tell you about Cathodic Protection (that is not a misspelling of ‘Catholic Protection’).

Have you ever noticed on a car battery how one post is more shiny, than the other post? Especially after it has been in your car for a while. It’s not real noticeable so you may not have realized it. The shiny post is the Cathode or Positive post. Well. Cathodic Protection is just that.

You see the main ingredient besides Power Plant Men at a Power Plant is Iron. The boilers are almost entirely made from the stuff. There are underground and above ground pipes running all over the place. Well. You can paint most of the iron that is above the ground to keep it from rusting, but it doesn’t work very well when you bury the pipes and structure in the dirt.

So, how do you protect your investment? The answer is by using Cathodic Protection. There is a grounding grid made of copper wires buried in the dirt that ties to all the metal objects around the plant grounds. This not only helps absorb things like lightening strikes, but it also allows for the seemingly miraculous anti-rust system known as “Cathodic Protection”.

This is how Cathodic Protection works… You bury a large piece of metal in the dirt and you tie a negative DC (direct current) power source to it. Then you tie the positive power to the grounding grid. By creating a positive charge on the boiler structure and the piping you inhibit rusting, while you enhance the corrosion on the large piece of buried metal with the negative charge.

A nifty trick if you ask me. The only thing about using cathodic protection is that you have to keep an eye on it because the large piece of buried metal will eventually need to be replaced, or the charge will need to be adjusted as it decays in order to protect all the other metal in the plant.

A Cathodic Protection Rectifier liek those at the Power Plant

A Cathodic Protection Rectifier like those at the Power Plant

The Power Plant doesn’t just have one source for cathodic protection. There are numerous boxes placed around the plant that protected a specific set of equipment and buildings. So, when it came time to do Cathodic Protection checks, we would go to each station and take readings. If there were anomalies in the readings then someone would be alerted, and tap settings may be adjusted. In extreme cases, the large piece of metal would need to be replaced with a new one…. Though I never saw that happen.

Once I understood the concept of how Cathodic Protection worked I came to the conclusion that what Catholic Protection was doing for me, Cathodic Protection was doing for the Power Plant. It was helping to prevent corrosion.

If you don’t keep a close watch on how well your Cathodic Protection is doing, then you won’t realize when it needs to be re-calibrated. I have found the same thing applies with how well I am doing as a person. Sometimes I find I need to do a little adjustment to keep myself in line…

When checking a Cathodic Protection rectifier, when you use your multimeter to check the voltages, you have to put your leads and usually your hands into a container of transformer oil. This is somewhat messy and unpleasant. But we realize that it is something that just has to be done. We may wear latex disposable gloves to help keep our hands from soaking in the oil, but inevitably, I would end up dripping some on my jeans.

It’s the same way when trying to adjust myself to be a better person. It seems a little unpleasant at first, but you know it’s the right thing to do. Sometimes it’s swallowing your pride. Sometimes it’s admitting that you are wrong. Sometimes it is just getting off your duff and stop being so lazy.

This is why I always felt so honored working with such True Power Plant Men. They were the ones that, even though they struggled in their individual lives like the rest of us, they always kept their mind on what was right and used that as a guide to make the right decisions.

Making Friends from Foes – A Tale of Power Plant Woes

Originally posted April 25, 2014:

Later in life, thinking back to when I was young, I sometimes wonder at how my first real friend, Mark Schlemper remained my friend throughout my childhood.  I remember as a boy, there were times when I wasn’t the friendliest friend.  Sometimes I was downright selfish.  Mark, on the other hand, was always considerate.  Not in an Eddie Haskell way, but in a sincere way.  I learned a lot about being a kinder person from Mark, and I’m forever grateful.

Mark Schlemper with his Mother.  Two very good people.

My favorite picture of Mark Schlemper with his Mother

I think if Mark had not been my friend during my childhood, then this story would have a very different ending.

Last Friday (April 18, 2014), I posted a story called “Vertan or Sand and Making Enemies of a Power Plant Man“.  At the end of that post I explained that I had become the enemy of a team leader during the “We’ve Got The Power” program.  I explained this program in the post:  “Power Plant ‘We’ve Got The Power’ Program“.  With all that said, here is the story:

I was a plant electrician at a coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma when we took part in the “We’ve Got The Power” program.  At the time, I was in charge of maintaining the Unit 1 precipitator.  The precipitator is what takes the ash out of the exhaust from the boiler, so that you don’t normally see smoke coming out of a Power Plant Smokestack.

My bucket buddy in the Electric Shop, Diana Brien was on a team that tried an experiment on the Unit 1 precipitator by injecting sand into the intake duct in the hope that it would increase the performance.  I didn’t put much faith in the experiment, because it was based on something that had happened almost a year earlier when sand was burned in the boiler in order to burn off the oil that had been soaked into the sand.

I hadn’t seen any sand build up in front of the precipitator during the next overhaul, and didn’t believe that any of it had been able to make it’s way through the economizer and the air preheaters to the precipitator.

Diagram of a boiler

Diagram of a boiler.  The precipitator is after the air preheater where it is labelled “Flue gas”

When Ron Kilman asked me about it, I said that I didn’t think it would do any good, but also, it wouldn’t do any harm either, so I told Ron that I couldn’t see any reason not to do the experiment.  Who knows.  Maybe something unexpected would happen.  — Something did, but not quite in the way anyone would have expected.

On the day of the experiment, sand was blown into the intake duct of the precipitator.  When the experiment was taking place, Diana Brien sat at the precipitator computer behind the Unit 1 Alarm Panel in the Control Room.  She was printing out readings every so many minutes as the experiment progressed.

At times, I walked by and checked on her to see how it was going.  One time when I was standing there watching the readings on the computer, all of the sudden the Opacity shot up.  Opacity is used to measure how much smoke is going out of the smoke stack.  Something definitely happened to cause a large puff of smoke.

I switched screens to look at the power on each of the control cabinets.  After a few seconds I found that cabinet 1A10 had zero Volts on the secondary side of the transformer.  It should have been somewhere above 40 Kilovolts.  The cabinet hadn’t tripped, but it wasn’t charging up the plates.  Cabinet 1A10 was in the very back row of the precipitator, and when the power shuts off on the cabinet it readily lets go of the ash that had built up on it when the rappers on the roof strike the plates.

When I saw the puff occur, I knew where to go look, because this happened whenever one of the back cabinets was turned off.  I told Dee that it looked like a fuse had blown on the cabinet.  The ash was going to continue billowing out of the precipitator for a couple of hours if I didn’t go do something about it.  So, I told Dee that I was going to go to the Precipitator Control Room and replace the fuse.

I passed through the electric shop to grab my tool bucket and headed out to the precipitator.  When I arrived, I found the cabinet just as it had indicated on the computer.  The fuse had obviously failed.  Interesting timing.  Coincidence?  I thought it was.  The fuses controlling the back cabinets were usually the ones that blew because we ran them at a much higher voltage than the rest of the cabinets (at the time).

This is a picture of the exact fuse I replaced, except the writing was pink instead of blue

This is a picture of the exact fuse I replaced, except the print was orange instead of blue

I quickly replaced the fuse (after attaching grounding cables to the leads, and using a pair of high voltage gloves).  Then I powered the cabinet back on.

 

High Voltage gloves like this

High Voltage gloves like this

I returned to the Control Room and told Dee that I replaced the fuse on cabinet 1A10.  The opacity had returned to normal.  I watched a few more minutes to make sure everything had stabilized, and then I left.

When Ron Kilman was evaluating the results of the experiment, he could plainly see that something strange had happened.  Smoke had been pouring out of the smoke stack in the middle of the experiment.  So, he asked me what I thought about it.

First of all, as a disclaimer, our team had our own experiments we had been conducting on the precipitator in hopes of coming up with money savings ideas.  So, when I told Ron what had happened with the fuse blowing, I wondered if he would trust me to tell the truth, since I had my own skin in the game.

I explained in detail to Ron how the fuse had blown and that I was standing next to Dee watching the computer when the smoke started blowing out of the stack.  I could tell that a fuse had blown by looking at the readings, so I went out and replaced the fuse.  I told him that fuses do blow periodically in the back of the precipitator, but I couldn’t explain why it happened to fail at that particular time.  After I gave him my explanation, he seemed satisfied that I was telling the truth.

I think a token amount of points were awarded to the team because something obviously had happened during the experiment, though it wasn’t clear that sand had anything to do with it.  On the other hand, our team was awarded a large amount of points for increasing the precipitator performance using a different method that I may bring up in a later post.  To the team that burned the sand, this looked a lot like foul play.

The leader of the team was the Shift Supervisor Jim Padgett.  He became very upset when he found out that I had gone to the precipitator control room during the experiment and worked on the equipment.  Our team had been awarded a lot of points that was enough to purchase the dining room table set that I have in my dining room today:

Dining Room Table received as an award from the "We've Got The Power" program

Dining Room Table received as an award from the “We’ve Got The Power” program

It became known throughout the control room and the electric shop that Jim Padgett viewed me as his enemy.  The other electricians would jokingly refer to Jim as my “friend”, knowing that Jim had basically declared “war” on me.  Any time someone in the shop would have something to say about Jim, they would say, “Kevin’s friend” Jim Padgett….”

When I first became aware that Jim was upset with me, I understood why.  If I had been in his shoes I would probably feel the same way.  It’s a rotten feeling when you believe that someone has cheated you out of something important.  So, I decided up front that I was going to become Jim’s best friend.  This is where I think my memory of Mark Schlemper with his patience for me as a boy helped me with this decision.

I had determined that any time Jim asked me to do something I wouldn’t hesitate to help him.  It took about a year before Jim could look at me without grimacing.  Finally, one day, he asked me if I would go look at something for him to see if we needed a clearance, or if it was something that could be fixed right away.  It was something minor, but I knew that this was an indicator that the ice was finally beginning to melt.  I was able to fix the problem on the spot, and returned to let him know.

Once we were on semi-speaking terms again, I took an opportunity one day to ask Jim if he would like to join our Computer Club.  I had started a Computer Club in the Electric Shop.  Anyone could join it for a one time fee of $5.00 that was used to buy shareware and disk cases.  For a while I also published a newsletter letting the members of the club know what games and such we had that could be checked out.

Once Jim Padgett joined the Computer Club, it was much easier to have a regular conversation outside of the normal daily business.  I had put the thought in my mind when I decided that Jim was going to become my best friend that nothing would make me happier than to be able to do something for Jim.  That way, no matter what I was doing at the time, if Jim asked me to do something for him, I would drop whatever I was doing and do my best to help.

I could go on and on explaining how gradually over time, not only was Jim my friend, but Jim acted more and more as if I was his friend as well.  Let me just say that the entire process took almost exactly ten years.  I can remember the exact moment when Jim indicated to me that I had become his friend.

Here is what happened:

The phone next to my bed rang at 2:15 in the morning on Thursday February 17, 2000.  I instantly knew what it meant when the phone rang in the middle of the night.  It meant that someone at the plant was calling because there was a problem.  Who else would be up on in the middle of the night?  The night shift of course.

When I answered the phone, Jim Padgett said, “I hate to wake you up buddy.”  I replied, “No.  That’s okay.  What’s up?”  Jim explained that the dumper was down and a train was about halfway through dumping the coal and everything was dead in the water.  I said, “Ok.  I’ll be right out.”

I turned to Kelly and told her that I had to go fix the dumper.  She already knew of course.  I pulled on a pair of jeans, a flannel shirt, and on the way out the door, I slipped on my work boots and laced them up.  Then I drove the 30 miles out to the plant.

It was just before 3:00 am when I arrived.  I grabbed my hardhat from the electric shop and took the elevator up to the Control Room.  Jim apologized again and told me that how the dumper acted when it shutdown.  I went back down the elevator to the electric shop where I grabbed the key to the pickup truck and my tool bucket and left the electric shop into the cool night air.

Power Plants at night take on magical properties.  It’s hard to explain.  Lights shining from the 25 story boilers, noises from steam pipes.  Hums from motors and transformers.  Night Hawks screeching.

When I arrived at the coalyard, I went straight into the Dumper Switchgear where the relays that controlled the dumper were mounted.  Having worked on the dumper for the past 17 years, I could troubleshoot the circuits in my sleep.  — Actually, I may have done just that.  It didn’t take long, and I had replaced a contact on a relay that had broken and had the Coalyard Operator test the dumper long enough to know it was going to work.

When I returned back to Control Room Jim was sitting in the Shift Supervisor’s office.  I walked in and showed him the small relay contact that had caused the failure.  Jim, looked at me and said something that I thought only a friend would say so casually.  I won’t use his exact words, though I remember not only the exact words, I remember his exact expression.  He indicated to me that he had passed some gas, and he was apologizing about it.  I replied, “Well.  That happens.” (No.  Not the other thing that happens).  I told him I was going to go home.  It was about 3:40 by that time.

Jim wished me a good night, and smiling with gratitude, thanked me again for coming  out.  As I was going back to the parking lot, and on the way home driving through the dark, tired from being woken up in the middle of the night, I had a great feeling of peace.  That brief conversation with Jim just before I left was so pleasant in an odd way that I knew we had become friends.  This was such a long way from where we had been 10 years earlier when Jim had literally wanted to kill me (well, not that he actually would…).

When I arrived home, I peeled my clothes off in the utility room to keep from tracking coal all over the house.  I set the small broken relay contact on the kitchen table as a token to my wife, so she could see why I was called out when she wakes up in the morning.  I climbed back into bed around 4:15 to sleep for another two hours.

That morning when I arrived at the plant, the first thing I learned was that about the time that my alarm had woken me up that morning, Jim Padgett had left his shift and driven to his home in Ponca City.  When he walked in the door to his house, he collapsed and died instantly of a heart attack.  That would have been about 3 hours after the moment that we had said goodbye.

 

Jim Padgett is on the far left along with his crew of True Power Plant Men

Jim Padgett is on the far left along with his crew of True Power Plant Men

I grieved for Jim’s wife Jane, who had worked for a while at the plant before marrying Jim, but I didn’t grieve for Jim.  Something told me, and maybe it was Jim, that he was at peace.  In the moment that I heard about Jim’s death, I burned the conversation we had just had that morning into my mind so that I would never forget it.

To this day whenever I know that someone is upset with me for something that I have done to them personally (which still happens occasionally), I am determined that they will become one of my best friends.  I will do anything for that person if they ask (unless, of course it is to “not be their friend”).  I have my childhood friend Mark Schlemper to thank for the attitude that helped me decide to reach out to Jim Padgett.  Without that experience while growing up, Jim and I would never have become friends.

I would like to leave you with a song that reminds me of Jim whenever I hear it.  It is called “Bright Eyes” from the movie “Watership Down”. Art Garfunkel sings it:

Note:  If you are not able to watch the video above, try clicking this link:  Bright Eyes, Art Garfunkel

 

Comments from the original post:

  1. Dan Antion April 26, 2014

    I’m glad that you were able to work through a tough situation and reach the point of friendship. although, it does make the loss harder to accept.

  2. Jack Curtis May 6, 2014

    Your story would have been a matter of course for my grandparents and immediately understood and admired by my parents. I suspect that telling it to today’s children might draw blank stares …

    Midwestern values likely still include such behaviors, at least for a reasonable number of people. I doubt many folk on the coasts would identify with it. We have lost a lot and have yet to learn the price of that, seems to me.

A Window Into the Power Plant Man Bedroom

It is not clear how many heart attacks one Power Plant Man can have.  Walt Oswalt probably had a heart attack on a monthly basis, but rarely let anyone know about it.  Ray Eberle dropped by Walt’s farm one day to visit and found Walt out in the pasture passed out next to his combine as if dead.  When Ray began following the ABC’s for safety he found that Walt was still breathing.  Upon reviving him, Walt just said that he was tired and decided to take a nap.  Ray knew that he had just had another heart attack but didn’t want to admit it.

The best way to revive Walt at this point, we found, was to say out loud that we were going to take him to the hospital in Ponca City.  At that time, no one would be caught dead going there…. or maybe they would.  At least when they were discharged.

Walt had a different way of looking at the world.  It was probably brought on by a combination of being a long time Power Plant Man and being partly insane… in a likable sort of way… if you already have a good sense of humor.  If your sense of humor is lacking, then Walt may have appeared annoying.

Either way, Walt bounced between one adventure to another.

One day Ray Eberle, who considered Walt a dear friend, dropped by to visit Walt (which was a common occurrence).  When Ray walked into the living room of Walt’s double-wide, he found two coffin-like boxes laying in the middle of the floor.  Ray asked Walt why he had two wooden coffins laying on his living room floor, half thinking that maybe Walt was thinking ahead and found a deal on a couple of cheap coffins on the Internet.

Walt explained that the two boxes contained a marketing tool that was going to be the key to his success.  Walt decided to open one of the boxes and show Ray instead of trying to explain his new idea, so he took a pry bar and pried open the lid on one of the wooden coffins.  In all of Ray’s imagination, he had not figured on seeing what he saw when the lid was lifted from the box.

Carefully stacked inside the box were 50 high dollar pool cues.

Pool Cue

Pool Cue

Walt pulled one of the pool cues out of the box and showed Ray that each one was carefully engraved with the following words:

“Walt’s Excavating and Dirt Movers – Why go anywhere else when Walt can cheat you just the same?”   Then it had his phone number.

Walt explained to Ray that all he had to do was go down to each of the bars in the Morrison and Pawnee areas and hand out these pool cues to everyone, and before long, everyone in town will see his advertisement because “Everyone shoots pool and drinks beer.”

Ray looked at the satisfied look on Walt’s face as he was explaining his new business adventure and replied, “But I don’t shoot pool and drink beer.”  Walt said, “Yeah, but everyone else does.”  Walt also added that people will think that the part about “cheating you as good as anyone else” is a joke…. but it isn’t.

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

Ray was curious as he examined the very expensive pool cues and the fine engraving, so he asked Walt how much each of these pool cues cost.  Walt explained that since he had ordered 100 of them, he was able to get them at a discount of $75 each (or so.  I don’t remember the exact cost).  I do know that this added up to $7,500 worth of pool cues that Walt was going to give away for free.

Walt’s dream was that his tractor with the scoop shovel and dirt grater was going to be busy all over the county leveling roads and moving dirt.  Ray watched as Walt’s wife walked through the room with a slightly disgusted look on her face as she glanced over at the two coffins on the living room floor.  Ray decided to keep quiet until the storm had passed.

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

When Ray was telling me this story, I wondered how many times Walt’s wife had a heart attack.

On another occasion, Ray Eberle went to visit with Walt after work.  Walt invited Ray into the kitchen to have a drink of water.  Ray was admiring the new carpet Walt just had installed in the house.

As they sat there talking, Ray noticed that a complete window frame with the glass already installed was next to the kitchen table leaning against the wall.  Since Walt didn’t mention the window frame right away, Ray finally asked, “Walt, what are you planning on doing with this Window?”

A window like this, only new

A window like this, only new

Walt explained that he bought the window on sale and since he wanted to put another window in kitchen, he bought it.  Ray looked around the kitchen and wondered where Walt could possibly add a new window.  He wasn’t sure where Walt could add a window.  So, knowing Walt, he figured that the fastest way to find out was to ask….

“Walt, where in the kitchen are you going to put the window?”  Walt pointed to the wall directly behind Ray where there was a blank white wall.  “I’m going to put the window right there.”

Ray saw a flaw in this logic immediately, but decided to wait 30 seconds or so in order to check his logic with reality, just to make sure he wasn’t mistaken…. when he was sure, Ray replied, “But Walt…. Isn’t your bedroom on the other side of that wall?”

Without pausing Walt said, “Yeah.  I want to be able to see what’s happening in the kitchen when I’m in bed.”  Ray’s right hand slowly grabbed the edge of the table in order to steady himself, so that he didn’t spill the glass of water in his left hand.

At this point, Walt ensured Ray that he always wanted to have a window right there as he reached into a kitchen drawer and retrieved a claw hammer.

Claw Hammer

Claw Hammer

Walt walked over to the wall and said, “I am going to put that window right here… and using the claw on the hammer, he began tearing a hole in the sheet rock.  Ray, a little shocked backed off to give Walt room as he began destroying the wall in the kitchen.

Sheet rock was flying all over the new carpet, and Ray noticed that as Walt was attacking the wall, he was grinding the sheet rock dust into the carpet even further as he walked on the fallen bits of chalk.  Before long there was a gaping hole in the wall, more in a circle than the square hole that would be needed to mount the window.  Sheet rock fragments were all over the kitchen table, floor and spilling out into the living area.

About this time Walt’s wife returned home from work.  She took one look at the disaster in the kitchen.  Ray thought that she was either going to cry, have another heart attack or… well, some other kind of attack….  So, Ray thought it would be a good time to go home to see his own wife Barbara.

Ray said his quick goodbye’s and skedaddled through the front door amazed at the sudden destruction of the wall in the kitchen and the new carpet.

Ray decided not to visit Walt for a few days, just to let things “work themselves out”.  Finally when Ray came over for another visit with Walt, when he entered the living room and looked toward the wall in the kitchen, he could see that there was no window mounted in the wall, and the entire wall was back to the way it was before anything had happened.

A little confused, Ray asked Walt, “What happened to the window you were putting in the kitchen?”  Walt explained that when he went to put the window in the wall, he broke the glass, so he decided not to put a window there after all.  So, he asked Jerry Osborn if he would patch the wall up.

I mentioned in the last week’s post that Jerry Osborn was one of Walt’s “Guardian Angels”, see the post:  “When Power Plant Ingenuity Doesn’t Translate“.  He was the one that would clean up after Walt’s experiments.  Walt was always thinking outside the box.

Walt’s wife walked into the living room with a cheerful satisfied look on her face, “How are you doing today Ray?”, she asked, as she sat down on the couch.  Ray thought he knew how the window was broken.

One of Walt’s other ventures had to do with miniature ponies.  Walt had decided that even though he had no experience in the “miniature pony” arena, he had read up about the business on the Internet and decided that just by looking at a picture of a miniature pony on the Internet, he could tell if a pony was a keeper or not.

Much like his purchase of the truck in Chesapeake Bay (see the post:  “Mr. Frog’s Wild Power Plant Ride“), Walt decided to buy some miniature ponies from someone in Louisiana, sight unseen.  Before long, Walt owned some miniature ponies, and was in business.

Miniature Pony by Andrew Fuller

Miniature Pony by Andrew Fuller

Ray knew Walt really was in the miniature pony business the day he walked into Walt’s house and there in the middle of the floor in the living room were two large wooden boxes, that looked like two coffins.  Can you guess what was in them?

Walt couldn’t wait to show Ray his new batch of pool cues.  He pulled one out of the box, and there written on the side it said, “Walt’s Miniature Ponies, Why buy from someone else when Walt can cheat you just the same.”  Walt explained, “You know Ray… Everyone shoots pool and drinks beer… well, except for you.”

Rest in Peace Walt, and thanks for the great adventures!  The Power Plant Men of North Central Oklahoma wouldn’t have known what to do without you!

A Window Into the Power Plant Man Bedroom

It is not clear how many heart attacks one Power Plant Man can have.  Walt Oswalt probably had a heart attack on a monthly basis, but rarely let anyone know about it.  Ray Eberle dropped by Walt’s farm one day to visit and found Walt out in the pasture passed out next to his combine as if dead.  When Ray began following the ABC’s for safety he found that Walt was still breathing.  Upon reviving him, Walt just said that he was tired and decided to take a nap.  Ray knew that he had just had another heart attack but didn’t want to admit it.

The best way to revive Walt at this point, we found, was to say out loud that we were going to take him to the hospital in Ponca City.  At that time, no one would be caught dead going there…. or maybe they would.  At least when they were discharged.

Walt had a different way of looking at the world.  It was probably brought on by a combination of being a long time Power Plant Man and being partly insane… in a likable sort of way… if you already have a good sense of humor.  If your sense of humor is lacking, then Walt may have appeared annoying.

Either way, Walt bounced between one adventure to another.

One day Ray Eberle, who considered Walt a dear friend, dropped by to visit Walt (which was a common occurrence).  When Ray walked into the living room of Walt’s double-wide, he found two coffin-like boxes laying in the middle of the floor.  Ray asked Walt why he had two wooden coffins laying on his living room floor, half thinking that maybe Walt was thinking ahead and found a deal on a couple of cheap coffins on the Internet.

Walt explained that the two boxes contained a marketing tool that was going to be the key to his success.  Walt decided to open one of the boxes and show Ray instead of trying to explain his new idea, so he took a pry bar and pried open the lid on one of the wooden coffins.  In all of Ray’s imagination, he had not figured on seeing what he saw when the lid was lifted from the box.

Carefully stacked inside the box were 50 high dollar pool cues.

Pool Cue

Pool Cue

Walt pulled one of the pool cues out of the box and showed Ray that each one was carefully engraved with the following words:

“Walt’s Excavating and Dirt Movers – Why go anywhere else when Walt can cheat you just the same?”   Then it had his phone number.

Walt explained to Ray that all he had to do was go down to each of the bars in the Morrison and Pawnee areas and hand out these pool cues to everyone, and before long, everyone in town will see his advertisement because “Everyone shoots pool and drinks beer.”

Ray looked at the satisfied look on Walt’s face as he was explaining his new business adventure and replied, “But I don’t shoot pool and drink beer.”  Walt said, “Yeah, but everyone else does.”  Walt also added that people will think that the part about “cheating you as good as anyone else” is a joke…. but it isn’t.

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

Ray was curious as he examined the very expensive pool cues and the fine engraving, so he asked Walt how much each of these pool cues cost.  Walt explained that since he had ordered 100 of them, he was able to get them at a discount of $75 each (or so.  I don’t remember the exact cost).  I do know that this added up to $7,500 worth of pool cues that Walt was going to give away for free.

Walt’s dream was that his tractor with the scoop shovel and dirt grater was going to be busy all over the county leveling roads and moving dirt.  Ray watched as Walt’s wife walked through the room with a slightly disgusted look on her face as she glanced over at the two coffins on the living room floor.  Ray decided to keep quiet until the storm had passed.

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

When Ray was telling me this story, I wondered how many times Walt’s wife had a heart attack.

On another occasion, Ray Eberle went to visit with Walt after work.  Walt invited Ray into the kitchen to have a drink of water.  Ray was admiring the new carpet Walt just had installed in the house.

As they sat there talking, Ray noticed that a complete window frame with the glass already installed was next to the kitchen table leaning against the wall.  Since Walt didn’t mention the window frame right away, Ray finally asked, “Walt, what are you planning on doing with this Window?”

A window like this, only new

A window like this, only new

Walt explained that he bought the window on sale and since he wanted to put another window in kitchen, he bought it.  Ray looked around the kitchen and wondered where Walt could possibly add a new window.  He wasn’t sure where Walt could add a window.  So, knowing Walt, he figured that the fastest way to find out was to ask….

“Walt, where in the kitchen are you going to put the window?”  Walt pointed to the wall directly behind Ray where there was a blank white wall.  “I’m going to put the window right there.”

Ray saw a flaw in this logic immediately, but decided to wait 30 seconds or so in order to check his logic with reality, just to make sure he wasn’t mistaken…. when he was sure, Ray replied, “But Walt…. Isn’t your bedroom on the other side of that wall?”

Without pausing Walt said, “Yeah.  I want to be able to see what’s happening in the kitchen when I’m in bed.”  Ray’s right hand slowly grabbed the edge of the table in order to steady himself, so that he didn’t spill the glass of water in his left hand.

At this point, Walt ensured Ray that he always wanted to have a window right there as he reached into a kitchen drawer and retrieved a claw hammer.

Claw Hammer

Claw Hammer

Walt walked over to the wall and said, “I am going to put that window right here… and using the claw on the hammer, he began tearing a hole in the sheet rock.  Ray, a little shocked backed off to give Walt room as he began destroying the wall in the kitchen.

Sheet rock was flying all over the new carpet, and Ray noticed that as Walt was attacking the wall, he was grinding the sheet rock dust into the carpet even further as he walked on the fallen bits of chalk.  Before long there was a gaping hole in the wall, more in a circle than the square hole that would be needed to mount the window.  Sheet rock fragments were all over the kitchen table, floor and spilling out into the living area.

About this time Walt’s wife returned home from work.  She took one look at the disaster in the kitchen.  Ray thought that she was either going to cry, have another heart attack or… well, some other kind of attack….  So, Ray thought it would be a good time to go home to see his own wife Barbara.

Ray said his quick goodbye’s and skedaddled through the front door amazed at the sudden destruction of the wall in the kitchen and the new carpet.

Ray decided not to visit Walt for a few days, just to let things “work themselves out”.  Finally when Ray came over for another visit with Walt, when he entered the living room and looked toward the wall in the kitchen, he could see that there was no window mounted in the wall, and the entire wall was back to the way it was before anything had happened.

A little confused, Ray asked Walt, “What happened to the window you were putting in the kitchen?”  Walt explained that when he went to put the window in the wall, he broke the glass, so he decided not to put a window there after all.  So, he asked Jerry Osborn if he would patch the wall up.

I mentioned in the last week’s post that Jerry Osborn was one of Walt’s “Guardian Angels”, see the post:  “When Power Plant Ingenuity Doesn’t Translate“.  He was the one that would clean up after Walt’s experiments.  Walt was always thinking outside the box.

Walt’s wife walked into the living room with a cheerful satisfied look on her face, “How are you doing today Ray?”, she asked, as she sat down on the couch.  Ray thought he knew how the window was broken.

One of Walt’s other ventures had to do with miniature ponies.  Walt had decided that even though he had no experience in the “miniature pony” arena, he had read up about the business on the Internet and decided that just by looking at a picture of a miniature pony on the Internet, he could tell if a pony was a keeper or not.

Much like his purchase of the truck in Chesapeake Bay (see the post:  “Mr. Frog’s Wild Power Plant Ride“), Walt decided to buy some miniature ponies from someone in Louisiana, sight unseen.  Before long, Walt owned some miniature ponies, and was in business.

Miniature Pony by Andrew Fuller

Miniature Pony by Andrew Fuller

Ray knew Walt really was in the miniature pony business the day he walked into Walt’s house and there in the middle of the floor in the living room were two large wooden boxes, that looked like two coffins.  Can you guess what was in them?

Walt couldn’t wait to show Ray his new batch of pool cues.  He pulled one out of the box, and there written on the side it said, “Walt’s Miniature Ponies, Why buy from someone else when Walt can cheat you just the same.”  Walt explained, “You know Ray… Everyone shoots pool and drinks beer… well, except for you.”

Rest in Peace Walt, and thanks for the great adventures!  The Power Plant Men of North Central Oklahoma wouldn’t have known what to do without you!

Power Plant Catholic Calibrating Cathodic Protection

Originally posted October 25, 2015.

It was no secret at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma that I was Catholic. When I was a summer help and working on the labor crew, I wore a large crucifix under my tee shirt. I had worn the crucifix since I was 13 years old.

I wore a crucifix like this

I wore a crucifix just like this only one size larger

When I joined the electric shop I had to take it off. Electricians should not wear any kind of metal jewelry for the obvious reason that if it were to come into contact with a “hot” circuit, the effect would be the same as if I wrapped the live electric wire around my neck. In other words… I could easily have been electrocuted.

In place of the crucifix, I wore a Scapular instead. Wearing a cord around my neck was unsafe enough, but it didn’t take much for the cord to break away from the piece of cloth on either end.

The Brown Scapular. It is worn so that one of cloth is in the front and the other is in the back.

The Brown Scapular. It is worn so that one of cloth is in the front and the other is in the back.

So, as I said, most everyone at the plant knew that I was Catholic. It was common for someone to see the cloth with the picture on it sticking out the back of my tee shirt and ask me, “What is that around your neck with the postage stamp on it?” I usually hesitated to answer the question because I understood that living in Oklahoma where there was only a 5% Catholic population, the Catholic Church was greatly misunderstood and I really didn’t want to enter a lengthy discussion about why Catholics do what they do.

Diana Brien (my bucket buddy) helped me out one day when someone asked me why I wore the scapular, and I was hesitating trying to decide if they wanted a short answer or a long one, when Diana broke in and said, “It’s a Catholic thing.” I quickly agreed. “Yeah. It’s a Catholic thing. It reminds me to be good. I need all the reminders I can get. Sort of like ‘Catholic Protection’.”

Before I discuss what a Power Plant Catholic has to do with checking Cathodic Protection, let me just add that though I wasn’t the only Catholic at the plant, I was sort of the “Token” Catholic. Which meant, when someone wanted a straight answer about what the Catholic Church believes about any subject, I was the person that they turned to for answers.

Living in the midst of the Bible Belt, Monday mornings is when most of the questions would be asked. Preachers from various religions would occasionally say something during their Church service about Catholics and their “strange” beliefs. So, the next day, some would come to me to hear the other side of the story.

I will list a few questions…. “Why do Catholics say, ‘Hell Mary’?” “Is it true that the Pope has 666 on his Tiara?” “Is it true that Catholics are not able to say the entire ‘Our Father’?” “Are Catholics really against abortion because they need newborn babies to sacrifice in the basement of their Church?” “Is it true that Catholics can’t say for sure that they are going to heaven?” Aren’t Catholics cannibals by believing they are eating the real Body and Blood of Jesus?” “Don’t Catholics believe that they can do anything wrong they want because they know that they can just go to confession and have it forgiven?”

These are all actual questions I was asked when I was an electrician at the power plant. I understood why the Power Plant Men were asking me the questions, and I respectfully answered them. I would rather they felt comfortable asking me these questions than just going around thinking that I was some kind of barbaric pagan behind my back.

By feeling free to talk to me about being Catholic, I knew that I was respected by the Power Plant Men even though I was from a religion that they viewed as far from their own. There was one day when this became obvious to me.

I was on the second landing on Unit 2 boiler just about to enter the boiler enclosure when Floyd Coburn walked out. He was nicknamed “Coal Burner” partly because he was black, and partly because he worked in the coal yard for a long time, but mostly because his last name was Coburn which sounds la lot like Coal Burner. Someone figured that out one day, and called him that, and it stuck. When Floyd came out of the enclosure he stopped me. He tapped me on the arm and signaled for me to follow him.

We stepped out of the walkway a short distance and he held out his fist in front of me. Floyd was built like a wrestler. Actually, he was State Champion of the 148 lb weight class for 4A High Schools in Oklahoma in 1972 and 1973. This meant a lot because in Oklahoma, Wrestling was an important sport. He also had earned an associates degree at Rogers State College in Claremore.

Not once did I ever hear Floyd Coburn brag about his accomplishments, or even mention them. I suspect that few people if any knew much about Floyd’s background because as much fun as he was to work with, he was very humble, as are most True Power Plant Men.

Floyd was grinning at me as if he was about to show me a trick or a joke or something. Then he opened his fist. In the middle of his palm he held a small crucifix. The size of one on a typical rosary.

A rosary

A rosary

When I saw the cross I looked up at Floyd and he was grinning ear-to-ear. I gave him a puzzled looked. Then he told me. “I found Jesus! I just wanted you to know. I know you would understand.”

I felt very privileged that Floyd felt like sharing his experience with me. I thanked him for letting me know. I patted him on the shoulder and we went on our way.

Throughout the years after that, Floyd would set me down every now and then and share how he was expanding his faith with Jesus. He finally became a minister and re-opened a Church in Ponca City where his family used to worship when he was a boy. Floyd was the Pastor of the Broken Heart Ministers Church.

I always felt blessed that he came to me to tell me about his journey. The last time I talked with Floyd Coburn was around Christmas, 2005. I had dropped in at the plant to say hello while I was visiting Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Floyd wanted to talk to me about the progress he was making as Pastor of the Church in Ponca City. He explained the troubles he was having and asked for my prayers. He felt as if the devil was fighting against him. I assured him I have always kept him in my prayers.

One day around the end of October 2006, I felt compelled to write to the plant about a Power Plant Man David Hankins, who had died after my first summer as a summer help in 1979. I have always remembered him on November 1, All Saints Day, because I know that he’s in heaven as he had a tremendous heart.

I hadn’t written to the plant for some time. When I did, I received a couple of e-mails back telling me that Floyd Coburn had died on August 25 during his son’s birthday party. He died of a sudden heart attack.

Though I felt very sorrowful for Floyd’s family because of the circumstance surrounding his death, I felt a great relief for Floyd. I know he had a great desire to be united with Jesus Christ.

So. Now that I discussed some of my experience as a Catholic at the Power Plant, let me tell you about Cathodic Protection (that is not a misspelling of ‘Catholic Protection’).

Have you ever noticed on a car battery how one post is more shiny, than the other post? Especially after it has been in your car for a while. It’s not real noticeable so you may not have realized it. The shiny post is the Cathode or Positive post. Well. Cathodic Protection is just that.

You see the main ingredient besides Power Plant Men at a Power Plant is Iron. The boilers are almost entirely made from the stuff. There are underground and above ground pipes running all over the place. Well. You can paint most of the iron that is above the ground to keep it from rusting, but it doesn’t work very well when you bury the pipes and structure in the dirt.

So, how do you protect your investment? The answer is by using Cathodic Protection. There is a grounding grid made of copper wires buried in the dirt that ties to all the metal objects around the plant grounds. This not only helps absorb things like lightening strikes, but it also allows for the seemingly miraculous anti-rust system known as “Cathodic Protection”.

This is how Cathodic Protection works… You bury a large piece of metal in the dirt and you tie a negative DC (direct current) power source to it. Then you tie the positive power to the grounding grid. By creating a positive charge on the boiler structure and the piping you inhibit rusting, while you enhance the corrosion on the large piece of buried metal with the negative charge.

A nifty trick if you ask me. The only thing about using cathodic protection is that you have to keep an eye on it because the large piece of buried metal will eventually need to be replaced, or the charge will need to be adjusted as it decays in order to protect all the other metal in the plant.

A Cathodic Protection Rectifier liek those at the Power Plant

A Cathodic Protection Rectifier like those at the Power Plant

The Power Plant doesn’t just have one source for cathodic protection. There are numerous boxes placed around the plant that protected a specific set of equipment and buildings. So, when it came time to do Cathodic Protection checks, we would go to each station and take readings. If there were anomalies in the readings then someone would be alerted, and tap settings may be adjusted. In extreme cases, the large piece of metal would need to be replaced with a new one…. Though I never saw that happen.

Once I understood the concept of how Cathodic Protection worked I came to the conclusion that what Catholic Protection was doing for me, Cathodic Protection was doing for the Power Plant. It was helping to prevent corrosion.

If you don’t keep a close watch on how well your Cathodic Protection is doing, then you won’t realize when it needs to be re-calibrated. I have found the same thing applies with how well I am doing as a person. Sometimes I find I need to do a little adjustment to keep myself in line…

When checking a Cathodic Protection rectifier, when you use your multimeter to check the voltages, you have to put your leads and usually your hands into a container of transformer oil. This is somewhat messy and unpleasant. But we realize that it is something that just has to be done. We may wear latex disposable gloves to help keep our hands from soaking in the oil, but inevitably, I would end up dripping some on my jeans.

It’s the same way when trying to adjust myself to be a better person. It seems a little unpleasant at first, but you know it’s the right thing to do. Sometimes it’s swallowing your pride. Sometimes it’s admitting that you are wrong. Sometimes it is just getting off your duff and stop being so lazy.

This is why I always felt so honored working with such True Power Plant Men. They were the ones that, even though they struggled in their individual lives like the rest of us, they always kept their mind on what was right and used that as a guide to make the right decisions.