At a Power Plant, three things are certain: Death, Taxes and Quittin’ Time. Nothing can stand in the way of any of these three activities. The only time Quittin’ time might change is on a Friday afternoon just before it is time to go home and you hear the Shift Supervisor paging one of the foremen or the Maintenance Supervisor. Then you know that Quittin’ time is likely to change at the spur of the moment. Not eliminated, but only delayed. I suppose we try doing that with Death as well. I have never tried delaying Taxes before.
After the downsizing at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma in 1994, a lot of things had changed. As an electrician, I was now working on a cross-functional team with Charles Foster as my electrical bucket buddy.
The rest of my team had different skills. Some were Instrument and Controls, others were Welders, Machinists, Mechanics and then there was Alan Kramer, our foreman.
The new way we received work orders (we called them Maintenance Orders or MOs) was from our new Planners. There were two people responsible for figuring out our work for the week. That was Ben Davis and Tony Mena. I don’t have a photo of Tony, but here is Ben.
I have talked about Ben Davis in a number of past posts, as he was my mentor when I first became an electrician. I always looked up to him as a big brother. And, well, he treated me as a younger brother… but always with more respect than I deserved. Tony on the other hand was originally hired to be on the Testing Team when I was on the Labor Crew.
I still remember Monday, July 18, 1983 watching Tony Mena and the rest of the new Testers walking around the plant following Keith Hodges around like baby quail following their mother (at least that was the way Ron Luckey described them as we watched them from the back seat of the crew cab as we drove past them).
The men and woman on Labor Crew had felt passed over when the new testing team had been formed because no one on the labor crew had been considered for the new jobs even when we met the minimum requirements (which was to have any kind of college degree). So, even though it wasn’t fair to the new testing team, we had an immediate animosity toward them.
After the first downsizing in 1988, Scott Hubbard had moved to the electric shop and I quickly learned that not all testers were rotten, job stealing chumps. Actually, none of them were. They never had anything to do with who was chosen for the Testing team. That came from above. If you are interested, you can read the post: “‘Take a Note Jan’ Said the Supervisor of Power Production“. Scott and I became like brothers when he joined our team.
After the first downsizing, the testing team was reduced down to three people, Tony Mena, Richard Allen and Doug Black. I don’t have a picture of the first two, but I do have one of Doug:
After the second downsizing, the Testing team was eliminated. Scott had become an electrician seven year earlier, Doug Black moved into the Engineering Department. Richard Allen became an Instrument and Controls person and Tony Mena became a Planner along with Ben Davis. We had two other planners Glenn Rowland and Mark Fielder (who later traded with Mike Vogle to become a foreman). Glenn and Mark spent their time planning major outages, where Tony and Ben did more of the day-to-day stuff.
Tony Mena no longer had anyone to carpool with, so he asked me if he could carpool with Scott and I. So, we agreed. We told Tony that it was important to be on time, because we didn’t want to be late arriving at the plant, and we definitely didn’t want to be late going home (which was much more important). Tony agreed that he would be on time.
Quittin’ Time at the plant is a very important and orchestrated event. It begins a half hour earlier when everyone returns to the shop and cleans up and puts their tools away. Then they go into the foremen’s office and fills out their timecards for the day. This includes adding each of the maintenance orders we have worked on during the day and how many hours on each.
The next step is to grab your lunch box and go stand by the door to wait until the exact second that it is time to leave. When that happens, a steady stream of Power Plant Men pour into the parking lot, into their pickup trucks (and other vehicles) and head either north or south down Highway 177 toward their homes. Some stopping along the way for a beverage at the corner convenience store.
The Power Plant Men have Quittin’ Time down to a honed art form. Each stroke of the brush is carefully orchestrated. Scott and I went to perform our part of the ballet where the vehicles all backed out of their parking spaces in chaotic unison and quickly perform the three lines out the end of the single lane on the south side of the parking lot.
However, when we arrived in our car, Tony was no where to be found. As we received concerned looks from Randy Dailey and Jerry Day, as they pirouetted around us, wondering why we weren’t taking our turn in the Parking Lot Tango, all we could do was shrug our shoulders and watch as the dance went on without us.
Finally about 10 minutes past Quittin’ Time, Tony came walking out of the shop apologizing for being late. We told him that was all right as long as he didn’t make a habit out of it. We were pretty peeved that day because this meant that we had 10 less minutes that day to spend with our families.
We were even more peeved when the same thing happened the next day. We didn’t wait 10 minutes. After 5 minutes we went into the maintenance foremen’s office and found Tony still working away on his computer trying to finish up his work. We told him he had to leave right now! He said he hadn’t realized it was time to go.
Nothing is worse than a delayed Quittin’ Time when it isn’t for a legitimate reason. Tony didn’t have a wife and children at home so he didn’t feel the urgency that Scott and I felt. So, I figured I was going to have to do something about this. We weren’t going to tell Tony that he could no longer ride with us, because we knew he needed the company as much as we did, so I came up with a different plan.
The next day at lunch I wrote a program on the computer called “Quittin’ Time!” Here is how it worked:
It would load up on Tony’s computer when he booted it up, so he didn’t have a choice whether it ran or not. It showed up in the Task Bar at the bottom. It said: “Quittin’ Time in: 7:45:35” for example and it would count down each second. Then it would count down all day until Quittin’ Time. There was no visible way to turn it off (Power Plant Men had yet to learn about the Task Manager as this was Windows 3.1).
You could click on Quittin Time in the Task Bar and it would open up a small box in the middle of your computer with the time ticking down, but there was no red X in the corner to shut it down. There was only a minimize underscore that would put it back in the task bar.
I had added a small feature in the dialog window. In the lower right corner, there was a little slash sort of hidden in the corner. If you clicked on that, it opened another dialog box that let you set the actual time of day for “Quittin’ Time”. So, if you had to leave early, or later, you could adjust your Quittin’ Time.
Here was the clincher with the Quittin’ Time program. It was not enough to just show Tony that it was Quittin’ Time. This program had to force Tony to shut down and go home. So, when it was 15 minutes before Quittin’ Time, a Big Yellow Window would open up on top of any other work and would flash on and off that it was “15 minutes before Quittin’ Time! Time to Finish your Work!” Tony could close this window.
Then when it was 5 minutes to Quittin’ Time, another big yellow window would open up flashing 5 minutes before Quittin’ Time! Finish your work now!” and it would beep at you 5 times. Tony could close this window.
At one minute until Quittin’ Time, all heck broke loose on the computer. A big red window would open up and the computer would start beeping continually. The flashing Window could not be closed. It would say: “Less than One Minute To Quittin’ Time! Save all your Work!” The words would continually flash as well at the red background while counting down the seconds and it could not be stopped.
At “Quittin’ Time” The Red Box would say “QUITTIN’ TIME!” and the computer would lock up beeping continuously as loud as that little beeper(the internal speaker) could beep (this was a 386 PC). At that point, the only thing you could do was hit the power button and shut your computer off. I wish I had some screen shots to show you. Maybe I’ll find my old code and recreate it and take some and add them to this post later.
Needless to say, the first day I added this program to Tony’s computer, he didn’t heed the warnings. When the computer went crazy, he tried saving his work, but ended up losing a little of it before the computer completely locked up on him. He came out to the parking lot on time, however, he wasn’t in the greatest mood. We were. Scott and I were smiling. We were going to be home on time, and best yet, that day, we were included in the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” being performed by the pickup trucks that day in the Parking Lot.
The best part of the Quittin’ Time program came later. After about a week, Tony (who now left work on time every day) asked me if I could add something to the Quittin’ Time program. He wanted to know if I could make it so that he would remember to eat lunch. He would get so involved in work that he would miss his lunch entirely. So, I added a “Lunch Time” Feature to the program as well. He could adjust his lunch time using the same option window that opened when you clicked on the little slash in the lower corner of the Quittin’ Time window.
When I added the Lunch Time feature, I also added an Internet Feature that would go out to Yahoo Stock Quotes and get the Daily Stock Quotes for all of our 401k Mutual Funds and our company stock and at 3:40pm CST would pop up a window with the day’s stocks, so you could see how the Mutual funds in your 401k did that day. — Nothing better than watching your retirement plan grow each day. Yahoo posted the Mutual Fund updates for the day around 3:30pm, so Tony would be the first person each day to get the latest Stock news for our Mutual Funds.
Tony Mena was known as Planner 4 later when we moved to SAP because that was the username he used. Ray Eberle used to say to me, “We always want to keep Planner 4 happy!” Later this year, I will go into various ways we kept Tony happy, or confused… or well… on his toes anyway.
Long before Facebook ever graced the pages of our browsers, Power Plant Birthday reminders began appearing in the Outlook E-mail Inboxes of Power Plant men at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma. Today it seems commonplace to be reminded of your friends birthdays as your smartphone pops up a message to remind you. In 1997, a strange event began happening at the plant. It sent some scurrying about to find the culprit. Others found it funny. Some worried that their secrets were about to be revealed. One person was totally surprised by the response (me).
January 3, 1997 Charles Foster and I went to our morning meeting with our team in the main break room where we would meet every morning to go over the work for the day. Alan Kramer began the meeting by asking me a direct question. He said something like, “Kevin. Do you know anything about emails from the Birthday Phantom?” I asked him what he meant, and he went on to explain.
Alan said that when someone opened up Outlook to check their e-mail that morning, shortly after they opened it up, an e-mail appeared in their inbox that was from themselves. So, when Alan had logged in that morning, he received an e-mail from Alan Kramer. When he opened it, it had a subject of “Today is Wayne Cranford’s Birthday”. The body of the e-mail said, “Today is Wayne Cranford’s Birthday. He is 48 years old today. Please wish him a Happy Birthday. The Birthday Phantom.”
It happened that when Wayne Cranford opened his own e-mail, the subject said, “Happy Birthday Wayne Cranford!” and the body of the email had the happy birthday song, “Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday dear Wayne. Happy Birthday to you. The Birthday Phantom.
So, after Alan explained this to me, he looked at me again with a rather stern look and said, “Kevin. Did you do this?” What could I say? So, I said, “Why is it that whenever something like this happens, I’m always the first one to be blamed for it?” I knew at that point that Alan’s next response was going to mean the difference between night and day, so I put on the most indignant look I could.
Alan said, “Well. I just had to ask.” I shrugged like I understood and glanced over at Charles Foster who had a stunned look hidden behind his best poker face. Something like this:
You see…. about a year earlier, before we were using Microsoft Outlook, we were using Novell’s Groupwise for email. Alan Kramer had come to me and asked me if I had done something “wrong” in regard to emails. It turned out that I was innocent of any “wrongdoing” in that instance (well, almost). Charles Foster was my witness.
What had happened was that one day, Danny Cain, who was the Instrument and Controls person on our team had come into the electric shop office to make a phone call to someone at Corporate Headquarters in Oklahoma City. I think it was Ed Mayberry. Email was a new idea for most people at the plant.
While Danny was on the phone, I turned to the computer sitting on the desk across the room from Danny and wrote an e-mail to the person that Danny was talking to telling him not to believe a word Danny was saying… whatever it was…. it wasn’t important. I just thought it would be funny to send an email to Ed about Danny while he was talking to Danny on the phone.
The subject of the email was “Danny Cain”. As Danny was talking on the phone, he happened to turn around just as I was clicking “Send”, and he saw his name in the subject line. Charles was sitting there next to me, as we were on break at the time. Danny quickly asked what I was doing and why did he see his name on an e-mail. I put on the guiltiest look I could and said, “Oh. Nothing. Nothing at all.” Rolling my eyes with obvious guilt.
I didn’t know how much this bugged Danny until a couple of days later Alan came into the electric shop office and said he needed to ask me a serious question. I could tell he was upset with me. He asked, “Have you been reading other people’s emails?” I was confused by the question, because I didn’t relate it to Danny from the other day. So both Charles and I looked confused.
I told Alan that not only had I not read other people’s emails, but even if I could, I wouldn’t because I considered other people’s emails private. Then I explained to him that Novell’s Groupwise email was very secure, and I wouldn’t know how to hack into their email if I had a desire. Which I didn’t.
Still confused by why Alan would ask the question both Charles and I asked Alan what this was all about. He didn’t want to say who it was that told him they thought I was reading their emails, but after we pressed him, he told us that Danny Cain said he saw me reading his email when he was in the office. Then both Charles and I knew what this was all about.
I explained to Alan that I was just joking around with Danny at the time. I reasoned with Alan that I would have to be pretty stupid to wait until Danny was standing a few feet away from me before I decided to read his emails. Alan accepted my explanation. Especially since it was backed by one of the most honest people at the plant, Charles Foster.
So, fast forward to November 6, 1996. We were now using Outlook. That was about as secure as a bag of Oreo cookies in a kindergarten classroom.
I was sitting in the electric shop office with Charles during lunch, and I had just finished writing some fun little programs that automated pulling stock prices from the Internet and putting them in Excel each day. I asked Charles, “What shall I do next?”
Charles thought for a few moments and said, “You know when we were still all in the electric shop before the downsizing, how when it was someone’s birthday we used to celebrate it by bringing a cake and having a lunch or something for that person? Well. We don’t do anything now. Can you come up with something that will help celebrate birthdays?”
After brainstorming ideas, we settled on sending emails and the “Birthday Phantom” was born. I thought it would be neat to learn how to write programs that used the Outlook API, sending emails, and stuff like that. So, I went to work during my lunch breaks writing the program.
It only took a week or so to get it working, and then we ran a bunch of tests on it until we settled on having the emails be sent by the same person that is receiving the email when they log on the computer. Each time a person logs on the computer, the program would be kicked off.
The first thing it would do was check to see if the person had already logged on that day. If they had logged on before, then it would shutdown because I didn’t want it to send more than one email for the same day, even if the person used a different computer.
The next thing it would check was if the person was on an exception list. We had decided that it was best to keep the plant manager and his cronies… um… I mean, his staff from receiving emails, as we didn’t think they would appreciate it since they didn’t have much use for such things. If the person logging on was on the exceptions list, the application would shutdown.
Then, it would check to see if it was anyone’s birthday that day. If it was, then it would send an email from the person logged on, to the person logged on. If it was the birthday of the person logging on, then it would modify the email so that it was personalized to say happy birthday to them.
There were little tweeks I made while testing the application before we went live with it. First, I added little things like making sure the gender was correct. So, if it was a woman’s birthday, then it would say “…wish her a happy birthday”.
Charles and I decided that the application would start running on January 1, 1997. So, during December, I made sure it was setup on all the computers in the plant except those belonging to the staff. This brings us to January 3, 1997, when Wayne Cranford was the first Power Plant Man to have a birthday.
As I hinted above, Alan’s response to my indignation at being accused of creating the Birthday Phantom would have determined how short-lived the Birthday Phantom would have been. Since Alan didn’t pursue the inquiry I didn’t offer any more information.
For instance. A few minutes after the meeting was over, I walked over the control room, and the control room operators were all standing around talking about the Birthday Phantom. David Evans asked me if I was the Birthday Phantom. I responded the same way I did with Alan, I said, “Why is it that when something like this happens, I am always the first person to be accused?” David responded with, “Yeah, but are you the Birthday Phantom?” Well. I wasn’t the type of person to blatantly lie, so I had to admit that “Yes. I’m the Birthday Phantom, but don’t tell anyone.” The Control room operators said they would all keep it to themselves (yeah. right).
Though some people thought the Birthday Phantom was a nuisance, others thought that their personal emails were at risk, and that the Birthday Phantom could be stealing their emails. Whenever I heard that anyone was upset (such as Alan) with the Birthday Phantom, I just added them to the exceptions list and they never received another Birthday Phantom email.
Jim Padgett, a Shift Supervisor, had received a Birthday Phantom email one day, and called IT to report it as they were trying to track down the program to figure out where it was coming from. Jim Cave told me that Padgett had the IT guy on the phone and he was logged into his computer to watch what happened when he logged on and opened up Outlook to try and find what was sending the emails.
Jim Cave said that the IT guy was sounding hopeful that he was going to finally be able to catch the Birthday Phantom when all of the sudden he said, “Oh! That’s a Wiley One!” I came to understand that in Oklahoma City, the IT department was taking this so seriously that they assigned two people full time for two weeks to try and find the culprit (I added Jim Padgett to the exception list, so he didn’t receive any more emails).
I hadn’t thought about it when I was writing the application, but back at Corporate Headquarters, they thought that the application had somehow gained access to the HR system in order to find the birthdays of each employee. Even though, things like Birthdays and Social Security Numbers were not as sensitive in 1997 (for instance, the plant manager’s Social Security Number was 430-68-…. You really didn’t think I would put his Social Security number here did you?), if someone was accessing the HR database, that would have been serious.
Even though the IT department was taking this very seriously, there was one timekeeper at the Power Plant that was just about climbing the walls over the Birthday Phantom. She was so concerned that I was afraid she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I was not surprised by this at all, and had actually anticipated her anxiety. Actually, the Birthday Phantom was designed for just this reason. You see, this particular timekeeper was going to be turning 40 years old one week after the first Birthday Phantom email showed up.
After the second Birthday Phantom email arrived the next Monday on January 6, announcing that Jerry Potter had just turned 36, Linda Shiever called me and asked me if I could find out how to stop the Birthday Phantom. I told her I would look into it. I did look into it for about one second. Linda was turning 40 on Friday.
On Wednesday, January 8, not only did Elvis Presley turn 62 (if he had been alive… or…. um…well, you know…) but the Birthday Phantom informed everyone at the plant that Sonny Kendrick (who was only 5 days younger than Wayne Cranford) had also turned 48 years old. Linda Shiever was thinking about calling in sick on Friday.
Linda knew that when she came to work the morning of January 10, that her cube would be full of black balloons with the number 40 on them. She had resigned herself to this a while before when she helped blow up the balloons for Louise Kalicki’s cube the previous August 23, less than 5 months earlier. The appearance of the Birthday Phantom, however, had thrown in a new element of recognition.
The morning of January 10, 1997 finally arrived, and the Birthday Phantom email notified everyone that it was not only Linda Shiever’s birthday, but it was also Gene Day’s birthday as well. Yeah. The application could handle multiple birthdays on the same day. Linda Shiever was happy to find out that the Birthday Phantom had informed the entire Power Plant that she had just turned 29. In fact, that year, every woman at the plant was turning 29 years old according to the Birthday Phantom. — That was another one of those tweeks that came out of our testing.
Gene Day, on the other hand, according to the Birthday Phantom had just turned 100 years old…. Well.. Everyone knew he was ancient (See the post: “Power Plant Humor and Joking With Gene Day” and the “Psychological Profile of a Control Room Operator“). Needless to say, there was a lot less stress in the office area after that day.
The following week, when I went to the tool room to get some supplies, Darlene Mitchell stopped me and asked me if the Birthday Phantom would do her a favor. She was turning 45 years old on January 28, and she didn’t want the Birthday Phantom to tell everyone she was 29. She wanted it to say, “Today is Darlene Mitchell’s Birthday, She is 45 years old and Lovin’ it! Please wish her a Happy Birthday!” I told her I would have a talk with the Birthday Phantom and it shouldn’t be a problem.
After a month, when I was in the Control Room, Jim Cave, who was now referring to me regularly as “The Wiley One” said that the IT department had told Jack Maloy that they were no longer looking for the Birthday Phantom. They were not able to find it. The person that did it would just have to tell them who it was.
I still have the computer code I used when I wrote the program. Sometimes I take it out and read it and I remember that year when the Birthday Phantom visited the Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma to remind everyone that we were all growing older and as a family, we should take the time to stop and say “Happy Birthday” to each other on that one day each year when we are special.
August 6, 1996 in Corporate Headquarters America, jaws began dropping a few minutes before 8 a.m. At first the security guard just thought some Power Plant Giant had taken a wrong turn and showed up at Corporate Headquarters to ask for directions. When another one showed up, this time carrying his Playmate lunch box, hard hat on his head, and lip quivering looking for a handy spittoon, the men in their suits and women in their fine dresses began running for cover. That was the day eight Power Plant Men took over the floor in the building where the Corporate Engineers usually lived.
If you want to understand the shock that emanated throughout the building, just picture the following bunch showing up on your doorstep:
We had come from the four corners of the Oklahoma Electric Company Power Plant Kingdom and we were there in Oklahoma City because Corporate America needed our help! Two Power Plant Men from each of the main Power Plants were picked to help the company transition from the old Mainframe computer system to a new computer application called SAP. SAP was going to combine all of our computer needs into one big application that runs on the new computer network.
Ernst and Young was the consulting company that was helping us install and implement SAP at our company. The company began the implementation some time in March, and the big bang go live date was going to be January 1, 1997. According to Ernst and Young, this was a physical impossibility. There was no way we could convert all of our requirements into SAP realities in such a short time.
The Maintenance Module for SAP hadn’t even been fully developed. We were actually working with SAP to design the module. Our company had demonstrated how a Best In Class Maintenance process worked, and SAP was designing their module around our needs. Everyone insisted that our aggressive timeline was too unreasonable and would never be met.
The Electric Company in Central Oklahoma had one Ace up their sleeve (well, maybe more than one)… That was “Power Plant Men!” As I mentioned in last week’s post (See the post “Destruction of a Power Plant God“), I was told on Monday, August 5, to show up for work the following day in Oklahoma City to work for 10 weeks on an SAP project.
Mike Gibbs, a mechanic from our plant was going with me. Our task was to convert all the Power Plant parts in the Inventory system in searchable strings that had a limited number of characters. Mike Gibbs used to work in the warehouse, so he was a good candidate for knowing what odd parts actually were.
We were a cross-section of mechanics and electricians, and warehouse people. To give you an idea of how big our job was, we had over 100,000 different parts in the system. 75,000 of those parts were in the warehouse at the power plant where I worked. There were over 5,000 different types of Nuts and Bolts… just to give you an idea of the task ahead of us.
Ernst and Young said the task would take the eight regular employees four months to complete the task. The Electric Company said, “Power Plant Men can do it in 10 weeks.
We were able to use the office space used by all of the engineers because they all happened to be at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma where I normally worked because of the big explosion that destroyed part of the Turbine Generator room early Monday morning. While they packed up to begin the work of reconstruction, Mike and I packed up and headed to Oklahoma City.
Most of the “out-of-town” Power Plant Men stayed in hotels for the next 2 1/2 months, but Mike Gibbs and I decided that we couldn’t be away from our families that long, so we decided that we would drive back and forth to work each day from Stillwater, Oklahoma. This was about an hour drive with going to work traffic. We would meet in the parking lot of a Mexican Restaurant at the edge of town and take turns each day driving to Oklahoma City.
Normally, in an instance like this, we would get paid a mileage that was farther than if we drove to the plant and maybe even driving time to and from work each day, but when our Plant Manager Bill Green found out we were driving back and forth, he refused to pay us anything. He told us that it was far enough away that he would only pay for us to stay in a Hotel (which would have cost more than the mileage), he wouldn’t pay us mileage or even a per diem (which is a daily amount for expenses).
Bill Green knew that we were family men that wouldn’t want to be away from our families during the week if it was only an hour drive, so he played his card and said that we had to stay in a hotel, and he would pay the expense for that or he would pay nothing and we could drive back and forth all we wanted at our own expense, already knowing that we would rather wear our cars out and pay the extra gas each day to be with our families. I just thought this was pay back for me being so rotten all the time.
The first week I was there, I worked on converting the 5,000 different nuts, bolts and screws into cryptic search strings that all began with the three letter search word for bolt: BLT. If you wanted to search for a Bolt in the SAP inventory, you would know it begins with a the letters BLT. This only made me hungry all week, because to me, a BLT was a sandwich. A mighty good one too, I may add.
After the first week, it was decided that having Power Plant Men roaming around between offices asking each other questions about parts was a hazard waiting to happen, so the engineer that was running our project Mark Romano had a special holding pen… um… I mean, cubicle built just for us. It was decided that we should all be together in what is called a “Bullpen Cube”. All nine of us. Bullpen was a good name considering that there was a lot of bull going around for all of us.
There were nine, because a young Corporate executive had been assigned to help us with all things “Corporate”. His name is Kent Norris. He was lucky enough to stay behind to work with us, instead of having to go spend the next 2 1/2 months at our plant up north helping to repair the fire damage.
Well. I say lucky. Lucky for us, maybe not for him. After all, he was someone from “corporate” stuck in a cubicle with 8 rascally Power Plant Men that kept themselves motivated by playing practical jokes on whoever was willing to fall for them. Not ever having experienced the likes of us before, Kent was in for 2 1/2 months of relentless practical jokes being played at his expense.
I must say that we had a terrific time teasing poor Kent, but he was such fun and took our jokes so well, that we could only admire his resilience to bounce back and smile after we ran him ragged with one joke after the next. I will go into more detail about the jokes we played on Kent in a later post. For now, I am just mentioning our situation, so that you can get a picture of our situation.
Kent helped us with our expense reports each week, and showed us all the good places to eat lunch. He helped us adapt to corporate life. He even showed us how to use our temporary badges to badge in and out of the doors when we entered and left the building.
Mike Gibbs discovered a better way. He just put his badge in his wallet, and since he was tall enough, when he walked up to the badge reader, he just pressed the back pocket of his blue jeans against the badge reader, and voila! The door would open like magic! Onlookers were always staring at this strange assortment of men in blue jeans and tee shirts walking through the office building during lunch.
I tried to remember all the people that were there in the cube with us… I remember that I was there, and so was Mike Gibb from the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.
Ken Scott, who was the Maintenance Superintendent at the Gas-fired Power Plant by Konawa, and David Roe who worked in the warehouse at that plant.
Doyle Fullen, an Electric Foreman from the coal fired plant in Muskogee, and Robert Christy, a mechanic also from that plant.
I believe Dan Hayer, the warehouse man, was there from the gas-fired plant in Harrah, Oklahoma on a small lake called Horseshoe Lake. I don’t remember who else was there from that plant. I remember seeing someone there, but I think he was a more of a quiet type and for some reason, his name has escaped me.
I was a sort of a computer programmer at this time, so I created small programs that would make our jobs easier. I created icons on the computers so that people didn’t have to log into the apps, and I created a couple of other small programs that just automated the monotonous manual steps that we would have to do over and over again as we plowed through the 100,000 different part descriptions.
After the first week, we had converted over 15,000 parts, and were on our way to meeting our goal.
So, how did we do? The Power Plant Men were able to convert all 100,000 parts in the inventory system to SAP in eight weeks! Two weeks ahead of schedule. This was typical for Power Plant Men, especially when you tell them it is impossible. This was another example of doing things that others said couldn’t be done.
We were all scheduled to go back to our home plants two weeks early when Mark Romano, our project manager came to our cube to give us the news… We had performed our job so well, they wanted to expand our scope. It seems that another department… I won’t mention which one, but their initials are T&D had been working on their measly 60,000 parts for the past 4 months and had only completed about 10,000 of them. They wanted to know if the Power Plant Men would be willing to give them a hand to convert the 50,000 parts in their inventory system the same way we did for Power Supply. Otherwise the go-live of January 1, would not be met since we were coming up to the end of September already.
Our Plant Managers had agreed that we could spend the next four weeks converting T&D’s parts as well, so of course, we agreed to stay on. I’m not sure if Corporate Headquarters was ever the same after that. Because we were able to stay on for the next four weeks, we were invited to an SAP banquet that we would have otherwise missed. We stood out like a sore thumb. I will write more about that banquet in a separate post as well as go into detail with some of the jokes that we played on Kent Norris.
Spending the 12 weeks in Corporate Headquarters was an important turning point in my career as a Power Plant Electrician. When we were in the bullpen cube, I was sitting in a chair where I could turn my head to the right and look out a window over the parking lot for the building. During the day I would watch people walking to-and-fro going about their business.
I had worked most of my adult life up to that point at a plant out in the country where when you climbed to the top of the 500 foot smoke stack and looked around, you could see fields and trees for 20 miles in any direction. Looking out that window at people made a big impression on me. Here I was sitting in an air conditioned office. No Coal Dust. No Fly Ash. No ear plugs to deafen the sound of steam shooting through the pipes turning the turbines. No 100 degrees in the summer. No freezing my fingers off in the winter. Just Power Plant Men quietly tapping on their computer keyboards, while they played jokes on Corporate Executive Kent. — This was the life.
I thought… things don’t get better than this. I was in computer heaven. Even though it was unconscious at the time, something stirred in me that thought… maybe… just maybe, I’m ready for a change…. I’ll wait and see what God wants me to do…
I wonder if Kent Norris felt proud when his boss Wayne Beasley told him that he was being assigned to manage the eight Power Plant Men that were coming to Corporate Headquarters for the next 10 weeks to help prepare for the transition to SAP. I’m sure he had no idea what he was signing up to do. For the next 12 weeks, Kent bravely endured one torture after the other.
Kent Norris was a young Corporate Executive working for the Electric Company in Central Oklahoma when the Power Plant Men showed up at his doorstep August 6, 1996. I wish I had a picture of Kent (Kent… I know you read this blog… if you send me your picture, I’ll add it to this post), because then you could see right away that he would be the perfect person for playing jokes. Just like Gene Day back at the Coal-fired Power Plant where I worked.
See, you can tell by Gene Day’s expression that this guy was just right for Power Plant Jokes. Kent Norris was much like Gene in this respect, and the best part was that he was young and wasn’t from a plant, so he had never experienced the Power Plant Lifestyle of perpetual joke playing (see the post “Power Plant Humor and Joking with Gene Day“).
At the plant, Power Plant jokes are such a way of life that they include a section on the timecard to enter the number of Power Plant Jokes performed during the day, along with how many were successfully implemented. This was used to create a PPJ (for Power Plant Joke) Quotient that would go on your performance appraisal each year. That way you could set your stretch goals for the following year.
I explained last week why the eight of us were at Corporate Headquarters in the post: “Do Power Plant Men and Corporate Headquarters Mix?” so I won’t go into that much here other than to say that we were working for 10 weeks preparing the Inventory module in SAP so that our company would be prepared to go live with SAP on January 1, 1997. SAP is an ERP or Enterprise Resource Planning System.
Once all 9 of us were sitting in one cube, (eight Power Plant Men, and one young Corporate Executive, Kent Norris), that was when the opportunity for Power Plant Jokes began to take shape. Kent sat at the table in the middle of the cube next to the telephone.
Most of the Power Plant Men had their backs to each other as they all faced the edge of the cube. This way, a person walking into the cube could easily see the computer monitors. I sat on the end of a table at the end of the elongated cube where I could watch everyone and no one could see my monitor (and incidentally, I had a great view of the outside world).
At first we began our harassm….uh… I mean… jokes…. on Kent by easing him into it with very simple things… When he would step out of his cube, we would do little things like put water in his pen cap so that when he went to write something down and removed the cap, water would spill on him.
Other minor pranks were things like, unplugging the keyboard and mouse from the computer so that Kent would think that his computer had locked up. He tried rebooting his computer and for five minutes couldn’t figure out how to fix his computer until he found that the mouse and keyboard were unplugged, at which point, several muffled chuckles could be heard emanating from the far corners of the cube… Not from me, because I had learned the fine art of keeping a straight face in the midst of a hilarious power plant joke — after years of training.
Kent was so good at having jokes played on him that I think he enjoyed them as much as we did. He would respond with phrases like “You guys!!! Geez!” The Power Plant Men were so fast at implementing jokes on the fly that all Kent had to do was turn around to talk to someone that had come to ask a question and all the wheels on his chair would be removed and hidden in various locations throughout the cube.
Ken Scott was the Supervisor of Maintenance at the Seminole Plant, who I had worked with at our plant since I first showed up as a new summer help. He knew I was a trouble causer from day one. I wondered how he was going to take our constant jokes with Kent, but he helped out with the rest of us, and when Kent would run off to tell his friend Rita Wing (I think that was her name) about a new joke we had just played on him, Ken Scott would break out of his straight “uninterested” expression into a big smile and laugh out loud.
Mike Gibbs and I would evaluate the day’s jokes on the way home each day. We were carpooling from Stillwater.
The jokes became more elaborate over time, and I was reaching out to others beyond our cube to help out. At the time, we were using Windows 3.2 which had small program called “Windows Popup” (I believe the file name was popup.exe). It was sort of an old version of IMing someone before chatting was really common. I taught our team how to use it, so that we could pop up messages on each other’s computers to coordinate our jokes while we were doing our work without having to even look at each other.
Popup means so many things now that we all use Internet Browsers. “Windows Popup” allowed you to locate someone logged into the network, and pop a message right up in the middle of their screen. It would include the logon name of the person popping it up. My logon name on the computer system was BREAZIKJ. The popup message would say Message from BREAZIKJ in the title bar, and it would display the message. Here is an example I found on Google Images:
I had noticed that Kent often talked to the admin for Dennis Dunkelgod, a manager over the Telecommunications team.
I had worked with Dennis a couple of times running telephone cable at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma when we needed to install the computer network. I sent a Popup message to his admin asking her if she would help us play a joke on Kent. The message was something like this…. “We are going to play a joke on Kent Norris and were wondering if you would like to help us out.”
The young lady admin didn’t know what to think when this message popped up in the middle of her computer screen, though she knew where it came from because our cube was just across the aisle from her. She took a print screen of the message and gave it to Dennis.
Dennis, not knowing the ways of Power Plant Men didn’t know what I meant by “joke” and thought we might be planning something inappropriate. So he came to our cube and asked who was this person BREAZIKJ. I told him I was Kevin. He asked me if I had sent that message. I told him that I had sent it. (In trouble again… as usual). As Dennis was replying Kent Norris walked into the cube and saw Dennis dressing me down. He was saying that things like this did not belong in the workplace and he didn’t want to hear about this again! I replied, “all right.”
Dennis left the cube, and Kent asked what was going on, so I said, “We were planning on playing a joke on you, and so I asked the admin sitting over there if she would like to help us out and it upset Dennis.” Kent knew that Dennis was just looking out for him, so he explained that to us that Dennis misunderstood our intention.
One joke I played on Kent was this… Since he always answered the phone in our cube, I found a way to connect to a modem on the mainframe and dial out of the company (thanks Craig Henry for the tip), and then dial back in again and ring a phone…. So, I would wait until Kent hung up from the phone, which was just one second after he would say “Toodles” (which was Kent’s way of saying goodbye), then I would ring the phone and hang it back up.
Kent would answer the phone with his regular telephone answering phrase that I don’t quite remember, but it was something like, “Kent Norris, how may I help you?” only more interesting than that. When he answered the phone the first time, he was surprised to find that no one was on the phone. He hung it up and said, “That’s odd.” Then throughout the week, at various times, just as Kent hung up the phone from a conversation, I would ring his phone again.
Kent began troubleshooting it… he noticed that the ring indicated that it was an outside number calling, but it seemed like the phone was malfunctioning, so he created a trouble ticket to have someone look into it. Of course, the phone was working fine.
One day, Toby O’Brien came to my cube to ask me if I could tell him how I would do a root cause analysis on a particular accident. Toby was working for the safety department at the time.
I was showing him on the computer how I would make a hierarchy of causes and how each cause could be caused by something else, making something that looks like an organizational chart of causes. While I was talking to him, Toby was looking over my shoulder at the computer screen. Kent was talking on the phone… As I was talking to Toby, I was also listening to Kent’s conversation and I could tell he was wrapping it up, and I wanted to ring the phone.
So, as I continued talking along with Toby, I opened up the program I had configured to ring the phone and had it all ready to click the button when Kent said “Toodles”. I could tell that Toby was a little confused by my talking to him while I was opening another program and acting oblivious to it. Still explaining to Toby as if nothing was happening I hit the call button just as Kent hung up the phone, and it immediately rang. As Kent picked it up, I hung up and closed the program. Kent said, “Hello this is Kent Norris….. Damn! Kevin!” as he slammed the receiver back down on the phone. For some reason Kent thought I was doing something, though, he couldn’t figure out what. I just gave him a confused look.
At this point I heard a chuckle from Toby, he had a grin much like his picture above. I couldn’t hold it in much longer as my stomach was beginning to quiver and my body was shaking. So I slunk down in my chair so Kent couldn’t see the smile on my face and put my hand over my eyes to try and concentrate on making a straight face again. I squeaked out “…and that’s how I would do the root cause analysis on that accident.”
The climax of the Telephone joke was when one day, I set the program up for redial and left to go to the bathroom. The phone kept calling Kent once every minute. When I returned to the cube, Kent said, “Kevin! Stop ringing my phone!” I said, “I just went to the bathroom! How could I be ringing your phone?” At that point the phone rang and Kent said, “Pick it up!” I picked it up and listened, and said, “There’s nobody there. But you can’t blame me for that.” Then I returned to my computer and turned off the program and didn’t call him anymore after that.
The most elaborate joke played on Kent began when one day Kent made the statement that he had never been to a Power Plant and no desire in the world to ever visit a Power Plant! I think someone had asked him if he had seen the control room at one of the plants and that was his response. So, when an opening for an operator came up at our plant, we told Kent that we had sent in his application for the Operator job at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.
Kent didn’t believe us of course, he thought this was just another little joke we were playing. We told him that we put all the right things in the application so that he was sure to get the job. Even though he would tell us that he didn’t believe us, we could see the small hint of doubt on his face, which made it a successful small joke… but this was only the beginning.
A couple of weeks later, Kent received word that since all the engineers were up at our plant in North Central Oklahoma they were going to hold their monthly safety meeting there and Kent and Rita were going to have to drive up to the plant to attend. Which meant, Kent didn’t have a choice, he was going to have to visit the plant after all. What Kent didn’t know was that his boss Wayne Beasley had been updated by Ken Scott about what we had told Kent about applying him for the operations job at the plant.
We told Kent that the real reason Wayne was having the meeting at the plant was so that Kent would be able to have his interview for the operations job, because they had accepted his application. Of course… again… he thought we were just kidding him since he said he had no desire to even visit a plant in his life.
Using Windows Popup (since IM wasn’t around yet), I sent messages to Denise Anson, the receptionist at the plant telling her about our plan with Kent. When Kent and Rita drove up to the main gate at the plant and said that it was Kent Norris and Rita Wing from Corporate Headquarters, Denise replied with, “Oh yes. Kent Norris. You have an interview for the operator position.” Kent said something like, “No, I’m just going to a safety meeting.” At this point, he couldn’t believe that the joke had actually reached the plant.
Denise messaged me using Windows Popup that he had just entered the gate…. I sent a popup to Ron Madron, who was going to ride up in the elevator with him letting him know that Kent was on his way to the parking lot…. When Kent and Rita entered the building and stood at the elevator, Ron Madron entered from the Maintenance Shop and entered the elevator with Kent and Rita. Ron asked who they were and when Kent told Ron who he was, Ron replied with “Oh! You’re the new operator! Good to meet you!” Kent could not believe that we had involved yet another person in our joke…
Ken Scott told me that he had talked to Wayne Beasley, Kent’s manager who was holding the safety meeting. Here is his LinkedIn picture:
Wayne had told Ken that he was going to make an announcement during the Safety Meeting that Kent Norris was going to soon begin working at the plant as their new operator. I messaged to Denise to ask her where Bill Green, the Plant Manager was because I wanted to fill him in on the plan. Denise told me he was in Wayne Beasley’s Safety Meeting.
I asked her if she could go get him out of the meeting because I needed to talk to him right away. So, she went and interrupted the safety meeting to tell Bill that I was on the phone and needed to talk to him. When Bill answered, I told him about the elaborate joke we had been playing on Kent Norris and how Wayne Beasley was going to announce in the meeting that Kent Norris was going to become an operator at the plant. Bill said thanks for letting him know because if he didn’t know it was a joke, he might have been upset if Wayne said that without him knowing it was coming…..
So, here is what happened in the safety meeting….. As the meeting was coming to a close, Bill Green, the Plant Manager, stood up and said, “We would all like to welcome Kent Norris at our plant and hope that he will enjoy coming to work for us as an operator.” — The perfect execution of a power plant joke after weeks of preparation, it was executed flawlessly.
Later that afternoon when Kent came back to our cube at Corporate Headquarters, he said that was the greatest joke ever! He couldn’t believe how we had everyone involved up to the plant manager. We were all glad that it went off without a hitch. We were also glad that Kent had enjoyed it so much. He said that it wasn’t until he walked in the control room and they didn’t know who he was that he felt sure that he really wasn’t going to be an operator at the plant.
The joke where I laughed the hardest was during the last week working at Corporate Headquarters. Wayne Beasley had come back from our plant to work where he normally worked, and he wanted to take our team out to lunch with Kent to congratulate us for doing such a good job. So, they picked a Mexican restaurant in Bricktown just east of downtown Oklahoma City.
When we walked into the restaurant, Doyle Fullen, the Plant foreman and electrician from Muskogee told the waiter that it was Kent Norris’s birthday. He told them that he was very shy and would deny that it was his birthday, but we were all bringing him out to lunch because we were celebrating it. So, toward the end of the meal, out came the group of waiters singing Felice Navidad carrying a huge Sombrero. Which they placed on Kent’s head!
We all sang Felice Navidad at the top of our lungs and clapped and laughed. I laughed so hard at Kent’s culmination of Power Plant Jokes! Rarely in my life have I laughed so hard as Kent stood there under this huge sombrero looking humiliated and at the same time proud to be so well loved by the Power Plant Men!
The week ended on Friday afternoon around 3pm, as each of us started leaving one at a time to drive back home for the last time. Doyle and Bob Christy left first because they had the farthest to drive. the rest of us left some time later. Each saying goodbye to Kent a couple at a time…. until Kent was left sitting in the bullpen cube all by himself. Thinking…. “I’m finally rid of these bozos!”
Unknown to Kent, the majority of us didn’t exactly leave the building… instead we each went into the bathroom where I was the last to enter….. I carried a bag that was full of 12 cans of various colors of Silly String:
Once everyone was ready, we snuck up to the side of the cube where we could hear Kent typing on a computer and with all 12 cans the six of us left sprayed silly string over the cube totally covering Kent in Silly String. That was our last goodbye. We couldn’t leave without one more Power Plant Man Joke!
A week or two after I returned to the plant, I received the following letter through Intra-Company mail:
For years after, and up to today, I consider Kent Norris a dear friend. One day when I was at the Stillwater Public Library during their yearly book sale, I found a book that I just had to buy for Kent. It was perfect! I sent it by intra-company mail. Kent thanked me for it…. I figured it would remind him of the time he spent trying to Corral a passel of Power Plant Men! Oh… here is a picture of the book:
In the morning when a Power Plant Man drives through the gate at the plant, with the boilers and smoke stacks looming ahead of them, they know that whatever lies ahead for them can be any one of over 20,000 different Power Plant Man Jobs! Yes. That’s right. There are over 20,000 separate jobs that a person can be assigned on over 1,000 different pieces of equipment.
The bravery brings to mind the “Charge of the Light Brigade” (by Alfred Lord Tennyson), where “…All in the Valley of Death rode the six hundred”… only there were about 44 He-men and Women to repair whatever was in need of repair that day. And as in the commemorative poem about the Battle of Balaclava where “… Cannon to the right of them, Cannon to the Left of them Cannon in front of them… Into the Jaws of Death, Into the Mouth of Hell Rode the Six Hundred.” Or 44 in the case of the Power Plant Men and Women.
It is true of the bravery possessed by True Power Plant Men and Women as they go about their daily quest for perfection. Unlike the Charge of the Light Brigade, who through an error in the command structure was ordered to perform a suicide mission, Power Plant Men go into daily battle well prepared using the correct tools, Safety Gear, Clearance Procedures and the knowledge of how to perform any one of the 20,000 jobs that could be assigned to them on any given day. (wait! Did I just create an extremely long run-on sentence? — No wonder I could never get an A in English class!).
As Lord Tennyson Memorialized the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 by writing the poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, one day when I showed up to work during the spring of 1998, I was assigned a similar task at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma. “What’s that you say? Similar to writing the Charge of the Light Brigade?” Yeah. You heard me. I was given the job of chronicling each and every task that a Power Plant Man or Woman could possibly ever perform at the Power Plant.
For the next three years, I spent 50% of my time at the plant sitting in front of a computer in the Master Print Room (where the master blueprints for the entire plant are kept) entering each task into the program called SAP. You may have heard me mention this program before.
We had started using SAP a year earlier at the Electric Company. The benefit of using this product was that it connected all of the functions of the company together into one application. So, as soon as a Power Plant Man took a part out of the warehouse, it was reflected in the finance system on the Asset Balance sheet. When our time was entered into SAP, the expense was calculated and charged to the actual piece of equipment we had been working on during that day. It gave us a lot of visibility into where and how the company was spending their money.
This became even more useful if we were able to tell SAP more and more about what we did. That was where Ray Eberle and I came in. Ray was assigned to enter all of the Bill of Materials for every piece of equipment at the plant. I was assigned the task of entering all of the possible jobs that could be performed at the plant into SAP.
I entered jobs into a section called “Task Lists”. When I created a task about a specific job, I had to tell SAP all about how do perform that job. This is referred to as “Expert Data” in the world of Enterprise Software. (sorry to bother you with all these boring technical terms).
Each task had to include any Safety Concerns about doing the job. It included a list of instruction manuals for the equipment that needed to be repaired and where to find them. I had to the include the Safety clearance procedure that needed to be performed in order to clear out the equipment before working on it.
The Task also included all the parts that could be used to fix the equipment if something was broken along with the warehouse part number. Then I would add a list of tools that would be used to perform the job. This would include every wrench size, screwdriver, soft choker, come-along, pry bar, and nasal spray that might be needed for the job (well, you never know… there could be job that required the use of nasal spray). Ok. You have me… I only threw that in there because I found this great picture of Nasal Spray on Google Images and this was the only way I think of to show it to you:
Finally I would list each of the steps that a person would take to fix the equipment they were assigned to repair. This was a step-by-step procedure about how to perform the job.
My first thought when I was assigned the job of chronicling every possible job a Power Plant Maintenance Man could perform was “Great! I will get to work on the computer! Everyone will be glad to help me with this task as it will make their lives easier!” Well… After I began the task of collecting information about the jobs, I unexpectedly found a lot of opposition to the idea of listing down each of the steps that a Power Plant Man performed to do their job. — Can you guess why?
Well… Yeah. It’s true that I have an annoying personality, and sometimes I may come across as unpleasant, but that wasn’t the main reason. Here is what happened….
When a Maintenance Order was created, one of the planners, Either Ben Davis (Planner 3) or Tony Mena (Planner 4) would flag the work order as needing a Task created for that particular job.
I would pull up the list of work orders and start creating the task list for that job. I could tell who was assigned to it, so I figured I would just go up to them and ask them how they were going to fix the equipment.
I remember going up to the first person on my list (Earl Frazier) the first day and explaining to him what I was doing. I asked him if he could tell me the steps to replacing the tail roller on belt 18 in the Surge Bin Tower. His response was, “Why should I tell you? You will just put all of that into the computer and then when you have described how to do all of the jobs, they can just get rid of us and hire some contractors to do our jobs.”
Oh… I hadn’t thought about that. It seemed unlikely, because there is a big difference between having a low wage contractor working on something and a dedicated Power Plant Man. There just isn’t any comparison.
In order to write up the task for this job, I just waited until the men were up in the Surge Bin Tower pulling the roller off of the belt, and I went up there and watched them. I took notes of all of the tools and equipment they were using, and asked one of them the steps they were taking to get the new roller up to the tower, and how they were taking the old one out, etc.
Ok… I wasn’t going to do this… but I can feel your anticipation clear from here while I am writing this, that you really want to know what kind of tools it took to pull the roller from the Surge Bin Tower Conveyor belt…. Here is a list of just the tools needed…. just warning you… reading this list of tools just may cause you to drop whatever you are doing and drive out in the country to your nearest Power Plant and apply for a job…. just to warn you… if you don’t think that would be good for you, you may want to skip this next paragraph.
One 9 Foot Extension Ladder. Two 1-1/2 ton come-alongs, and one 3/4 come-along. Two large pry bars, a 15/16 in. and 3/4 inch sockets, an air or electric impact wrench (to be used with the sockets). An 8 foot step ladder. One can of WD-40. a 3/8 in. screwdriver. Oxygen-Acetylene tanks with Torch, a Welding machine, two 8 ft. 2 by 4’s (that’s two pieces of wood). A hammer, a 1/8 in. wrench. One small pipe wrench. One hook to hold up the roller. Three extension cords, with adapters for the coal-handling safety plug-ins. One 4 in. electric grinder. Two 6 in. C Clamps and four 6 ft. Steel Chokers.
I decided that I would make things easier for myself up front by working on all of the electrician maintenance jobs first since I knew how to do most of those already. So, I spent the first year almost solely working on Electrical and Instrument and Control jobs. I could easily write the task lists for these, because I new all of the steps.
For instance… If I needed to take a clearance on the A Tripper Drive motor, I knew that the breaker was on the Motor Control Center (MCC) 13B Cubicle 1C already. I didn’t have to even look that one up. (I often wondered what they were thinking when they put Tripper B on MCC 13B Cubicle 2B. Why not put it in the same place (1C) on the next Motor Control Center? It would make things less confusing — Just things I think about when I’m sitting on my “thinkin’ chair”).
Some tasks were short and easy. Others were novels. Take “Elevator is Malfunctioning” Maintenance order. I included all sorts of troubleshooting tips for that one. I even drew a sort of diagram of relays showing how they should be picked up and dropped out as the elevator went up and down… When the elevator was going up, I put in a table of relay positions like this (U means the relay is picked up, D means it is dropped out). Those names at the top are the names of the relays.
|At Start up||D||U||D||U||D||D||D|
|Slowdown 2 up||D||D||D||D||D||D||U|
|Slowdown 3 up||D||D||D||D||U||D||U|
|At Stop up||D||D||D||D||U||D||D|
I wrote a similar one for when the elevator was going down.
Anyway….I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Ray Eberle and I worked together side-by-side for most of the three years while I was writing the task lists (see the post “Tales of Power Plant Prowess by Ray Eberle“). After I had written a number of novels about different Electrician jobs in the form of task lists, I began working on the general maintenance tasks.
After a while the Mechanics came around and saw the benefits of the task lists. I remember one of the men who had been the most vocal about not telling me how to do his job (yes. Earl Frazier) came up to me after I had written a task list about changing out the number 2 conveyor belt gear box and he asked me to add another wrench to the list. He said, that they had to go all the way back down the belt at the coal yard, drive back to the shop and retrieve the wrench, all because they hadn’t taken it with them the first time. I added it in a heartbeat and he left smiling.
Every once in a while I would run across a Maintenance Order where I could be somewhat creative. For instance, I had to write a task list about how to inspect the railroad tracks and right-away from the plant to where the tracks entered the town of Red Rock, Oklahoma about 5 miles away.
After explaining how the person connected the railroad truck to the tracks and drove on the tracks toward the growing Metropolis of Red Rock (population 282). I explained about how they were to make sure that all the wildlife was being treated well. I also said that when they arrived at Red Rock, they should go into the feed store and build up our public relations by striking up friendly conversations with the “locals”.
After completing over 10,000 different task lists….. I had begun to get into a routine where I felt like my creativity was becoming a little stifled. Then one day, Ray Eberle suggested that when I’m writing my task lists, I should think about how Planner 4 (Tony Mena) would like to see something a little more exciting than the usual…. “this is how you fix this piece of equipment” task list…
One day I remember writing a task list about something called a “Sparser Bar”. A sparser bar is something that sprays water at the bottom of a sump to stir up the coal when the pump is running so that it doesn’t build up or maybe on a conveyor belt for dust suppression. Anyway… One of the tasks I needed to write was for a person to “create a new Sparser bar”.
I wish I had the exact Task List that I wrote. I know that many years later, Ray Eberle sent me a copy of it when he ran across it one day, but I don’t have it readily available, so I’ll just go by memory (until someone at the plant wants to print it out and send it to me). I don’t know… I may be able to write a better one now…. let me see….
Here are the instruction:
- Cut a one and a quarter inch pipe 30 inches long.
- Drill 1/8 inch holes along the pipe so that you have exactly 24 holes evenly distributed across the pipe leaving at least 3 inches on either side of the pipe.
- If you accidentally drill 23 holes, then you should add an extra hole so that you end up with exactly 24 holes.
- If you drill 25 holes, then you should discard the pipe and start over again.
- Note: Do not drill holes that are larger than 1/8 inches in diameter as this will be too big. If you drill holes bigger than 1/8 inches, then discard the new sparser bar and begin again.
- Another Note: Do not drill the holes smaller than 1/8 inches in diameter. If you drill holes that are smaller than 1/8 inches, then obtain a 1/8 inch drill bit and use that to increase the diameter of the holes that you have drilled.
- Once you have exactly 24 holes in the new Sparser Bar, then rotate the pipe 30 degrees and drill 24 more holes in the exact same positions as the holes that are now 30 degrees from where you are going to drill the new holes.
- Note: Do not drill the second set of holes at a 40 degree angle from the first set of holes as this is not the correct angle. Only drill the holes at a 30 degree angle from the first set of holes.
- Also Note: Do not drill the holes at a 20 degree angle, as this is also not the correct angle from the first set of holes.
- Caution: If you find that you have drilled the second set of holes at an angle other than 30 degrees, please discard the sparser bar and begin again.
- Once you have exactly 48 holes (count them… 24 + 24) in the sparser bar, thread both ends of the pipe.
- After you have threaded both ends of the new sparser bar, put a metal cap on one end of the sparser bar.
- Note: Do Not under any circumstance put a metal cap on both ends of the sparser bar as this will render the sparser bar useless because there will not be any way to attach the sparser bar to the water line.
- Caution: If you find that you have accidentally put a metal cap on both ends of the sparser bar, then remove the metal cap from one end (and only one end) of the sparser bar so that it can be attached to the water line.
- After you have completed creating the new sparser bar with two rows of 24 1/8 in. holes each at an angle of exactly 30 degrees, then using a medium pipe wrench attach the new sparser bar to the water line.
- Align the holes on the sparser bar so that they will have the maximum desired affect when the water is turned on.
See? Only 7 easy steps. I think Tony Mena said he fell asleep trying to read my “Sparser Bar Task List”. I seem to remember Ray Eberle telling me that Tony said, “Kevin’s a nut!”
So, I have one more story to tell you about writing task lists, and then I will conclude this post with the proper conclusive paragraph….
At the plant, every piece of equipment had their own “Cost Center”. This came in handy when you were looking for spending trends and things like that. The structure of the cost center was like this: SO-1-FD-A-FDFLOP — I just made that up. It’s not a real cost center… I just wanted to show you the structure…. The first two characters SO represent the plant. The following “1” represents the unit. We had 2 units. The FD represents a “functional area” like “Force Draft Fan. The “A” represents the number of the piece of equipment, like A or B or C, etc…. depending on how many there are. The FDFLOP is the piece of equipment. In this case it might be a Forced Draft Fan Lube Oil Pump.
I’m explaining this apparently boring aspect of Power Plant Life, because I made an attempt to make it a little more interesting. Here is what I did…. The Ultra Clean water that goes in the boilers and are used to turn the turbine are stored in a couple of large water tanks in front of the main power transformer. The code for their functional area just happened to be: “AM”. So, when you were creating a task for working on a piece of equipment on the first of the two tanks, the Functional area would look like this: SO-1-AM-A…..
See where I’m going with this? It looks like it is saying… “So I am a….” This quickly reminded me of Jim Arnold, who was the Superintendent of Maintenance. The guy that had assigned me to write all of these task lists in the first place. He always seemed like he was king of the jungle, so I thought I would have a little fun with this….
I created a completely new Functional Area Cost Center for this water tank for a non-existent piece of equipment…. I called it the “Gould Outdoor Detector”. So, when I created the Cost Center string, it looked like this: SO-1-AM-A-GOD. For the Gould Outdoor Detector. — I know… I was being rotten.
Then using this cost center (that looked like “So, I am a God”), I created a Task List called: “How to be Superintendent of Maintenance”. I added a lot of steps to the task about how you can humiliate your employees and over work them, and kick them when they are down, and stuff like that. I don’t remember the details. Anyway, that was a lot of fun.
I created task lists up until the day before I left the plant. At my going away party Jim Arnold asked me how many task lists I had created in the last three years… the count was something close to 17,800 task lists. Yeah. That’s right. I wrote over 17,000 descriptions of Power Plant Man jobs in three years. Our plant had over three times more task lists in SAP than the rest of the entire electric company put together.
You can see that I was proud of some, like my the novel I wrote about Elevator Maintenance. You can also tell that working side-by-side with Ray Eberle kept us both entertained during those years. We were the best of friends when I left. I don’t know how many times I just about passed out because I was laughing so hard while we worked together.
If I were to write Power Plant Tasks today, I think I would write the ones that aren’t assigned to a Maintenance Order… they would be more like “How to be a True Power Plant Man”. It would be a novel that would describe the tremendous character of each and every True Power Plant Man and Woman that I learned to love during my stay at the “Power Plant Palace.”
I spent 12 weeks in Oklahoma City in 1996 working in an office building while the Power Plant Men came to the rescue and caused a culture shock for some who had never experienced a group of Power Plant Men so closely packed in an office cubicle before. The effect can almost be the same as if you have too many radioactive particles compressed together causing a chain reaction ending in a tremendous explosion. Having survived this experience I became intrigued with the idea of working in an office on a computer instead of carrying a tool bucket up 25 flights of stairs to fix the boiler elevator.
Our team had been in Oklahoma City when we were converting the Electric Company in Oklahoma to a new financial and planning system known as SAP. See the post: “Corporate Executive Kent Norris Meets Power Plant Men“. One other person from out plant was in Oklahoma City for the entire 9 months it took to roll out SAP. That was Linda Dallas, our HR Supervisor at the Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.
Linda Dallas was on the core SAP team which was a coveted spot for one not so obvious reason. The few people that were on the core team were learning how to implement SAP in a fairly large public electric company. The consulting company Ernst and Young were teaching them how to build SAP screens and configure the application as well as how to run a large project. — Do you see where I’m going?
I went out and bought a book on programming SAP myself just in case I had a chance to play around with it when we were in Oklahoma City. I read the book, but unfortunately the opportunity to mess with SAP never came up.
Mark Romano, the engineer that was coordinating our efforts during the project tried to have me assigned to the testing team for SAP, but the SAP guys said they didn’t need anyone else…. For more about Mark Romano, read this post: “Power Plant Marine Battles with God and Wins“. Consequently, when Mark told me that the testing team positions were just as coveted as the core team and they didn’t want an outsider coming in and showing them up, I understood.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet…. SAP was an up and coming terrific software package that took practically your entire company’s computer activities and put them in one all encompassing application. People experienced in SAP were far and few between, so anyone looking for people with SAP experience were finding the pickin’s rather slim. Because of this, most of the people involved in the core SAP implementation could basically write their ticket when it came to finding a job with a company trying to implement SAP in 1996-97.
I thanked Mark for putting in a good word for me with the testing team. I also told him that the first time I actually am able to use SAP, I will break it within 10 minutes just so the testing team can see how it’s done. — I had a lot of experience with “Negative testing” as it is called in IT. That is when you do what you can to try to break the application.
I like the word “consequently” today, so I’m going to use it again…. Consequently, when Linda Dallas came back to our plant to show us all how to use SAP, here is what happened….
We went to the small conference room where I had setup about 15 computers all hooked up to the company’s Intranet. The team from Oklahoma City had actually brought the computers. I had just run all the network cables to the room so they could train people 15 at a time. The trainers wanted to “lock down” the computers so that they only had SAP on them and not other things like “Solitaire” that might distract the Power Plant Trainees.
Here is what happened when I showed up for my class…. Linda Dallas was teaching it along with one other guy from Corporate Headquarters…. I’ll call him “Jack”… for various reasons, but mainly because I can’t remember his name… Jack told us that the computers we were using were stripped down so that it didn’t have games like Minesweeper and Solitaire on them, (as did all the regular Windows NT computers).
The first thing I did when he told us that was to browse over to the electric shop computer through the network and copy the minesweeper and the solitaire games from the computer in the electric shop to my training computer….. See how rotten I used to be (yeah… used to be… Huh? What’s that?)… Then I opened Solitaire and started playing it while they explained how to go into SAP and start doing our jobs.
They showed us the Inventory section. That had all the parts in the company in it. That was the part of the application I had helped implement in our small way.
When they showed us the inventory section, I realized right away how I could break SAP, so I proceeded to open 10 different screens of the SAP client, and began some crazy wildcard searches on each one of them. The application came to a grinding halt. (for any developers reading this… let’s call it… “SQL Injection”).
Linda, who was trying to show us how to go from screen-to-screen suddenly was staring at a screen that was going no where. She tried to explain that they were still having some performance issues with the application….
I just stared at my own computer screen trying to figure out if I had a red ten to put on the black jack…. when a red-faced Jack came around the tables and saw me playing Solitaire. I just smiled up at him and he had a confused look on his face as we waited for the screen on the projector to begin working again.
I knew of course what had happened and after about 5 minutes of everyone’s screen being locked up, the application finally began working again and the training continued. — I was happy. I had completed my testing that the testing team didn’t think they needed. Of course, I did it to honor Mark Romano’s failed attempt to have me moved to the SAP testing team.
A couple of years later when I was working with Ray Eberle on a Saturday (as we were working 4 – 10s, and rotated onto a Saturday once every 4 weeks), I showed him how I could lock up SAP for the entire company any time I wanted. Since few people were working on Saturday, I figured I could show him how it was done without causing a raucous. It took about 35 seconds and SAP would be down for as long as I wanted. There was a way to prevent this… but…. If the testers never test it, they would never tell the developers to fix it (I’m sure they have fixed it by now… that was 18 years ago).
Anyway, the story about implementing SAP isn’t really what this post is about. It is just the preamble that explains why in the spring of 1997, Linda Dallas left as the Supervisor of HR at our plant. She found another job in Dallas with some of the other core SAP team members implementing SAP.
When the job opening for Linda Dallas’s job came out at our plant, I figured that since I met the minimum qualification, I might as well apply for it. Why not. It would mean putting away my tool bucket and working on the computer a lot more, which was something I was interested in since my experience a few months earlier when I was working at Corporate Headquarters.
I knew right away that no one would really take my job application seriously. I had all the computer related skills. I had a degree in Psychology, and a Masters in Religious Education from Loyola with a focus on adult education. That wasn’t really the point. I had never been a clerk.
The natural progression of things meant that the only “real” possible pool of applicants were the women clerks in the front office. Specifically Louise Kalicki. Her desk was closest to Linda Dallas’s office, so, in a sense, she was “next-in-line”.
Even though I knew that the plant manager Bill Green and Jim Arnold the Maintenance Supervisor would never want me on the “staff”, I went ahead and applied for the job anyway. I figured, it was worth the experience to apply and go through the interview process even though I wouldn’t be taken seriously.
I think Louise and I were the only two to apply for the job. Maybe Linda Shiever did as well, as she had the most seniority at the plant. Linda was actually the first person hired at the plant when it was first built. Louise had been filling in for Linda Dallas for the past year while Linda Dallas had been in Oklahoma City working on SAP, so she was really a “shoe-in” for the job.
When I went up to the interview, the first thing I had to do was take a timed typing test to see if I could type 35 words a minute (I could type 70). I had dressed up for the interview so that when I walked into the plant manager’s office, Bill Green and Jim Arnold had a little “Hee Haw” about seeing me without coal dust and fly ash coming out of my nose and ears. I told them that “I can get cleaned up when I needed to” (notice that I used the word “get” and ended my sentence with a preposition… just so they didn’t think I was too stuck up. See the post: “Power Plant Men Learned Themselves Proper English“).
No one was surprised when Louise Kalicki was promoted to HR Supervisor. She was probably the best choice when you think about it. She had a better relationship with Bill Green and Jim Arnold than I did and a good part of the job was working with those two rascals (oh… did I actually call them rascals? Bless their hearts).
This was right around the time that I had made my decision to go back to school to work toward a degree in Computer Science. Working with computers was really my passion.
I have an interesting way of making decisions about what I’m going to do with my life. I let certain events help make the decisions, instead of just jumping right in. I had decided (knowing that it was pretty much a safe bet) that if I didn’t get the job as the HR Supervisor, then I would go down to Oklahoma State University just a few miles from my house and enroll in the Arts and Science College and work on a degree in Computer Science.
I made a lot of decisions that way. I figured that if I was meant to do something, then it would work out that way. If not, then, fine, I would go a different route.
Ok. One more side story about working with Ray Eberle and SAP (See the post: “Tales of Power Plant Prowess by Ray Eberle“)… This happened some time around the year 2000.
SAP had this icon of a drip of water dropping and causing a ripple of waves….
When the application was thinking, this picture was in the upper right hand corner and it was animated, so that the water rippled out as the water dripped. That way you could tell the difference between the application being stuck and just thinking.
This wasn’t just an animated GIF as we might have today. It was actually a series of bitmap pictures that were all strung together into one file. Once I figured this out, I used Paint to modify the picture. I created three new versions…. The first one had a small ship with sails sailing across the rippling water. The second one had a yellow fish that would leap out of the water over and over.
It was the third picture that was my masterpiece. I reversed the flow, so that instead of the water rippling out, it came in as if it was a whirlpool sucking things down. Then I added a small picture of our HR Supervisor’s face being sucked down into the whirlpool.
Then I created a small application that allowed people to change their water rippling animated picture to any of the four (with the regular picture being the fourth option) that they wanted quickly and easily. I know the women in the front office liked the one with the HR supervisor being sucked down the whirlpool the best. I won’t mention who they were, but by the following two pictures, you may be able to guess….
I would think that Bill Green would have liked the sailing ship the best since he liked to sail…. though… for some reason, I never made it around to install my “SAP add-on” on his computer (or Louise Kalicki’s for that matter, since she was the HR Supervisor). Most of the Power Plant Men probably would like the fish jumping out of the water, since they liked fishing. — I know… I know… I was being rotten… but it was fun.
Ok. End of the Side Story and end of the post.
I woke up from a dream this past Wednesday where I had just insulted a young lady who had cancer treatment by calling her “baldy”. In the dream I was attempting to be funny, but as soon as I said it, I knew I had crossed the line of common courtesy. I acknowledged right away that “I shouldn’t have said that”, and rose from my chair to go find whoever it was so that I could apologize. In my dream I was never able to find the person, though I thoroughly searched whatever restaurant-factory-office building we were in. You know how thing are in dreams.
I preface this post with that thought because someone may take offense to the title I have chosen today. So, let me just say that this is a story about someone that has been the source of constant conversation in my family for the past 30 years. Though I never refer to him as “Frog”, that is a title reserved for one of this man’s best friends. It is an expression of friendship bestowed upon Walt Oswalt by Ray Eberle.
Ray Eberle is the most amazing storyteller of our time. He captivated Power Plant audiences for the past 40 years up until the day he recently retired. I have heard hundreds of stories by Ray, but none of them were ever said with more compassion and humor than the stories that Ray Eberle would tell me about our fellow Power Plant Man, Walt Oswalt.
I used to think that Walt’s parents name him Walt so that it would be easy for him to spell his entire name. Once he learned his first name, he just had to add an OS to it, and he could spell his last name. Well, actually, his full name was Walter Lee Oswalt. But whose counting? I also thought that OD McGaha (prounounced Muh Gay Hay) was in a similar situation, because OD simply stood for OD (prounounced O-D or Oh Dee). Not to forget Dee Ball. I’ll bet all of these guys could spell their names by the time they graduated the third grade.
Look closely at Ray Eberle’s picture above, because if you look closely into his eyes you can see that back behind those orbs, thousands of wonderful stories are packed in there waiting to be told. I don’t know if I have mentioned this in a post before, but Ray looks just like my grandfather when he was younger. I think I mentioned that to Ray one day. Since those days when we used to sit side-by-side working on the computers in the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, I have loved Ray with all my heart as if he is a member of my family (see the post: “Tales of Power Plant Prowess by Ray Eberle“).
Even though this post is about Walt Oswalt, I am spending an unusual amount of time talking about Ray, because the stories I am about to relay are told through the eyes of Ray. I have already passed on some stories about Walt in other posts, so I will focus on those stories about Walt experienced by Ray. I will only scratch the surface today, as it takes some time to absorb the universal significance of each story. If I flood you with too many Walt Oswalt stories at once it may cause confusion. I appreciated the fact that Ray didn’t lay all his Walt Oswalt stories on me in one sitting for this very reason.
Ray Eberle began his stories about Walt by telling me about going over to Jimmy Moore’s new house. Jimmy had just moved into a new house outside Morrison Oklahoma not too far from Ray. Ray described how nice the property was at the time. It was a picture perfect piece of property. The surrounding fields were pristine giving the feeling of peace when you looked around.
Note the Sparco notepad in Jimmy’s pocket. A Power Plant Electrician Necessity, just like the notepads I always used:
Just when Ray was soaking in the perfection of Jimmy’s new property, dreaming that he could have found such a great spot, Jimmy mentioned that Walt Oswalt bought the property across the road. Ray’s response was “Frog bought the land across the road? Oh no!” Not wanting to upset Jimmy, he didn’t say anything else, but he was thinking it…. You see, Walt is sort of a “junk collector”.
I have always been a junk collector myself, as you may have figured out by the fact that I still have a notepad left over from Christmas 1995. Actually, I could take a picture of the Sparco notepads I have kept from my time at the power plant and it would look like this:
So, I was a note taker… Each page of these notepads are filled with work order numbers, part numbers, phrases I heard, Things Gone Right, Things Gone Wrong meeting notes, Meeting schedules, tools needed, and sometimes just thoughts that came to my mind. I am mentioning this because I have this common bond with Walt. We both like to collect things that others see as “junk”.
Ray was worried that after Walt moved in across the road that the Beatrice Potter Meadow was going to change into Fallout 3 terrain (well, my phrases, not his, but I think you can picture what I am saying). From what I understand, this is what happened. — This by the way is not a Walt Oswalt Story. This has been more of a Jimmy Moore story.
I have been waiting so long to actually write down a Walt Oswalt Story that I actually find it hard to bring myself to put it down on virtual paper, but here goes….
Here begins the first Walt Oswalt Story:
In the mid-90s the Internet was something of a new phenomenon. I had taught most of the Power Plant Men how to use the Internet (excluding upper management) as you can read in the post: “Power Plant Quest for the Internet“. One person who immediately saw the benefit of using the Internet beyond looking up indecent pictures or connecting with clandestine online “Match.com” experiences was Walt Oswalt. Walt saw “business opportunity”!
So, follow me on this story, because Walt stories can become complicated on paper because I can’t talk using my hands. I may need some help from Walt’s son Edward, since he played a major role in this one…
One day, Walt and Ray were talking and Walt told Ray that he was looking at buying a dump truck. Let me just show a picture of a dump truck, even though I don’t know the specific truck Walt had in mind. I just know the approximate size:
Let’s just suppose that it is a truck like this…. anyway, Walt explained to Ray that he could buy the truck he wanted up in Wichita one hundred miles away. However, Walt wasn’t going to do that. He had found the same truck on the Internet for sale for $500 cheaper near Virginia Beach, Virginia, 1,400 miles away.
Ray asked, “But isn’t it going to cost you more than that to have the truck shipped to Oklahoma?” “Oh, I have that all figured out. I’m going to go pick it up myself.” He went on to explain that he and his son (this is where Edward enters the story) were going to drive non-stop to Virginia Beach and pick it up. They won’t have to stop because they can trade off driving while the other rests.
So, a marathon trip for 2,800 miles was planned. Walt had a trailer attached to his truck to bring the new truck back… Though I’m not sure why the thought that they could just drive the new truck home wasn’t considered (or flying out there and driving the truck back, but then, that would cost more than the $500 they were saving by buying the truck)…. The plan was that they would load the truck on the trailer and haul it home. Maybe it was so that they didn’t have to stop because they could swap off driving if they were only driving one of the two trucks.
Two members of the Oswalt family took off for the East Coast one Friday evening. They arrived early Sunday morning at the place of business where they were going to purchase the truck. From what I understand, the business was closed, (being Sunday, and all), so they called the owner and told him they were there to pick up the truck. After waiting a few hours, the truck was purchased, and Walt and Edward were on their way back home.
A couple of days later, Ray noticed that Walt had made it back home, so he went over to his house to see how he managed. Obviously, after travelling 2,800 miles in four days, the two were bushed, but the new truck was finally home. While Ray was talking to Walt about his trip, he happened to notice that the back of the dump truck was loaded with blown out tires.
“Hey Walt, what’s up with all the tires?” Ray asked. “Oh. Those.” Walt replied…. “Well, the trailer wasn’t really big enough to carry this much weight, so we kept blowing out tires on the trailer when we were coming home.” They must have blown out more than 20 tires driving home. So, it seems to me that this turned out to be a pretty costly savings of $500.
I would leave this story at that, but after a couple of trips to Los Angeles and back from Round Rock, TX, I have to say that spending countless hours with your family in the car where there is nothing to do but to talk to each other is an incredibly priceless experience. Once, my son Anthony and I drove the same distance, 1400 miles non-stop from Los Angeles to Round Rock without stopping and we talked the entire time. I would say it is an experience worth a million bucks.
The night before last, I received a message on Facebook from a Power Plant Technician, Doug Black. He wrote: Sooner retiree, Walter Oswalt passed away on September 30, 2015. Walter will be laid to rest at Yukon Cemetery with a grave service on October 23, at 2 p.m.
I looked up Walt’s Obituary, and it seemed to me that there was one phrase missing from the description. It said that “Walt had went to work for OG&E in Mustang Oklahoma and later retired from the OG&E plant in Redrock…” I didn’t see the words, “Power Plant Legend” mentioned anywhere in the Obituary. It should be mentioned, because that’s exactly who Walt Oswalt is.
I may not have had the benefit of sitting in a truck with Walt for 20 hours at a time, but I was able to work one-on-one with Walt one day for 19 hours straight on a Saturday when we were on “Coal Cleanup” that had turned into a job repairing conveyor belt rollers. During that day, while I was a young man of 20, I went through the motions directed by Walt to remove and install rollers on the number 10 belt up toward the top.
I didn’t have much of a clue about what I was doing, but I had placed all my confidence in Walt. I felt the entire time as if Walt was keeping me safe in a potentially unsafe situation even after being awake for 19 hours. So, I have a little knowledge of what the road trip was like that Walt and his son Edward took “There and Back Again.”
It may seem that Walt had made a bad decision to make the Internet Purchase of a truck 1,400 miles away in order to save $500, but I think that God helps us along some times by sending us down a path that seems a little foolish, only to force us into a benefit we would not otherwise encounter. I keep Walt in mind whenever things like that happen to me today and I thank him for keeping me from being disappointed with those times in my life.
Now that Walt has met his maker, I’m sure that Walt is sitting there with Jesus Christ reviewing not only Walt’s life, but also Ray Eberle’s retelling of Walt’s story. Walt may now be surprised to find that moments that he thought were rather insignificant to anyone but himself have actually been spread to others across the world. As I mentioned in the post about Ray Eberle, a few years ago, CEOs of large companies across the U.S. were all learning about the “Wisdom of Walt”. Some day I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the Walt Oswalt Stories have become required reading in Oklahoma Schools.
Rest in Peace Walt Oswalt. We all love you.
Originally posted December 28, 2013:
Times were changing in 1987 when the electric company in Oklahoma decided that they needed to downsize the company in order to change with the new business environment. I always seemed to think that the executives down at corporate headquarters in Oklahoma City knew that the old pioneers in charge of the Power Plants would be very difficult customers when it came to the new business model.
Like I said…. Times were changing. The digital era was being introduced to the power industry. We had already upgraded the precipitator controls to make them computerized. Other areas of the plant were going to be next. Especially the employees. Of course, none of us knew that quite yet, except Bill Rivers, who was a natural visionary, and he was gone.
Side story time:
I had always been interested in computers and programming from the time I was a sophomore in High School when I had just turned 15 years old. My friend Jesse Cheng had introduced me to one of the first programmable calculators, the HP-25.
This was the most wonderful Christmas present I had ever received. I literally felt myself fainting when I opened the present and found that I had been given a pair of cowboy boots, only to find an HP-25 calculator inside when I opened it up. Ralphie had nothing on me that day.
It was much like the Christmas Story with Ralphie. I had tried every with way to convince my parents that using a slide rule in High School was passe (pronounced “pass A”). All the other students in my advanced chemistry class were using calculators, and I was still stuck with my dad’s old circular slide rule. It was a pretty neat one, I’ll grant you that, but it just… well….. I could work things out on paper faster than I could use the slide rule.
I introduced my friend Jesse Cheng in the post “Why Do Power Plant Men Always Lose the Things They Love Most“. He had an HP-25 calculator and had loaned it to me to take a Chemistry test. He showed me how it used Reverse Polish Notation, which is different than a normal calculator, but more like a computer.
The calculator could be programmed with 49 steps. Because it had a stack built right into it, and the reason it used Reversed Polish Notation, we could create all sorts of games with just those 49 steps. The book that came with the calculator had a moon landing game. We made more sophisticated games, like one called Battleship.
Anyway. Because of this early exposure with actually programming something in a logical manner, I was eager to learn more about programming. During college, my calculator was often sitting on my desk in the dorm room running a long program to help me perfect a random number generator. Finally in my Junior year in college, my calculator was completely fried.
After I was married at the end of 1985, I began subscribing to a magazine called “Compute”. It had actual programs in it in Basic. I would read the programs to learn how it worked, but at that point, I didn’t own a computer, so all I could do was dream about writing programs.
It wasn’t until Thanksgiving 1987 when I went to visit my ol’ friend Jesse Cheng in Columbia, Missouri who was interning as a medical doctor that I felt a sudden need to have a computer of my own. He had built a computer using a Heath Kit and we used it to play two computer games. One was called Starflight:
The other was called F15 Strike Eagle:
When I returned home I was pretty eager to buy a computer. Up until that time, every time my wife and I had gone to the mall, I always had stopped in the computer stores to look at the latest computers. I never had really considered buying one. But now, they had 20 megabyte hard drives! And you could play these terrific games like Starflight and F-15 Strike Eagle.
So, one day after we had left the mall, and my wife could see the look on my face, she finally said…. “Why don’t you go and buy one?” I asked her, “Are you sure? Because you know what is going to happen if I get a computer. I’ll be playing on it all the time.” She said, “No. I want you to go buy one.” So we turned around and went back to the mall.
That was the start of my journey into the world of computers.
End of Side Story.
As I explained in the post “Boppin’ with Bif during the Power Plant Downsizing“, the company offered an early retirement package for everyone 55 years old and older. They would give them full benefits to leave. This meant that our Electrical Supervisor, Leroy Godfrey, as well as the assistant plant manager, Bill Moler and the Plant Manager, Eldon Waugh were all going to retire some time in August 1987.
We had a retirement party for Leroy Godfrey out in the country at Diana Brien’s house. A bunch of the electricians were there including Mark Meeks, who Leroy knew at the time was the one that was going to be laid off. Mark commented about that later when he was told that he was losing his job that Leroy had sat there and smiled at him while we were at the party. Mark knew Leroy didn’t like him, but hadn’t expected to be the one to go since everyone thought it would be Gary Wehunt, since he was the newest member in the shop.
I explained in the post, “The Passing of an Old School Power Plant Man — Leroy Godfrey” what Leroy’s management style was like. It was very top-down, if you know what I mean. It was like, “Because I told you so.” No need to explain anything. That was the world of Power Plant Management up to that point.
I think Corporate Headquarters realized that this needed to change in order for the company to compete in a world where electric companies could no longer count on the Corporation Commission to guarantee a sustainable electric rate or even a set number of customers. The world of electric power was changing rapidly and the company needed to move on from the mentality that it could be run like a “good ol’ boys” club.
It is easier to teach young dogs new tricks than older and crankier ones. It looked to me like this was a logical choice when looking back using hindsight. I think the company was making a bold move. I don’t think they really had much of a choice if they wanted to survive.
So, we had the main retirement party at the plant where people stood up and told stories about the old guys that were retiring. Nothing much happened there except the part where Leroy Godfrey’s daughter stood up and said that we just had to work with him, while she had to live with him… see the post about Leroy above for the full story about that.
Then the following Monday. I believe it was August 17, 1987, everyone was told to meet in the main break room for a meeting with our new management. That was when we were introduced to our new plant manager, Ron Kilman.
I remember a certain part of the meeting very well. Ron said something funny. It didn’t matter exactly what he said. I don’t even remember what it was. Probably something self-deprecating. I leaned over to Charles Foster, who had been my foreman for a while (on that day, it was officially Andy Tubbs). I said, “I didn’t know Plant Managers could tell jokes!”
Charles looked back at me and I raised my eyebrows and tilted my head while the corners of my mouth went down. — This was one of the signals I had learned while carpooling with Bud Schoonover when I needed to communicate with Dick Dale without saying anything out loud (see the post: Carpooling with Bud Schoonover“. This particular expression meant, “Maybe this won’t be such a bad thing.”
Ron Kilman remained the plant manager at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma for the next 7 years. The stories that I will post during this next year will all be at least partially from this time period. During this time, there were some decisions that Ron made that I applauded, and others that even he would admit he wished he hadn’t made.
All in all, I think that Ron has a good heart and that those times when he did make a rash decision, it was evident that he was falling back to his “management training” and not managing from his heart. Old School management training left a lot to be desired.
During the 7 years from 1987 to 1994, the power plant saw a lot of changes. Some I have alluded to already. Such as the move to computerize everything. The other was a total change in how management works. Or at least that was the attempt.
People were willing to step out of their regular day-to-day jobs and try new things that they thought would help the plant. Many of these things were successful. Some of them failed, but not so miserably as they would have if the earlier management had been around. The employees felt as if they had more of a say in how the plant ran instead of feeling like they were just a bunch of tools running around fixing things.
I have a quote from Ron Kilman that said it all one day after a catastrophe had occurred. It summed up his management style as opposed to his assistant manager, Ben Brandt. I will relay the exact story later, but for now I’ll just say that when Ben Brandt saw what happened, the first thing that he said was, “Who did this?” When Ron Kilman saw what had happened, the first thing he said was, “How can we prevent this from happening again?”
Ben’s approach was from the old school of thought. Blame and punish the culprit. Later when we were drastically changing the way process improvements took place, my favorite quote from Ben Brandt is, “I am the obstacle! We aren’t going to change because I say so.” We all had to agree. He was definitely the obstacle.
Ron’s approach was one more like a leader. “Let’s get the job done right.” Sure, he is human, so the decisions weren’t always perfect, but I think in general, he was leading where other people may have been dragging.
Well… I will say no more for now… I look forward to writing stories about this time period during this next year. I’m sure there are a lot of those at the plant just as eager to see how I portray the different events that took place during this time.