August 16, 2001 was my final day at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma. I had stepped onto the plant grounds May 7, 1979, 22 years earlier. Now I was leaving to change careers and moving to Round Rock, Texas to work for Dell Computers. During my final day, a going away party was held in my honor by the Power Plant Men and Women that I had the privilege to work alongside during the past 22 years.
A few minutes before the party began, I slipped into the office bathroom/locker room and changed into a navy blue suit and tie. Combed my hair. Put on black socks with my shiny black shoe. Grabbed my briefcase and headed for the break room. When I walked in the room, it was packed full of Power Plant Men and Women all waiting to say goodbye to one of their family.
Many wondered who it was that had joined their party of one of their own. Who was this person in the suit and tie? Ed Shiever told me later that he didn’t even recognize me. It wasn’t until I reached out and shook his hand that he realized that his was Kevin Breazile. The same person he had known since he was a temp employee working in the tool room.
When the Power Plant Men finally realized that I was the person they had been waiting for, they broke out in applause as I walked around shaking their hands. I would have broke out in tears if I hadn’t been thinking about what a great person each of them had been over the many years we had known each other.
I made my way to the front of the room where I had set up a computer and hooked it to the big screen TV. I had a special surprise waiting for them. One that would temporarily change the plant policy on going away parties after I was gone. I had prepared a special PowerPoint presentation for them (insert evil grin here).
I set my briefcase next to the computer on the end of the table acting as if the computer had nothing to do with the party. Then I stood there as the “going away” part of the party began.
It was typical for people to stand up and tell a story or two about the person leaving, so Jim Arnold (the Supervisor of Maintenance and part time nemesis) was first. He explained how I had been working on SAP for the past three years creating tasks lists that are used to describe each possible job in the plant.
He turned to me and asked me how many task lists I had created in the last 3 years. I replied, “About 17,800”. Jim said that this boggled his mind. It was three times more than the entire rest of the company put together.
Jim made a comment about how he wasn’t sure he would want a job where you have to dress up in a suit and tie.
Andy Tubbs stood up and presented me with my 20 year safety sticker and a leather backpack for working 20 years without an accident, which was completed on August 11, just 5 days before. I had worked four summers as a summer help, which counted as one year of service, then I had completed 19 years as a full time employee that very same week.
I like being roasted, but that didn’t really happen. A few other people told some stories about me, that I can’t recall because I was busy thinking about the PowerPoint presentation. I had memorized my entire script, and the presentation was pretty much automatic and timed, and I had to keep to my script or pause the presentation.
Then Jim Arnold asked me (Bill Green, the Plant Manager was gone that day visiting the Muskogee Plant) if I had anything I would like to say before I left…. That was the cue I had been waiting for. I replied, “Actually, I have a PowerPoint presentation right here, and I hit a key, and the TV lit up….
I will present each of the 26 slides below with the comments I made during each one. Since many of the slides are animated, I will try to describe how that worked as I made my presentation… so, hang on… this is going to be a lot of slides…. I broke it down into about 45 pictures. The Script is what I said for each slide:
Remember when Mark Draper came here for a year and when he was getting ready to leave he gave a presentation about where he thought we were doing well, and how we could improve ourselves?
I thought that since I have spent 20 years with you guys I might be able to come up with a few comments. Especially as opinionated as I am.
In 1979, I came to work here as a summer help. The plant was still being built and I was really impressed with the special quality of people I met and looked up to.
Script continues as these three pictures slide in:
Like for instance there was Sonny Karcher and another was Jerry Mitchell. It has been a while since I have seen these two guys, and I know that Jerry has passed on, but this is the way I remember them.
And of course Larry Riley was there.
Larry was the one I worked with back then that seemed to know what was going on. I will always consider him a good friend.
When I was on Labor Crew I would call him “Dad”. He would never own up to it. He said I was never the same after I fell on my head when I was a kid.
I used to get real dirty when I worked in the coal yard right alongside Jerry Mitchell. He would stay perfectly clean. He told me that I knew I was good when I could keep myself clean. —
Well. I have found a better way to do that. And once again I would like to thank OG&E for paying for my education.
I encourage all the new guys to seriously consider taking advantage of the free education benefit.
Then of course there was our Plant Manager and Assistant Manager back then.
This is how I remember them.
After hiring on permanently as a janitor in ’82, and getting on Labor crew in the spring of ’83. I was able to get into the electric shop in November 1983.
I vividly remember my first day as an electrician. The first thing I worked on, I shorted it to ground.
Script continues as Charles Foster’s picture slides in:
With no prior experience as an electrician I was allowed to join the electric shop. Charles Foster was instrumental in getting me into the shop, and I am grateful. As everyone knows, Charles is a long time friend of mine.
For years and years Charles would tell the story about how he fought tooth and nail for me against the evil Plant Manager and His diabolic Assistant who wanted me to be banished to the Labor Crew for eternity.
Not too long ago I told Charles that if he hadn’t pushed so hard to get me into the electric shop, I probably would have left OG&E and went back to school years ago ( like my mom wanted me to do), and made something of myself long before now.
These are the electricians that were there when I first joined the electric shop. These are the only ones left. I think we started out with 16.
The electricians were always a tight knit group. It amazed me to see a electricians who couldn’t stand each other sit down and play dominos three times a day, every day, year after year.
Jimmie Moore joined the shop some time later.
And of course. Bill Bennett was around back then.
When I arrived in the electric shop I was 23 years old and I replaced Diana Brien as the youngest electrician in the shop. As I leave, I am almost 41 years old, and I am still the youngest electrician. As I leave, I relinquish the title back to Diana Brien who once again will be the youngest electrician.
As a side note…. I don’t know why I forgot about Ben Davis. He reminded me after the presentation… I don’t know how… Here is a picture of Ben:
I suppose you all remember what happened on February 15th, 1985. The day we refer to as “Black Friday”. The day that the “Drug and Theft” ring was busted at Sooner Station. That was the day that a very dear friend of mine, Pat Braden, whom everyone knew as a kind easy going person turned out to be some evil leader of a theft ring.
Note: As I was saying the above statement, This mummy walked across the slide…
Note: Then Barney slide across in the other direction…
Well. I know better than that. I will always remember Pat Braden with a smile on his face. Mickey Postman, I know you would agree with me about Pat and just about everyone else who knew him well.
It has been 16 years since this took place and the company has gone through a lot of changes, but don’t ever think something like this couldn’t happen again.
Note… The hammers come in and stomp the images off the slide….
Then there was the first Reorganization. The old people retired on October 1st. That was the end of the Moler and Waugh regime.
At first we thought we were all on vacation. Our new plant manager came in the first meeting with us and told a joke.
We all looked at each other and wondered, “Can plant managers even do that?”
I’m sure you guys remember Ron Kilman. Bless his heart.
The second part of the first reorganization allowed people without jobs to find a position in the company over a 8 month period.
Note: Pictures of Scott Hubbard fly in along with the words: “Hubbard Here!” then each one disappears leaving this:
That is when Scott Hubbard joined the electric shop.
Scott and I drove to work together for a long time and we became good friends.
I’ll miss Scott when I leave. I’ll remember that “Hubbard is Here”, while I’ll be down there – in Texas.
Do you remember the Quality Process? They said it was a process and not a program because when a program is over it goes away, and a process is something that will always be here. — Yeah right.
Note: While I was saying this, the screen all of the sudden went dark as I kept talking… I could tell that people wondered if I realized that the presentation had suddenly disappeared….
This is all we have left of the Quality Process.
When I said the line “This is all we have left of the Quality Process” pointing my thumb over my shoulder with a look of disappointment on my face, the room suddenly burst out into cheers and applause as they realized that the blank screen represented the current state of the Quality process at the plant.
The first reorganization was done in a somewhat orderly manner.
They retired the old guys out first and brought in the new management, then they informed those that didn’t have positions and gave them time to find a job before they let them go.
Note: The sounds of gun shots were barely heard from the computer speaker, as splats occurred on the slide until it looked like this:
The second reorganization. Well. It was a massacre.
It was a very lousy way to do this, and very humiliating.
Jim Arnold at this point was about to jump out of his chair and stop the show (since he was instrumental in making the downsizing as brutal as possible), so I was quick to go to the next slide…
With the redesign came another Plant Manager. One of the first things I remember about Bill Green was that one morning I was stopped at the front gate and given a 9 volt battery for my smoke detector.
I took the battery home and put it in my smoke detector, and – guess what? – The battery was dead. And I thought, “Oh well. These things happen.”
Well a couple of years later, there was Bill Green handing out smoke detector batteries again.
I checked it out and sure enough, it was dead also.
Note: As I was talking during this slide, the marbles dropped in and bounced around then at the end the hat and moustache landed on Bill Green.
I am just wondering. I want to test out a theory I have. How many of you was given a dead battery?
— OK, I see. Just the trouble makers. I understand. It all makes sense to me now.
Second Note: Bill Green had a jar full of marbles and each color represented a type of injury someone has when they do something unsafe. Most of the marbles were blue and meant that nothing happened, the other colors represented increasingly worse injuries. Two marbles in the jar signified fatalities.
The numbers went like this:
Out of 575 incidents where someone does something unsafe, here are the consequences:
390 Blue Marbles: Nothing happens
113 Green Marbles: A First Aid injury
57 White Marbles: A Recordable Accident
8 Pink Marbles: Up to 30 days lost work day injury occurs
5 Red Marbles: 60 or more lost workdays injury occurs
2 Yellow Marbles: A Fatality occurs
The Maintenance workers are the best people I know. Everyone one of them has treated me with respect, and I consider each of you a friend.
You are the people I will miss. Not the coal dust, not the fly ash. — Just the people.
Note: Over the next set of slides, I showed the Power Plant Men I worked with… I will show you a couple of pictures of some slides to show you the animation that I had slide in and I’ll explain them.. I didn’t say much during the following slides. They flashed by fairly quickly:
Note: The circle with the slash over Bob Blubaugh represented him being recently fired… The story around this is on some of the last slides… and was a tragedy. The military cap landed on Randy Daily (in the lower right) because he was an Army Medic and was always in charge when it came to safety.
The donut flew up to Danny Cain because if there was ever free food somewhere, Danny would find it… Especially if they were donuts.
The words “Huh, Huh?” flew to Jody Morse, because he had the habit of saying something and ending his sentence with “Huh, Huh?”
Note: That was the end of the pictures of the Maintenance Power Plant Men…. I didn’t have pictures of the Operators, and they weren’t at the party…
Without these two, you wouldn’t get paid, and you wouldn’t get parts.
I agree with what Jerry Osborn said about Linda Shiever. There isn’t anyone out here that can do the job Linda does every day.
The maintenance foremen have treated me with respect and I would like to thank all of you for that.
Note: Then Jim Arnold flew in:
I realize that you have to do certain things some times because there is someone looking over your shoulders directing every move you make.
Note: At this point, Jim leaned forward in his chair to get a better look… wondering if that was his face on this picture of God…
Yes, Jim Arnold does take care of us, and we know that he doesn’t want to retire and leave us to fend for ourselves.
Note: There was a policy where you could retire once your age and years of service added up to 80 years. Jim Arnold’s added up to 100, but wouldn’t retire.
Note: Still talking about Jim Arnold:
Therefore he has devised a plan in case of an untimely death.
So don’t be smilin’ too big!!
Note: Still talking about Jim Arnold….
He will be able to direct the plant operations from his heavenly throne.
So don’t worry. He is NOT going away.
Second Note: At this point the PowerPoint presentation locked up on the computer… I had to shut down the presentation and restart it, and quickly go back to the next slide… I remembered the Alt-F4 closes the active application, so I was able to do this within about 15 seconds.
Do you remember when Bill Moler decided that you had to wear a hardhat to go fishin’ in the discharge?
He said it was because he wanted everyone to be safe.
As you can see, this made Johnny Keys rather upset.
Note: As I was speaking, Hardhats dropped onto the people:
Some bird might fly overhead and drop something on you.
Everyone knew the real reason. He didn’t want anyone fishing out there so he was making it more difficult to do that.
He used “Safety” as an excuse. Because of this, he lost credibility when it came to safety issues.
Note: The Hard hats disappeared and Cell phones and pagers dropped down as I said the following:
When you start making policies that use safety as an excuse, but it isn’t the real reason, you lose your credibility.
Second Note: At this point, Jim Arnold was jumping up from his seat… You see, Jim Arnold had fired Bob Blubaugh a few months earlier because Bob carried a cell phone with him while he was working. Jim told him he couldn’t use his cell phone during the day. When Bob refused to stop carrying a cell phone Jim Arnold fired him for insubordination.
Today that seems crazy as everyone carries cell phones. Jim’s excuse was that carrying a cell phone was not safe, though he couldn’t exactly explain why.
That’s why Jim jumped out of his chair… I thought it was over, and I had two more slides to go…. So, I quickly clicked to the next slide… and Jim sat back down…. whew….
I would like to say goodbye to Doug Black. I have been blessed to have been able to spend time with you the past three years.
Then Doug slid off the slide leaving a picture of Toby:
I would like to say goodbye to Toby, you have been a good friend, and I’ll stay in touch.
Note: Then Toby slid off and Ray Eberle’s picture was left:
Ray, I had to hide this picture from you, because you sat next to me as I created this presentation. I just want to say that the last three years we have spent working on SAP have meant a lot to me and you will always be one of my best friends. Thank you.
With that I will say “Good bye” to all of you. Thank you!
Note: This is a picture of Jim Arnold and Louise Kalicki stepping off of Air Force One. I super-imposed their faces over Bill and Hillary Clinton.
This is the end of the presentation…. With that I was ready to leave the plant and begin the next stage of my life. I will explain more in the post next week.
After I had left, I heard that when the next person had a going away party, Bill Green announced that PowerPoint Presentations are no longer allowed during going away parties!
Originally posted February 25, 2012. I added Larry’s Picture at the end:
When I first began working at the power plant (in 1979), one of the people I spent a good deal of time with was Larry Riley. I was 18 and knew very little about tools, equipment, power plants and how to speak in the Power Plant language. I quickly found out that in those early days, when the plant was still under construction, a lot of people turned to Larry Riley when they were faced with an obstacle and didn’t know how to approach it.
Larry Riley was a 24 year old genius. I was amazed by his vast knowledge of seemingly disparate areas of expertise. When he was asked to do something, I never heard him say that he didn’t know how. He just went and did it. So, after I asked Larry how old he was, I asked him how long he had been at the plant. He hadn’t been there very long, but he had worked in the construction department before transferring to the power plant.
Larry Riley already at the age of 24 had a beat up hard hat full of hard hat stickers. One indicating that he was a certified industrial truck driver. I think he had about 5 safety stickers and various other hard hat stickers. He was a thin clean cut dark haired young man with a moustache that sort of reminded me of the Marlboro Man’s moustache. He walked like he had a heavy burden on his back and he was rarely seen without a cigarette in his mouth.
I worked with Larry off and on throughout my years as a summer help and during that time Larry taught me the following things (to name a few): How to drive a tractor. How to mend a fence. How to bleed the air out of a diesel engine’s fuel line (which is more important than you would think). How to operate a brush hog (a large mower on the back of a tractor). How to free a brush hog from a chain link fence after you get one of the bat wings stuck in one. Tie rebar, and pour concrete and operate a Backhoe.
I remember asking Larry why a backhoe was called a backhoe. I think Sonny Karcher was in the truck at the time. You would have thought I had asked what year the War of 1812 was fought! I’m sure you are all chuckling while reading this (especially all the power plant men). But for those of you who are as green as I was, I’ll tell you. A Backhoe is called a Backhoe because the Hoe is on the Back. Gee. Who would have thought?
Later when I was a full time employee and had worked my way from being a Janitor to being on the Labor Crew, Larry Riley became my foreman. At that point on occassion I would call him “Dad”. He would usually disown me and deny that he had anything to do with it. On occassion when he would own up to being my dad, he would admit that when I was real little I was dropped on my head and that’s why I acted so odd (though, I don’t know to what behavior he was referring).
There was this other guy at the plant the first summer I was there that had the unique title of “Mill Wright”. His name was Gary Michelson. He evidently had gone to school, taken some tests and been certified as a Mill Wright and this probably brought him a bigger paycheck than the other regular workers as well as a much bigger ego.
Gary would spend days at a time at a band saw cutting out metal wedges at different angles so that he would have them all in his pristine tool box. I worked with him a few times during my first summer as a summer help. I will probably talk more about Gary in a later post, but just to put it plainly… I could tell right away that he wasn’t a real “power plant man”.
The rest of the power plant men I’m sure would agree with me. I wouldn’t have traded Larry Riley for ten Gary Michelsons unless I was trying to help some engineers change a light bulb (actually. I have met some good engineers along the way. Some of them very good. But they were not the norm. At least not those assigned to power plants).
I have mentioned some different things that Larry had taught me and if you remember, he was the person that I worked with on my second day at the plant when Sonny Karcher and Larry had taken me to the coalyard to fix the check valve (in my post about Sonny Karcher). There will always be one day that first comes to my mind when I think about Larry. This is what happened:
I drove a truck down to the Picnic area on the far side of the lake from the plant. Jim Heflin drove a Backhoe down there. I believe he was going to dig up some tree stumps that had been left over after the “engineers” in Oklahoma City had decided where to put all the trees in the area.
What the engineers in Oklahoma City did was this: They cut down all of the trees that were in the picnic area and planted new trees. Some of them not more than 15 or 20 feet away from a tree that had been there for 30 years and was a good size. So, there were a lot of stumps left over from the big hearty trees that had been cut down that needed to be removed so that the sickly little twigs that were planted there could prosper and grow without feeling inadequate growing next to a full grown he-man tree.
Anyway. I had climbed out of the truck and was making my way around the picnic area picking up trash and putting it in a plastic bag using a handy dandy homemade trash stabbing stick. As Jim was making his way across the “lawn” (I use the word “lawn” loosely, since the area was still fairly new and was not quite finished) when he hit a wet spot. The Backhoe was stuck in the mud.
There wasn’t much I could do but watch as Jim used the hoe to try to drag himself out. He rocked the backhoe back and forth. Use the stabilizers to pick up the backhoe while trying to use the scoop to pull it forward. I would say he worked at it for about ten minutes (even though it seemed more like half an hour). Eventually it was time for us to head back to the plant to go to break.
Back at the plant, Jim told Larry about his predicament and asked him if he would help him get the backhoe out of the mud. Larry said he would come along and see what he could do. At this point, I was thinking that he would jump in the Wench Truck and go down there and just pull him out. Instead we just climbed in the pickup truck and headed back to the park (notice how it went from being a picnic area to a park in only three paragraphs?).
When we arrived, Larry climbed into the Backhoe after making his way across the vast mud pit that Jim had created while trying to free himself before. He fired up the Backhoe…. cigarette in mouth… then the most fascinating thing happened… using both feet to work the pedals, and one hand working the controls in the front and the other hand working the levers in the back, Larry picked up the backhoe using the scoop and the hoe and stabilizers and cigarette all simultaneously, he walked the backhoe sideways right out of the mud pit and onto dry land just as if it was a crab walking sideways. I would say it took no longer than three minutes from the time he started working the controls. Jim just looked at me in amazement. Patted me on the back, shook his head and said, “And that’s how it’s done.”
Now that I’m on the subject of Larry Riley on a backhoe, let me tell you another one. I have seen Larry digging a ditch so that we could run some pipe for irrigation. Now picture this. The bucket on the backhoe is digging a hole in the hard red clay of Oklahoma, and Larry suddenly stops and says….. “I think I felt something”. What? (I think) Of course you did, you are operating this machine that has the power to dig a big hole in the ground in one scoop like it was nothing and Larry said he felt something?
He climbed off of the backhoe, jumped down into the ditch he was creating, kicked some clods of dirt around and lo and behold, he had just scraped clean a buried cable. He hadn’t broken it. He had come down on it with the bucket and had somehow “felt” this cable buried under all that dirt. I wonder what it felt like that told him he had encountered something that wasn’t just dirt. I think the entire labor crew just went down on one knee before his greatness for a moment of silence – all right, so we didn’t really. But we were somewhat impressed.
The one thing that makes Larry a True Power Plant Man with all the rest is that he performed acts of greatness like what I described above with complete humility. I never saw a look of arrogance in Larry’s face. He never spoke down to you and he never bragged about anything. To this day, I still picture Larry Riley working at the power plant working feats of magic that would amaze the rest of us as he thinks that he’s just doing another day’s work. That’s the way it is with True Power Plant Men.
Since I first created this post two years ago, I have found a picture of Larry Riley taken many years after this story:
Originally Posted on August 11, 2012. Added a picture of Larry Riley:
When I was a janitor at the Power Plant there were times when we were christened by being allowed to work with the Labor Crew on jobs that needed to be done in a hurry. Larry Riley was the foreman of the Labor Crew. I had worked with Larry Riley during the summers when I was a summer help, and I always held him in high esteem.
I think he knew that, and he said he was glad to have me working for him whenever they were in a pinch to complete a job in a hurry. I have described Larry as reminding me of the Marlboro Man, as he had a moustache that looked like his.
I finally found a picture of Larry taken a couple of decades later… Here he is:
The wonderful thing about working in a Power Plant is that when you drive through the gate in the morning, you never know what you might be doing that day. Even after 20 years at the plant, I was still amazed by the diversity of jobs a person could do there. Anyone who spent those 20 years actually working instead of doing a desk job, would know a lot about all kinds of equipment and instruments, and temperatures.
When I was young I was able to go to Minnesota to visit my cousins in a place called “Phelp’s Mill”. Named after an old mill along a river that was a “self service” museum. Across the road and on the hill loomed a big foreboding house where my cousins lived during the summers. We would play hide-and-seek in that mill, which was mainly made out of wood. It was 4 stories high if you include the basement and had a lot of places to hide.
When I began working in the Power Plant, I realized one day that this was like that old mill only on a much bigger scale. You could spend half of a life time wandering around that plant before you actually knew where everything was. Each day brought something new. My first years as a summer help, most of the “emergencies” that I would take part in had to do with cleaning up coal. When I was able to work with the Labor Crew, things became a lot more interesting.
One day in the spring of 1983 when I arrived at work ready to mop the floor and sweep and dust the Turbine Generators, I was told that I needed to get with Chuck Ross an A foreman over the Labor Crew at the time, because I was going to work with the Labor Crew that day. I was told to bring my respirator… Which usually had meant it was time to shovel coal. This day was different.
Chuck brought me to the Tool room and asked Bif Johnson to give me a new Rubber Mallet.
I went with the labor crew up on #1 Boiler just above the Air Preheater Baskets that I didn’t know existed at the time… The Boiler had been shutdown over night because there was a problem with the airflow through the boiler and we had to go in the duct and clean the Slag Screen.
Below the Economizer and above the air preheater in the diagram above.
“Slag Screen,” I thought… That sounds like a fancy word for something that was probably just some kind of filter or something…. I knew that Power Plant Engineers liked to give fancy words to make the Plant sound more like a Palace.
As I mentioned before… there are places like: The Tripper Gallery. Hopper Nozzle Booster Pump. Generator Bathtub. The Gravimetric Feeder Deck — I liked that one, it sounded like you were on a ship. Travelling Water Screens. There were long names for some, like “Force Draft Fan Inboard Bearing Emergency Lube Oil Pump” (try saying that with a lisp). Anyway, I could go on and on.
Larry Riley explained to us that we needed to work as fast as we could to clean the slag screen because they wanted to bring this unit back online in the evening. We couldn’t wait for the unit to cool down much, so we were only allowed to go in the hot air duct for 10 minutes at a time because of the heat.
So, in I went. The first thing I noticed as I stuck my head in the door was that there wasn’t any immediate place to stand. There was only a hole below me that went down into the darkness. So I looked around for something to grab onto to pull myself in. Once my body was in the door I was able to walk along a beam next to this big screen. It looked similar to a screen on a window at home only the wires were about 1/2 inch apart. Something like this:
Oh, and there was one more thing that I noticed…. It was incredibly HOT. I was wearing leather gloves so I could grab onto the structure to hold myself up, but if I leaned against the screen with my arm, it would burn it. I was just wearing a tee shirt. I don’t know the exact temperature, but I have worked in similar heat at other times, and I would say that it was around 160 degrees. I was not wearing my hard hat because there was a strong wind blowing to try and cool the boiler down.
The problem is that we were on the tail end of the air flowing out of the boiler, and it was carrying all that heat right onto us. At 160 degrees your hard hat will become soft so that you can squish it like a ball cap. I was wearing Goggles as well, and that helped keep my eyes from drying out since everything else went dry the moment I stuck my head in there.
Anyway, I threw the lanyard for my safety belt around a pipe that ran diagonal across my path, and held onto it with one hand while with my other hand I began pounding on the screen with the rubber mallet. I had to breathe very shallow because the air was so hot. Breathing slowly gave the air time to cool off a bit before it went down into my throat.
This was a new adventure for me. There are some Brave Power Plant Men that work on the “Bowl Mill” crew that have worked in these conditions for weeks at a time. I suppose you grow used to it after a while. Kind of like when you eat something with Habenero Sauce. The first time it just very painful. Then a few weeks later, you’re piling it on your tortilla chips.
After my first 10 minutes were over, someone at the door, (which was hard to see) hollered for me, so I made my way back to the door and emerged into the cool air of the morning. I noticed that Larry Riley gave me a slightly worried look and I wondered what it meant. I realized what it was moments later when I went to remove the respirator off of my face. I only had one filter cartridge in the respirator.
The other one was missing. I thought that was silly of me to go in there with only one filter. No wonder it seemed like I was breathing a lot of dust. Then I thought…. No. I know I had both filters when I went in the duct. I must have lost one while I was in there. Maybe with all that banging I knocked it off.
Anyway, 10 minutes later it was time for me to go back in there, and this time I made sure my filters were securely screwed onto the respirator. I worried in the back of my mind that I may have ruined my lungs for life by breathing all that silicon-based fly ash because I was feeling a little out of breathe (for the next 10 years).
Anyway, halfway through my 10 minutes in the duct I reached up with my hand to make sure my filters were still tightly screwed in place, and to my astonishment, they weren’t tight. I tried tightening them, but I couldn’t screw them tight. The respirator itself had become soft in the heat and the plastic was no longer stiff enough to keep the filter tight. It made sense then why I had lost my filter the first time. It must have fallen down into the abyss of darkness that was right behind me while I was banging on that slag screen.
After working on the screen for an hour or so, we took a break. When we returned the temperature in the boiler had dropped considerably, and I was able to stay in the duct the rest of the day without having to climb in and out all the time.
Larry had an air powered needle gun brought up there and someone used that for a while cleaning the screen. It is what it sounds like. It has rods sticking out the end of a gun looking tool that vibrate wildly when you pull the trigger. I don’t know what the real name is for it, but it cleaned slag screens a lot faster than my beating the screen with the rubber mallet all day.
I did beat that screen all day. When it was time to leave I brought the mallet back to the tool room, and it looked like this:
I had worn the rubber off of the mallet. When I brought the mallet back to the tool room, Bif said, “What is this?” I said I was just returning the mallet that I had borrowed that morning. He said something about how I must be some kind of a he-man or crazy. I was too worried about my lungs to think about how much my wrists were aching from taking that pounding all day.
A couple of months later I was promoted to the Labor Crew. Chuck Ross had kept saying that he couldn’t wait for me to go to the Labor Crew because he wanted me to work for him. The very day that I started on the Labor Crew, the plant had a going-away party for Chuck Ross. He was leaving our plant to go work at another one in Muskogee.
During the party Chuck presented me with the rubber mallet that I had used that day cleaning the slag screen. He said he had never seen anything like that before. He was sorry he was going to leave without having the opportunity to have me working for him.
I felt the same way about Chuck. I have always kept that rubber mallet laying around the house since 1983 when I received it. My wife sometimes picks it up when she is cleaning somewhere and says, “Do you still want this?” With a hopeful look, like someday I may say that it is all right if she throws it away.
Of course I want to keep it. It reminds me of the days when I was able to work with True Power Plant Men in their natural environment. The slag screen was later deemed unnecessary and was removed from the boiler.
It also reminds me of other things. Like how quickly something can happen that changes your life forever.
Questions from that day have always remained with me.
How much ash did I breathe in? I couldn’t see much more than a few feet in front of me as I banged on that screen knocking ash down all over me. What did it do to my lungs?
What if I had taken a step back or slipped off of that beam before I had walked to the other end to secure my safety lanyard? I know now what was below me then. I would have fallen about 20 feet down to some fins, and then down another 20 feet onto the air preheater baskets. It would have taken a while to retrieve me, once someone figured out that I was missing.
What does that much heat do to your body… or your brain?
I know these are things that go through the minds of True Power Plant Men. I worked with them for years improving the safety of the power plant. All-in-all, no one ever died when I was there, though some came close. The Slogan over the Shift Supervisor’s Office said, “Safety is job #1”. That wasn’t there to try to convince us that Safety was important. It was there as a testimony to everyone who had already made that decision.
Originally posted on August 18, 2012:
I have just finished watching the movie “Godfather II” with my son. Toward the end of the movie Fredo Corleone and Al are going fishing. There is a scene where the motor boat in the boat house is lowered down into the water. I have seen one boat house like this before where the boat is hoisted out of the water in the boat house so that it can be stored dry while hovering a few feet over the water. The Coal-fired Power Plant where I worked as a summer help had a very similar boat house.
The Power Plant had a boat house because each month during the summer months the chemist had to go to various locations in the lake to take the temperature and a water sample. He would take the water samples back to the chemist lab where they could be analyzed. Each bottle was carefully labeled indicating where in the lake the sample was taken. In order to take the samples out in the middle of the lake…. A motor boat was required. Thus the need for the boat house.
The second summer as a Summer Help (before the boathouse was built) I was asked to go along on this journey with George Dunagan, a new chemist at the time. Larry Riley usually manned the motor, as it was known that the motor for the boat had a tendency to cut out and die at random times and the best person that could be counted on to fix a stranded boat out in the middle of the lake was Larry Riley. I know I always felt safe.
I have seen Larry dismantle part of the motor out in the middle of the lake, clean a fuel filter and put the thing back together again with a minimum number of tools at his disposal. I would sit patiently as the boat rocked back and forth with the waves (Oklahoma winds usually kept a steady flow of waves) waiting for Larry to repair the motor. I didn’t have any fear of missing lunch because Larry was in the boat. So, I would just sit and watch the ducks and other birds fly by or look into the water to see what I could see.
Larry would pull something out of the motor and say, “Well, look at that! No wonder this thing died.” Right on queue. A few minutes later and he would start the boat up again and off we would go speeding across the lake.
During the time I was a summer help, there were various tragic events that took place. One man committed suicide by drowning at the park while his sister and wife waited on the shore to tell whoever was first to arrive. Summer Helps were there, but I was on an errand to Oklahoma City at the time and only heard about it when I returned. He had wrapped himself up in some brush. Evidently, he was in some kind of legal trouble at the time and was expected to show up to serve jail time the following Monday.
Another tragedy which was very sad was when a man was swimming with his son on his shoulders out to the dock that was placed out in the water so that swimmers could swim out to it, when he had a heart attack while his daughter was waiting for them on the shore. When the summer help arrived, the daughter told them that her father and brother just went under the water and never came up. One of the Summer Help, David Foster jumped in and found them both drowned. It was a traumatic experience for him, which I’m sure lives on in his memory to this day. Both the father and son had drowned.
Another man was fishing where the river pumps discharged into the lake. This was a popular place to fish at a certain part of the day. A large man had waded out into the water, and at some point fell over. He could not swim (maybe because he had too much to drink) and was also drowned.
These tragic events were a constant reminder that water sports of all kinds have their dangers. Following Safety rules is very important. I believe that two of those 4 people would have not drowned if they had on a life preserver.
Another more humorous tragedy (depending on how you look at it) occurred not far from the boat ramp at the park located closer to Hwy 177. The story as I heard it was that this stubborn farmer who had become rich when they found oil on his land (and I won’t mention his name, because I don’t remember it. Heck. I can’t even remember his initials, if you can believe that), had bought his first boat. Not knowing much about boating, he wanted to make sure he was well equipped, so he attached the biggest motor he could buy to it.
He lowered it into water at the boat ramp at the park, and turned it around so that it pointed out into the lake. Then he opened it up to full throttle. The nose of the boat proceeded to point straight up in the air, and the boat sank motor first. The man swam over to the shore. Climbed in his truck and drove away. Leaving the boat on the floor of the lake. Now… I figure that someone must have seen this happen, because I’m sure that the person didn’t go around telling everyone that he met what he had done… — That is, until he had a few beers in him… maybe.
I would like to tell you some more about George Dunagan, the chemist that went with us to take the water samples. He looked like the type of person that would make a good Sergeant in the Army. A solid facial structure, and a buzz haircut reminded me of the Sergeant Carter on the Gomer Pyle TV show. Here is a picture of Sergeant Carter and George Dunagan when he was younger:
George was in his mid-40s when I first met him. He was 4 months older than my father. He went about his business as a man that enjoyed his job. Occasionally, something might get under his craw, and he would let you know about it, but you always knew that he was the type of person that was looking out for you, even when you thought you didn’t need it.
I considered George a True Power Plant Chemist. He was a genius in his own field. When I was young and I worked around George, I felt like he was passionate about his job and that he wanted to teach it to others. He would explain to me what the different chemical processes in the Water Treatment were doing. He would take any opportunity to explain things in detail. Some people would think that he was kind of grumpy sometimes, and sometimes they would be right. He cared passionately about things that involved “right” and “wrong”. When he saw something that he considered wrong, he rarely sat still.
I considered George to be a passionate teacher that loved to see others learn. I made it a point to stop and nod my head like I was really listening when he was telling me something because I could see the joy in his face that knowledge was being bestowed upon someone.
As he took the water samples in the lake, he explained to me why he was doing what he was doing. How the EPA required these for so many years to show that the lake was able to cool the power plant steam back to water without disturbing the wildlife that inhabited the lake (that the electric company had created).
At that particular time, they were still taking a baseline of how the water was with just one unit running. Later when both units are running they would see how it held up by comparing the year before when no unit was running, then this year with one, and next year with two units.
I listened intently. Not so much because the topic interested me. I wouldn’t tell George that I was struggling to pay attention because the particulars about how he had to label each sample and put them in order in the box were not as interesting as things that came to my own imagination. I imagined things like… “Wouldn’t it be neat if you could breathe under water?” Or, “If the boat tipped over, and we were in the middle of the lake, would I stay with the boat or try to swim to the shore….” “Was that my stomach rumbling? Am I getting hungry already?” I would put my own imagination aside.
I listened intently, mainly because I could see that George would brighten up to find such an attentive pupil in the boat. I was grinning inside real big to watch George with such a satisfied look. I suppose inside as George was explaining the world of water temperature and bacteria growth, I was thinking, “I wonder if George used to be a Sergeant in the Army.” “Does he teach his own children the same way he does me?”. “I wonder what George did before he came here. Was he a chemist somewhere else?”
At the beginning of this year I began writing this Power plant Man Blog because I felt a great need to capture on paper (well. Virtual paper anyway), some stories about the people I was blessed to work with at the Power Plant. Sonny Karcher, who I considered a good friend had died a couple of months earlier. I needed to write about these men, because if I didn’t, I feared these stories would be lost to the world. These are too great of men to just fade away into history without something being left behind to record at least some memorable events in their lives. 16 days after I wrote my first post this year (on January 18, 2012), George Dunagan died in the Ponca City Medical Center.
One thing I was not surprised to learn about George was that he used to be a teacher. He had a Master Degree in Education and had taught at the Chilocco Indian School for 11 years before going to work at the power plant. This explained why he seemed to go into the “Teacher” mode when he was explaining something.
I also learned that he was in the U.S. Navy where he enlisted in 1954. This didn’t surprise me either. As I mentioned above, George reminded me of the Sergeant Carter on Gomer Pyle, and not in the humorous way, but in the way he carried himself like someone in the military. George Dunagan reached the rank of Master Sergeant in the Army Reserves where he retired in 1994, two years after retiring from the Power Plant life.
The movie Godfather II seemed to be about how one man struggled to build a secure home for his family and fellow countrymen through any means necessary, and about how his son destroyed his own family to the point where he was left completely alone with his family destroyed at the end.
Power Plant Men had their own struggles at home. They were not immune to family strife any more than anyone else. The nature of their work gave them a great sense of dignity and feeling of accomplishment. This sense of dignity helps relieve some stress in the family unit. To realize every day that the work that you perform directly impacts the lives of everyone that receives the electricity being produced at the Power Plant.
When something goes wrong and a base unit trips suddenly, the lights flicker in every school room, every store and every house of 2 million people reminding us that this fragile system is so stable because of the due diligence of True Power Plant Men with the sense to care as much as George Dunagan a True Power Plant Chemist.
Comment from previous repost:
Originally posted September 7, 2012:
Why Stanley Elmore? I suppose that was on the mind of a few Power Plant Men when the foreman for the new Automotive Garage and Yard crew was chosen in 1980. What did Stanley have that the rest of the Power Plant Men lacked? Why did Stanley accept such a position in a power plant out in the middle of nowhere in the plains of Oklahoma? I have some thoughts about these questions and others that I will share with the rest of the Power Plant Kingdom.
When I returned to the Power Plant for my second summer as a summer help in 1980, I found that the Automotive Garage had been finished and a new crew had been assigned to work from this shop. Doug House, Jim Heflin, Larry Riley and Ken Conrad were there to welcome me. I had only known Larry from the year before and when he saw that I was returning, he actually said he was glad to see me. It was usually hard to tell what Larry was thinking because he kept a straight face even when he was chuckling under his breath. So, I never really knew what he thought about me until he told the others that he was glad that I would be working there this summer.
Then the new foreman walked in. He was a medium height stocky man that had obviously come from another plant and was well seasoned in the ways of Power Plant etiquette. This required him to act as if I had just walked into a snake pit and my summer was going to be a living Hell working under him. Of course I accepted this well knowing that this merely meant that he had a lot for us to do during the summer and I should enjoy myself.
There was another summer help there, David Foster. He had been hired because he had experience driving a Tractor, and he would spend a lot of the time that summer mowing grass. That is, until he wrecked a new brush hog while going perpendicular across a ditch at too high rate of speed.
(Boy, I’m getting a lot of mileage out of that one picture of a Brush Hog). At that point, he started working on watering the grass, as I did (and you can read about that in the post “When Power Plant Men Talk, It Pays to Listen“).
A short time after I had been there I realized that there was another resident of the garage. It was Don Pierce that came from Construction to operate the P&H Crane used by the Plant. Here is a Picture of the same kind of P&H Crane that Don Pierce operated for at least two of the summers that I was working out of the Garage.
Don Pierce was a tall person with a moustache and tinted glasses. He was chewing something often that he spit into a cup or a Coke can, that made a squeaky squirty sound each time he spit. He always looked to me like he wore the same size jeans that he wore when he graduated from High School, even though the rest of him had filled out some. Making him look like his upper body had been squeezed some out of his jeans. Like Hank Hill in King of the Hill:
It didn’t take long to figure out that Stanley Elmore loved to play jokes on people. He would get the biggest laugh from causing someone a moment of confusion. He would shake his head and laugh and say, “oooooohhh weeee” (or something similar). I always had a bigger kick out of watching Stanley’s reaction to someone encountering his joke than I did from the joke itself. As you may have learned from an earlier post “Power Plant Painting Lessons with Aubrey Cargill“, that I was the target of at least some of his jokes. It would make me laugh to know that Stanley was playing a joke on me.
Actually, anytime during my time at the plant it made me laugh to find that someone was playing a joke on me. I remember while I was a janitor that one day while I was cleaning out the bathroom in the Electric Shop, I would first Sweep out the bathroom and then mop it. Many times I turned around to pick up something that was sitting just outside the door of the bathroom I found that it had moved.
Like the mop bucket had moved down to the door by the lab. Everyone in the shop was just doing their normal job. But when I walked out of the bathroom to find the handle missing from the push broom and Andy Tubbs and Ben Davis sitting at the break table acting like nothing was wrong, I had to walk back into the bathroom in order to keep them from seeing how hard I was laughing.
For some reason that was the funniest joke I encountered. To turn around in one moment and have the broom handle gone and the broom itself just sitting on the floor with no handle and the obvious culprit Andy Tubbs trying his best to keep a straight face and act like he wasn’t noticing anything. I still laugh when I think about it 30 years later.
Stanley’s jokes were of that caliber. When Don Pierce drove to work one day on his new Harley Davidson Motorcycle, Stanley just couldn’t resist. He started out by asking him if he noticed that it leaked oil. Don said it better not, because he just bought it brand new. Stanley answered by saying that Harley Davidsons always leaked oil.
So, while Don was out operating the P&H Crane, Stanley took a small cup of oil and poured a little oil spot under his motorcycle, just as a reminder to Don that all Harleys in 1980 leaked oil. Then Stanley watched and waited for Don to stroll by his motorcycle in the parking lot during lunch to see what his reaction would be. Of course, Don had been an Electric Company Construction worker long enough to spot a snow job when he saw a grease spot. But it did make him smile to know that Stanley had gone through the trouble of putting an oil spot under his motorcycle. — That’s one way to know that someone really cares about you. They are willing to take the time out of their busy day to play a little power plant joke on you.
I was able to work one-on-one with Don Pierce for about a week that summer when we had to go to the laydown yard by the main gate and organize all the spare cable, rebar, piping, et cetera into neat rows and in some kind of order like from largest to smallest. In order to put the large reels of cable into neat rows, we would line up two rows of very large telephone poles close to each other, and then place the reels on the poles to keep them off of the ground so they would last longer, and not sink into the ground when it rained.
Don was operating the crane and I was doing my best to use the newly learned hand signals to direct him where to go and what to do. There was a hand signal for everything, and I was afraid that if I stopped to itch my nose, Don would cut the engine and leave for lunch.
We were picking up wooden telephone poles and carefully placing them in a line, and I was standing there guiding the poles into place as they were lowered to the ground. At one point, I had signaled Don to lower the pole all the way to the ground and as I turned to undo the chokers from under the poles, I realized that the pole had been placed right on top of my feet, and I couldn’t move. It was at times like that when I was glad that I was wearing Steel Toed Boots. — A must when you are working in a power plant.
So, finding myself stuck, I straightened myself up and signaled to Don that I wanted him to raise the pole up. He looked a little confused as if he thought I had given him the wrong signal (again…). But when I didn’t change my signal, he succumbed and raised the pole off the ground. At that point, I took one step backward and with the straightest face I could muster, I signaled for Don to lower the pole back to the ground. I saw the smile go across Don’s face when he finally realized that I had been held captive by the pole, and I smiled back because at that point, I couldn’t look serious, and what would be the point anyway.
During the first summer that Stanley was my foreman, I carpooled with him and 5 others. We would all pile into Stanley’s station wagon and head home at the end of the day. I would be dropped off at the corner of Washington and Lakeview Dr. in Stillwater and would walk the rest of the way home, about a mile down the road and across a field to my parent’s house. We each paid Stanley $5.00 each week for the ride, and we didn’t have to worry about the gas and the driving. It was left up to Stanley.
So, why Stanley? That was the question I was going to answer when I started this post. Well. I think I have a good reason. All during the summer, Stanley was studying different types of weed killers that could be used around the lake without causing harm to the lake itself. He was very conscious about keeping the lake pristine and free from poisonous chemicals.
He finally found a weed killer that was approved by the department of Agriculture at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater to be used around lakes. By Stanley’s conscientious view of the Power Plant Property, I could see that he was a good choice for supervising the yard crew. We did spend many hours driving down the roadways spraying the newly mowed and chopped weeds with weed killer with the knowledge that we weren’t causing more harm than good.
But that wasn’t the only reason. I think Stanley was put over the garage crew because he took such great care with his own vehicles. I had the opportunity to see the engine in the station wagon that ferried us to work and home each day, and when I first saw it, I was astounded. The entire engine was cleaned and polished and even waxed!
Even though the engine had over 100,000 miles on it, it looked brand new. Stanley said that he keeps his engine spotless so that at the first sign of any kind of leak, he takes the steps necessary to fix it before it becomes a real problem.
I remember one Monday morning while we were on the way to work, and the Power Plant Men in the car, which included John Blake and another inspector, were talking about what they did over the weekend. Stanley said that he spent all day Saturday cleaning his car. I knew what he meant. That included waxing his engine.
I had the opportunity to go to Stanley’s house one day to drop something off or pick something up, I don’t remember, but what I do remember is that when I arrived at his humble abode, the front yard, as small and normal as the rest of the neighborhood, was so well groomed. It looked like someone had taken a scissors and carefully clipped all of the blades of grass just the right height. The various rocks and bird bath, and other yard ornaments were placed so perfectly that it had transformed this normal little yard into a complete work of art.
So, why was Stanley chosen to be the foreman over the yard crew and the Automotive garage? I believe it was because he had demonstrated by the way he took care of his own property that those in the Electric Company who knew that, knew that he was a man that would take care of their property equally as well. So, I salute Stanley for being a great foreman to work for, and never letting the work seem dull. He treated everyone in the shop with respect (except maybe in the middle of a joke). I wish I had a picture to show you, because I was unable to think of any actor or historical figure that reminds me of him. There just isn’t anyone else quite like Stanley.
Comments from the original Post:
Powerplant jokes are the greatest! I remember one time I was going on vacation (as a Control Room Operator) and my assistant was filling in for me for the first time (let’s call him “Dave”) well, anyway the Shift Supervisor asked me if I felt Dave was up to the task (Dave is an excellant operator). I told the Supervisor I had faith in Dave, but he should keep a close eye on him, so the whole time I was on vacation, the Supervisor hovered over Dave’s shoulder like a buzzing mosquito! And to add icing to the cake, on Dave’s performance appraisal the Supervisor wrote “Dave is a competent operator…but needs a little too much personal supervision!!
This is the kind of fun powerplant men have with each other, no one is closer than a CO and his assistant, and Dave was, and always will be a great friend. We’ve been to each others weddings & helped each other through divorces. He’s a Control Room Operator of his own crew now, but we still get a kick out of laughing over the good times we had working together.
A book could/should be written on all the classic power plant jokes over the years. Some of the oldest I’ve heard from the Osage and Belle Isle vintage power plant men.
Something that comes through these stories: There existed in those days a very different attitude toward both one’s work and one’s coworkers, at least in industrial settings. I found it in both aircraft manufacturing and the telephone business.
It doesn’t seem to exist today or at least, isn’t obvious and I think that represents an unfortunate loss to our society…
Originally posted December 14, 2012:
I have heard the relationship between Bill Rivers and Sonny Kendrick referred to as the “Punch and Judy Show”. Ok. I thought. Punch and Judy. Sounds like a show from the early 50’s. Must have been a comedy. I thought that for a long time until one day I ran across a brief history of the Punch and Judy Show. It turned out that Punch and Judy was a puppet show from the time of Queen Anne of England. She was queen of England from 1702 to 1714. I could only find a painting of Queen Anne. Didn’t anyone ever think about taking her photograph?
Anyway, once I learned more about Punch and Judy, I realized that this was probably a better description of the Rivers – Sonny relationship than those people realized. It turns out in the first version of the Punch and Judy show, Punch actually strangles his child and beats his wife Judy to death and beats up on other people as well. I suppose that was “entertainment” back then. Now we only have things like “The Terminator”!
I carpooled with Bill Rivers at this particular time when I was a janitor and while I was on labor crew (except during the summer when I carpooled with my summer help buddies). Each day Bill Rivers would explain about some trick he had played on Sonny that day. The one thing that amazed Bill the most was that every day he could play a joke on Sonny, and each day, Sonny would fall for it.
This reminded me of when I was in Rockbridge High School in Columbia, Missouri and I used to borrow a pencil from my friend Bryan Treacy each day and each day I would chew it up to the point where it was practically useless. I had to come up with different diversionary tactics each day, but somehow I was able to coax a wooden pencil from my friend. Before he would realize what he had done, I had already chewed it up from one end to the next. I liked to think that I was tricking Bryan each day, but I also thought that it was odd that Bryan would have a new pencil every time, and he probably made sure that his mom kept a full stock of pencils just for my enjoyment in eating them (I also wondered if I was getting lead poisoning from all the yellow paint I was ingesting).
Bryan Treacy today is a doctor living in Moore Oklahoma. I would like to drop by his office without seeing him some time just to see if he has any wooden pencils laying about that I could leave all chewed up. I wonder if he would realize I had been there. He might read this blog from time-to-time, so I may have just blown my cover.
I mentioned Bill Rivers and Sonny Kendrick because they were the first two electricians that I worked for before becoming an electrician. I worked on the precipitator while I was on the Labor Crew. See the Post:
I also mentioned before that I owe my decision to become a Power Plant Electrician to Charles Foster an Electrical B Foreman at the time. I was a janitor and cleaning the electric shop office and lab were part of my duty. How I came to be the janitor of the electric shop is explained further in the post:
I had found the floor scrubbing machine in ill repair. Charles helped me put it back in running condition. He explained how to take care of the batteries and to keep them properly charged.
When the electric shop had an opening they tried to recruit me while I was still a janitor, but the Evil Plant Manager had a rule at the time that when you were a janitor, the only place you could go from there was onto the Labor Crew. That was when Mike Rose was hired to become a backup for Jim Stevenson that worked on the air conditioning and freeze protection. I knew about the janitor ruling so I didn’t have my hopes up. Besides, at the time I didn’t have any electrical background.
Charles asked me to take the electrical courses that were offered by the company. The company offered correspondence courses, and in about 3 weeks, I had signed up for them, read the books, and taken the tests. While I was on the labor crew I signed up for a House wiring course at the Vo-Tech. I was taking that course when I learned that Larry Burns was moving from our electric shop to go to another plant. It was then that I applied for the job as a plant electrician.
The main power transformer for Unit 1 had been destroyed by the heat wave that summer (1983) when the plant had tested it’s durability on the hottest day. The unit was offline for a couple of months while GE created a new transformer and shipped it to us.
After the main power transformer was destroyed and it took so long to ship in a new one, it was decided that we would keep a spare on hand. That way if it went bad again, we could swap them out quickly. That is probably the best assurance that we wouldn’t lose that transformer again. We had that spare transformer sitting around for years collecting taxes. I’m sure we must have paid for it a few times over again.
During the time that the unit was offline, and we weren’t shaking boiler tubes or cutting the ash out of the economizer tubes, I was working with Bill Rivers and Sonny Kendrick on the precipitator. The precipitator (by the way), is what takes the smoke (ash) out of the exhaust, so you don’t see smoke coming out of the smokestacks.
Bill and Sonny were pretty well sure that I was going to be selected to fill the opening in the Electric Shop, so they were already preparing me to work on the precipitator. Of all the jobs in the electric shop, this one had more to do with electronics than any of the others. That gave “being an electrician” a whole new dimension. I was even looking forward to taking an Electronics course at the Vo-Tech in the spring.
I was getting updates from Bill and Sonny about the progress of the job opening and they were telling me about the battle that was going on between the Evil Plant Manager and the Electrical Supervisor. Eldon Waugh, the plant manager at the time wanted Charles Peavler to be chosen as the electrician. He had an electrical background, because he had wired his barn once.
The ultimate reason why the plant manager wanted Charles Peavler to be the new electrician was because I had been placed on the blacklist due to the incident that took place earlier that I had described in the post:
Thanks to Larry Riley’s performance review, and his purposeful procrastination of the Plant Manager’s request to modify my performance review, and Charles Foster’s insistence that they follow the procedures that were laid out in the new Employee Application Program (known as the EAP), the argument stopped with Charles Foster’s statement: “Let’s just take whoever has the best performance rating as it is laid out in the company policy and leave it at that.” I was chosen to fill the position for the opening in the Electric Shop.
I was actually called to Eldon Waugh’s office while I was sandblasting the Sand Filter Tank. See Post:
When I arrived in Eldon’s office I was covered from head to toe in sandblast dust. My hair was all disheveled and my shirt was soaked with sweat. Jack Ballard (the head of HR) was sitting there along with Leroy Godfrey and Charles Foster. I knew what it was about because according to Bill Rivers on the way home the day before, they had already decided that they were going to accept me for the position.
Eldon Waugh explained that I was being offered the job that I had applied for in the electric shop. I felt really humbled at the time. Even though I was expecting it, I felt surprised that it was actually happening. To me, being an electrician was like the greatest job in the world. The electricians were like an elite team of super heroes.
I had the occasion to watch the electricians while I was a janitor in their shop and many of them were like these super intelligent beings that could quickly look at a blueprint and grab their tool bucket and head out to fix the world. I was very grateful for the opportunity, and at the same time apprehensive. I wasn’t sure if I had the quality of character and intelligence to become a part of this team. This was truly a dream come true for me.
Few times in my life has this happened to me. The day I was married. The day I became a Father. The day I drove to Dell to begin my first day as a Programmer Analyst. These were all major milestones in my life. The first major milestone was the day I became an electrician. Because of the way that I am (I don’t know…. maybe it’s because I’m half Italian), I just wanted to break out in tears and hug Eldon Waugh and cry on his shoulder. Instead, I just managed to crack a small smile.
I thanked them and started to leave. Then Jack Ballard said something interesting. As I was leaving he asked, “Uh…. Do you accept the offer?” Oh. In my surprise and elation, I hadn’t said anything but “Thank You”. Jack’s expression was that it wasn’t official until it was official. So, I replied, “Yes. I accept the offer”. “Ok then,” Jack replied. And I left to go crawl back in my hole and continue sandblasting the Sand Filter tank.
My last day on the Labor Crew was on November 4, 1983. I was leaving my Labor Crew Family behind and moving onto a new life in the electric shop. This was hard for me because I really did consider most of the people on the Labor Crew as family. Fred Crocker, Ron Luckey, Jim Kanelakos, and Ronnie Banks. Curtis Love and Chuck Moreland. Doretta Funkhouser and Charles Peavler. Jody Morse and Bob Lillibridge.
Most of all, I knew I was going to miss Larry Riley. I had worked with Larry from the day I had first arrived as a summer help in 1979. Now it was November, 1983. Larry was a hero to me. I love him dearly and if I had ever had an older brother I would have liked someone with the character and strength of Larry Riley. He remains in my prayers to this day.
The last day on the labor crew I suspected foul play. Mainly because the last day that Bill Cook was on the Labor Crew, he had asked us if we would throw Larry in the intake as a going away gift. I had worked with Bill when we were summer help together and I felt like I owed him one, so I told him I would help.
As we were driving from the Coalyard Maintenance building (the home of the labor crew) to the plant maintenance shop that day, Bill Cook, who was driving, suddenly turned toward the intake pumps and stopped the truck. By the time Larry had figured out what was going on, we had dragged Larry out of the truck and I was carrying him over to the Intake and getting ready to throw him in.
Larry had worked with me long enough to know that once I had set my mind on something, there was no turning back. He had tried to escape from my grip, but I had him where he couldn’t escape. As I climbed with him over the guard rail and headed toward the edge of the water, Larry said the only possible thing that could make me stop in my tracks. He said, “Please Kevin. Don’t do this.”
I was paralyzed. Stuck between my word with Bill Cook that I would help him throw Larry in the brink, and a plea from someone who meant the world to me. There wasn’t but one choice to make. I set Larry down. I walked back to the truck and I told Bill, “I’m sorry. I can’t do it.” I returned to my seat in the back of the crew cab. Without my help, no one else had the resolve and strength to follow through with Bill’s wish. We drove on to the Maintenance Shop.
So, on my last day on the Labor Crew, I thought that something similar might be planned for me. As soon as we left to go to work that morning, I headed up Belt 10 and 11. That is the long belt on the left side of the power Plant picture on the upper right side of this post…. Ok. I’ll post it here:
Once up 10 & 11 and 12 & 13, I was in the Surge bin tower. (The Surge Bin Tower is the white building you can see between the two boilers near the top that has the conveyor belt entering it from the left). From there, I roamed around looking for some coal to clean up. I figured I would stay far away from my labor crew buddies that day.
At the end of the day, I traveled back down belts 10 & 11 and headed into the office in the Coalyard Maintenance building to fill out my last timecard as a Laborer. Beginning next Monday on November 7, I would be an “Electrician.” Along with the empty feeling at the bottom of my heart was a feeling of excitement for the new adventure that awaited me.
Originally posted October 25, 2014.
I’m sure just about everyone does this. When they look at someone, they occasionally hear music. Some sort of song that is inspired by the person. For instance when I look at my mom, I suddenly begin to hear Beethoven’s 5th Symphony (sorry about the advertisements. Nothing I can do about that).
For those with older browsers that are not able to view video links, I will include the link below the video: Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.
A few years ago when I was working for Dell, after I had given a thumb drive loaded with the songs I liked to listen to, to a friend of mine, Nina Richburg, when she left our team, she came up to me later and said she had never heard such an eclectic selection of music before. I told her I knew what she meant. I had included classical, rock and roll, electronic, movie soundtracks, country, easy listening, and just about every other genre in the book.
I didn’t explain to her how I can come to the point where I listened to so many different types of music. The answer of course is that I had worked at a Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma for 20 years and I had learned to listen to the music that played in my head while working alongside some of the most diverse set of humans that comprised the Power Plant Men and Women at the plant.
I think it began while I was a janitor working with Pat Braden. When I would work with him, I hear a certain song in my head. So, I began to associate that song with Pat. I’m sure many at the plant heard the same song playing in their heads while interacting with Pat. He was such a nice guy:
The direct link is: Sesame Street Theme Song.
I guess you can call it Power Plant Theme Songs, since the songs that usually played in my head represented the type of person. This wasn’t always the case. For instance, when I looked at the electric Foreman and my close friend, Charles Foster, I would usually hear this song:
The direct link is: GhostBusters.
I would hear this song, because when the movie came out, and the song would be played on the radio, Charles’ son Tim Foster thought the song was saying, “Who ya gonna call? Charles Foster!” So, I can’t hear this song without thinking of Charles Foster.
I have told stories about Gene Day (formally known as Victor Eugene Day — I didn’t misspell “formally), and how it was always fun to play jokes on him. The main reason is because Gene Day was always so easy going. When you look at Gene, the obvious song that pops in my mind is this:
The direct link is: Feelin’ Groovy.
Aren’t they cute? If you took Garfunkel (the tall singer) and shrank him down to the size of Simon, then you would have Gene Day. It was worth the trip to the control room just to encounter Gene Day, so that the rest of your day, you could go around the Power Plant, performing your feats of magic while you were “Feelin’ Groovy!” just for looking at Gene Day. That’s the effect he would have on passerby’s.
My bucket buddy Diana Brien had her own theme song. This song would come to mind not because the song itself reminded me of her, but because she remarked one day when the song was playing on the radio that she really liked it. So, from that point, this was Dee’s song:
The direct link is: Desperado.
I had some songs in my head when I looked at other Power Plant men because it actually sounded like they were singing the song themselves. This was the case with Bill Bennett, our A Foreman. He had a gruff Cigarette voice so I could easily hear Bill Bennett singing this song. Actually, ZZ Top was probably inspired to write this song by Bill Bennett:
Direct link to: La Grange.
The Extreme Power Plant character of some Power Plant Men that I was inclined to “Hero Worship” because of their tremendous talent led me to hear music of a more epic nature. This was true for both Earl Frazier and Andy Tubbs. Earl Frazier was a welder of such talent and when combined with his loyal country nature, even though his occupation was different than this song… This is what usually came to mind when I would look at Earl Frazier:
Direct link: Wichita Lineman.
Andy Tubbs had the same sort of “epic-ness” that Earl had. He was “Country” like Earl also. At the same time, Andy was one of the most intelligent Power Plant Man that graced the Tripper Gallery by his presence. That is probably why this song would come to mind when I would look at Andy:
Direct Link: Good Bad and the Ugly.
Notice the resemblance to Andy’s picture and the song. You could hear the Good Bad and the Ugly Song start up every time Andy would leave the foreman’s office and step out into the shop.
I have covered the “Power Plant Genius of Larry Riley” in a previous post. He was another “Epic Hero” of mine. There was not a lot that Larry couldn’t do. His epic-ness was more like a knight from the time of King Arthur. I think that’s why I would hear the song that I heard when I would look at Larry. The movie Excalibur included the perfect song for a knight riding out to meet the enemy just as Larry would step out of the Labor Crew building each morning when I worked for him as a laborer. I would hear the following epic song go through my mind (try singing along with this song):
Direct link: O Fortuna.
Flashbacks of Latin Class!
If you look at Larry’s picture while listening to O Fortuna, you can actually picture him dressed in armor riding on a backhoe just as if it was a War Horse, heading off into battle!
There were other epic characters at the plant that would inspire similar songs. Toby O’Brien, as a Power Plant Engineer, though, not “epic” in the Power Plant Man sort of way, still inspired music when in his presence. I think it was his calm demeanor even when faced with those who may disagree with him (to put it mildly), and it was his deliberate resolve to focus on tasks at hand that left me with this music running through my mind when in his presence:
Direct Link: Moonlight Sonata.
The music fits, doesn’t it?
Scott Hubbard, my partner in crime (not literally…. it felt like a crime sometimes having so much fun and getting paid for it at the same time), was always such a hard worker. Like most industrious Power Plant Men, Scott was always running around (not literally again…) with a smile on his face working away on one project or other. That’s probably why this song was always going through my head when we were working together. It always seemed like everything was going like clockwork:
Direct link: Miss Marple Theme Song.
When I would go to the tool room to get parts, if Bud Schoonover was working there, I could usually hear his song even before I arrived. I don’t know if it was some kind of psychic ability I had, or it was because I would observe the faces of others as they were leaving the tool room, that would queue me in that Bud was on Tool Room duty. Either way, when this song would start up in my head, I knew that Bud Schoonover was near:
Direct Link: Baby Elephant Walk.
It wasn’t because Bud reminded me of an elephant that this song would come to mind. I think it had more to do with Bud’s carefree attitude about things. This song just seemed to come to mind while I would wait at the tool room gate while Bud would search for the parts I had requested. I don’t have a picture of Bud. He was big like Paul Bunyan, but he had the expression of Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son, as I have often mentioned. It was the squint and the jutting jaw when he spoke…
Here is Bud:
Johnny Keys was another True Power Plant Man that had his own theme song. This one came to mind just about the first time I met Johnny. I could tell right away where he would rather be. This song actually came up with a lot of different Power Plant Men, including Ben Davis and Don Burnett. Don and Johnny were working together as machinists when I first met them the summer of 1979. Ben Davis was good friends with both Don and Johnny, so this song would come to mind whenever I encountered any of these three Power Plant Men:
Direct link: Daniel Boone.
There are some Power Plant Men that sort of reminded me of a bear. Ronnie Banks was that way, and so was Dave McClure. Ronnie reminded me of a bear because he walked like one. Dave reminded me of a bear because he was a big scruffy Power Plant Man. He was gentle like Gentle Ben in the TV show Gentle Ben. I didn’t hear the theme song for Gentle Ben when I worked around these two. Instead I heard this song because this song captured their personality much better:
Direct Link: Bare Necessities.
Ron Kilman, the Plant manager (yeah. I have a song for him too). But I wanted to say that Ron Kilman had his own clerk (secretary) that sort of acted like a receptionist when you entered his office. Her name is Jean Kohler. She was the same age as my mother. Unlike hearing Beethoven’s 5th Symphony as I do with my mom, when I would have the opportunity to talk with Jean Kohler, she was such a lady that the following song would immediately come to my mind:
Direct Link: Lady.
I don’t have a picture of Jean Kohler, so you will just have to picture a very nice prim and proper lady with a perfectly sweet smile.
Ron Kilman’s theme song was The William’ Tell Overture. I guess because of the pace that he usually had to work. I listen to this song often because it helps me work. The song is longer than most people are used to hearing, so, I’ll just send you a link to the part that most people are familiar:
Direct Link: Lone Ranger.
In the Power Plant there were a few “sour apples”. In my posts I generally like to focus on the True Power Plant Men and their accomplishments. Occasionally when the topic is right, I may mention those of a less savory character…. Without saying much more than that, whenever I would encounter Jim Arnold, who was the Supervisor over the engineers, and later the head of Operations and later, the head of Maintenance, several songs would come to mind. The theme of the songs were songs like this one:
Direct Link: You’re So Vain.
I searched everywhere for a picture of Jim Arnold and this was the only one I could find:
What more can I say? I will leave it at that. Now you can see why someone would think that I listen to an eclectic selection of music. Because I worked with such a diverse bunch of Power Plant Men and Women!
When I think back about the Power Plant Men and Women that I worked with for the 20 years I spent working at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, I still see them as they were back when I first knew them. I was able to see them come to work each day willing to give all they had in order to keep the plant running smoothly. I would find out sometimes that behind their stoic behavior of heroism was a person bearing enormous pain.
I will not go into the private lives of each of the Power Plant Men and the personal struggles in their lives beyond those that we all shared at the plant. Some were bearing such enormous pain that all the Power Plant Men and Women shared their pain. Others bore their pain in silence leaving the rest of us oblivious to the grief as they sat next to you in the truck or beside you tightening bolts, or checking electric circuits.
I remember a time when one of my best friends seemed to be acting short tempered for a while. I figured something was eating at him. Finally after almost a year he confided in me what had been going on in his personal life, and it broke my heart to think of the pain this person had been experiencing all along, while I had been annoyed at his quick temper.
It is an eye opening experience when the person I talked to every single day at work is being torn apart with worry and I didn’t even have a clue. Well, the clues were there only I was too blind to see.
I began this post on a rather ominous note because one of the great Power Plant Men of his day, Larry Riley, died this past Wednesday, June 24, 2015.
A few weeks ago I wrote a post about my Power Plant Friend Bud Schoonover passing away. (See the post: “Dynamic Power Plant Trio — And Then There Was One“). I mentioned some of the special times we had while we carpooled back and forth to Ponca City, Oklahoma. I knew Bud was getting along in years, so when I heard about his death, I was not surprised. I immediately pictured him back together again with Richard Dale, our travelling companion.
On Wednesday night when I was contacted by a number of Power Plant Men and Women who all wanted me to know right away that Larry had passed away, I was suddenly hit with a wave of shock. I was overwhelmed with grief. I broke out in tears.
Larry had been important to me from the very first day I worked in the Power Plant. I worked with Larry and Sonny Karcher before I worked with anyone else. My original mentors have both passed away now.
Of the 183 Power Plant Stories I have written thus far, the story about Larry Riley was one of the first stories I couldn’t wait to tell others. You can read it here: “Power Plant Genius of Larry Riley“.
Through my first years at the Power Plant Larry was there looking out for me when he had no other reason to do so than that he cared for others. Some pseudo-Power Plant Men mocked him secretly for being a noble person. Others didn’t have a clue what lengths Larry went to help out a person in need.
Since Larry’s death I have heard a couple of stories that Power Plant Men wanted to share with me about how Larry helped them out when there was no where else to turn. Stories I heard for the first time. I encourage any Power Plant Men who knew Larry to leave a comment below about him.
Larry was one of those people who used to bear his pain in secret. He did the same thing with his love for others. I had mentioned in the post about the Genius of Larry Riley that “…he performed acts of greatness … with complete humility. I never saw a look of arrogance on Larry’s face. He never spoke down to you and he never bragged about anything.”
Though Larry did his best to conceal it, there was always a hidden sort of sadden about him. Since he had the wisdom and knowledge well beyond his years when he was only 24 years old, I figured he must have had a rough childhood that caused him to grow up quickly. He was humped over as if he carried a burden on his back. I thought maybe his sadness grew out of that experience. Of course, I was only guessing.
After I first posted the story about Larry Riley, I was told by a Power Plant Man that Larry had been forced to accept an early retirement because he had a drinking problem. The Plant Manager was kind enough to let him retire instead of outright firing him, which would have caused him to lose his retirement benefits.
When I heard that Larry was no longer at the plant and under what circumstances he left, my heart sank. The sadness that Larry Riley had been trying to hide all those years had finally caught up with him in a big way and his world came crashing down.
I know that I am more like an “armchair observer” in the life of Larry Riley. There were family members and friends that I’m sure were devastated by Larry’s downfall in a lot more ways than one. Where I sit back and idolize the Power Plant Men as heroes, others are down in the trenches coming face-to-face with whatever realities happen in their lives.
Where others may look at Larry as a failure for developing a drinking problem that brought him to his knees, True Power Plant Men know full well that Larry Riley has a noble soul. He has always been meant for greatness.
In the post about my last day on the Labor Crew, I wrote the following about Larry, who was my foreman while I was on the Labor Crew (see the post: “Last Days as a Power Plant Labor Crew Hand“): “…Most of all, I knew I was going to miss Larry Riley… Larry was a hero to me. I love him dearly and if I had ever had an older brother, I would have liked someone with the character and strength of Larry Riley. He remains in my prayers to this day.”
I know I am not the only person that remembers Larry the way I do. When Larry died this past Wednesday, as soon as the Power Plant Men found out, several of them sent me e-mails, and reached out to me on Facebook to let me know. I think some of them wanted me to share Larry’s greatness with the rest of the world through this post.
As I felt the outpouring of grief from the Power Plant Men, I was overwhelmed by their sorrow. I happened to be sitting alone in a hotel room in Detroit, Michigan when I first found out. My phone kept buzzing (as I had it on vibrate) as one-by-one Power Plant Men sent messages letting me know of Larry’s death. I could feel the sadness hanging over my phone like a fog.
As each message buzzed my phone, my sorrow over Larry’s death grew until I had to just sit on the corner of the bed and cry. I have never felt more sorrow over the death of a Power Plant Man than I did for Larry Riley.
As I pictured Bud Schoonover meeting up again with Richard Dale after Peter open the gate for him, I pictured Larry Riley somewhat differently. I envisioned him walking down a dirt road by himself.
In my mind this is what I saw:
As Larry walks away from me down the road humped over with bad posture, struggling to take each step, in pain from the cancer that killed him, seemingly alone, he pauses suddenly. From the distance in my vision, I can’t quite tell why. He turns to one side.
Almost falling over, as he walks like an old man to the edge of the road where the ditch is overgrown with weeds, he stumbles down into the brush. Thinking that Larry has had a mishap, I move closer.
Suddenly I see Larry re-emerge. This time standing more upright. Alongside Larry is another Power Plant Man. I recognize his gait, but his back is turned so I can’t tell for sure who he is. He is much bigger than Larry. Larry has his arm across the man’s back holding him up as the other Power Plant Man has his arm wrapped around Larry’s neck as Larry pulls him up onto the road.
The two continue walking down the road toward the sun rising on the horizon. The Saints Go Marching On.
This is the Larry Riley I knew.
His funeral service will be held on his 61st birthday, July 3, 2015.
I know that those who really knew Larry will take a moment of silence to remember him. Not for the sorrow that he felt through his life as I originally felt when I heard of his death, but take a moment of silence to remember a great man. One who secretly inspired others toward goodness. A man who went out of his way to lift up someone who had fallen along the side of the road. My personal hero: Larry Wayne Riley.