Tag Archives: Linda Shiever

Power Plant “We’ve Got the Power” Program

Originally posted March 14, 2014:

Early January, 1990 the entire maintenance shop at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma was called to the break room which doubled as our main conference room in order to attend an important meeting.  We watched as a new program was explained to us.  It was a program called “We’ve Got the Power”.  It centered around the idea that the best people who knew how to improve the operation of the plant were the people that worked there every day… The employees.  When it was over, we were all given an Igloo Lunch box just for attending the meeting.  We were also promised a lot more prizes in the future for participating in the program.

“We’ve Got the Power” Igloo Lunch Box

In order to participate further, we needed to sign up on a team.  Preferably the team would be cross-functional, because, as they explained, a cross-functional team usually could come up with the most creative ideas for improving things at the plant.  Once we signed up for the team each member on the team was given a gray windbreaker.

A windbreaker like this, only gray. The

A windbreaker like this, only gray. The “We’ve Got the Power” logo was in the same place as this logo

I don’t have an actual picture of the windbreaker I was given.  I wore it to work for a number of months until we found out that the material was highly flammable and that it was not safe for us to wear it on the job.  We were supposed to wear only flame retardant clothing.  I kept the jacket for 15 years, but the jacket was made with material that disintegrated over time, and one day when I pulled it out of the closet to wear it, I found that it was literally falling apart on the hanger.  I had no choice but to throw it away.

There were some interesting reactions to this program.  I thought the program was a great idea and couldn’t wait until it began in order to submit our ideas for improving the plant.  Others decided for some reason that they didn’t want to have any part in the program.  Most of the Power Plant Men were eager to take part.

So, here’s how it worked.  We had about 5 weeks to prepare our first ideas to submit to steering committee, which consisted of our plant manager Ron Kilman, the assistant plant manager Ben Brandt and I believe the Engineering Supervisor Jim Arnold.  I don’t remember for sure if Jim Arnold was on the steering committee.  We could only submit three ideas.  At any given time, we could only have three ideas in the pipeline.  Once a decision had been made about that idea, then we could submit another one.

I was the leader of the team that we assembled.  It consisted of the following electricians besides myself: Scott Hubbard, Charles Foster and Terry Blevins.  One mechanic Jody Morse.  We also had two people from the warehouse on our team:  Dick Dale and Darlene Mitchell.  Here are their pictures:

Terry Blevins

Terry Blevins

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

Jody Morse

Jody Morse

Darlene Mitchell

Darlene Mitchell

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

Richard Dale many years later

I was somehow the luckiest guy in the plant to have some of the best brain power on my team.  I will go into some of our ideas in a later post.  Actually, I think I will have to have at least two more posts to completely cover this topic.  For now, I just want to explain how this program worked and maybe share a thing or two about our team.

If one of the ideas we submitted was approved to be implemented, then we would receive an number of award points that was consistent with the amount of money the idea would save the company in one year.  If it wasn’t a money saving idea or you couldn’t figure out how to calculate the savings, then there was a set amount of points that would be granted to the team.  Each team member would receive the same number of points as everyone else on the team.  Each person would receive the full savings of the idea.

We were given a catalog from a company called Maritz Inc.  This is a company that specializes in employee motivation.  They have been around a long time, and the gifts in the catalog ranged from small items such as a toaster, all the way up to pretty large pieces of furniture and other big items.  I challenge the Power Plant Men who read this blog that were heavily involved in this program to leave a comment with the types of prizes they picked from this catalog.

The rules for the program were very specific, and there was a healthy (and in some cases, not so healthy) competition that ensued during the event.  Once we were able to submit our ideas, we had 13 weeks to turn in all of our ideas.  Keeping in mind that you could only have 3 ideas in the pipeline at a time.  (well… they bent that rule at the last minute.  — I’m sure Ron Kilman was thrilled about that).

I mentioned Ron Kilman, because for the entire 13 weeks and probably beyond, Ron (our plant manager) was sort of sequestered in his office reviewing the hundreds of ideas that were being turned in.  At first some mistakes were made, and then there were attempts to correct those, and you can imagine that it was sort of organized (or disorganized) chaos for a while.

I will go into our ideas in a later post, but I will say that despite the fact that a good deal of our points were incorrectly allocated to other teams, we still came out in second place at our plant, and in sixth place in the company.  Only the top 5 teams were able to go to Hawaii, and we were only a few points behind the fifth place team.  So, all in all, I think our team was happy with our progress.  Especially since we knew that over 200,000 of our points, were mistakenly given away and never corrected.  Which would have made us close to 2nd place company-wide.  Our team had no hard feelings when it was over.  We felt that for the effort that we put into it, we were well rewarded.

In the middle of this program, my daughter was born and so a lot of my points went to purchasing things like a play pen, a baby swing, and a large assortment of baby toys.  I had been such a miser in my marriage up to this point so that the majority of the furniture in our house had been purchased in Ponca City garage sales early on Saturday mornings.  I had the idea that for the first few years of our marriage, we would live real cheap, and then work our way up gradually.  That way, we would always feel like we were moving up in the world.  The first house that we rented in Ponca City was a little dumpy old house for $250 per month.

Ponca-City-House

The house we rented in Ponca City, Oklahoma

I had been married for 4 years by the time this program rolled around, and when the first few boxes of prizes had just arrived at our house, one Sunday in April, a priest came to the house we were renting on Sixth Street in Stillwater, Oklahoma to bless the house.

Stillwater-house

House we rented in Stillwater

When he walked in and saw a large box leaning against the wall in the living room, and not a stitch of furniture, he asked us if we were moving.  I asked him what he meant.  He said, “Well, you don’t have any furniture.”  I said, “Oh.  No.  We’re not moving.  We just have the furniture in the other room” (which was a spare bedroom that we used as the computer room.  That was where our old couch was along with an old coffee table (both of which had been given to me by my friend Tim Flowers).

From this program I was able to furnish my entire living room.  I had a nice sofa (with a fold out bed), a new coffee table with two matching end tables.  All of them good quality.  Through the years, we have replaced the sofa and the coffee table.  I also had two Lazy Boys, which I still own, but we keep in the game room:

Two Lazy-Boys received as an award from the

Two Lazy-Boys received as an award from the “We’ve Got the Power” program

The biggest prize I purchased from this program was a real nice Thomasville Dining room table and chairs:

Dining Room Table received as an award from the

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

Two of the chairs are missing because they are across the street in my parents house (on loan).

So, you see, you could get some really nice prizes from this program.  The furniture came along just at the time my family was beginning to grow.

When we were originally forming our team Ron Kilman’s secretary, Linda Shiever had joined our team.  We had signed her up and had even held our first meeting.  Then one day she came to me and told me that she was going to be a part of the steering committee.  She was pretty excited about this because she figured that the steering committee, with all their hard work would be well off when it came to prizes.  So, we wished her well.

Linda Shiever

Linda Shiever

During the program it turned out that the team that had the most work to do was the steering committee.  They worked day and night on this program.  They basically gave up their day job to focus solely on this program for those 13 weeks.  As it turned out, they were the least compensated as far as awards went.  So, it was turning out that Linda had left our team, which was raking in the points, to go to a team that was barely receiving any points.

When the time came to implement the projects that were selected, the foreman that was over the team that was going to implement an idea would receive a percentage of the award points for doing the implementation.  I remember my foreman Andy Tubbs (who was on the winning team at our plant), coming to us and telling us that we were to go implement some ideas and that he was going to be receiving award points while we went to actually do the work.  — It was just one of those interesting rules in this program.

Andy Tubbs, being the true Power Plant Man that he was, said this didn’t set too well with him.  So, what he decided to do was spend the points that he was awarded for implementing ideas on prizes for the employees to use in the electric shop.  I remember that he had purchased various different items that came in handy for us in the shop.  I don’t remember off-hand what they were.  If one of the electricians would leave a comment below to remind me… that would be great.

So.  I was bothered by the idea that Linda Shiever had been coaxed onto her team with visions of grandeur, only to find out (like Ron found out), that all their hard work was not going to be compensated at a reasonable level.  I never blamed Ron Kilman for this, because it made sense that Linda should be on that team anyway, since she spent her day in Ron’s office and he did need someone to help with the enormous amount of paperwork. So, I decided to help her out.

Two of our biggest ideas had been approved to save the company over $315,000 each per year (when we tracked it the following year, it ended up with a savings of $345,000).  In order to implement the idea, I believe the implementer would receive either a half or a third of the points.  So, I thought of a way to have Linda Shiever be the implementer of the idea.

I remember explaining to Ron Kilman that in order to implement this idea, since it mainly consisted of a process change to how the precipitator is powered up during start-up, we just needed someone that could type up the procedures so that we could place them in our precipitator manuals.  I suggested that Linda Shiever would be the best person to type up the procedure.   And that is what happened.  She received the award points for implementing our biggest idea.

When it was all said and done, the company was able to quickly save a lot of money, and in some cases increase revenue.  I think the biggest idea at our plant from the winning team came from Larry Kuennen who figured out a way to change the way the boiler was fired that greatly increased the efficiency.  This one idea probably made the entire program worth the effort that everyone went through.

It’s amazing what happens when you add a little extra motivation.  Great things can happen.

Comments from the Orignal Post:

  1. Ron March 15, 2014

    If I remember correctly, Jasper Christensen was the 3rd member of Sooner’s IAC (Idea Action Committee). I think Jim Arnold got to go to Hawaii with his team. This was the most intense, long-term, difficult (personally and inter-company relationships) program of my entire working career. Whoever decided it was fair competition for the Power Plants to compete with the other corporate departments (like the Regions, Accounting, Customer Service, Human Resources, etc.) with cost reduction as the measurement, really blew it. Power Production is where the largest potential existed for cost reduction by at least an order of magnitude. The Plant Managers took a lot of grief from the other Managers (“rigged”, “not fair”, “you guys cooked the books”, “there’s no way”, etc.).

    Sooner Plant won the over-all competition with the highest idea approval rate of any company location (19 total locations). We had audited net savings of $2.1 million/year. Reduction in “Station Power” alone accounted for a revenue increase of $7 million during 1993. We (the IAC) worked many nights, weekends, and took work home. I was proud of the way Sooner teams really got after it. It was a huge success for OG&E.

    The rewards I remember getting were a tread mill, a small sharpening wheel, and a CD player. My jacket fell apart too.

    1. Plant Electrician March 15, 2014

      Thanks Ron. I clearly remember how much time your team had to put into this effort. It was hardest on your team because you didn’t have a choice where the rest of us did.

  2. Morguie March 17, 2014

    That’s too bad about the 200,000 points…but it sounds like you were very good about that, considering. Nice job getting that sweet furniture. It IS AMAZING what can be done with some teamwork and incentive to make an idea work. So glad to see you all did so well.

  3. Jonathan Caswell March 17, 2014

    FINALLY—An incentive program offering something more substantial than free pizza! 🙂Despite the mix-up in points, you worked for a decent company!!!! 🙂

  4. Tim March 18, 2014

    I remember Dad getting a sleeper sofa, and we all got some nice binoculars and a lot of other items it seems. I don’t know what all Andy got for the electrical shop but I know one was an electric knife that is still there with the logo on it I believe.

 

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Power Plant Birthday Phantom

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 Kramer

Our Foreman Alan Kramer

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.”

Jim Kanelakos in in the middle in the back (third from the left) with the red plaid shirt standing behind Vonzell Lynn

Wayne Cranford is front and center on one knee between David Evans and John Costello

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:

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

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.

Danny Cain

Danny Cain

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.

 

Novell's Groupwise

Novell’s Groupwise

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

Jim Padgett is on the far left standing next to Jim Cave in the Jean Jacket.

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.

Linda Shiever

Linda Shiever

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.

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

Darlene Mitchell, a dear friend of the Birthday Phantom

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.

Birthday Phantom Code

Page 1 of the Birthday Phantom Code

Power Plant Men Learn how Money Matters

Many years ago in my earlier days as a Power Plant Electrician while working on Relays at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, Ben Davis, a plant electrician and True Power Man introduced me to one of his favorite Rock and Roll Bands, the “Dire Straits”.  One of their hit songs is “Money For Nothing.”  About 14 years later, the Power Plant Men learned exactly how to make “Money For Nothing” and other “Money Matters”!

Albert Einstein was once asked what the greatest miracle known to man is, and he replied “Compound Interest”.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

One day at the Power Plant our timekeeper Linda Shiever invited a Financial Planner to come to the plant and talk to the Power Plant Men about the importance of planning ahead for your retirement.  This may have been the first time many of the Power Plant Men had ever heard of such a thing as “Compound Interest”.

Linda Shiever

Linda Shiever

To a Power Plant Man, “Compound Interest” sounds more like “paying close attention when you pound something with a sledge hammer”.

The Financial Planner explained to the Power Plant Men that it is important to begin planning for the future early in your life.  He gave us a sheet of paper titled “Put the Magic of compounding to work for you.”  It showed how someone 25 years old investing in the stock market (S&P 500 which averages 10% annually over time) by putting $2,000 in something that gives you a 10% return for 8 years, and then stops, while another person waits 8 years until they are 33 and spends the rest of their life putting $2,000 into the same stock market they will never have as much as the person who only put in $2000 for 8 years beginning when they were 25 years old.

Let me explain this a little more:  Using compound interest at 10% rate for his example (since that is what you receive in the S&P 500 over time), he showed that the person that invested $16,000 beginning at 25 years old and adding $2000 each year for only 8 years will have a net earnings of over $1,000,000 by the time they are 71 years old.  Yet the person that waited 8 years and invested $78,000 by adding $2,000 each year until they are 71 will only have a net earnings of $800,000.  The importance was that compound interest works best when you start early.

This is a great lesson to learn.  The problem was that the majority of the audience was already well over 40 years old.  There may have been one person in the room that was 25 years old, and that was only because they weren’t telling the truth about their age.

On Friday, September 6, 1996 a group of us from the plant were told to show up at a hotel conference room not far from corporate headquarters to attend a meeting that was called “Money Matters”.  The other phrase they used to describe the meeting was that it was a “Root Learning” class.  The reason it was called Root Learning was because the company that put the class together for the Electric Company was called Root Learning.

When we arrived, we were told which table we were going to sit.  Bruce Scambler was the leader of the table where I was appointed to sit.  When we were assigned seats, it was in a way that the Power Plant Men were spread out across the tables, so that we were each sitting with people from other departments in the company.  I supposed right away that this was so that we could maximize the spread of the Power Plant culture to others.

This turned out to be a class about how the company has problems that need to be resolved.  When the class began the leader placed a poster in the middle of the table.  It showed a picture of a canyon.  The workers were on one side and the leaders were on the other with the managers stuck in the middle.  It was very similar to this picture:

The Canyon Root Learning Map

The Canyon Root Learning Map

This was an ingenious representation of the problems the company had with the management structure.  The poster we had was customized for our particular company.

We talked for a couple of hours about how we could bridge the gap between management and the workers.  What were some of the barriers in the tornado that kept destroying those bridges…. etc.

The following year on September 24, 1997, we attended another meeting in Enid Oklahoma where we learned about Shareholder value.  The leader of my table this year was a young man from HR at Corporate Headquarters (I’ll mention this guy in a later post).  This topic made more sense as it really did talk about Money this time.  This time the maps they showed us had race cars on it which showed the different competing electric companies.  Something like this:

The Shareholder learning map

The Shareholder learning map

Being the main electric company in the state, our truck was on the Regulated track. Some of the electric providers had figured out a way to go the unregulated route.  Our company kept looking for ways to get on the unregulated road by offering other services that were not regulated.  After looking at the poster that looked similar to the one above for a while and talking about it, we moved on to the next poster:

The second Shareholder Map

The second Shareholder Map

Even though the chart is the main part of this picture, most of the discussion took place around the “Expense Street” section in the picture.  There was an added pie chart that was on a card that was placed on this street which showed how the expenses of the company were broken down.

The main expense for the company was Fuel.  I want to say that it was close to 40% of expenses.  Taxes was the next largest expense for the company.  It made up somewhere around 30% of our total expenses.  The rest of the expenses were the other costs to run the company.  Employee wages made up around 8% of the total expenses for the company.

Employee wages was the smallest piece of the pie

Employee wages was the smallest piece of the pie

It was the job of the leader at the table to explain that the cost for fuel was pretty well fixed, so we can’t do anything about that.  We also can’t do anything about how much taxes the company pays.  We didn’t have control over the supplies and other costs the company buys.  So, the bottom line was that the little sliver of expenses for the company that represented “Employee Wages” was really the only thing we can adjust to increase shareholder value…..

What?  Run that one by me again?  We were a 3 billion dollar revenue company.  We had around 3,000 employees which we had reduced to around 2,000 employees when the Corporation Commission cut how much we could charge for electricity, and now you’re saying that the only way to keep the company afloat is to “adjust” employee wages because 92% of everything else it “out-of-bounds”?  I think you can see why we spent a lot of time discussing this…  This turned into a pretty lively discussion.

Learning about the “Time Value of Money” can be very helpful.  I had a financial calculator that I kept at the plant.  One day one of the Power Plant Men came to me and asked me to figure out how they could buy a Harley Davidson Motorcycle.  Earl Frazier said that he could only afford something like $230 per month and the wanted to buy this motorcycle.  How would he do that?  The motorcycle cost something like $38,000 or more.   I don’t remember the exact details.

A Harley Davidson Similar to the one Don Pierce had

A Harley Davidson Motorcycle

Sounds complicated doesn’t it?  How does a Power Plant Man buy a Harley Davidson for only $230.00 per month with only a four year loan?  Earl had heard that I knew all about the “Time Value of Money” and that if there was a way, I would be able to tell him how to do it.  His parameters were that the cost of the motorcycle was $38,000 (I’m just guessing as I don’t remember the exact amounts), and he could only pay $230 each month.

Well.  Even with a no interest loan, it would take over 13 years to pay for the motorcycle.  So, my only option for solving this problem was to pull out my financial calculator:

My Texas Instrument BAII Financial Calculator

My Texas Instrument BAII Plus Financial Calculator

This calculator allowed me to find the monthly payment quickly for a loan at a specific interest rate over a specific number of months.  So, I worked backward from that point.  I told Earl to come back in a couple of hours and I would let him know his options.

Earl Frazier

Earl Frazier

When Earl returned, I had his answer…. I told him this….  Each month he needed to begin putting his $230.00 into an annual CD at the bank for 5% (yeah… they had those at that time).  In two and a half years, he would stop doing that.  And just put his money in his regular checking account.  Then 9 months later, he takes the money in his checking account and buys the Harley Davidson.  This way he would put 10% down up front (because CDs would have been rolling into his account also).

Then, each month, as his CDs became available, he would roll part of them back into another year, leaving out a certain amount each time to supplement the $230.00 he would still be paying each month for his motorcycle, since his payments would be significantly higher than that.  Then exactly after 4 years, he would have used up all of the money in his account just as he would be paying off his motorcycle.  This would only work if he could get a loan for the motorcycle that charged 3.7% interest rate or less which was a reasonable rate at the time.

Earl responded by saying, “You mean I will have to wait 3 years before I can buy the motorcycle?!?!”  Yeah.  That was the bottom line… and by the end of it all, he would have to pay for the motorcycle over a 7 year period when it came down to it.    He wasn’t too happy about having to wait, but that was the only way he could do it for $230 monthly payments.

Here is a side story…  A few years later when I went to work for Dell, we also had Root Learning classes there as well.  Here is one of the posters we used during the class:

Root-Learning-Dell

In this picture, Dell is the big boat at the top.  When I walked into the class I recognized the style of the poster right off the bat.  Oh!  Root Learning!  This will be fun.  These types of classes were a fun way to express the realities of the business and the obstacles they have to overcome to achieve their goals.

I still remember the leader at our table 13 years later.  His name is Jonah Vaught.  I worked with him about 5 years after that class.  I acted like I knew him, and I could tell that he was wondering where we had met.  So, I finally told him…. “You were the group leader when we were doing that Money Matters class back in 2002.”

End of Side story….

Now when I listen to the Dire Straits’ song “Money For Nothing” (like Paul Harvey’s “Rest of the Story”) you know what goes through my mind…   First sitting in the switchgear working on relays with Ben Davis listening to Rock and Roll on the radio (see the post:  “Relay Tests and Radio Quizzes with Ben Davis“).

Secondly, I remember the Power Plant Men learning the “Time Value of Money” in a fun way that kept them interested.

Thirdly, I remember Charles Lay finally realizing when he was 63 years old that he was going to have to work the rest of his life because he hadn’t been saving for retirement…. See the post “Pain in the Neck Muskogee Power Plant Relay Testing“). Some times when you learn about the Time Value of Money…. it’s too late to do anything about it because time has already run out.

 

Hitting the Power Plant HR Cardboard Ceiling

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.

SAP Logo

SAP Logo

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 (or did it?).

A programming book like this

A programming book like this

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 pickins rather slim (as in Slim Pickens).  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.

My screen at the time

My screen at the time

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.

Mark Romano

Mark Romano

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).

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

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.

Bill Green

Bill Green

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….

SAP water drops

SAP water drops

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.

HR Supervisor sucked down a whirlpool

HR Supervisor sucked down a 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….

Linda Shiever

Linda Shiever

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

Darlene Mitchell

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.

Power Plant Trip Leads to Game of Frogger

Some days when everything seems to be going just right, some little thing comes along that throws a wrench into the end of a perfect day. That’s what happened to the husband of the timekeeper at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma. Vance Shiever had spent the day baling hay into large bails in a pasture outside Morrison Oklahoma. All day while he worked, off in the distance he could see the plant where his wife Linda spent her week days.

Linda Shiever

Linda Shiever

Linda Shiever was one of the first two employees hired at the Coal-fired plant along with Sonny Karcher.  She was hired on May 30, 1978, just 10 days after her marriage to Vance.  During the 20 years I worked at the Power Plant, I heard Linda talk about Vance often.  So, when Ray Eberle began telling me a story about him, I already had a picture of Vance in my head much like Paul Bunyan (having never met him in person):

Like this Paul Bunyan only with tinted glasses. Actually, this is a historian named Wayne Chamberlain

Like this Paul Bunyan only with tinted glasses. Actually, this is a historian named Wayne Chamberlain

Ray Eberle said that he had stopped to visit Vance this particular Saturday afternoon when Vance was just finishing up loading the bales of hay onto a large flat bed semi-truck trailer.

Large Round Hay Bale

Large Round Hay Bale

About that time, Walt Oswalt drove by and saw his best buddy Ray standing out in the pasture talking with Vance, so he pulled off the road to visit Vance and Ray.  This is the same Walt Oswalt that I wrote about last month (see the post:  “Mr. Frog’s Wild Power Plant Ride“).  Ray’s nickname for Walt was Frog.  Even today when I talk to Ray, he refers to him as Frog.

While Ray, Walt and Vance stood there talking, Vance looked off in the distance toward the Power Plant looming in the distance.

Power Plant at sunset

Power Plant at sunset

He mentioned that even though his wife has worked there for 20 years (at that time), he had never actually been to the plant.  Ray said that he would be glad to give him a tour of the plant right then and there if he wanted to see it.  This was a tempting proposition for Vance, who had been curious for many years about what actually went on there.

Vance said that it would be great if he could have a tour of the plant, but unfortunately, he still had to tie down all the bales of hay on the truck before he headed off to Muskogee to deliver his load by morning.  At this point Walt spoke up and said that Vance should go with Ray on a tour of the plant.  Walt said he would tie down the bales.  Vance replied that he wanted to make sure the bales of hay were properly secured before he took his trip down the turnpike to Muskogee.

Walt was insistent that Vance should go take a tour of the Power Plant and that he would tie down the bales of hay.  He knew how to do it.  Vance gave Walt some instructions about how to make sure the bales were securely tied down, and Walt kept reassuring Vance that he knew what he was doing.

A truck loaded with large round bales

A truck loaded with large round bales properly tied down

Walt finally convinced Vance that he could handle the hay bales, and Vance went with Ray Eberle to tour the Power Plant.  Ray said that Vance was so excited to finally be able to see the plant up close.  Ray gave Vance the full Power Plant Tour, which can take a few hours, especially with a professional story teller such as Ray Eberle:

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

It was dark when Ray and Vance returned to the pasture where the large semi-truck was parked.  Walt was taking a nap in his car waiting for them to return.

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

Vance asked Walt if he had tied down the bales of hay, as it was too dark to tell for sure.  Walt assured Vance that the bales of hay were securely tied down to the bed of the trailer.  He had no need to worry.  Now it was time for a second favor…

Ray had given Vance a long desired tour of the Power Plant, so Ray asked Vance if he would do a favor for him.  Ray had never had the opportunity to ride in a “Big Rig” Semi Truck, so he asked Vance if he would let him ride with him to Muskogee and back.  Walt would follow along behind them to bring Ray back home when they arrived in Muskogee.

Vance was glad to return the favor.  Ray climbed into the truck and it pulled out of the pasture and onto the dark highway 64, then the Cimarron Turnpike that ran next to Morrison.  Walt, following along behind.  The traffic on this particular stretch of the Cimarron was always light, especially on a Saturday night.

This was a perfect day for Vance.  He had spent the day doing what he loved.  Baling Hay and loading it on the trailer.  The first class tour of the Power Plant with the best tour guide in Oklahoma and the surrounding states (since Mark Twain is no longer with us).  Now, driving down the highway with a load of hay with a good friend sitting shotgun.  What could be better?

Ray was thinking that there was something in the air that just wasn’t quite right.  The few other cars that were driving down the highway seemed to be driving a little more erratic than usual.  Well, it was Saturday night….  Maybe that was the reason a couple of cars swerved around the truck honking their horns before speeding off into the night.

Eventually, one car pulled up alongside the truck so that Vance could see the person in the passenger side.  They were frantically pointing back behind them.  Oh No!  Yeah.  That’s right.  If you have been reading this post with more than a simple glance, you have already surmised what was happening. Vance quickly pulled off the side of the road and came to a stop.

Ray finally realized what was happening at that point…  As they were travelling down the highway, the bales of hay had been flying off the truck into the middle of the dark highway.  Vance jumped out of the truck yelling, “I’m going to kill him!  I’m going to kill him!”  He stood in the middle of the highway, fists out at his side, waiting for Walt to show up… after all, he was following the semi when they left the pasture.

Ray could see Vance standing in the middle of the highway like Paul Bunyan, with the red glow of the tail lights dimly lighting the back of the truck.  Waiting for Walt to arrive… but Walt didn’t show up.

Ray and Vance spent the next hour or so walking down the highway pushing the large round bales off the side of the turnpike.  Luckily, few cars were travelling on the Cimarron Turnpike that night and no one was hurt (yet).  After walking a couple of miles back to the truck both Ray and Vance were worn out.  They were beat.  All the rage that Vance had felt when he realized that Walt had not tied down the bales was gone.  He was too tired at that point.

About that time, Walt Oswalt came driving down the highway and saw the truck pulled over.  He pulled up behind the truck.  Vance was too tired to confront him for his failure to secure the bales.  Where had Walt been for the last hour and a half while Ray and Vance had been rolling bales of hay off of the road?  That’s what they really wanted to know.

Walt said that when they left the pasture he suddenly realized that he was hungry, so he went down to the diner in Morrison and ate some supper.  When Ray was relaying this story to me, he said, “Walt’s stomach probably saved his life.  By the time he showed up, Vance was too worn out to kill him.  Besides… that really wasn’t Vance’s nature.  But there for a moment, I thought if Walt had showed up right away, his life may have been in danger.”

Of all the Walt Oswalt Stories, this is my favorite.  When I sat down to write my post this morning, this story was on my mind, so I thought for a moment what would be a good title.  I thought of the game of Frogger where the frog jumps across the road dodging the cars.  In this case, of course, it was the cars that were dodging the round bales of hay that were placed there because of the actions of a man whose best friend calls him “Frog”.  So, I wrote:  “Power Plant Trip Leads to Game of Frogger”.

A game of Frogger

A game of Frogger

Then I thought, I have pictures of Ray and Walt.  Let me see if I can find a picture of Vance on the Internet.  So, I did what I usually do in this instance.  I opened up Google and searched.  I typed Vance Shiever, Morrison Oklahoma.  The link at the top of the page said, “Vance Lee Shiever – Stillwater News Press:  Obituaries”.  Oh No!  What?!?!

I quickly clicked the link and my heart fell.  There was a picture of a man smiling back at me… Vance Lee Shiever.

Vance Shiever

Vance Lee Shiever

Vance died this past Tuesday from pancreatic cancer.  I had no idea!  I have been so busy this past week that I haven’t even logged into Facebook since last weekend.  If the dates are right, (because I know that Stillwater News Press often misspells names and dates), then Vance is having his funeral service this very afternoon.  I don’t believe for a moment that this is just a coincidence.

I have found that the members of the Power Plant Family in which I was a member for 20 years keep in touch in various ways.  Sometimes it is by e-mail. Sometimes it is through Facebook.  Other times, we just think about each other, and we just seem to know that something is up, even when we aren’t sure what.  I believe that is what happened this morning.

This past month three people have died in the Power Plant Family.  Walt Oswalt, Vance Shiever, and Ray Eberle’s wife Barbara.  I have often heard it said at the Power Plant that things always seem to happen in 3’s.  This Power Plant Post was one story about those three.

I thought that I should find a better picture of Vance, so I logged into Facebook, and the first picture that came up was this picture of Vance, the photo that was used by the New Press:

Vance Shiever, adored husband and father

Vance Shiever, adored husband and father

I can now picture Vance watching over his family from Heaven.  By the way that Linda always spoke of Vance, I know that he was one of those rare people full of kindness.  I also picture him going through the videos of his life with Saint Peter.  All those happy days he spent with Linda, and their children Beau and Lindsey….

Then as Saint Peter works the remote, he pulls up the video of Vance out in the field loading the round bales on the trailer as Ray pulls up in his truck.  As they watch this story unfold, they both break out in laughter as they watch Vance standing like Paul Bunyan in the middle of the highway waiting for Walt.  Saint Peter puts his arm around Vance, as they turn and enter the gates of Heaven.  Saint Peter mentions one last thing to Vance, “Yeah.  It is like Ray said…. Walt’s stomach saved his life.”

Addendum to this story:

After posting this last week, Ray Eberle contacted me and pointed out that Vance had died one year ago to the day from the date I created this post on November 7, 2015.  He actually died November 7, 2014.  No one had told me about Vance’s death, and when I pulled up Facebook, the first picture I saw was a picture of Vance, which further enforced my thought that he had died this past week.  The family was remembering his funeral service from the previous year. — This would explain why the Stillwater NewsPress said that he died on a Monday, when the date was on a Tuesday.

Power Plant “We’ve Got the Power” Program

Originally posted March 14, 2014:

Early January, 1990 the entire maintenance shop at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma was called to the break room which doubled as our main conference room in order to attend an important meeting.  We watched as a new program was explained to us.  It was a program called “We’ve Got the Power”.  It centered around the idea that the best people who knew how to improve the operation of the plant were the people that worked there every day… The employees.  When it was over, we were all given an Igloo Lunch box just for attending the meeting.  We were also promised a lot more prizes in the future for participating in the program.

“We’ve Got the Power” Igloo Lunch Box

In order to participate further, we needed to sign up on a team.  Preferably the team would be cross-functional, because, as they explained, a cross-functional team usually could come up with the most creative ideas for improving things at the plant.  Once we signed up for the team each member on the team was given a gray windbreaker.

A windbreaker like this, only gray. The

A windbreaker like this, only gray. The “We’ve Got the Power” logo was in the same place as this logo

I don’t have an actual picture of the windbreaker I was given.  I wore it to work for a number of months until we found out that the material was highly flammable and that it was not safe for us to wear it on the job.  We were supposed to wear only flame retardant clothing.  I kept the jacket for 15 years, but the jacket was made with material that disintegrated over time, and one day when I pulled it out of the closet to wear, I found that it was literally falling apart on the hanger.  I had no choice but to throw it away.

There were some interesting reactions to this program.  I thought the program was a great idea and couldn’t wait until it began in order to submit our ideas for improving the plant.  Others decided for some reason that they didn’t want to have any part in the program.  Most of the Power Plant Men were eager to take part.

So, here’s how it worked.  We had about 5 weeks to prepare our first ideas to submit to steering committee, which consisted of our plant manager Ron Kilman, the assistant plant manager Ben Brandt and I believe the Engineering Supervisor Jim Arnold.  I don’t remember for sure if Jim Arnold was on the steering committee.  We could only submit three ideas.  At any given time, we could only have three ideas in the pipeline.  Once a decision had been made about that idea, then we could submit another one.

I was the leader of the team that we assembled.  It consisted of the following electricians besides myself: Scott Hubbard, Charles Foster and Terry Blevins.  One mechanic Jody Morse.  We also had two people from the warehouse on our team:  Dick Dale and Darlene Mitchell.  Here are their pictures:

Terry Blevins

Terry Blevins

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

Jody Morse

Jody Morse

Darlene Mitchell

Darlene Mitchell

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

Richard Dale many years later

I was somehow the luckiest guy in the plant to have some of the best brain power on my team.  I will go into some of our ideas in a later post.  Actually, I think I will have to have at least two more posts to completely cover this topic.  For now, I just want to explain how this program worked and maybe share a thing or two about our team.

If one of the ideas we submitted was approved to be implemented, then we would receive an number of award points that was consistent with the amount of money the idea would save the company in one year.  If it wasn’t a money saving idea or you couldn’t figure out how to calculate the savings, then there was a set amount of points that would be granted to the team.  Each team member would receive the same number of points as everyone else on the team.  Each person would receive the full savings of the idea.

We were given a catalog from a company called Maritz Inc.  This is a company that specializes in employee motivation.  They have been around a long time, and the gifts in the catalog ranged from small items such as a toaster, all the way up to pretty large pieces of furniture and other big items.  I challenge the Power Plant Men who read this blog that were heavily involved in this program to leave a comment with the types of prizes they picked from this catalog.

The rules for the program were very specific, and there was a healthy (and in some cases, not so healthy) competition that ensued during the event.  Once we were able to submit our ideas, we had 13 weeks to turn in all of our ideas.  Keeping in mind that you could only have 3 ideas in the pipeline at a time.  (well… they bent that rule at the last minute.  — I’m sure Ron Kilman was thrilled about that).

I mentioned Ron Kilman, because for the entire 13 weeks and probably beyond, Ron (our plant manager)was sort of sequestered in his office reviewing the hundreds of ideas that were being turned in.  At first some mistakes were made, and then there were attempts to correct those, and you can imagine that it was sort of organized (or disorganized) chaos for a while.

I will go into our ideas in a later post, but I will say that despite the fact that a good deal of our points were incorrectly allocated to other teams, we still came out in second place at our plant, and in sixth place in the company.  Only the top 5 teams were able to go to Hawaii, and we were only a few points behind the fifth place team.  So, all in all, I think our team was happy with our progress.  Especially since we knew that over 200,000 of our points, were mistakenly given away and never corrected.  Which would have made us close to 2nd place companywide.  Our team had no hard feelings when it was over.  We felt that for the effort that we put into it, we were well rewarded.

In the middle of this program, my daughter was born and so a lot of my points went to purchasing things like a play pen, a baby swing, and a large assortment of baby toys.  I had been such a miser in my marriage up to this point so that the majority of the furniture in our house had been purchased in Ponca City garage sales early on Saturday mornings.  I had the idea that for the first few years of our marriage, we would live real cheap, and then work our way up gradually.  That way, we would always feel like we were moving up in the world.  The first house that we rented in Ponca City was a little dumpy old house for $250 per month.

Ponca-City-House

The house we rented in Ponca City, Oklahoma

I had been married for 4 years by the time this program rolled around, and when the first few boxes of prizes had just arrived at our house, one Sunday in April, a priest came to the house we were renting on Sixth Street in Stillwater, Oklahoma to bless the house.

Stillwater-house

House we rented in Stillwater

When he walked in and saw a large box leaning against the wall in the living room, and not a stitch of furniture, he asked us if we were moving.  I asked him what he meant.  He said, “Well, you don’t have any furniture.”  I said, “Oh.  No.  We’re not moving.  We just have the furniture in the other room” (which was a spare bedroom that we used as the computer room.  That was where our old couch was along with an old coffee table (both of which had been given to me by my friend Tim Flowers).

From this program I was able to furnish my entire living room.  I had a nice sofa (with a fold out bed), a new coffee table with two matching end tables.  All of them good quality.  Through the years, we have replaced the sofa and the coffee table.  I also had two Lazy Boys, which I still own, but we keep in the game room:

Two Lazy-Boys received as an award from the

Two Lazy-Boys received as an award from the “We’ve Got the Power” program

The biggest prize I purchased from this program was a real nice Thomasville Dining room table and chairs:

Dining Room Table received as an award from the

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

Two of the chairs are missing because they are across the street in my parents house (on loan).

So, you see, you could get some really nice prizes from this program.  The furniture came along just at the time my family was beginning to grow.

When we were originally forming our team Ron Kilman’s secretary, Linda Shiever had joined our team.  We had signed her up and had even held our first meeting.  Then one day she came to me and told me that she was going to be a part of the steering committee.  She was pretty excited about this because she figured that the steering committee, with all their hard work would be well off when it came to prizes.  So, we wished her well.

Linda Shiever

Linda Shiever

During the program it turned out that the team that had the most work to do was the steering committee.  They worked day and night on this program.  They basically gave up their day job to focus solely on this program for those 13 weeks.  As it turned out, they were the least compensated as far as awards went.  So, it was turning out that Linda had left our team, which was raking in the points, to go to a team that was barely receiving any points.

When the time came to implement the projects that were selected, the foreman that was over the team that was going to implement an idea would receive a percentage of the award points for doing the implementation.  I remember my foreman Andy Tubbs (who was on the winning team at our plant), coming to us and telling us that we were to go implement some ideas and that he was going to be receiving award points while we went to actually do the work.  — It was just one of those interesting rules in this program.

Andy Tubbs, being the true Power Plant Man that he was, said this didn’t set too well with him.  So, what he decided to do was spend the points that he was awarded for implementing ideas on prizes for the employees to use in the electric shop.  I remember that he had purchased various different items that came in handy for us in the shop.  I don’t remember off-hand what they were.  If one of the electricians would leave a comment below to remind me… that would be great.

So.  I was bothered by the idea that Linda Shiever had been coaxed onto her team with visions of grandeur, only to find out (like Ron found out), that all their hard work was not going to be compensated at a reasonable level.  I never blamed Ron Kilman for this, because it made sense that Linda should be on that team anyway, since she spent her day in Ron’s office and he did need someone to help with the enormous amount of paperwork. So, I decided to help her out.

Two of our biggest ideas had been approved to save the company over $315,000 each per year (when we tracked it the following year, it ended up with a savings of $345,000).  In order to implement the idea, I believe the implementer would receive either a half or a third of the points.  So, I thought of a way to have Linda Shiever be the implementer of the idea.

I remember explaining to Ron Kilman that in order to implement this idea, since it mainly consisted of a process change to how the precipitator is powered up during start-up, we just needed someone that could type up the procedures so that we could place them in our precipitator manuals.  I suggested that Linda Shiever would be the best person to type up the procedure.   And that is what happened.  She received the award points for implementing our biggest idea.

When it was all said and done, the company was able to quickly save a lot of money, and in some cases increase revenue.  I think the biggest idea at our plant from the winning team came from Larry Kuennen who figured out a way to change the way the boiler was fired that greatly increased the efficiency.  This one idea probably made the entire program worth the effort that everyone went through.

It’s amazing what happens when you add a little extra motivation.  Great things can happen.

Comments from the Orignal Post:

  1. Ron March 15, 2014

    If I remember correctly, Jasper Christensen was the 3rd member of Sooner’s IAC (Idea Action Committee). I think Jim Arnold got to go to Hawaii with his team. This was the most intense, long-term, difficult (personally and inter-company relationships) program of my entire working career. Whoever decided it was fair competition for the Power Plants to compete with the other corporate departments (like the Regions, Accounting, Customer Service, Human Resources, etc.) with cost reduction as the measurement, really blew it. Power Production is where the largest potential existed for cost reduction by at least an order of magnitude. The Plant Managers took a lot of grief from the other Managers (“rigged”, “not fair”, “you guys cooked the books”, “there’s no way”, etc.).

    Sooner Plant won the over-all competition with the highest idea approval rate of any company location (19 total locations). We had audited net savings of $2.1 million/year. Reduction in “Station Power” alone accounted for a revenue increase of $7 million during 1993. We (the IAC) worked many nights, weekends, and took work home. I was proud of the way Sooner teams really got after it. It was a huge success for OG&E.

    The rewards I remember getting were a tread mill, a small sharpening wheel, and a CD player. My jacket fell apart too.

    1. Plant Electrician March 15, 2014

      Thanks Ron. I clearly remember how much time your team had to put into this effort. It was hardest on your team because you didn’t have a choice where the rest of us did.

  2. Morguie March 17, 2014

    That’s too bad about the 200,000 points…but it sounds like you were very good about that, considering. Nice job getting that sweet furniture. It IS AMAZING what can be done with some teamwork and incentive to make an idea work. So glad to see you all did so well.

  3. Jonathan Caswell March 17, 2014

    FINALLY—An incentive program offering something more substantial than free pizza! 🙂Despite the mix-up in points, you worked for a decent company!!!! 🙂

  4. Tim March 18, 2014

    I remember Dad getting a sleeper sofa, and we all got some nice binoculars and a lot of other items it seems. I don’t know what all Andy got for the electrical shop but I know one was an electric knife that is still there with the logo on it I believe.

 

Power Plant Birthday Phantom

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 Kramer

Our Foreman Alan Kramer

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.”

Jim Kanelakos in in the middle in the back (third from the left) with the red plaid shirt standing behind Vonzell Lynn

Wayne Cranford is front and center on one knee between David Evans and John Costello

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:

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

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.

Danny Cain

Danny Cain

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.

 

Novell's Groupwise

Novell’s Groupwise

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

Jim Padgett is on the far left standing next to Jim Cave in the Jean Jacket.

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.

Linda Shiever

Linda Shiever

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.

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

Darlene Mitchell, a dear friend of the Birthday Phantom

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.

Birthday Phantom Code

Page 1 of the Birthday Phantom Code

Power Plant Men Learn how Money Matters

Many years ago in my earlier days as a Power Plant Electrician while working on Relays at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, Ben Davis, a plant electrician and True Power Man introduced me to one of his favorite Rock and Roll Bands, the “Dire Straits”.  One of their hit songs is “Money For Nothing.”  About 14 years later, the Power Plant Men learned exactly how to make “Money For Nothing” and other “Money Matters”!

Albert Einstein was once asked what the greatest miracle known to man is, and he replied “Compound Interest”.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

One day at the Power Plant our timekeeper Linda Shiever invited a Financial Planner to come to the plant and talk to the Power Plant Men about the importance of planning ahead for your retirement.  This may have been the first time many of the Power Plant Men had ever heard of such a thing as “Compound Interest”.

Linda Shiever

Linda Shiever

To a Power Plant Man, “Compound Interest” sounds more like “paying close attention when you pound something with a sledge hammer”.

The Financial Planner explained to the Power Plant Men that it is important to begin planning for the future early in your life.  He gave us a sheet of paper titled “Put the Magic of compounding to work for you.”  It showed how someone 25 years old investing in the stock market (S&P 500 which averages 10% annually over time) by putting $2,000 in something that gives you a 10% return for 8 years, and then stops, while another person waits 8 years until they are 33 and spends the rest of their life putting $2,000 into the same stock market they will never have as much as the person who only put in $2000 for 8 years beginning when they were 25 years old.

Let me explain this a little more:  Using compound interest at 10% rate for his example (since that is what you receive in the S&P 500 over time), he showed that the person that invested $16,000 beginning at 25 years old and adding $2000 each year for only 8 years will have a net earnings of over $1,000,000 by the time they are 71 years old.  Yet the person that waited 8 years and invested $78,000 by adding $2,000 each year until they are 71 will only have a net earnings of $800,000.  The importance was that compound interest works best when you start early.

This is a great lesson to learn.  The problem was that the majority of the audience was already well over 40 years old.  There may have been one person in the room that was 25 years old, and that was only because they weren’t telling the truth about their age.

On Friday, September 6, 1996 a group of us from the plant were told to show up at a hotel conference room not far from corporate headquarters to attend a meeting that was called “Money Matters”.  The other phrase they used to describe the meeting was that it was a “Root Learning” class.  The reason it was called Root Learning was because the company that put the class together for the Electric Company was called Root Learning.

When we arrived, we were told which table we were going to sit.  Bruce Scambler was the leader of the table where I was appointed to sit.  When we were assigned seats, it was in a way that the Power Plant Men were spread out across the tables, so that we were each sitting with people from other departments in the company.  I supposed right away that this was so that we could maximize the spread the Power Plant culture to others.

This turned out to be a class about how the company has problems that need to be resolved.  When the class began the leader placed a poster in the middle of the table.  It showed a picture of a canyon.  The workers were on one side and the leaders were on the other with the managers stuck in the middle.  It was very similar to this picture:

The Canyon Root Learning Map

The Canyon Root Learning Map

This was an ingenious representation of the problems the company had with the management structure.  The poster we had was customized for our particular company.

We talked for a couple of hours about how we could bridge the gap between management and the workers.  What were some of the barriers in the tornado that kept destroying those bridges…. etc.

The following year on September 24, 1997, we attended another meeting in Enid Oklahoma where we learned about Shareholder value.  The leader of my table this year was a young man from HR at Corporate Headquarters (I’ll mention this guy in a later post).  This topic made more sense as it really did talk about Money this time.  This time the maps they showed us had race cars on it which showed the different competing electric companies.  Something like this:

The Shareholder learning map

The Shareholder learning map

Being the main electric company in the state, our truck was on the Regulated track. Some of the electric providers had figured out a way to go the unregulated route.  Our company kept looking for ways to get on the unregulated road by offering other services that were not regulated.  After looking at the poster that looked similar to the one above for a while and talking about it, we moved on to the next poster:

The second Shareholder Map

The second Shareholder Map

Even though the chart is the main part of this picture, most of the discussion took place around the “Expense Street” section in the picture.  There was an added pie chart that was on a card that was placed on this street which showed how the expenses of the company were broken down.

The main expense for the company was Fuel.  I want to say that it was close to 40% of expenses.  Taxes was the next largest expense for the company.  It made up somewhere around 30% of our total expenses.  The rest of the expenses were the other costs to run the company.  Employee wages made up around 8% of the total expenses for the company.

Employee wages was the smallest piece of the pie

Employee wages was the smallest piece of the pie

It was the job of the leader at the table to explain that the cost for fuel was pretty well fixed, so we can’t do anything about that.  We also can’t do anything about how much taxes the company pays.  We didn’t have control over the supplies and other costs the company buys.  So, the bottom line was that the little sliver of expenses for the company that represented “Employee Wages” was really the only thing we can adjust to increase shareholder value…..

What?  Run that one by me again?  We were a 3 billion dollar revenue company.  We had around 3,000 employees which we had reduced to around 2000 employees when the Corporation Commission cut how much we could charge for electricity, and now you’re saying that the only way to keep the company afloat is to “adjust” employee wages because 92% of everything else it “out-of-bounds”?  I think you can see why we spent a lot of time discussing this…  This turned into a pretty lively discussion.

Learning about the “Time Value of Money” can be very helpful.  I had a financial calculator that I kept at the plant.  One day one of the Power Plant Men came to me and asked me to figure out how they could buy a Harley Davidson Motorcycle.  Earl Frazier said that he could only afford something like $230 per month and the wanted to buy this motorcycle.  How would he do that?  The motorcycle cost something like $38,000 or more.   I don’t remember the exact details.

A Harley Davidson Similar to the one Don Pierce had

A Harley Davidson Motorcycle

Sounds complicated doesn’t it?  How does a Power Plant Man buy a Harley Davidson for only $230.00 per month with only a four year loan?  Earl had heard that I knew all about the “Time Value of Money” and that if there was a way, I would be able to tell him how to do it.  His parameters were that the cost of the motorcycle was $38,000 (I’m just guessing as I don’t remember the exact amounts), and he could only pay $230 each month.

Well.  Even with a no interest loan, it would take over 13 years to pay for the motorcycle.  So, my only option for solving this problem was to pull out my financial calculator:

My Texas Instrument BAII Financial Calculator

My Texas Instrument BAII Plus Financial Calculator

This calculator allowed me to find the monthly payment quickly for a loan at a specific interest rate over a specific number of months.  So, I worked backward from that point.  I told Earl to come back in a couple of hours and I would let him know his options.

Earl Frazier

Earl Frazier

When Earl returned, I had his answer…. I told him this….  Each month he needed to begin putting his $230.00 into an annual CD at the bank for 5% (yeah… they had those at that time).  In two and a half years, he would stop doing that.  And just put his money in his regular checking account.  Then 9 months later, he takes the money in his checking account and buys the Harley Davidson.  This way he would put 10% down up front (because CDs would have been rolling into his account also).

Then, each month, as his CDs became available, he would roll part of them back into another year, leaving out a certain amount each time to supplement the $230.00 he would still be paying each month for his motorcycle, since his payments would be significantly higher than that.  Then exactly after 4 years, he would have used up all of the money in his account just as he would be paying off his motorcycle.  This would only work if he could get a loan for the motorcycle that charged 3.7% interest rate or less which was a reasonable rate at the time.

Earl responded by saying, “You mean I will have to wait 3 years before I can buy the motorcycle?!?!”  Yeah.  That was the bottom line… and by the end of it all, he would have to pay for the motorcycle over a 7 year period when it came down to it.    He wasn’t too happy about having to wait, but that was the only way he could do it for $230 monthly payments.

Here is a side story…  A few years later when I went to work for Dell, we also had Root Learning classes there as well.  Here is one of the posters we used during the class:

Root-Learning-Dell

In this picture, Dell is the big boat at the top.  When I walked into the class I recognized the style of the poster right off the bat.  Oh!  Root Learning!  This will be fun.  These types of classes were a fun way to express the realities of the business and the obstacles they have to overcome to achieve their goals.

I still remember the leader at our table 13 years later.  His name is Jonah Vaught.  I worked with him about 5 years after that class.  I acted like I knew him, and I could tell that he was wondering where we had met.  So, I finally told him…. “You were the group leader when we were doing that Money Matters class back in 2002.”

End of Side story….

Now when I listen to the Dire Straits’ song “Money For Nothing” (like Paul Harvey’s “Rest of the Story”) you know what goes through my mind…   First sitting in the switchgear working on relays with Ben Davis listening to Rock and Roll on the radio (see the post:  “Relay Tests and Radio Quizzes with Ben Davis“).

Secondly, I remember the Power Plant Men learning the “Time Value of Money” in a fun way that kept them interested.

Thirdly, I remember Charles Lay finally realizing when he was 63 years old that he was going to have to work the rest of his life because he hadn’t been saving for retirement…. See the post “Pain in the Neck Muskogee Power Plant Relay Testing“). Some times when you learn about the Time Value of Money…. it’s too late to do anything about it because time has already run out.

 

Hitting the Power Plant HR Cardboard Ceiling

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.

SAP Logo

SAP Logo

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.

A programming book like this

A programming book like this

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.

My screen at the time

My screen at the time

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.

Mark Romano

Mark Romano

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).

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

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.

Bill Green

Bill Green

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….

SAP water drops

SAP water drops

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.

HR Supervisor sucked down a whirlpool

HR Supervisor sucked down a 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….

Linda Shiever

Linda Shiever

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

Darlene Mitchell

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.

Power Plant Trip Leads to Game of Frogger

Some days when everything seems to be going just right, some little thing comes along that throws a wrench into the end of a perfect day. That’s what happened to the husband of the timekeeper at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma. Vance Shiever had spent the day baling hay into large bails in a pasture outside Morrison Oklahoma. All day while he worked, off in the distance he could see the plant where his wife Linda spent her week days.

Linda Shiever

Linda Shiever

Linda Shiever was one of the first two employees hired at the Coal-fired plant along with Sonny Karcher.  She was hired on May 30, 1978, just 10 days after her marriage to Vance.  During the 20 years I worked at the Power Plant, I heard Linda talk about Vance often.  So, when Ray Eberle began telling me a story about him, I already had a picture of a Vance in my head much like Paul Bunyan (having never met him in person):

Like this Paul Bunyan only with tinted glasses. Actually, this is a historian named Wayne Chamberlain

Like this Paul Bunyan only with tinted glasses. Actually, this is a historian named Wayne Chamberlain

Ray Eberle said that he had stopped to visit Vance this particular Saturday afternoon when Vance was just finishing up loading the bales of hay onto a large flat bed semi-truck trailer.

Large Round Hay Bale

Large Round Hay Bale

About that time, Walt Oswalt drove by and saw his best buddy Ray standing out in the pasture talking with Vance, so he pulled off the road to visit Vance and Ray.  This is the same Walt Oswalt that I wrote about last month (see the post:  “Mr. Frog’s Wild Power Plant Ride“).  Ray’s nickname for Walt was Frog.  Even today when I talk to Ray, he refers to him as Frog.

While Ray, Walt and Vance stood there talking, Vance looked off in the distance toward the Power Plant looming in the distance.

Power Plant at sunset

Power Plant at sunset

He mentioned that even though his wife has worked there for 20 years (at that time), he had never actually been to the plant.  Ray said that he would be glad to give him a tour of the plant right then and there if he wanted to see it.  This was a tempting proposition for Vance, who had been curious for many years about what actually went on there.

Vance said that it would be great if he could have a tour of the plant, but unfortunately, he still had to tie down all the bales of hay on the truck before he headed off to Muskogee to deliver his load by morning.  At this point Walt spoke up and said that Vance should go with Ray on a tour of the plant.  Walt said he would tie down the bales.  Vance replied that he wanted to make sure the bales of hay were properly secured before he took his trip down the turnpike to Muskogee.

Walt was insistent that Vance should go take a tour of the Power Plant and that he would tie down the bales of hay.  He knew how to do it.  Vance gave Walt some instructions about how to make sure the bales were securely tied down, and Walt kept reassuring Vance that he knew what he was doing.

A truck loaded with large round bales

A truck loaded with large round bales properly tied down

Walt finally convinced Vance that he could handle the hay bales, and Vance went with Ray Eberle to tour the Power Plant.  Ray said that Vance was so excited to finally be able to see the plant up close.  Ray gave Vance the full Power Plant Tour, which can take a few hours, especially with a professional story teller such as Ray Eberle:

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

It was dark when Ray and Vance returned to the pasture where the large semi-truck was parked.  Walt was taking a nap in his car waiting for them to return.

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

Vance asked Walt if he had tied down the bales of hay, as it was too dark to tell for sure.  Walt assured Vance that the bales of hay were securely tied down to the bed of the trailer.  He had no need to worry.  Now it was time for a second favor…

Ray had given Vance a long desired tour of the Power Plant, so Ray asked Vance if he would do a favor for him.  Ray had never had the opportunity to ride in a “Big Rig” Semi Truck, so he asked Vance if he would let him ride with him to Muskogee and back.  Walt would follow along behind them to bring Ray back home when they arrived in Muskogee.

Vance was glad to return the favor.  Ray climbed into the truck and it pulled out of the pasture and onto the dark highway 64, then the Cimarron Turnpike that ran next to Morrison.  Walt, following along behind.  The traffic on this particular stretch of the Cimarron was always light, especially on a Saturday night.

This was a perfect day for Vance.  He had spent the day doing what he loved.  Baling Hay and loading it on the trailer.  The first class tour of the Power Plant with the best tour guide in Oklahoma and the surrounding states (since Mark Twain is no longer with us).  Now, driving down the highway with a load of hay with a good friend sitting shotgun.  What could be better?

Ray was thinking that there was something in the air that just wasn’t quite right.  The few other cars that were driving down the highway seemed to be driving a little more erratic than usual.  Well, it was Saturday night….  Maybe that was the reason a couple of cars swerved around the truck honking their horns before speeding off into the night.

Eventually, one car pulled up alongside the truck so that Vance could see the person in the passenger side.  They were frantically pointing back behind them.  Oh No!  Yeah.  That’s right.  If you have been reading this post with more than a simple glance, you have already surmised what was happening. Vance quickly pulled off the side of the road and came to a stop.

Ray finally realized what was happening at that point…  As they were travelling down the highway, the bales of hay had been flying off the truck into the middle of the dark highway.  Vance jumped out of the truck yelling, “I’m going to kill him!  I’m going to kill him!”  He stood in the middle of the highway, fists out at his side, waiting for Walt to show up… after all, he was following the semi when they left the pasture.

Ray could see Vance standing in the middle of the highway like Paul Bunyan, with the red glow of the tail lights dimly lighting the back of the truck.  Waiting for Walt to arrive… but Walt didn’t show up.

Ray and Vance spent the next hour or so walking down the highway pushing the large round bales off the side of the turnpike.  Luckily, few cars were travelling on the Cimarron Turnpike that night and no one was hurt (yet).  After walking a couple of miles back to the truck both Ray and Vance were worn out.  They were beat.  All the rage that Vance had felt when he realized that Walt had not tied down the bales was gone.  He was too tired at that point.

About that time, Walt Oswalt came driving down the highway and saw the truck pulled over.  He pulled up behind the truck.  Vance was too tired to confront him for his failure to secure the bales.  Where had Walt been for the last hour and a half while Ray and Vance had been rolling bales of hay off of the road?  That’s what they really wanted to know.

Walt said that when they left the pasture he suddenly realized that he was hungry, so he went down to the diner in Morrison and ate some supper.  When Ray was relaying this story to me, he said, “Walt’s stomach probably saved his life.  By the time he showed up, Vance was too worn out to kill him.  Besides… that really wasn’t Vance’s nature.  But there for a moment, I thought if Walt had showed up right away, his life may have been in danger.”

Of all the Walt Oswalt Stories, this is my favorite.  When I sat down to write my post this morning, this story was on my mind, so I thought for a moment what would be a good title.  I thought of the game of Frogger where the frog jumps across the road dodging the cars.  In this case, of course, it was the cars that were dodging the round bales of hay that were placed there because of the actions of a man whose best friend calls him “Frog”.  So, I wrote:  “Power Plant Trip Leads to Game of Frogger”.

A game of Frogger

A game of Frogger

Then I thought, I have pictures of Ray and Walt.  Let me see if I can find a picture of Vance on the Internet.  So, I did what I usually do in this instance.  I opened up Google and searched.  I typed Vance Shiever, Morrison Oklahoma.  The link at the top of the page said, “Vance Lee Shiever – Stillwater News Press:  Obituaries”.  Oh No!  What?!?!

I quickly clicked the link and my heart fell.  There was a picture of a man smiling back at me… Vance Lee Shiever.

Vance Shiever

Vance Lee Shiever

Vance died this past Tuesday from pancreatic cancer.  I had no idea!  I have been so busy this past week that I haven’t even logged into Facebook since last weekend.  If the dates are right, (because I know that Stillwater News Press often misspells names and dates), then Vance is having his funeral service this very afternoon.  I don’t believe for a moment that this is just a coincidence.

I have found that the members of the Power Plant Family in which I was a member for 20 years keep in touch in various ways.  Sometimes it is by e-mail. Sometimes it is through Facebook.  Other times, we just think about each other, and we just seem to know that something is up, even when we aren’t sure what.  I believe that is what happened this morning.

This past month three people have died in the Power Plant Family.  Walt Oswalt, Vance Shiever, and Ray Eberle’s wife Barbara.  I have often heard it said at the Power Plant that things always seem to happen in 3’s.  This Power Plant Post was one story about those three.

I thought that I should find a better picture of Vance, so I logged into Facebook, and the first picture that came up was this picture of Vance, the photo that was used by the New Press:

Vance Shiever, adored husband and father

Vance Shiever, adored husband and father

I can now picture Vance watching over his family from Heaven.  By the way that Linda always spoke of Vance, I know that he was one of those rare people full of kindness.  I also picture him going through the videos of his life with Saint Peter.  All those happy days he spent with Linda, and their children Beau and Lindsey….

Then as Saint Peter works the remote, he pulls up the video of Vance out in the field loading the round bales on the trailer as Ray pulls up in his truck.  As they watch this story unfold, they both break out in laughter as they watch Vance standing like Paul Bunyan in the middle of the highway waiting for Walt.  Saint Peter puts his arm around Vance, as they turn and enter the gates of Heaven.  Saint Peter mentions one last thing to Vance, “Yeah.  It is like Ray said…. Walt’s stomach saved his life.”

Addendum to this story:

After posting this last week, Ray Eberle contacted me and pointed out that Vance had died one year ago to the day from the date I created this post on November 7, 2015.  He actually died November 7, 2014.  No one had told me about Vance’s death, and when I pulled up Facebook, the first picture I saw was a picture of Vance, which further enforced my thought that he had died this past week.  The family was remembering his funeral service from the previous year. — This would explain why the Stillwater NewsPress said that he died on a Monday, when the date was on a Tuesday.