Tag Archives: machinist

The Vast Universe of Power Plant Heroes

The trouble I had with my 1982 Honda Civic began when I thought I could use water instead of antifreeze in my radiator. I had never been much of a car person, but I figured I knew the basics. Especially after working in the Power Plant garage for three summers as a summer help on the yard crew. I thought the collective knowledge of Power Plant Men like Larry Riley, Doug House, Preston Jenkins and Jim Heflin had rubbed off on me… at least a little.

One very cold morning on the way to work at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma, just north of the toll road spur from Stillwater to Tulsa, the temperature gauge in my car pegged out in the wrong direction indicating my engine was too hot. I pulled into the gas station/convenience store parking lot and parked my car. Another Power Plant Man was just coming out of the store, so I hitched a ride with him to work. It turned out that the freeze plug in engine block had blown out. My car had overheated and because of the location of the plug, the engine had to be slightly dismantled in order to replace it. — Or at least that was what the mechanic at the auto repair place said.

A 1982 Honda Civic

A 1982 Honda Civic

After that incident, I had developed a minor oil leak, which a year or so later caused my timing belt to fail because the oil had been leaking on it. Scott Hubbard and I were on the way to work, and when I was in the middle of the intersection at Bill’s Corner, my car just died. I coasted off the side of the road, and we bummed a ride to work with another Power Plant Man on their way to the plant. The way the 1982 Honda Civic was built, if your timing belt broke, it bent your piston rods, which caused the need to rebuild the engine.

The winter after my engine had been rebuilt, when it was my turn to drive Scott Hubbard and Fred Turner to work on a cold morning, on the way to work, my car would begin to sputter then finally die. After sitting on the roadside for a couple of minutes, it would start up again and we could go a few more miles, until it would do the same thing again. This would only happen when it was real cold outside.

I took my car to the mechanics that had rebuilt my engine, and by that time of the day, it was warm, and the car ran just fine. They couldn’t tell me what was causing it. I did this several times, and Scott and Fred were beginning to wonder if it was such a good idea carpooling with me and my unreliable Honda Civic. Especially on cold mornings. I had tried several times to get it fixed, and the mechanics finally told me to stop bothering them. They couldn’t fix my problem.

Then one morning at work during the winter of 1992-93, when I must have been looking a little despondent while walking to the tool room to see Bud Schoonover to get some supplies, Mike Crisp, one of the plant machinists asked me what was wrong. I told him about how my car was dying when I drove it to work. Then Mike described my problem to me. He asked, “Does it die only when it’s real cold outside?” “Yeah,” I replied. “Then after a couple of minutes it will start back up just fine?” “Yeah! That’s exactly it!” Mike said, “Oh. I can fix that with a busted screwdriver.”

I wasn’t sure if I had heard that correctly, so I repeated, “busted screwdriver?” “Yeah,” he said. Then he reached into his tool box drawer behind his lathe and pulled out an old broken screwdriver and said, “I have one right here. Where is your car?”

Mike and I went to the parking lot and opened the hood of the car. He took the top cover off of the carburetor. Then taking the short screwdriver he poked it into a hole… Not the carburetor hole, but one off to the side. He said it was a valve that was supposed to open when the engine was running in order to bring warm air from around the engine into the carburetor to keep it from “vapor locking”… or some such thing. By putting the screwdriver in the valve to hold it open all the time, I wouldn’t have any more problems with the car.

After that, the car worked great! I was happy. Fred Turner was happy. Scott Hubbard was happy….. Well. Scott Hubbard is always happy.

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

At this point in my career as a plant electrician, I was beyond being surprised by the vast collective knowledge of Power Plant Men. Though they live most of their lives confined within the plant ground of a single Power Plant for the most part, from that experience and the total experience of their fellow Power Plant Heroes, they have a vast knowledge of the entire world.

I had heard something like that when watching the BBC version of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple once. In one episode, the Inspector Craddock was explaining to someone how Miss Marple could solve crimes. He said, “She knows the world only through the prism of that village and it’s daily life. And by knowing the village so thoroughly, she knows the world.” I immediately connected that phrase to the Power Plant Men I had the pleasure of working with for 20 years.

 

Miss Marple from BBC series

Miss Marple from BBC series played by Joan Hickson

As a side note. This isn’t my favorite Miss Marple. My favorite by far is played by Margaret Rutherford:

Miss Marple played by Margaret Rutherford

Miss Marple played by Margaret Rutherford

You can immediately see my attraction to Margaret Rutherford. Who could resist such a strong women with such intense eyes and jutting jaw? — Anyway, you can see how that phrase applied to Power Plant Men as well. End of side note.

After Mike Crisp had fixed my car, when I would walk by him in the machine shop, he would sometimes stop and talk to me about things. One day he asked me if I had done anything interesting over the weekend, and I told him that I had been out in my yard looking at the stars through my telescope. That was about the most interesting thing that had happened that weekend.

Mike, to my surprise, instantly became interested in this subject. This surprised me, especially after he pointed out that he had never thought about getting a telescope or looking at the stars. I supposed I was surprised because he showed more than just a passing interest. He wanted to know more about my telescope, which was a cheap 4 1/2 inch reflecting telescope I had bought at Wal-Mart or some such place.

I had a telescope like this

I had a Tasco telescope like this

He asked me why I liked looking at the stars. I told him about looking at the moon and the planets, and seeing the rings around Saturn. My favorite pastime was looking at Nebulae (That’s plural for “Nebula” in case you were wondering).

Actually, my telescope was the next step above the picture above, as it had a counter weight and the pedestal mount was designed where you could set your latitude so that as the stars moved in the sky, you could swing your telescope around with the object you were watching. The pedestal shown above doesn’t do that. I had one like that as a boy, and as you followed the star, you had to adjust it up or down as you moved it west…. see…. that’s not interesting right? — But Mike Crisp thought it was.

A couple of weeks later when I was passing by the machine shop again, Mike called me over to his lathe. A piece of metal was taking shape as the lathe spun around and metal shavings were flying off in one direction and being deflected by a metal guard.

This is what the typical lathe looks like in a machine shop.

This is what the typical lathe looks like in a machine shop without the metal guard

Mike picked up a magazine from the top of his toolbox and showed it to me. It was a catalog for telescopes. He wanted to ask my advice about whether to get an 8 inch telescope or go all out and buy a 10 inch one. The cost was considerably higher for the 10 inch telescope and he was wondering if it would be that much better.

Mike had been to an observatory since I had first talked to him about astronomy. Now he was going to purchase his own telescope. — I had had (yeah… there must be a better way to say that besides “had had”…. how about this)…. I had been through this discussion with myself in the past. I wanted a bigger telescope so that I could see more detail than I could get with my 4 1/2 inch reflecting telescope. I knew the cost of those really nice ones. I used to go to the observatory at the University of Missouri in Columbia when I was growing up and even had thought about becoming an astronomer as a career.

I felt confident when I told Mike that an 8 inch reflecting telescope was big enough for him. Considering where he lived, (outside Ponca City, Oklahoma), the altitude (900 feet above sea level), he wasn’t going to gain enough with a 10 inch telescope to justify the extra cost. — Especially on a machinist’s salary. — I didn’t tell him that last part. You see…. I felt a little responsible for his sudden interest in astronomy, and I didn’t want his wife and children to go hungry so that Mike could get a better picture of the Horsehead Nebula.

 

Horsehead Nebula

Horsehead Nebula

Later Mike told me that he had ordered the 8 inch telescope and that he had poured a concrete pillar in his backyard to mount the telescope aligning it just right and at the right angle so that the mount would be able to be permanent. I continued to be amazed by not only his sudden interest in Astronomy, but by how he jumped into it so completely. I could see his excitement when he talked to me about it. — As I said above, I had hoped that the extra expense wasn’t putting a stress on his financial situation.

Not knowing Mike Crisp’s background, I never knew if he was an eccentric millionaire that had just decided to take up residence as a power plant machinist to experience more of life, or if he was just the type of person that when passionate about something would pour all his thought and effort into his passion. Either way, Mike Crisp was happy and seemed to enjoy what he was doing. I kept looking for signs of new stress on his face, but never saw it. — others at the plant might know different, but not me.

When the 1994 Rift came along (which I will discuss in a later post), Mike Crisp was one of the casualties. He was laid off on July 29, 2014 as were a lot of other great Power Plant Men. It wasn’t too long after Mike had made astronomy his hobby, and so I was worried that this extra financial burden may make his transition to a new life a little harder.

On the other hand. I have found that in times of extra stress, going out in the backyard and looking up at the sky and realizing the vastness of the universe helps put things in perspective. So, it might have turned out that Mike’s new hobby of looking to the stars for answers may have been just what he needed at that time.

I have not spoken to Mike since he was laid off in 1994 and I don’t know what ever became of him. I only know that the little time I spent with him talking in the machine shop for those few years have meant enough to me that I keep Mike and his family in my prayers to this day. I hope he found what he was looking for when he mounted that telescope to his concrete pedestal and turned his telescope to the heavens. I know I had found a good friend that day when I walked to the parking lot with Mike wondering how a broken screwdriver was going to fix my 1982 Honda Civic after the car mechanics in Stillwater, Oklahoma had given up on me. — Mike Crisp… Another one of my Power Plant Heroes.

Update:

Since originally posting this last year, David Evans a Power Plant Control Room Operator contacted me and told me that Mike would like to send me some pictures.

David Evans waits for Jim Padgett to get a cup of coffee -- Thanks Jim Cave for the picture

David Evans waits for Jim Padgett to get a cup of coffee — Thanks Jim Cave for the picture

Later, Mike Crisp called me.  He sent me beautiful photographs of the heavens that he took with his telescope.  He assured me that he is still fascinated with the heavens.   I will post some of the pictures he sent me below when I have the opportunity.

Comments from the Original post:

    1. Ron Kilman November 1, 2014

      I thought I knew where you were going when you started this story about water instead of antifreeze. One really cold day, as I was driving to the Seminole Plant, my 1970 Maverick overheated bad. Temperature gauge all the way HOT. I shut it down and left it all day on the shoulder of Highway 99. Some Power Plant Man (can’t remember who) picked me up and took me to work. I picked it up after work and drove it home without it overheating. I found that the radiator had frozen up. I didn’t have enough antifreeze. I corrected that and never had that problem again. I sold the Maverick in 1985 with 217K miles on it.

      While I was at Seminole, I built an 8″ f/6 reflector. I’ve seen a lot of cool stuff with it. I saw the impacts on Jupiter by Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9. That was shortly after I was dismissed from Sooner Plant (July, 1994). I still have the scope. In the early 1980’s I remember showing Saturn to the lady that played the organ at our church (rings were almost edge-on) and she said “Oh! It’s middle C.” Cool.

      Love your stories.

    1. tellthetruth1 November 3, 2014

      Innit lovely when someone says: “Oh yeah, I can fix that!” He diagnosed it, too, without looking.

      Sounds like a lovely bloke. 🙂

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Cracking a Boiled Egg in the Boiler and Other Days You Wish You Could Take Back

Originally Posted on April 13, 2012:

There are some days you wish you could take back after making a grand decision that turns out to look really dumb when your decision fails. It is important to think outside the box to break new ground as long as you bring common sense along for the ride. It seemed that during the days when I was a summer help, and even when I was a laborer on Labor Crew that in order to be promoted you had to come up with one grand idea that set you apart from the others and that also failed miserably.

It was said that the electrical supervisor there before Leroy Godfrey (I can see his face, but his name escapes me), was promoted to that position after he caused the destruction of one of the Intake pump motors (a very large pump that can pump 189,000 gallons of water per minute).

To name a couple of minor “Faux Pas” (how do you pluralize that word? I don’t know), let me start out with the least embarrassing and less dangerous and work my way to the most embarrassing and most dangerous of three different stories of someone thinking out of the box while leaving common sense somewhere behind and maybe wishing they could take back that day.

The first two stories both involve the Electrical Supervisors of two different Power Plants.

Tom Gibson, the Electrical Supervisor from our plant was trying to find a way to keep moisture out of the Bottom Ash Overflow Sump Pumps. This was a reoccurring problem that required a lot of man hours to repair. The bell shaped pump would have to be pulled, the motor would have to be disassembled and dried, and new seals would have to be put in the pump to keep it from leaking.

A Bottom Ash Overflow Sump Pump or BAOSP for Short

So, Tom Gibson decided that he was going to fill the motor and pump cavity with turbine oil. All electricians knew that oil used in turbines is an insulator so electrically it wouldn’t short anything out. But something in the back of your mind automatically says that this isn’t going to work. I remember helping to fill the motor up with oil in the Maintenance shop and hooking up some motor leads from the nearby Maintenance shop 480 volt switchgear. Needless to say, as soon as the pump was turned on, it tripped the breaker and oil began leaking from the cable grommet.

That’s when common sense tells you that the all the oil causes too much drag on the rotor which will cause a 480 motor to trip very quickly. After removing some of the oil and trying it again with a larger breaker and still having the same result Tom was satisfied that this just wasn’t going to work. The pump and motor was sent away to a nearby electric shop to be rewound and other ways were developed by the help of our top notch machinist genius Randy Dailey who came up with a positive air pressure way to keep water out of the Bottom Ash Overflow Sump Pump and motor (also known as the BAOSP). Not much harm done and Tom Gibson didn’t feel too bad for trying something that the rest of us sort of thought was mildly insane.

The next story was told to me by my dear friend Bob Kennedy when I was working at a Gas Powered Plant in Midwest City and he was my acting foreman. So I didn’t witness this myself. This one was a little more dangerous, but still thankfully, no one was hurt. Ellis Rooks, the Electrical Supervisor needed to bump test a 4200 Volt motor and wanted to do it in place. For some reason he was not able to use the existing cables, maybe because that was the reason the motor was offline. Because one of the cables had gone to ground.

So, he decided that since the motor only pulled 5 to 10 amps he could use #10 wire and string three of them (for the three phases of the motor) from the main High Voltage switchgear across the turbine room floor over to the motor. Now, most electricians know how many amps different size wires can generally handle. It goes like this: #14 – 15 amps, #12 – 20 amps, #10 – 30 amps, #8 – 50 amps and on down (smaller numbers mean bigger wires).

So, Ellis thought that since the motor only pulls around 5 amps, and he only wanted to bump the motor (that is, turn it on and off quickly) to watch it rotate, he thought that even though there was normally three 3 – 0 cables (pronounced three aught for 3 zeroes, very large wire) wired to the motor, this would be all right because he was only going to bump it.

This works when you are using is 120 or 220 volts

Needless to say, but I will anyway, when the motor was bumped, all that was left of the #10 wires were three black streaks of carbon across the turbine room floor where the wire used to exist before it immediately vaporized. You see, common sense tells you that 4200 volts times 5 amps = 21,000 watts of power. However, the starting amps on a motor like this may be around 50 to 100 amps, which would equal 210 to 420 Kilowatts of power (or about 1/5 to 2/5 of a Megawatt). Thus vaporizing the small size 10 wire that is used to wire your house.

All right. I have given you two relatively harmless stories and now the one about cracking the boiled egg in the boiler. This happened when I was still a janitor but was loaned to the Labor Crew during outages. When the boiler would come offline for an outage, the labor crew would go in the boiler and knock down clinkers and shake tubes to clean out clinkers that had built up around the boiler tubes in the intermediate pressure area of the boiler.

Clinkers are a hard buildup of ash that can become like large rocks, and when they fall and hit you on the head, depending on the size, can knock you to the floor, which makes wearing your hardhat a must. Your hardhat doesn’t help much when the clinkers falling from some 30 feet above hits you on your shoulder, so I always tried to suck my shoulders up under my hardhat (like a turtle pulling in his arms and legs) so that only my arms were left unprotected.

It wasn’t easy looking like a pole with no shoulders, but I tried my best. I think Fred Crocker the tallest and thinnest person on Labor Crew was the best at this.  This is the Reheater area of the boiler in the diagram below:

Diagram of a boiler

Diagram of a boiler

Before we could get into the boiler to start shaking tubes, the dynamiters would go in there first and blow up the bigger clinkers. So, for a couple of days some times, at the beginning of an overhaul, you would hear someone come over the PA system about every 20 minutes saying, “Stand Clear of Number One Boiler, We’re Gonna Blast!!!” This became so common to hear over the years that unless you were up on the boiler helping out, you didn’t pay any attention to it.

This is something that is only done at a Coal-fired Power Plant because Gas Plants don’t create Ash that turns into Clinkers. Maybe some Soot, I don’t know, but not Ash. Which brings to mind a minor joke we played on Reginald Deloney one day when he came from a gas plant to work on overhaul.  Reggie automatically reminded you of Richard Pryor.  He had even developed a “Richard Pryor” way of talking.

Richard Pryor trying to look like Reggie Deloney

Richard Pryor trying to look like Reggie Deloney

We were going to work on a Bowl Mill motor first thing, which is down next to the boiler structure in an enclosed area. We brought our large toolbox and other equipment over to the motor. Andy Tubbs and Diana Brien were there with Reggie and I. I think Gary Wehunt was there with us also.

When someone came over the PA system saying, “Stand Clear of Number Two Boiler, We’re Gonna Blast”, all of us dropped everything and ran for the door as if it was an emergency. Reggie, not knowing what was going on ran like the dickens to get out in time only to find us outside laughing at the surprised look on his face.

Like this

Like this

Anyway. That wasn’t the day that someone wished they could take back, but I thought I would throw that one in anyway so that now Reggie will wish that he could take back that day.

When I was on Labor Crew, and we were waiting on the boiler for the dynamiters to blast all the large clinkers, the engineer in charge, Ed Hutchins decided that things would go a lot quicker if all the laborers would go into the boiler and shake tubes while the dynamiters were setting their charges. Then we would climb out when they were ready to blast, and then go back in. So, we did that. All 10 or so of us climbed into the boiler, and went to work rattling boiler tubes until we heard someone yell, “Fire In The Hole!!!” Then we would all head for the one entrance and climb out and wait for the blast.

The extra time it took to get all of us in the boiler and back out again actually slowed everything down. We weren’t able to get much work done each time, and everyone spent most of their time climbing in and out instead of working, including the dynamiters. So Ed had another brilliant idea. What if we stayed in the boiler while the dynamite exploded? Then we wouldn’t be wasting valuable time climbing in and out and really wouldn’t have to stop working at all.

Of course, common sense was telling us that we didn’t want to be in an enclosed boiler while several sticks worth of dynamite all exploded nearby, so the engineer decided to prove to us how safe it was by standing just inside the entrance of the boiler with his ear plugs in his ears while the dynamite exploded. The dynamiters at first refused to set off the charges, but after Ed and the labor crew convinced them (some members on the labor crew were anxious for Ed to try out his “brilliant idea) that there really wouldn’t be much lost if the worst happened, they went ahead and set off the dynamite.

Needless to say…. Ed came wobbling his way out of the boiler like a cracked boiled egg and said in a shaky voice, “I don’t think that would be such a good idea.” All of us on the Labor Crew said to each other, “..As if we needed him to tell us that.” I think that may be a day that Ed Hutchins would like to take back. The day he learned the real meaning of “Concussion”. I think he was promoted shortly after that and went to work in Oklahoma City at Corporate Headquarters.

Comments from Original Post:

  • eideard April 21, 2012

    When you have pallets double-stacked, you should only move them about with a pallet jack. The bottom pallet – and whatever is stacked on it – is thoroughly supported. And even if the pallet jack is powered, you aren’t likely to get in trouble with rapid acceleration.

    As you would with a fork lift truck.

    And the double stacked pallets are truck mirrors boxed for shipment to retailers. A couple hundred mirrors. And I dumped both pallets when I went to back up and turn into the warehouse aisle.
    :)

  • jackcurtis May 5, 2012

    Modern parables like these are much too good to waste! They should be included in every freshman Congressman’s Washington Welcome Kit when he first takes office and new ‘reminder’ versions again every time he wins an election. These are wonderful essays on unintended consequences, at which our Congress is among the best!

    Comments from Previous repost:

    1. John Comer April 28, 2014

      I worked with Ed on the Precipitator control replacement project (84 controls X 2) in 2006 I think. He was getting ready to retire at the time. He was a good engineer and a tough customer. I was working for the control supplier and those 168 controls were the first installation of a brand new control design. I had lead the design team for the controls and this was the culmination of our work. I spend more days and nights than I can remember going up and down the aisles of controls loading software fixes into the processors! Anyway, great people at the plant and great memories… including a rapper control cabinet that took the express route to the ground elevation from the precip roof! (ouch, it really is the sudden stop that gets you!)

      1. Plant Electrician April 28, 2014

        Thanks for the comment John! It’s good to hear about improvements to the Precipitator and the control rooms I used to call home.  I spend many weekends walking back and forth through those control rooms.

    2. A.D. Everard August 3, 2014

      OMG – The very thought of a group staying in the boiler when the dynamite went off! Thank goodness THAT didn’t happen. I felt the tension just reading that bit. I’m glad Ed came out of it all right.

Belt Buckle Mania And Turkeys During Power Plant Man Downtime

Originally posted on June 23, 2012:

Power Plant Welders need a large stock of specialized Welding Rods. Mechanics need all sizes of wrenches, files, hones and calibers. Electricians need a good pair of side cutters, strippers, red, yellow, orange and blue wire nuts, butt splices and Electrical tape. Instrument and Controls need all kinds of transmitters, converters, pressure gauges, and PLCs. The one thing Every True Power Plant Man needed was a Stainless Steel, highly decorated, colorful and sturdy Belt buckle. A couple of post ago I talked about the machinists that were around in the beginning when I first arrived at the plant. I mentioned that any True Power Plant Machinist could create just about any part needed at the plant. One such piece of quality craftsmanship was the Oval Belt Buckle:

A plain example of an oval belt buckle

You see, When you take a Stainless Steal Pipe and you cut it at an angle, the resulting shape is an oval just right to make a belt buckle:

By cutting the end of the pipe at an angle you get the oval shape of the belt buckle

During those first couple of years when the machinists were correcting mistakes made by the manufacturers of all types of motors, pumps and fans, between jobs, a machinist had a little down time when they could let their lathes, mills, bandsaws and drills cool off some. It was during this time that the creativity of the machinists were revealed to the rest of the Power Plant Men. In those early days, even more than their hard hat stickers, the Belt Buckle was the status symbol of any Power Plant Man driving a pickup truck with a gun rack in the back window. Making the belt buckle in very high demand at the plant.

Power Plant men were on the lookout for any kind of colored stone or odd shaped piece of metal that could be used to adorn their own specially machined belt buckle supplied by the Power Plant Machine Shop. Stainless Steel Nuts and small pieces of pipe were machined down to make ornamental designs to fit in the center of belt buckle. Copper pieces could be used to add color along with the colorful stones found lying about in the pasture.

The Machinist would carefully mill the pieces down to just the right thickness. The stainless steel oval cut from the pipe was carefully milled to give the proper curve to make the belt buckle just the right shape. Different types of epoxy was used as filler to hold everything in place. Even “Jewelers Rouge” was used to polish the belt buckle until it shined like silver and the stones as if they had been placed in a tumbler to give them the perfect smooth surface.

A block of Jewelers Rouge used for polishing Jewelry

I remember the day when Sonny Karcher asked me if I wanted to have my very own specially designed belt buckle. At the time I was not knowledgeable enough to realize the great treasure that was being offered to me for free. I just looked down at my skinny waist (it’s a wonder I can remember that many inches ago) and thought that it wouldn’t be easy to swing a Weed Wacker with a big oval belt buckle scraping across my abdomen, so I politely declined. If I had known better, I would have agreed, and taken my prize home to hang on the wall as memento of my early power plant days.

At the time there were a lot of things about the power plant men that I didn’t fully appreciate until years later. For instance, their generosity. They were always looking out for each other and if they found a bargain somewhere, they let everyone else in on it. That was one way you could tell a True Power Plant Man from the imitation wannabee’s.

During the first summer Ray Butler came up to me and said that a guy was selling 100 pound sacks of potatoes, and was wondering if I would go in on it with him, since he really only wanted 50 pounds. If I did, he would let me keep the gunny sack. I believe the 50 pounds of potatoes cost about $15. My mom had to figure out about 15 different ways to make potatoes, because we ate potatoes until they were growing out of our ears… (oh wait, that’s what you do when you don’t wash your ears properly). Anyway, before we were done with that bag of potatoes my dad and possibly even my brother and I were eating them raw like turnips since the Potato Gun hadn’t been invented yet.

A Spud Gun

Another time a peach orchard just up the road toward Marland Oklahoma was letting you go and pick your own peaches and buy them by the box full for a real good price, so after work, we all headed over to the peach orchard where the man that owned the orchard would drive you around the orchard in a trailer to where the ripe peaches were so that you could go around and pick all the peaches you wanted to take home.

In those early days, people could bring different types of produce and vegetables and other types of food products from their farms and sell them to their fellow power plant men for a good discount. That is, until the evil plant manager realized that it was taking money out of the Canteen Fund, which he felt was his own responsibility to make sure the coffers of the Canteen were always kept overflowing. — Until one year when they were going to show enough profit to have to pay taxes…

Anyway. The Canteen fund was used to purchase turkeys for the workers at Thanksgiving. One year when the fund didn’t have enough money to buy turkeys, the men at the power plant bailed the hay in the pastures that surrounded the north end of the lake, and sold the bails to pay for the turkeys. Then when Corporate Headquarters got wind of it, they insisted that the hay belonged to the Electric Company, and therefore could not be used to buy turkeys for the workers of just that one plant that had used their own money to fill the money box at the plant.

That was the end of the free turkeys for Thanksgiving. Kind of took the “Thanks” out of the giving… Needless to say, the hay wasn’t bailed much after that, it was just brush hogged like a right-of-way. I’m sure there is a Turkey out there somewhere that is grateful to Corporate Headquarters, but it isn’t the kind of mindless Turkey that cared more about messing with someone’s morale than about the efficiency of a Power Plant.

It was amazing how much of a morale booster a free turkey can be. Just think about it. Here were Top Power Plant hands at the time making close to $20 an hour or $160 a day who went home with a big grin on their face just like Bob Cratchit when Ebenezer Scrooge gave him the Giant Goose for Christmas, so they could hear their own children say, “God Bless Us, every one!”

The Scrooge from Corporate Headquarters or was he?

Although, the truth be known, it was found out a few years later that the evil plant manager used the excuse that “It Came Down From Corporate Headquarters” often to make unpopular policies at our plant, where Corporate Headquarters was not aware that their good and friendly nature was being tarnished by a rogue plant manager in some distant Power Plant Land far far away up north in the wastelands of Oklahoma.

Anyway, I sometimes wonder how many power plant men that were around in the first days before both units went live still have one or more of those quality built belt buckles made exclusively by Power Plant Machinists for Power Plant Men. If so, they ought to take them down from the fireplace mantle or remove it from the glass case and dust it off and bring it to work some day just to show the New Generation X Power Plant newbies (or pups as we used to call them) what it was like living in the Power Plant Kingdom back when the great towering stacks were being raised, and the boilers were being built like skyscrapers out in the middle of the countryside.

Then they can gather them around by the boiler and open one of the small hatchways so that the orange glow of the fireball inside can illuminate the grating and the eager faces of the young power plant men waiting to hear the stories of brave men long ago who were rewarded with free turkeys at Thanksgiving. They can recall how proud they were to take the Free Turkeys home to their families all waiting eagerly by the window to watch as their father as he braved the Oklahoma west wind and dust storms to find his way to their door. Greeting them with hugs and the proud acknowledgement of how much the Electric Company appreciated their father enough to give his family one free turkey every year. Can you hear it? Is that my son by the fireplace? Did he just say what I thought he said? Yes. It was. He said, “God Bless Us, Every One!”

Comments from the Original Post:

  1. eideard June 23, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    I’ll bet there were folks who passed along tools when they retired, passed them along to the next generation or so in their own family.

    I still use a couple of fine screwdrivers that were my grandfather’s when he worked in the machine shop at Otis Elevator in Yonkers, NY.

    1. Plant Electrician June 26, 2012 at 3:20 pm

      I have a story about one such old tool that I will write about in a future post. :)

  2. jackcurtis July 7, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    Yeah! I’ve inherited tools from earlier times now unavailable, replaced by newer power stuff that sometimes, won’t do what the older tool accomplished easily…

    1. Plant Electrician July 7, 2012 at 4:07 pm
      That is definitely what I experienced. I have a story about trying to destroy an old power drill so that we could purchase a new one.

      Additional Comments from previous post:

      1. martianoddity June 27, 2013:

        I’ve never been inside a power plant, and I’ve never known anyone living in one. But you write so well and give such a great insight that I can see the environment and the personalities that worked at the Power Plants you worked at too.

        1. martianoddity June 27, 2013:

          By living I mean working… 😀 But maybe it wouldn’t be so bad living in one the way you’re describing them.

      2. Ron Kilman June 27, 2013:

        I never got an authentic belt buckle made by a Power Plant Man. But I did get a brass belt buckle for a company service award one time. I don’t wear that kind of belt anymore. Who knew one day I would need something to put under my motorcycle kick-stand when I park it on grass (keeps the stand from sinking in the dirt causing the bike to fall). That OG&E belt buckle works just great!

        1. Plant Electrician June 27, 2013:

          That’s Great!!! One of the many uses of a large belt buckle.

Something Is In The Water at the Muskogee Power Plant

Originally posted: April 15, 2013:

“Something is in the water in Muskogee.” That is what I used to say. Something that makes people feel invulnerable. That was what I attributed to David Stewart’s belief that he could jump up in a falling elevator just before it crashed into the ground and he would be saved (see After Effects of Power Plant Drop Tests).

There was another story at the Muskogee Coal-fired Power Plant where this one mechanic believed that he could stick his finger in a running lawnmower and pull it out so fast that it wouldn’t cut his finger off. Of course, True Power Plant Men tried to reason with him to convince him that it was impossible…. Then there were others who said… “Ok. Prove it.”

Think about it. A lawnmower spins at the same rate that a Turbine Generator spins when it makes electricity. 3,600 time a minute. Or 60 times each second. Since the blade in a lawnmower extends in both directions, a blade would fly by your finger 120 times each second. Twice as fast as the electric current in your house cycles positive and negative.

Typical Power Plant Lawnmower

Typical Power Plant Lawnmower

This means that the person will have to stick their finger in the path of the lawnmower blade and pull it out within 8/1000th of a second…. IF they were able to time it so that they put their finger in the path at the precise moment that the blade passed by. Meaning that on average, the person only has 4/1000th of a second (or 0.004 seconds) to perform this feat (on average… could be a little more, could be less).

Unfortunately for this person, he was not convinced by the logicians that it was impossible, and therefore proceeded to prove his case. If you walked over and met this person in the maintenance shop at Muskogee, you would find that he was missing not only one finger, but two. Why? Because after failing the first time and having his finger chopped off, he was still so stubborn to think that he could have been wrong, so later he tried it again. Hence the reason why two of his fingers were missing.

Upon hearing this story, I came to the conclusion that there must be something in the water at Muskogee. I drank soft drinks as much as possible while I was there on overhaul during the fall of 1984.

As I mentioned in the post Power Plant Rags to Riches, in 1984 I was on overhaul at Muskogee with Ben Davis. An overhaul is when a unit is taken offline for a number of weeks so that maintenance can be performed on equipment that is only possible when the unit is offline. During this particular overhaul, Unit 6 at Muskogee was offline.

Ben and I were working out of the Unit 6 Electric shop. Ben was staying with his friend Don Burnett, a machinist that used to work at our plant when I was a summer help. Before Don worked for the electric company, he worked in a Zinc Smelting plant by Tonkawa, Oklahoma. Not only was Don an expert machinist, he was also one of the kindest people you would run across. Especially at Muskogee.

I was staying in a “trailer down by the river” by the old plant. Units one, two and three. They were older gas-fired units. I think at the time, only Unit 3 was still operational. The first 2 weeks of the overhaul, I stayed in a rectory with the Catholic priests in town. Then David Stewart offered to let me stay in his trailer down by the river for only $50 a week.

After the first couple of weeks it was decided that the 4 week overhaul had turned into a 9 week overhaul because of some complications that they found when inspecting something on the turbine. So, I ended up staying another month.

When they found out that they were going to be down for an extra 5 weeks, they called in for reinforcements, and that is when I met my new “roomie”, Steven Trammell from the plant in Midwest City. He shared the trailer for the last 4 weeks of the overhaul. From that time on, Steven and I were good friends. To this day (and I know Steven reads this blog) we refer to each other as “roomie”, even though it has been 28 years since we bunked together in a trailer…..down by the river.

I have one main story that I would like to tell with this post that I am saving until the end. It was what happened to me the day I think I accidentally drank some of the water…. (sounds like Mexico doesn’t it?). Before I tell that story, I want to introduce you to a couple of other True Power Plant Men that lived next door to “roomie” and me in another trailer down by the river (this was the Arkansas River by the way…. Yeah… The Arkansas river that flowed from Kansas into Oklahoma… — go figure. The same river that we used at our plant to fill our lake. See the post Power Plant Men taking the Temperature Down By The River).

Joe Flannery was from Seminole Plant and I believe that Chet Turner was from Horseshoe Plant, though I could be mistaken about Chet. I know he was living in south Oklahoma City at the time, so he could have been working at Seminole as well. These were two electricians that were very great guys. Joe Flannery had a nickname. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but I think it was “Bam Bam”.

Yeah. This Bam Bam. From the Flintstones

Yeah. This Bam Bam. From the Flintstones

Joe was very strong, like Bam Bam. He also reminded me of Goober on the Andy Griffith Show, though Gary Lyons at our plant even resembled Goober more:

Goober from the Andy Griffith Show (played by George Lindsey)

Goober from the Andy Griffith Show (played by George Lindsey)

Chet was older than Joe by quite a lot, but I could tell that my Roomie and Joe held him in high esteem… So much so, that I might just wait on the story I was going to tell you about the time that I drank the water in Muskogee to focus more on Chet Turner… otherwise known as Chester A Turner.

I first met Chet when my roomie asked me if I wanted to go out and eat with him and our two trailer neighbors. On the way to dinner, we had to stop by a used car lot to look at what was available because Chet loved looking at cars. He had gray hair and was 60 years old at the time.

During the next 5 weeks, we went out to eat almost every night during the week with Chet and Joe. We explored Muskogee as best we could. That means that we visited about every car lot in the town. We also ate at a really good BBQ place where you sat at a picnic table and ate the BBQ on a piece of wax paper.

One night we were invited by another electrician (I think his name was Kevin Davis) to meet him at a Wal-Mart (or some other similar store) parking lot where his son was trying to win a car by being the last person to keep his hand on the car. He had already been doing it for about 4 days, and was exhausted. It would have reminded me of the times I had spent adjusting the precipitator controls after a fouled start-up, only, I hadn’t done that yet.

I was usually hungry when we were on our way to dinner, and I was slightly annoyed by the many visits to car lots when my stomach was set on “growl” mode. I never said anything about it, because I could tell that Chet was having a lot of fun looking at cars.

If only I had known Chet’s story when I met him, I would have treated him with the respect that he deserved. If I had known his history, I would have paid for his meals. It was only much later that I learned the true nature of Chet, a humble small gray-haired man that seemed happy all the time, and just went with the flow.

You know… It is sometimes amazing to me that I can work next to someone for a long time only to find out that they are one of the nation’s greatest heroes. I never actually worked with Chet, but I did sit next to him while we ate our supper only to return to the trailers down by the river exhausted from the long work days.

Let me start by saying that Chet’s father was a carpenter. Like another friend of mine, and Jesus Christ himself, Chester had a father that made furniture by hand. During World War II, Chester’s mother helped assemble aircraft for the United States Air Force.

While Chet’s mother was working building planes for the Air Force, Chet had joined the Navy and learned to be an electrician. He went to work on a ship in the Pacific called the USS Salt Lake City. It was in need of repairs, so he was assigned to work on the repairs.

While working on the ship, it was called to service, and Chet went to war. After a couple of battles where the ship was damaged from Japanese shelling it went to Hawaii to be repaired. After that, it was sent to the battle at Iwo Jima. That’s right. The Iwo Jima that we all know about. Chet was actually there to see the flag being raised by the Marines on Mount Suribachi:

The Iwo Jima Monument

The Iwo Jima Monument

Chet fought valiantly in the battle at Iwo Jima and was able to recall stories of specific attacks against targets that would make your hair stand on end to listen to. After it was all said and done, Chet was awarded the Victory Medal,

The Victory Medal

The Victory Medal

Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal,

asiatic_pacific_campaign_medal

and the Philippine Liberation Campaign Ribbon.

Philippine Liberation Ribbon

Philippine Liberation Ribbon

As well as others….

At the time that I knew Chet, I didn’t know any of this about him. Isn’t that the case so many times in our lives. Think twice about that Wal-Mart Greeter when you go to the store. When you see an elderly old man or woman struggling with her cart to put her groceries in her car…. You may be looking at a hero.

I was looking at Chet thinking, “boy. This guy sure enjoys looking at cars…. I’m hungry.” This past week I was thinking about writing tonight about an event that took place while Ben and I were on overhaul at Muskogee. I thought it would be a funny story that you would enjoy. So, I asked my roomie, “What was the name of the guy that was staying with Joe Flannery in the trailer? The one with the gray hair?”

He reminded me that his name was Chet Turner. Steven told me that Chet had died a while back (on January 12, 2013, less than two weeks after I started writing about Power Plant Men) and that he was a good friend. So much so, that Steven found it hard to think about him being gone without bringing tears to his eyes. This got me thinking…. I knew Chet for a brief time. I wondered what was his story. I knew from my own experience that most True Power Plant Men are Heroes of some kind, so I looked him up.

Now you know what I found. What I have told you is only a small portion of the wonderful life of a great man. I encourage everyone to go and read about Chet Turner. The Story of Chester A. Turner

Notice the humble beginning of this man who’s father was a carpenter. Who’s mother worked in the same effort that her son did during the war to fight against tyranny. How he became an electrician at a young age, not to rule the world, but to serve mankind.

Looking at cars has taken on an entirely new meaning to me. I am honored today to have Chet forever in my memory.

Comment from Original Post:

Roomy April 15, 2013:

Hey Roomy, been on vacation for a while. Just got around to the story. All I can say is thanks. My eyes are a little blurry at the moment. I will write you later when I can see better.

 Comment from Previous post:

  1. Roomies daughter April 10, 2014:

    I enjoy reading your blog very much and am so happy you take the time to share these memories. Chet was a wonderful man and I am very blessed to have been raised in the presence of these true heroes.
    Looking forward to reading more!

In Pursuit of the Power Plant Gai-tronics Gray Phone Ghost

Originally Posted June 14, 2013:

When I first watched the movie “The Goonies”, I recognized right away that the script was inspired from another Pirate treasure movie I had watched when I was a child. I have never seen the movie again, and it was probably a made for TV movie or something that has been lost in the archives years ago. I’m sure that Steven Spielberg when he was growing up must have been inspired by this movie when he wrote the script to Goonies, because this was a movie that had inspired us when we were young.

The Goonies looking at the treasure map

The Goonies looking at the treasure map

You see… In the movie I had watched as a kid, some children that were trying to save their family or an old house or something similar to the Goonies story, found a clue to where a Pirate treasure was buried. The clue had something to do with a “crow’s nest”. It turned out that the model of a ship that had been sitting on the mantle piece in the old house had another clue in the pole holding the crow’s nest. This clue had holes in the paper, and when held up to a certain page in a certain book, it gave them another clue to where there was a hidden passageway. Which led them one step closer to the treasure.

Anyway. As a child, this inspired us (and I’m sure a million other kids) to play a game called “Treasure Hunt”. It was where you placed clues all around the house, or the yard, or the neighborhood (depending on how ambitious of a treasure hunt you were after), with each clue leading to the other clue, and eventually some prize at the end.

Why am I telling you this story about this movie that I watched when I was a child? Well, because I felt this same way all over again when I became an electrician at a coal-fired power plant out in the country in north central Oklahoma. Here is why.

I used to carpool to work from Stillwater, Oklahoma to the power plant 25 miles north of town with another electrician named Bill Rivers. He had kept urging me to become an electrician along with Charles Foster, who had suggested that I take some electric courses to prepare for the job. Once I became an electrician, Charles Foster, my foreman, would often send me with Bill Rivers to repair anything that had to do with electronics. Bill Rivers was good at troubleshooting electronic equipment, and well, he was generally a good troubleshooter when he wasn’t getting himself into trouble.

I remember the morning when Charles told me to go with Bill to go fix the incessant humming that was coming over the PA system…. “What?” I asked him. “I can’t hear you over the loud hum coming over the PA system.” — No not really… We called the Gai-tronics PA system the “Gray Phone” because the phones all over the plant where you could page people and talk on 5 different lines was gray.

Gaitronics Gray Phone

Gaitronics Gray Phone

I walked into the electric lab where Bill Rivers was usually hanging out causing Sonny Kendrick grief. I hadn’t been in the electric shop very long at this point. I think it was before the time when I went to work on the Manhole pumps (see the post Power Plant Manhole Mania). In the lab there was an electric cord going from a plug-in on the counter up into the cabinet above as if something inside the cabinet was plugged in…. which was true. I asked Bill what was plugged in the cabinet and he explained that it was the coffee maker.

An old Coffee pot like this

An old Coffee pot like this

You see, our industrious plant manager had decided that all coffee at the plant had to come from the authorized coffee machines where a dime had to be inserted before dispensing the cup of coffee. This way the “Canteen committee” could raise enough money to…. uh…. pay for the coffee. So, all rogue coffee machines had to go. There was to be no free coffee at the plant.

So, of course, the most logical result of this mandate was to hide the coffee maker in the cabinet in case a wandering plant manager or one of his undercover coffee monitors were to enter the lab unexpectedly. Maintaining the free flow of coffee to those electricians that just had to silently protest the strong arm tactics of the Power Plant Coffee Tax by having a sort of… “Tea Party” or was it a “Coffee Party”.

I told Bill Rivers that Charles wanted me to help him fix the hum on the gray phones. Bill Rivers said, “Great! Then let us play a game. let’s call it, ‘Treasure Hunt’.”

Bill reached up in one of the cabinets and pulled out a blue telephone test set. I’m sure you must have seen a telephone repairman with one of these hanging from his hip. ” Oh boy.” I thought. “A new toy!”

Telephone Test Set

Power Plant Telephone Test Set

I grabbed my tool bucket from the shop and followed Bill Rivers out into the T-G basement. This is a loud area where the steam pipes carry the steam to the Turbine to spin the Generator. It is called T-G for Turbine Generator. Bill walked over to a junction box mounted near the north exit going to unit 1. He explained that except for the gray phones in the Control-room section of the plant, all the other gray phones go through this one junction box.

Bill said that the game was to find the Gray Phone ghost. Where is the hum coming from? He showed me how the different cables coming into this one box led to Unit 1, Unit 2, the office area and the coal yard. I just had to figure out which way the hum came from. So, I went to work lifting wires off of the terminal blocks. We could hear the hum over the gray phone speakers near us, so if I were to lift the right wires, we should know right away that I had isolated the problem.

Gray Phone Speaker

Power Plant Gray Phone Speaker

We determined that the noise was coming from Unit 1. So we took the elevator halfway up the boiler to another junction box, and then another where we traced the problem to a gray phone under the surge bin tower. It took 4 screws to remove the phone from the box. When I did, I could clearly see the problem. The box was full of water. Water had run down the conduit and into the phone box.

Bill Rivers told me that now that we found the problem, we wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again, so we drilled a small weep hole in the bottom of the box, and we took plumbers putty and stuffed it into the top of the conduit where it opened into a cable tray.

A tub of Power Plant Plumbers Putty

A tub of Power Plant Plumbers Putty

The box would fill with water when the labor crew would do coal cleanup. On labor crew we would spray the entire surge bin tower down with high powered water hoses to wash off all the coal dust. Each time, some water would end up going down the conduit into the gray phone until it grounded the circuit enough to cause a hum.

Bill and I continued searching throughout the plant for phones that were causing a hum. Most were caused by water in the box. Some were caused by circuits that had gone bad (most likely because they had water in them at some point). Those we took to the electric shop lab where we played a different kind of treasure hunt. — Let’s call it…. Finding the bad component. It reminded me of an old video game I had bought for my brother for Christmas that winter when I gave him an Intellivision (so I could play with it). It was the latest greatest video game console at the time.

An Intellivision Game Console

An Intellivision Game Console

I had given my brother a game called “Bomb Squad”. Where you had a certain amount of time to diffuse a bomb by going through a circuit board cutting out components with some snippers. If you cut the wrong connection, you had to hurry up and solder it back on before the bomb blew up.

Bomb Squad. It even talked to you and a siren went off if you were going to blow yourself up.

Bomb Squad. It even talked to you and a siren went off if you were going to blow yourself up.

That’s what we were doing with the Gray Phones. We were testing the different components until we found one that wasn’t working correctly. Then we would replace that transistor, or capacitor, or resistor, or diode, and then test the phone by plugging it in the switchgear gray phone box and calling each other.

I have a story later about someone using this technique while fixing gray phones, only he would call himself on the gray phone where I would call Bill and Bill would call me. Someone misinterpreted this and thought the person was trying to make everyone think he was more important because he was always being paged, when he was only paging himself. He was removed from fixing gray phones for this reason, even though he was only person at the plant in Mustang Oklahoma that knew a transistor from a capacitor.

So, why am I going on about a seemingly boring story about fixing a hum on a PA system? I think it’s because to me it was like a game. It was like playing a treasure hunt. From the day I started as an electrician, we would receive trouble tickets where we needed to go figure something out. We had to track down a problem and then find a solution on how to fix it. As I said in previous posts, it was like solving a puzzle.

Each time we would fix something, someone was grateful. Either the operator or a mechanic, or the Shift Supervisor, or the person at home vacuuming their carpet, because the electricity was still flowing through their house. How many people in the world can say that they work on something that impacts so many people?

Well… I used to feel like I was in a unique position. I was able to play in a labyrinth of mechanical and electrical equipment finding hidden treasures in the form of some malfunction. As I grew older, I came to realize that the uniqueness was limited only to the novelty of my situation. If you took all the power plant men in the country, they could probably all fit in one large football stadium. But the impact on others was another thing altogether.

The point I am trying to make is that it was obvious to me that I was impacting a large portion of people in the state of Oklahoma by helping to keep the plant running smoothly by chasing down the boiler ghosts and exorcising the Coalyard demons from the coal handling equipment. Even though it isn’t so obvious to others, like the janitor, or the laborer or the person that fills the vending machine. Everyone in some way helps to support everyone else.

A cook in a restaurant is able to cook the food because the electricity and the natural gas is pumped into the restaurant by others. Then the cook feeds the mailman, who delivers that mail, that brings the check to the person waiting to go to the grocery store so they can buy food that was grown by some farmer who plowed his field on a tractor made in a huge tractor factory by a machinist after driving there in a car made by a manufacturer in Detroit who learned how to use a lathe in a Vocational school taught by a teacher who had a degree from a university where each day this person would walk to class during the winter snow wearing boots that came from a clothes store where the student had bought them from a store clerk that greeted people by saying “Good Morning! How are you today?” Cheering up all the people that they met.

I could have walked into the lab and told Bill Rivers that Charles wanted me to help him find the hum in the PA system and he could have responded by saying, “Oh really? Good luck with that!” Instead he said, “Let’s go play a game. ‘Treasure Hunt!” This attitude had set the stage for me as a Power Plant Electrician: “Let’s go have some fun and fix something today!” Where would that cook have been today if the power had gone out in his restaurant that morning all because an attitude had gotten in the way….. I wonder…

Comments from the original post:

  1. Ron Kilman June 15, 2013:

    Great story! It’s neat how God puts us in teams to “fix stuff” and make life happen.

  2. Monty Hansen August 16, 2013:

    I wonder why they don’t make ‘em bright yellow or some other color easy to spot in an emergency? Anyway, I remember this one gray phone/speaker we had & when you’d wash down the basement if you accidently got water in it, it would bellow throughout the plant like a sick cow moose until it finally dried out!

    1. Plant Electrician August 16, 2013:

      Thanks Monty, I remember having to stuff putty down the end of conduit from a cable tray to gray phones so that water wouldn’t run down them during washdown. We pulled a gray phone out of the box one day and water just poured out of it. We took to drilling a small hole in the bottom of some of them just to let the water drain out.

The Vast Universe of Power Plant Heroes

Originally posted November 1, 2014.  Added some notes about Mike Crisp.

The trouble I had with my 1982 Honda Civic began when I thought I could use water instead of antifreeze in my radiator. I had never been much of a car person, but I figured I knew the basics. Especially after working in the Power Plant garage for three summers as a summer help on the yard crew. I thought the collective knowledge of Power Plant Men like Larry Riley, Doug House, Preston Jenkins and Jim Heflin had rubbed off on me… at least a little.

One very cold morning on the way to work at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma, just north of the toll road spur from Stillwater to Tulsa, the temperature gauge in my car pegged out in the wrong direction indicating my engine was too hot. I pulled into the gas station/convenience store parking lot and parked my car. Another Power Plant Man was just coming out of the store, so I hitched a ride with him to work. It turned out that the freeze plug in engine block had blown out. My car had overheated and because of the location of the plug, the engine had to be slightly dismantled in order to replace it. — Or at least that was what the mechanic at the auto repair place said.

A 1982 Honda Civic

A 1982 Honda Civic

After that incident, I had developed a minor oil leak, which a year or so later caused my timing belt to fail because the oil had been leaking on it. Scott Hubbard and I were on the way to work, and when I was in the middle of the intersection at Bill’s Corner, my car just died. I coasted off the side of the road, and we bummed a ride to work with another Power Plant Man on their way to the plant. The way the 1982 Honda Civic was built, if your timing belt broke, it bent your piston rods, which caused the need to rebuild the engine.

The winter after my engine had been rebuilt, when it was my turn to drive Scott Hubbard and Fred Turner to work on a cold morning, on the way to work, my car would begin to sputter then finally die. After sitting on the roadside for a couple of minutes, it would start up again and we could go a few more miles, until it would do the same thing again. This would only happen when it was real cold outside.

I took my car to the mechanics that had rebuilt my engine, and by that time of the day, it was warm, and the car ran just fine. They couldn’t tell me what was causing it. I did this several times, and Scott and Fred were beginning to wonder if it was such a good idea carpooling with me and my unreliable Honda Civic. Especially on cold mornings. I had tried several times to get it fixed, and the mechanics finally told me to stop bothering them. They couldn’t fix my problem.

Then one morning at work during the winter of 1992-93, when I must have been looking a little despondent while walking to the tool room to see Bud Schoonover to get some supplies, Mike Crisp, one of the plant machinists asked me what was wrong. I told him about how my car was dying when I drove it to work. Then Mike described my problem to me. He asked, “Does it die only when it’s real cold outside?” “Yeah,” I replied. “Then after a couple of minutes it will start back up just fine?” “Yeah! That’s exactly it!” Mike said, “Oh. I can fix that with a busted screwdriver.”

I wasn’t sure if I had heard that correctly, so I repeated, “busted screwdriver?” “Yeah,” he said. Then he reached into his tool box drawer behind his lathe and pulled out an old broken screwdriver and said, “I have one right here. Where is your car?”

Mike and I went to the parking lot and opened the hood of the car. He took the top cover off of the carburetor. Then taking the short screwdriver he poked it into a hole… Not the carburetor hole, but one off to the side. He said it was a valve that was supposed to open when the engine was running in order to bring warm air from around the engine into the carburetor to keep it from “vapor locking”… or some such thing. By putting the screwdriver in the valve to hold it open all the time, I wouldn’t have any more problems with the car.

After that, the car worked great! I was happy. Fred Turner was happy. Scott Hubbard was happy….. Well. Scott Hubbard is always happy.

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

At this point in my career as a plant electrician, I was beyond being surprised by the vast collective knowledge of Power Plant Men. Though they live most of their lives confined within the plant ground of a single Power Plant for the most part, from that experience and the total experience of their fellow Power Plant Heroes, they have a vast knowledge of the entire world.

I had heard something like that when watching the BBC version of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple once. In one episode, the Inspector Craddock was explaining to someone how Miss Marple could solve crimes. He said, “She knows the world only through the prism of that village and it’s daily life. And by knowing the village so thoroughly, she knows the world.” I immediately connected that phrase to the Power Plant Men I had the pleasure of working with for 20 years.

 

Miss Marple from BBC series

Miss Marple from BBC series played by Joan Hickson

As a side note. This isn’t my favorite Miss Marple. My favorite by far is played by Margaret Rutherford:

Miss Marple played by Margaret Rutherford

Miss Marple played by Margaret Rutherford

You can immediately see my attraction to Margaret Rutherford. Who could resist such a strong women with such intense eyes and jutting jaw? — Anyway, you can see how that phrase applied to Power Plant Men as well. End of side note.

After the Mike Crisp had fixed my car, when I would walk by him in the machine shop, he would sometimes stop and talk to me about things. One day he asked me if I had done anything interesting over the weekend, and I told him that I had been out in my yard looking at the stars through my telescope. That was about the most interesting thing that had happened that weekend.

Mike, to my surprise, instantly became interested in this subject. This surprised me, especially after he pointed out that he had never thought about getting a telescope or looking at the stars. I supposed I was surprised because he showed more than just a passing interest. He wanted to know more about my telescope, which was a cheap 4 1/2 inch reflecting telescope I had bought at Wal-Mart or some such place.

I had a telescope like this

I had a Tasco telescope like this

He asked me why I liked looking at the stars. I told him about looking at the moon and the planets, and seeing the rings around Saturn. My favorite pastime was looking at Nebulae (That’s plural for “Nebula” in case you were wondering).

Actually, my telescope was the next step above the picture above, as it had a counter weight and the pedestal mount was designed where you could set your latitude so that as the stars moved in the sky, you could swing your telescope around with the object you were watching. The pedestal shown above doesn’t do that. I had one like that as a boy, and as you followed the star, you had to adjust it up or down as you moved it west…. see…. that’s not interesting right? — But Mike Crisp thought it was.

A couple of weeks later when I was passing by the machine shop again, Mike called me over to his lathe. A piece of metal was taking shape as the lathe spun around and metal shavings were flying off in one direction and being deflected by a metal guard.

This is what the typical lathe looks like in a machine shop.

This is what the typical lathe looks like in a machine shop without the metal guard

Mike picked up a magazine from the top of his toolbox and showed it to me. It was a catalog for telescopes. He wanted to ask my advice about whether to get an 8 inch telescope or go all out and buy a 10 inch one. The cost was considerably higher for the 10 inch telescope and he was wondering if it would be that much better.

Mike had been to an observatory since I had first talked to him about astronomy. Now he was going to purchase his own telescope. — I had had (yeah… there must be a better way to say that besides “had had”…. how about this)…. I had been through this discussion with myself in the past. I wanted a bigger telescope so that I could see more detail than I could get with my 4 1/2 inch reflecting telescope. I knew the cost of those really nice ones. I used to go to the observatory at the University of Missouri in Columbia when I was growing up and even had thought about becoming an astronomer as a career.

I felt confident when I told Mike that an 8 inch reflecting telescope was big enough for him. Considering where he lived, (outside Ponca City, Oklahoma), the altitude (900 feet above sea level), he wasn’t going to gain enough with a 10 inch telescope to justify the extra cost. — Especially on a machinist’s salary. — I didn’t tell him that last part. You see…. I felt a little responsible for his sudden interest in astronomy, and I didn’t want his wife and children to go hungry so that Mike could get a better picture of the Horsehead Nebula.

 

Horsehead Nebula

Horsehead Nebula

Later Mike told me that he had ordered the 8 inch telescope and that he had poured a concrete pillar in his backyard to mount the telescope aligning it just right and at the right angle so that the mount would be able to be permanent. I continued to be amazed by not only his sudden interest in Astronomy, but by how he jumped into it so completely. I could see his excitement when he talked to me about it. — As I said above, I had hoped that the extra expense wasn’t putting a stress on his financial situation.

Not knowing Mike Crisp’s background, I never knew if he was an eccentric millionaire that had just decided to take up residence as a power plant machinist to experience more of life, or if he was just the type of person that when passionate about something would pour all his thought and effort into his passion. Either way, Mike Crisp was happy and seemed to enjoy what he was doing. I kept looking for signs of new stress on his face, but never saw it. — others at the plant might know different, but not me.

When the 1994 Rift came along (which I will discuss in a later post), Mike Crisp was one of the casualties. He was laid off on July 29, 2014 as were a lot of other great Power Plant Men. It wasn’t too long after Mike had made astronomy his hobby, and so I was worried that this extra financial burden may make his transition to a new life a little harder.

On the other hand. I have found that in times of extra stress, going out in the backyard and looking up at the sky and realizing the vastness of the universe helps put things in perspective. So, it might have turned out that Mike’s new hobby of looking to the stars for answers may have been just what he needed at that time.

I have not spoken to Mike since he was laid off in 1994 and I don’t know what ever became of him. I only know that the little time I spent with him talking in the machine shop for those few years have meant enough to me that I keep Mike and his family in my prayers to this day. I hope he found what he was looking for when he mounted that telescope to his concrete pedestal and turned his telescope to the heavens. I know I had found a good friend that day when I walked to the parking lot with Mike wondering how a broken screwdriver was going to fix my 1982 Honda Civic after the car mechanics in Stillwater, Oklahoma had given up on me. — Mike Crisp… Another one of my Power Plant Heroes.

Update:

Since originally posting this last year, David Evans a Power Plant Control Room Operator contacted me and told me that Mike would like to send me some pictures.

David Evans waits for Jim Padgett to get a cup of coffee -- Thanks Jim Cave for the picture

David Evans waits for Jim Padgett to get a cup of coffee — Thanks Jim Cave for the picture

Later, Mike Crisp called me.  He sent me beautiful photographs of the heavens that he took with his telescope.  He assured me that he is still fascinated with the heavens.   I will post some of the pictures he sent me below when I have the opportunity.

Comments from the Original post:

    1. Ron Kilman November 1, 2014

      I thought I knew where you were going when you started this story about water instead of antifreeze. One really cold day, as I was driving to the Seminole Plant, my 1970 Maverick overheated bad. Temperature gauge all the way HOT. I shut it down and left it all day on the shoulder of Highway 99. Some Power Plant Man (can’t remember who) picked me up and took me to work. I picked it up after work and drove it home without it overheating. I found that the radiator had frozen up. I didn’t have enough antifreeze. I corrected that and never had that problem again. I sold the Maverick in 1985 with 217K miles on it.

      While I was at Seminole, I built an 8″ f/6 reflector. I’ve seen a lot of cool stuff with it. I saw the impacts on Jupiter by Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9. That was shortly after I was dismissed from Sooner Plant (July, 1994). I still have the scope. In the early 1980’s I remember showing Saturn to the lady that played the organ at our church (rings were almost edge-on) and she said “Oh! It’s middle C.” Cool.

      Love your stories.

    1. tellthetruth1 November 3, 2014

      Innit lovely when someone says: “Oh yeah, I can fix that!” He diagnosed it, too, without looking.

      Sounds like a lovely bloke. 🙂

The Vast Universe of Power Plant Heroes

Originally posted November 1, 2014.  Added some notes about Mike Crisp.

The trouble I had with my 1982 Honda Civic began when I thought I could use water instead of antifreeze in my radiator. I had never been much of a car person, but I figured I knew the basics. Especially after working in the Power Plant garage for three summers as a summer help on the yard crew. I thought the collective knowledge of Power Plant Men like Larry Riley, Doug House, Preston Jenkins and Jim Heflin had rubbed off on me… at least a little.

One very cold morning on the way to work at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma, just north of the toll road spur from Stillwater to Tulsa, the temperature gauge in my car pegged out in the wrong direction indicating my engine was too hot. I pulled into the gas station/convenience store parking lot and parked my car. Another Power Plant Man was just coming out of the store, so I hitched a ride with him to work. It turned out that the freeze plug in engine block had blown out. My car had overheated and because of the location of the plug, the engine had to be slightly dismantled in order to replace it. — Or at least that was what the mechanic at the auto repair place said.

A 1982 Honda Civic

A 1982 Honda Civic

After that incident, I had developed a minor oil leak, which a year or so later caused my timing belt to fail because the oil had been leaking on it. Scott Hubbard and I were on the way to work, and when I was in the middle of the intersection at Bill’s Corner, my car just died. I coasted off the side of the road, and we bummed a ride to work with another Power Plant Man on their way to the plant. The way the 1982 Honda Civic was built, if your timing belt broke, it bent your piston rods, which caused the need to rebuild the engine.

The winter after my engine had been rebuilt, when it was my turn to drive Scott Hubbard and Fred Turner to work on a cold morning, on the way to work, my car would begin to sputter then finally die. After sitting on the roadside for a couple of minutes, it would start up again and we could go a few more miles, until it would do the same thing again. This would only happen when it was real cold outside.

I took my car to the mechanics that had rebuilt my engine, and by that time of the day, it was warm, and the car ran just fine. They couldn’t tell me what was causing it. I did this several times, and Scott and Fred were beginning to wonder if it was such a good idea carpooling with me and my unreliable Honda Civic. Especially on cold mornings. I had tried several times to get it fixed, and the mechanics finally told me to stop bothering them. They couldn’t fix my problem.

Then one morning at work during the winter of 1992-93, when I must have been looking a little despondent while walking to the tool room to see Bud Schoonover to get some supplies, Mike Crisp, one of the plant machinists asked me what was wrong. I told him about how my car was dying when I drove it to work. Then Mike described my problem to me. He asked, “Does it die only when it’s real cold outside?” “Yeah,” I replied. “Then after a couple of minutes it will start back up just fine?” “Yeah! That’s exactly it!” Mike said, “Oh. I can fix that with a busted screwdriver.”

I wasn’t sure if I had heard that correctly, so I repeated, “busted screwdriver?” “Yeah,” he said. Then he reached into his tool box drawer behind his lathe and pulled out an old broken screwdriver and said, “I have one right here. Where is your car?”

Mike and I went to the parking lot and opened the hood of the car. He took the top cover off of the carburetor. Then taking the short screwdriver he poked it into a hole… Not the carburetor hole, but one off to the side. He said it was a valve that was supposed to open when the engine was running in order to bring warm air from around the engine into the carburetor to keep it from “vapor locking”… or some such thing. By putting the screwdriver in the valve to hold it open all the time, I wouldn’t have any more problems with the car.

After that, the car worked great! I was happy. Fred Turner was happy. Scott Hubbard was happy….. Well. Scott Hubbard is always happy.

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

At this point in my career as a plant electrician, I was beyond being surprised by the vast collective knowledge of Power Plant Men. Though they live most of their lives confined within the plant ground of a single Power Plant for the most part, from that experience and the total experience of their fellow Power Plant Heroes, they have a vast knowledge of the entire world.

I had heard something like that when watching the BBC version of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple once. In one episode, the Inspector Craddock was explaining to someone how Miss Marple could solve crimes. He said, “She knows the world only through the prism of that village and it’s daily life. And by knowing the village so thoroughly, she knows the world.” I immediately connected that phrase to the Power Plant Men I had the pleasure of working with for 20 years.

 

Miss Marple from BBC series

Miss Marple from BBC series played by Joan Hickson

As a side note. This isn’t my favorite Miss Marple. My favorite by far is played by Margaret Rutherford:

Miss Marple played by Margaret Rutherford

Miss Marple played by Margaret Rutherford

You can immediately see my attraction to Margaret Rutherford. Who could resist such a strong women with such intense eyes and jutting jaw? — Anyway, you can see how that phrase applied to Power Plant Men as well. End of side note.

After the Mike Crisp had fixed my car, when I would walk by him in the machine shop, he would sometimes stop and talk to me about things. One day he asked me if I had done anything interesting over the weekend, and I told him that I had been out in my yard looking at the stars through my telescope. That was about the most interesting thing that had happened that weekend.

Mike, to my surprise, instantly became interested in this subject. This surprised me, especially after he pointed out that he had never thought about getting a telescope or looking at the stars. I supposed I was surprised because he showed more than just a passing interest. He wanted to know more about my telescope, which was a cheap 4 1/2 inch reflecting telescope I had bought at Wal-Mart or some such place.

I had a telescope like this

I had a Tasco telescope like this

He asked me why I liked looking at the stars. I told him about looking at the moon and the planets, and seeing the rings around Saturn. My favorite pastime was looking at Nebulae (That’s plural for “Nebula” in case you were wondering).

Actually, my telescope was the next step above the picture above, as it had a counter weight and the pedestal mount was designed where you could set your latitude so that as the stars moved in the sky, you could swing your telescope around with the object you were watching. The pedestal shown above doesn’t do that. I had one like that as a boy, and as you followed the star, you had to adjust it up or down as you moved it west…. see…. that’s not interesting right? — But Mike Crisp thought it was.

A couple of weeks later when I was passing by the machine shop again, Mike called me over to his lathe. A piece of metal was taking shape as the lathe spun around and metal shavings were flying off in one direction and being deflected by a metal guard.

This is what the typical lathe looks like in a machine shop.

This is what the typical lathe looks like in a machine shop without the metal guard

Mike picked up a magazine from the top of his toolbox and showed it to me. It was a catalog for telescopes. He wanted to ask my advice about whether to get an 8 inch telescope or go all out and buy a 10 inch one. The cost was considerably higher for the 10 inch telescope and he was wondering if it would be that much better.

Mike had been to an observatory since I had first talked to him about astronomy. Now he was going to purchase his own telescope. — I had had (yeah… there must be a better way to say that besides “had had”…. how about this)…. I had been through this discussion with myself in the past. I wanted a bigger telescope so that I could see more detail than I could get with my 4 1/2 inch reflecting telescope. I knew the cost of those really nice ones. I used to go to the observatory at the University of Missouri in Columbia when I was growing up and even had thought about becoming an astronomer as a career.

I felt confident when I told Mike that an 8 inch reflecting telescope was big enough for him. Considering where he lived, (outside Ponca City, Oklahoma), the altitude (900 feet above sea level), he wasn’t going to gain enough with a 10 inch telescope to justify the extra cost. — Especially on a machinist’s salary. — I didn’t tell him that last part. You see…. I felt a little responsible for his sudden interest in astronomy, and I didn’t want his wife and children to go hungry so that Mike could get a better picture of the Horsehead Nebula.

 

Horsehead Nebula

Horsehead Nebula

Later Mike told me that he had ordered the 8 inch telescope and that he had poured a concrete pillar in his backyard to mount the telescope aligning it just right and at the right angle so that the mount would be able to be permanent. I continued to be amazed by not only his sudden interest in Astronomy, but by how he jumped into it so completely. I could see his excitement when he talked to me about it. — As I said above, I had hoped that the extra expense wasn’t putting a stress on his financial situation.

Not knowing Mike Crisp’s background, I never knew if he was an eccentric millionaire that had just decided to take up residence as a power plant machinist to experience more of life, or if he was just the type of person that when passionate about something would pour all his thought and effort into his passion. Either way, Mike Crisp was happy and seemed to enjoy what he was doing. I kept looking for signs of new stress on his face, but never saw it. — others at the plant might know different, but not me.

When the 1994 Rift came along (which I will discuss in a later post), Mike Crisp was one of the casualties. He was laid off on July 29, 2014 as were a lot of other great Power Plant Men. It wasn’t too long after Mike had made astronomy his hobby, and so I was worried that this extra financial burden may make his transition to a new life a little harder.

On the other hand. I have found that in times of extra stress, going out in the backyard and looking up at the sky and realizing the vastness of the universe helps put things in perspective. So, it might have turned out that Mike’s new hobby of looking to the stars for answers may have been just what he needed at that time.

I have not spoken to Mike since he was laid off in 1994 and I don’t know what ever became of him. I only know that the little time I spent with him talking in the machine shop for those few years have meant enough to me that I keep Mike and his family in my prayers to this day. I hope he found what he was looking for when he mounted that telescope to his concrete pedestal and turned his telescope to the heavens. I know I had found a good friend that day when I walked to the parking lot with Mike wondering how a broken screwdriver was going to fix my 1982 Honda Civic after the car mechanics in Stillwater, Oklahoma had given up on me. — Mike Crisp… Another one of my Power Plant Heroes.

Update:

Since originally posting this last year, David Evans a Power Plant Control Room Operator contacted me and told me that Mike would like to send me some pictures.

David Evans waits for Jim Padgett to get a cup of coffee -- Thanks Jim Cave for the picture

David Evans waits for Jim Padgett to get a cup of coffee — Thanks Jim Cave for the picture

Later, Mike Crisp called me.  He sent me beautiful photographs of the heavens that he took with his telescope.  He assured me that he is still fascinated with the heavens.   I will post some of the pictures he sent me below when I have the opportunity.

Comments from the Original post:

    1. Ron Kilman November 1, 2014

      I thought I knew where you were going when you started this story about water instead of antifreeze. One really cold day, as I was driving to the Seminole Plant, my 1970 Maverick overheated bad. Temperature gauge all the way HOT. I shut it down and left it all day on the shoulder of Highway 99. Some Power Plant Man (can’t remember who) picked me up and took me to work. I picked it up after work and drove it home without it overheating. I found that the radiator had frozen up. I didn’t have enough antifreeze. I corrected that and never had that problem again. I sold the Maverick in 1985 with 217K miles on it.

      While I was at Seminole, I built an 8″ f/6 reflector. I’ve seen a lot of cool stuff with it. I saw the impacts on Jupiter by Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9. That was shortly after I was dismissed from Sooner Plant (July, 1994). I still have the scope. In the early 1980’s I remember showing Saturn to the lady that played the organ at our church (rings were almost edge-on) and she said “Oh! It’s middle C.” Cool.

      Love your stories.

    1. tellthetruth1 November 3, 2014

      Innit lovely when someone says: “Oh yeah, I can fix that!” He diagnosed it, too, without looking.

      Sounds like a lovely bloke. 🙂

Belt Buckle Mania And Turkeys During Power Plant Man Downtime

Originally posted on June 23, 2012:

Power Plant Welders need a large stock of specialized Welding Rods. Mechanics need all sizes of wrenches, files, hones and calibers. Electricians need a good pair of side cutters, strippers, red, yellow, orange and blue wire nuts, butt splices and Electrical tape. Instrument and Controls need all kinds of transmitters, converters, pressure gauges, and PLCs. The one thing Every True Power Plant Man needed was a Stainless Steel, highly decorated, colorful and sturdy Belt buckle. A couple of post ago I talked about the machinist that were around in the beginning when I first arrived at the plant. I mentioned that any True Power Plant Machinist could create just about any part needed at the plant. One such piece of quality craftsmanship was the Oval Belt Buckle:

A plain example of an oval belt buckle

You see, When you take a Stainless Steal Pipe and you cut it at an angle, the resulting shape is an oval just right to make a belt buckle:

By cutting the end of the pipe at an angle you get the oval shape of the belt buckle

During those first couple of years when the machinists were correcting mistakes made by the manufacturers of all types of motors, pumps and fans, between jobs, a machinist had a little down time when they could let their lathes, mills, bandsaws and drills cool off some. It was during this time that the creativity of the machinists were revealed to the rest of the Power Plant Men. In those early days, even more than their hard hat stickers, the Belt Buckle was the status symbol of any Power Plant Man driving a pickup truck with a gun rack in the back window. Making the belt buckle in very high demand at the plant.

Power Plant men were on the lookout for any kind of colored stone or odd shaped piece of metal that could be used to adorn their own specially machined belt buckle supplied by the Power Plant Machine Shop. Stainless Steel Nuts and small pieces of pipe were machined down to make ornamental designs to fit in the center of belt buckle. Copper pieces could be used to add color along with the colorful stones found lying about in the pasture.

The Machinist would carefully mill the pieces down to just the right thickness. The stainless steel oval cut from the pipe was carefully milled to give the proper curve to make the belt buckle just the right shape. Different types of epoxy was used as filler to hold everything in place. Even “Jewelers Rouge” was used to polish the belt buckle until it shined like silver and the stones as if they had been placed in a tumbler to give them the perfect smooth surface.

A block of Jewelers Rouge used for polishing Jewelry

I remember the day when Sonny Karcher asked me if I wanted to have my very own specially designed belt buckle. At the time I was not knowledgeable enough to realize the great treasure that was being offered to me for free. I just looked down at my skinny waist (it’s a wonder I can remember that many inches ago) and thought that it wouldn’t be easy to swing a Weed Wacker with a big oval belt buckle scraping across my abdomen, so I politely declined. If I had known better, I would have agreed, and taken my prize home to hang on the wall as memento of my early power plant days.

At the time there were a lot of things about the power plant men that I didn’t fully appreciate until years later. For instance, their generosity. They were always looking out for each other and if they found a bargain somewhere, they let everyone else in on it. That was one way you could tell a True Power Plant Man from the imitation wannabee’s.

During the first summer Ray Butler came up to me and said that a guy was selling 100 pound sacks of potatoes, and was wondering if I would go in on it with him, since he really only wanted 50 pounds. If I did, he would let me keep the gunny sack. I believe the 50 pounds of potatoes cost about $15. My mom had to figure out about 15 different ways to make potatoes, because we ate potatoes until they were growing out of our ears… (oh wait, that’s what you do when you don’t wash your ears properly). Anyway, before we were done with that bag of potatoes my dad and possibly even my brother and I were eating them raw like turnips as the Potato Gun hadn’t been invented yet.

A Spud Gun

Another time a peach orchard just up the road toward Marland Oklahoma was letting you go and pick your own peaches and buy them by the box full for a real good price, so after work, we all headed over to the peach orchard where the man that owned the orchard would drive you around the orchard in a trailer to where the ripe peaches were so that you could go around and pick all the peaches you wanted to take home.

In those early days, people could bring different types of produce and vegetables and other types of food products from their farms and sell them to their fellow power plant men for a good discount. That is, until the evil plant manager realized that it was taking money out of the Canteen Fund, which he felt was his own responsibility to make sure the coffers of the Canteen were always kept overflowing. — Until one year when they were going to show enough profit to have to pay taxes…

Anyway. The Canteen fund was used to purchase turkeys for the workers at Thanksgiving. One year when the fund didn’t have enough money to buy turkeys, the men at the power plant bailed the hay in the pastures that surrounded the north end of the lake, and sold the bails to pay for the turkeys. Then when Corporate Headquarters got wind of it, they insisted that the hay belonged to the Electric Company, and therefore could not be used to buy turkeys for the workers of just that one plant that had used their own money to fill the money box at the plant. And that was the end of the free turkeys for Thanksgiving. Kind of took the “Thanks” out of the giving… Needless to say, the hay wasn’t bailed much after that, it was just brush hogged like a right-of-way. I’m sure there is a Turkey out there somewhere that is grateful to Corporate Headquarters, but it isn’t the kind of mindless Turkey that cared more about messing with someone’s morale than about the efficiency of a Power Plant. It was amazing how much of a morale booster a free turkey can be. Just think about it. Here were Top Power Plant hands at the time making close to $20 an hour or $160 a day who went home with a big grin on their face just like Bob Cratchit when Ebenezer Scrooge gave him the Giant Goose for Christmas, so they could hear their own children say, “God Bless Us, every one!”

The Scrooge from Corporate Headquarters or was he?

Although, the truth be known, it was found out a few years later that the evil plant manager used the excuse that “It Came Down From Corporate Headquarters” often to make unpopular policies at our plant, where Corporate Headquarters was not aware that their good and friendly nature was being tarnished by a rogue plant manager in some distant Power Plant Land far far away up north in the wastelands of Oklahoma.

Anyway, I sometimes wonder how many power plant men that were around in the first days before both units went live still have one or more of those quality built belt buckles made exclusively by Power Plant Machinists for Power Plant Men. If so, they ought to take them down from the fireplace mantle or remove it from the glass case and dust it off and bring it to work some day just to show the New Generation X Power Plant newbies (or pups as we used to call them) what it was like living in the Power Plant Kingdom back when the great towering stacks were being raised, and the boilers were being built like skyscrapers out in the middle of the countryside.

Then they can gather them around by the boiler and open one of the small hatchways so that the orange glow of the fireball inside can illuminate the grating and the eager faces of the young power plant men waiting to hear the stories of brave men long ago who were rewarded with free turkeys at Thanksgiving. They can recall how proud they were to take the Free Turkeys home to their families all waiting eagerly by the window to watch as their father as he braved the Oklahoma west wind and dust storms to find his way to their door. Greeting them with hugs and the proud acknowledgement of how much the Electric Company appreciated their father enough to give his family one free turkey every year. Can you hear it? Is that my son by the fireplace? Did he just say what I thought he said? Yes. It was. He said, “God Bless Us, Every One!”

Comments from the Original Post:

  1. eideard June 23, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    I’ll bet there were folks who passed along tools when they retired, passed them along to the next generation or so in their own family.

    I still use a couple of fine screwdrivers that were my grandfather’s when he worked in the machine shop at Otis Elevator in Yonkers, NY.

    1. Plant Electrician June 26, 2012 at 3:20 pm

      I have a story about one such old tool that I will write about in a future post. :)

  2. jackcurtis July 7, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    Yeah! I’ve inherited tools from earlier times now unavailable, replaced by newer power stuff that sometimes, won’t do what the older tool accomplished easily…

    1. Plant Electrician July 7, 2012 at 4:07 pm
      That is definitely what I experienced. I have a story about trying to destroy an old power drill so that we could purchase a new one.

      Additional Comments from previous post:

      1. martianoddity June 27, 2013:

        I’ve never been inside a power plant, and I’ve never known anyone living in one. But you write so well and give such a great insight that I can see the environment and the personalities that worked at the Power Plants you worked at too.

        1. martianoddity June 27, 2013:

          By living I mean working… 😀 But maybe it wouldn’t be so bad living in one the way you’re describing them.

      2. Ron Kilman June 27, 2013:

        I never got an authentic belt buckle made by a Power Plant Man. But I did get a brass belt buckle for a company service award one time. I don’t wear that kind of belt anymore. Who knew one day I would need something to put under my motorcycle kick-stand when I park it on grass (keeps the stand from sinking in the dirt causing the bike to fall). That OG&E belt buckle works just great!

        1. Plant Electrician June 27, 2013:

          That’s Great!!! One of the many uses of a large belt buckle.

In Pursuit of the Power Plant Gai-tronics Gray Phone Ghost

Originally Posted June 14, 2013:

When I first watched the movie “The Goonies”, I recognized right away that the script was inspired from another Pirate treasure movie I had watched when I was a child. I have never seen the movie again, and it was probably a made for TV movie or something that has been lost in the archives years ago. I’m sure that Steven Spielberg when he was growing up must have been inspired by this movie when he wrote the script to Goonies, because this was a movie that had inspired us when we were young.

The Goonies looking at the treasure map

The Goonies looking at the treasure map

You see… In the movie I had watched as a kid, some children that were trying to save their family or an old house or something similar to the Goonies story, found a clue to where a Pirate treasure was buried. The clue had something to do with a “crow’s nest”. It turned out that the model of a ship that had been sitting on the mantle piece in the old house had another clue in the pole holding the crow’s nest. This clue had holes in the paper, and when held up to a certain page in a certain book, it gave them another clue to where there was a hidden passageway. Which led them one step closer to the treasure.

Anyway. As a child, this inspired us (and I’m sure a million other kids) to play a game called “Treasure Hunt”. It was where you placed clues all around the house, or the yard, or the neighborhood (depending on how ambition of a treasure hunt you were after), with each clue leading to the other clue, and eventually some prize at the end.

Why am I telling you this story about this movie that I watched when I was a child? Well, because I felt this same way all over again when I became an electrician at a coal-fire power plant out in the country in north central Oklahoma. Here is why.

I used to carpool to work from Stillwater, Oklahoma to the power plant 25 miles north of town with another electrician named Bill Rivers. He had kept urging me to become an electrician along with Charles Foster, who had suggested that I take some electric courses to prepare for the job. Once I became an electrician, Charles Foster, my foreman, would often send me with Bill Rivers to repair anything that had to do with electronics. Bill Rivers was good at troubleshooting electronic equipment, and well, he was generally a good troubleshooter when he wasn’t getting himself into trouble.

I remember the morning when Charles told me to get with Bill to go fix the incessant humming that was coming over the PA system…. “What?” I asked him. “I can’t hear you over the loud hum coming over the PA system.” — No not really… We called the Gai-tronics PA system the “Gray Phone” because the phones all over the plant where you could page people and talk on 5 different lines was gray.

Gaitronics Gray Phone

Gaitronics Gray Phone

I walked into the electric lab where Bill Rivers was usually hanging out causing Sonny Kendrick grief. I hadn’t been in the electric shop very long at this point. I think it was before the time when I went to work on the Manhole pumps (see the post Power Plant Manhole Mania). There was an electric cord going from a plug-in on the counter up into the cabinet above as if something inside the cabinet was plugged in…. which was true. I asked Bill what was plugged in the cabinet and he explained that it was the coffee maker.

An old Coffee pot like this

An old Coffee pot like this

You see, our industrious plant manager had decided that all coffee at the plant had to come from the authorized coffee machines where a dime had to be inserted before dispensing the cup of coffee. This way the “Canteen committee” could raise enough money to…. uh…. pay for the coffee. So, all rogue coffee machines had to go. There was to be no free coffee at the plant.

So, of course, the most logical result of this mandate was to hide the coffee maker in the cabinet in case a wandering plant manager or one of his stooges were to enter the lab unexpectedly. Maintaining the free flow of coffee to those electricians that just had to silently protest the strong arm tactics of the Power Plant Coffee Tax by having a sort of… “Tea Party” or was it a “Coffee Party”.

I told Bill Rivers that Charles wanted me to help him fix the hum on the gray phones. Bill Rivers said, “Great! Then let us play a game. let’s call it, ‘Treasure Hunt’.”

Bill reached up in one of the cabinets and pulled out a blue telephone test set. I’m sure you must have seen a telephone repairman with one of these hanging from his hip. ” Oh boy.” I thought. “A new toy!”

Telephone Test Set

Power Plant Telephone Test Set

I grabbed my tool bucket from the shop and followed Bill Rivers out into the T-G basement. This is a loud area where the steam pipes carry the steam to the Turbine to spin the Generator. It is called T-G for Turbine Generator. Bill walked over to a junction box mounted near the north exit going to unit 1. He explained that except for the gray phones in the Control-room section of the plant, all the other gray phones go through this one junction box.

Bill said that the game was to find the Gray Phone ghost. Where is the hum coming from? He showed me how the different cables coming into this one box led to Unit 1, Unit 2, the office area and the coal yard. I just had to figure out which way the hum came from. So, I went to work lifting wires off of the terminal blocks. We could hear the hum over the gray phone speakers near us, so if I were to lift the right wires, we should know right away that I had isolated the problem.

Gray Phone Speaker

Power Plant Gray Phone Speaker

We determined that the noise was coming from Unit 1. So we took the elevator halfway up the boiler to another junction box, and then another where we traced the problem to a gray phone under the surge bin tower. It took 4 screws to remove the phone from the box. When I did, I could clearly see the problem. The box was full of water. Water had run down the conduit and into the phone box.

Bill Rivers told me that now that we found the problem, we wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again, so we drilled a small weep hole in the bottom of the box, snd we took plumbers putty and stuffed it into the top of the conduit where it opened into a cable tray.

A tub of Power Plant Plumbers Putty

A tub of Power Plant Plumbers Putty

The box would fill with water when the labor crew would do coal cleanup. On labor crew we would spray the entire surge bin tower down with high powered water hoses to wash off all the coal dust. Each time, some water would end up going down the conduit into the gray phone until it grounded the circuit enough to cause a hum.

Bill and I continued searching throughout the plant for phones that were causing a hum. Most were caused by water in the box. Some were caused by circuits that had gone bad. Those we took to the electric shop lab where we played a different kind of treasure hunt. — Let’s call it…. Finding the bad component. It reminded me of an old video game I had bought for my brother for Christmas that winter when I gave him an Intellivision (so I could play with it). It was the latest greatest video game console at the time.

An Intellivision Game Console

An Intellivision Game Console

I had given my brother a game called “Bomb Squad”. Where you had a certain amount of time to diffuse a bomb by going through a circuit board cutting out components with some snippers. If you cut the wrong connection, you had to hurry up and solder it back on before the bomb blew up.

Bomb Squad.  It even talked to you and a siren went off if you were going to blow yourself up.

Bomb Squad. It even talked to you and a siren went off if you were going to blow yourself up.

That’s what we were doing with the Gray Phones. We were testing the different components until we found one that wasn’t working correctly. Then we would replace that transistor, or capacitor, or resistor, or diode, and then test the phone by plugging it in the switchgear gray phone box and calling each other.

I have a story later about someone using this technique while fixing gray phones, only he would call himself on the gray phone where I would call Bill and Bill would call me. Someone misinterpreted this and thought the person was trying to make everyone think he was more important because he was always being paged, when he was only paging himself. He was removed from fixing gray phones for this reason, even though he was only person at the plant in Mustang Oklahoma that knew a transistor from a capacitor.

So, why am I going on about a seemingly boring story about fixing a hum on a PA system? I think it’s because to me it was like a game. It was like playing a treasure hunt. From the day I started as an electrician, we would receive trouble tickets where we needed to go figure something out. We had to track down a problem and then find a solution on how to fix it. As I said in previous posts, it was like solving a puzzle.

Each time we would fix something, someone was grateful. Either the operator or a mechanic, or the Shift Supervisor, or the person at home vacuuming their carpet, because the electricity was still flowing through their house. How many people in the world can say that they work on something that impacts so many people?

Well… I used to feel like I was in a unique position. I was able to play in a labyrinth of mechanical and electrical equipment finding hidden treasures in the form of some malfunction. As I grew older, I came to realize that the uniqueness was limited only to the novelty of my situation. If you took all the power plant men in the country, they could probably all fit in one large football stadium. But the impact on others was another thing altogether.

The point I am trying to make is that it was obvious to me that I was impacting a large portion of people in the state of Oklahoma by helping to keep the plant running smoothly by chasing down the boiler ghosts and exorcising the Coalyard demons from the coal handling equipment. Even though it isn’t so obvious to others, like the janitor, or the laborer or the person that fills the vending machine. Everyone in some way helps to support everyone else.

A cook in a restaurant is able to cook the food because the electricity and the natural gas is pumped into the restaurant by others. Then the cook feeds the mailman, who delivers that mail, that brings the check to the person waiting to go to the grocery store so they can buy food that was grown by some farmer who plowed his field on a tractor made in a huge tractor factory by a machinist after driving there in a car made by a manufacturer in Detroit who learned how to use a lathe in a Vocational school taught by a teacher who had a degree from a university where each day this person would walk to class during the winter snow wearing boots that came from a clothes store where the student had bought them from a store clerk that greeted people by saying “Good Morning! How are you today?” Cheering up all the people that they met.

I could have walked into the lab and told Bill Rivers that Charles wanted me to help him find the hum in the PA system and he could have responded by saying, “Oh really? Good luck with that!” Instead he said, “Let’s go play a game. ‘Treasure Hunt!” This attitude had set the stage for me as a Power Plant Electrician: “Let’s go have some fun and fix something today!” Where would that cook have been today if the power had gone out in his restaurant that morning all because an attitude had gotten in the way….. I wonder…

Comments from the original post:

  1. Ron Kilman June 15, 2013:

    Great story! It’s neat how God puts us in teams to “fix stuff” and make life happen.

  2. Monty Hansen August 16, 2013:

    I wonder why they don’t make ‘em bright yellow or some other color easy to spot in an emergency? Anyway, I remember this one gray phone/speaker we had & when you’d wash down the basement if you accidently got water in it, it would bellow throughout the plant like a sick cow moose until it finally dried out!

    1. Plant Electrician August 16, 2013:

      Thanks Monty, I remember having to stuff putty down the end of conduit from a cable tray to gray phones so that water wouldn’t run down them during washdown. We pulled a gray phone out of the box one day and water just poured out of it. We took to drilling a small hole in the bottom of some of them just to let the water drain out.

Cracking a Boiled Egg in the Boiler and Other Days You Wish You Could Take Back

Originally Posted on April 13, 2012:

There are some days you wish you could take back after making a grand decision that turns out to look really dumb when your decision fails. It is important to think outside the box to break new ground as long as you bring common sense along for the ride. It seemed that during the days when I was a summer help, and even when I was a laborer on Labor Crew that in order to be promoted you had to come up with one grand idea that set you apart from the others and that also failed miserably.

It was said that the electrical supervisor there before Leroy Godfrey (I can see his face, but his name escapes me), was promoted to that position after he caused the destruction of one of the Intake pump motors (a very large pump that can pump 189,000 gallons of water per minute).

To name a couple of minor “Faux Pas” (how do you pluralize that word? I don’t know), let me start out with the least embarrassing and less dangerous and work my way to the most embarrassing and most dangerous of three different stories of someone thinking out of the box while leaving common sense somewhere behind and maybe wishing they could take back that day.

The first two stories both involve the Electrical Supervisors of two different Power Plants.

Tom Gibson, the Electrical Supervisor from our plant was trying to find a way to keep moisture out of the Bottom Ash Overflow Sump Pumps. This was a reoccurring problem that required a lot of man hours to repair. The bell shaped pump would have to be pulled, the motor would have to be disassembled and dried, and new seals would have to be put in the pump to keep it from leaking.

A Bottom Ash Overflow Sump Pump or BAOSP for Short

So, Tom Gibson decided that he was going to fill the motor and pump cavity with turbine oil. All electricians knew that oil used in turbines is an insulator so electrically it wouldn’t short anything out. But something in the back of your mind automatically says that this isn’t going to work. I remember helping to fill the motor up with oil in the Maintenance shop and hooking up some motor leads from the nearby Maintenance shop 480 volt switchgear. Needless to say, as soon as the pump was turned on, it tripped the breaker and oil began leaking from the cable grommet. That’s when common sense tells you that the all the oil causes too much drag on the rotor which will cause a 480 motor to trip very quickly. After removing some of the oil and trying it again with a larger breaker and still having the same result Tom was satisfied that this just wasn’t going to work. The pump and motor was sent away to a nearby electric shop to be rewound and other ways were developed by the help of our top notch machinist genius Randy Dailey who came up with a positive air pressure way to keep water out of the Bottom Ash Overflow Sump Pump and motor (also known as the BAOSP). Not much harm done and Tom Gibson didn’t feel too bad for trying something that the rest of us sort of thought was mildly insane.

The next story was told to me by my dear friend Bob Kennedy when I was working at a Gas Powered Plant in Midwest City and he was my acting foreman. So I didn’t witness this myself. This one was a little more dangerous, but still thankfully, no one was hurt. Ellis Rooks, the Electrical Supervisor needed to bump test a 4200 Volt motor and wanted to do it in place. For some reason he was not able to use the existing cables, maybe because that was the reason the motor was offline. Because one of the cables had gone to ground. So, he decided that since the motor only pulled 5 to 10 amps he could use #10 wire and string three of them (for the three phases of the motor) from the main High Voltage switchgear across the turbine room floor over to the motor. Now, most electricians know how many amps different size wires can generally handle. It goes like this: #14 – 15 amps, #12 – 20 amps, #10 – 30 amps, #8 – 50 amps and on down (smaller numbers mean bigger wires). So, Ellis thought that since the motor only pulls around 5 amps, and he only wanted to bump the motor (that is, turn it on and off quickly) to watch it rotate, he thought that even though there was normally a 3 – 0 cable (pronounced three aught for 3 zeroes, very large wire), this would be ok because he was only going to bump it.

This works when you are using is 120 or 220 volts

Needless to say, but I will anyway, when the motor was bumped, all that was left were three black streaks of carbon across the turbine room floor where the wire used to exist before it immediately vaporized. You see, common sense tells you that 4200 volts times 5 amps = 21,000 watts of power. However, the starting amps on a motor like this may be around 50 to 100 amps, which would equal 210 to 420 Kilowatts of power (or about 1/5 to 2/5 of a Megawatt). Thus vaporizing the small size 10 wire that is used to wire your house.

All right. I have given you two relatively harmless stories and now the one about cracking the boiled egg in the boiler. This happened when I was still a janitor but was loaned to the Labor Crew during outages. When the boiler would come offline for an outage, the labor crew would go in the boiler and knock down clinkers and shake tubes to clean out clinkers that had built up around the boiler tubes in the intermediate pressure area of the boiler. Clinkers are a hard buildup of ash that can become like large rocks, and when they fall and hit you on the head, depending on the size, can knock you to the floor, which makes wearing your hardhat a must. Your hardhat doesn’t help much when the clinkers falling from some 30 feet above hits you on your shoulder, so I always tried to suck my shoulders up under my hardhat (like a turtle pulling in his arms and legs) so that only my arms were left unprotected. It wasn’t easy looking like a pole with no shoulders, but I tried my best. I think Fred Crocker the tallest and thinnest person on Labor Crew was the best at this.  This is the Reheater area of the boiler in the diagram below:

Diagram of a boiler

Diagram of a boiler

Before we could get into the boiler to start shaking tubes, the dynamiters would go in there first and blow up the bigger clinkers. So, for a couple of days some times, at the beginning of an overhaul, you would hear someone come over the PA system about every 20 minutes saying, “Stand Clear of Number One Boiler, We’re Gonna Blast!!!” This became so common to hear over the years that unless you were up on the boiler helping out, you didn’t pay any attention to it.

This is something that is only done at a Coal-fired Power Plant because Gas Plants don’t create Ash that turns into Clinkers. Maybe some Soot, I don’t know, but not Ash. Which brings to mind a minor joke we played on Reginald Deloney one day when he came from a gas plant to work on overhaul.  Reggie automatically reminded you of Richard Pryor.  He had even developed a “Richard Pryor” way of talking.

Richard Pryor trying to look like Reggie Deloney

Richard Pryor trying to look like Reggie Deloney

We were going to work on a Bowl Mill motor first thing, which is down next to the boiler structure in an enclosed area. We brought our large toolbox and other equipment over to the motor. Andy Tubbs and Diana Brien were there with Reggie and I. I think Gary Wehunt was there with us also. When someone came over the PA system saying, “Stand Clear of Number Two Boiler, We’re Gonna Blast”, all of us dropped everything and ran for the door as if it was an emergency. Reggie, not knowing what was going on ran like the dickens to get out in time only to find us outside laughing at the surprised look on his face.

Like this

Like this

Anyway. That wasn’t the day that someone wished they could take back, but I thought I would throw that one in anyway so that now Reggie will wish that he could take back that day.

When I was on Labor Crew, and we were waiting on the boiler for the dynamiters to blast all the large clinkers, the engineer in charge, Ed Hutchins decided that things would go a lot quicker if all the laborers would go into the boiler and shake tubes while the dynamiters were setting their charges. Then we would climb out when they were ready to blast, and then go back in. So, we did that. All 10 or so of us climbed into the boiler, and went to work rattling boiler tubes until we heard someone yell, “Fire In The Hole!!!” Then we would all head for the one entrance and climb out and wait for the blast.

The extra time it took to get all of us in the boiler and back out again actually slowed everything down. We weren’t able to get much work done each time, and everyone spent most of their time climbing in and out instead of working, including the dynamiters. So Ed had another brilliant idea. What if we stayed in the boiler while the dynamite exploded? Then we wouldn’t be wasting valuable time climbing in and out and really wouldn’t have to stop working at all.

Of course, common sense was telling us that we didn’t want to be in an enclosed boiler while several sticks worth of dynamite all exploded nearby, so the engineer decided to prove to us how safe it was by standing just inside the entrance of the boiler with his ear plugs in his ears while the dynamite exploded. The dynamiters at first refused to set off the charges, but after Ed and the labor crew convinced them (some members on the labor crew were anxious for Ed to try out his “brilliant idea) that there really wouldn’t be much lost if the worst happened, they went ahead and set off the dynamite.

Needless to say…. Ed came wobbling his way out of the boiler like a cracked boiled egg and said in a shaky voice, “I don’t think that would be such a good idea.” All of us on the Labor Crew said to each other, “..As if we needed him to tell us that.” I think that may be a day that Ed Hutchins would like to take back. The day he learned the real meaning of “Concussion”. I think he was promoted shortly after that and went to work in Oklahoma City at Corporate Headquarters.

Comments from Original Post:

  • eideard April 21, 2012

    When you have pallets double-stacked, you should only move them about with a pallet jack. The bottom pallet – and whatever is stacked on it – is thoroughly supported. And even if the pallet jack is powered, you aren’t likely to get in trouble with rapid acceleration.

    As you would with a fork lift truck.

    And the double stacked pallets are truck mirrors boxed for shipment to retailers. A couple hundred mirrors. And I dumped both pallets when I went to back up and turn into the warehouse aisle.
    :)

  • jackcurtis May 5, 2012

    Modern parables like these are much too good to waste! They should be included in every freshman Congressman’s Washington Welcome Kit when he first takes office and new ‘reminder’ versions again every time he wins an election. These are wonderful essays on unintended consequences, at which our Congress is among the best!

    Comments from Previous repost:

    1. John Comer April 28, 2014

      I worked with Ed on the Precipitator control replacement project (84 controls X 2) in 2006 I think. He was getting ready to retire at the time. He was a good engineer and a tough customer. I was working for the control supplier and those 168 controls were the first installation of a brand new control design. I had lead the design team for the controls and this was the culmination of our work. I spend more days and nights than I can remember going up and down the aisles of controls loading software fixes into the processors! Anyway, great people at the plant and great memories… including a rapper control cabinet that took the express route to the ground elevation from the precip roof! (ouch, it really is the sudden stop that gets you!)

      1. Plant Electrician April 28, 2014

        Thanks for the comment John! It’s good to hear about improvements to the Precipitate and the control rooms I used to call home.

    2. A.D. Everard August 3, 2014

      OMG – The very thought of a group staying in the boiler when the dynamite went off! Thank goodness THAT didn’t happen. I felt the tension just reading that bit. I’m glad Ed came out of it all right.