Tag Archives: No Time For Sergeants

Toby O’Brien and Doing the Impossible

Originally posted May 23, 2014:

There were three times when I was an electrician at a coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma when, according to others, I had done something that they labelled “impossible”.  One of those times began when a Plant Engineer Toby O’Brien came to me and asked me if I could find a way to connect to the Prime Computer down at Corporate Headquarters so that he could edit some Engineering drawings he had worked on when he was working at Oklahoma City.  That in itself wasn’t what was impossible.  That came later, but it pertained to a similar subject.

Somewhere in Corporate Headquarters stashed away in a room somewhere was a Prime Computer just waiting for Toby.

Prime Computer

Prime Computer

Toby knew that I had an account on the Honeywell Mainframe computer downtown, since I was always getting myself in trouble playing around on it.  Since I could connect to that, he wondered if it would be possible to connect to the Prime Computer where his Medusa CAD drawings were kept.  He gave me some information about how he used to log into it when he was working downtown…. before  he was banished to the Power Plant Palace 70 miles north out in the middle of the country.

Toby had a CAD tablet and a disk to install the driver on a computer.  This would allow him to work on his CAD drawings.  For those of you who don’t remember, or have never seen such a thing.  It is like a very fancy mouse…. or should I say, Mouse Pad.  Since you used a stylus to draw and point and click on a large pad called a tablet.  Not anything like the little tablets we have today.

CAD Drawing Tablet

CAD Drawing Tablet

At the time, the only connection we had to the Honeywell Mainframe from the power plant was through a router called a Memotec.  The bandwidth was a whopping 28,000 baud.  A Baud is like bytes per second, only it is measured over an audio line as an audio signal.  Like the sound that a Fax machine makes when it first connects.  Toby had talked to some guys down at IT and they had a copy of the same Honeywell emulator called “GLink” we were using at the plant, only it would connect at a super whopping 56,000 baud.  Twice as fast!  They wanted someone to “Beta Test” it.  They knew I liked doing that sort of stuff, so they were willing to give us a copy to try out.

 

This is GLink today. Back then it was for Windows 3.1

This is GLink today. Back then it was for Windows 3.1

Toby and I decided that the best place to try out our “Beta Testing” was in the Chemistry Lab.  The main reason was that it had one of the newer 386 desktop computers and it was in a room right next to the data closet where the Memotec was talking to the mainframe downtown.  So, if I had to run in there real quick and spit in the back and “whomp it a good ‘un”, I wouldn’t have too go far.  That was a trick I learned from watching “No Time for Sergeants” with Andy Griffith.  Here is the lesson:

If you have trouble viewing the video from the picture above, this this link:  “No Time For Sergeants Radio Operator“.

To make the rest of this part of the story a little shorter, I’ll just summarize it to say that by logging into the Honeywell Mainframe using my account, I was then able to connect to the Prime Computer using Toby’s account and he was able to edit his CAD drawings from the Chemistry Lab at the Power Plant 70 miles away from Corporate Headquarters.  I know that doesn’t sound like much, but in those days, this was “new technology” for us Power Plant guys anyway.

Before I continue with the “impossible” task, I need to explain a little about how electricians kept the Electrical Blueprints up-to-date at a Power Plant.  This was a task that I was given when Tom Gibson was the Electrical Supervisor.  I was supposed to take all the blueprints that had been revised because of some change that had happened at the plant, and make sure they were properly updated.  Then I had to go through a process to make sure they were permanently updated, not only on the three copies that we had at our plant, but also with the “System of Record” set of blueprints at Corporate Headquarters.

So, let me tell you the process, and I’m sure you will be able to relate this task to something you encounter in your job today.  Even if it is preparing the Salads at a Sirloin Stockade before opening time.

The first step happens when someone in the electric shop has to rewire some piece of equipment or something because the equipment was moved, removed, upgraded to something else, or someone thought it would work better if we did it a different way.  Then whoever made the change to the electric wiring would go to the prints that were kept in the electric shop and update them so that the new wiring job was reflected in the Blueprints.

This is important because if someone a week later had to go work on this equipment, they would need to be able to see how the equipment is now wired.  If they were working off of an old print, then they might blow something up, or injure or even kill someone…. most likely themselves, if it ever came down to it.

The other two copies of prints also needed to be updated.  One was in the Instrument and Controls shop, and the most important copy was in the “Print Room” right next to Tom Gibson’s office.

The second step was to send off a request to Corporate Headquarters in Oklahoma City for a copy of all the blueprints that were changed so that the change could be made on the copy and sent back to Oklahoma City.

The third step is when a fresh copy of the blueprints arrived at the plant from Oklahoma City a few weeks later.  These were updated with the changes and sent back to Oklahoma City.

The fourth step is when the blueprints are reviewed by an engineer downtown and the changes are made permanently by a drafter downtown.

Step five:  Then three copies of the permanently changed prints were sent back to plant where they replaced the three marked up copies.

This process generally took two to three months given that the drafter downtown had to take the Original drawing, scan it in the computer, make changes to it, and then save it, and send it to the printer to be printed.

Toby and I had “petitioned” our plant management to buy us a copy of AutoCAD so that we could make our own revisions right at the plant, and send the changes directly to Oklahoma City, all complete and ready to go.  The only problem with this was that AutoCAD software did not come cheap.  It was several thousand dollars for just one copy.

Even though this was before the World Wide Web, I knew where I could get a pirated copy of AutoCAD, but since neither Toby or I considered ourselves criminals, we never really considered that a viable alternative.  Tom Gibson was pitching for us to have a copy, but it was figured that if we had a copy, the company would have to buy a copy for all six main power plants, and they weren’t willing to dish out that much money.

Somewhere along the line, after Tom Gibson had kept pushing for the importance of having up-to-date Plant Electric Blueprints in a timely fashion, a task force was formed to address a faster way to make print revisions.  Because Toby and I (and Terry Blevins) had been pushing this at our plant, Tom asked Toby and I (actually, that should be “Toby and me”, but “Toby and I” makes me sound smarter than I am) to be on the Task Force with him.

So, one morning after arriving at the plant, we climbed into a company car and made the drive to Oklahoma City to the Corporate Headquarters.  When we arrived, we sat in a big conference room with members from the different power plants, and a number of engineers from downtown.  I was pretty excited that something was finally going to be done.

I don’t remember the name of the engineer that was the leader of the task force, I only remember that I had worked with him once or twice through the years on some small projects.  When the meeting began, I expected that we would have some kind of brainstorming activity.  I was all ready for it, since I had all sorts of ideas about how we could just edit the prints directly from the plant on the Prime Computer where the prints were stored, just like Toby had done.

When the meeting began there was no brainstorming session.  There wasn’t even a “What do you guys think about how this can be done?”  No.  The engineer instead went on to explain his solution to the problem.  I was a little disappointed.  Mainly because I was all fired up about being asked to be on a task force in Oklahoma City to work on…. well…. anything…. to tell you the truth.  And here we were listening to a conclusion.  — Sound familiar?  I knew it would.

This engineer had it all figured out.  Here was his solution:

Step 1:  A request was sent by company mail to downtown (same at the old second step) for some blueprints that need to be updated.

Step 2:  The prints are downloaded onto a floppy disk (3.5 inch High Density – which meant, 1.44 Megabyte disks).

Step 3:  The disks were mailed through company mail back to the Power Plant.

Step 4:  The Power Plant receives the disks and loads them onto their computer at the plant and they edit the blueprint using a pared down CAD program called “RedLine”.

Step 5:  The print revision is saved to the disk and the disk is mailed back to Corporate Headquarters using the Company Mail.

Step 6:  The print is reviewed by the engineers for accuracy and is loaded into the computer as the system of record.

Ok…. this sounded just like the previous method only we were using a “RedLine” program to edit the changes instead of using Red, Green and Gray pencils.

It was evident that the engineer in charge of the meeting was expecting us to all accept this solution and that the task force no longer had to meet anymore, and we could all go home and not ever return to consider this problem again.  — Well, this was when I said the “Impossible”.

I raised my hand as if I was in a classroom.  The guy knowing me to be a regular troublemaker asked me what I wanted.  I said, “Why mail the files?  Why not just put them in a folder and have the person at the plant go there and pick them up?”  — In today’s world the idea of a drop-box is about as easy to understand as “Google it”.  Back then… I guess not.  Especially for some engineers who had already decided on a solution.

So, the engineer responded, “Because that can’t be done.”  I said, “Why not?”  He said, “It’s impossible.  Someone in a power plant can’t just go into a computer at Corporate Headquarters and access a file.”

Well, that did it….. I told him that we were able to edit CAD drawings on the Prime computer from the power plant.  He said, “No you didn’t.  That’s impossible!”  I looked over at Toby who was sitting next to me with a big grin on his face.  So I said,  “Who is the IT guy in the room?  He can tell you that you can  get a file from the mainframe from the power plant.”

The engineer replied that he didn’t invite any IT people, because there wasn’t any reason.  Everyone knows that you can’t copy files on a Corporate computer from a power plant.  So, I said, “Invite someone from the IT department to the next meeting.  I’m sure he will agree with me that this can be done.  — Shortly after that, the  meeting was adjourned (but at least I had managed to convince the team we needed a second meeting).

You should have heard me rant and rave all the way back to the power plant that afternoon.  How could he possibly be so naive to make definite statements about something and basically call me a liar when I said that we had already done it.  I’m sure Tom Gibson was glad when we arrived back at the plant and he was able to get out of the company car and into the silence of his own car for his drive back to Stillwater.  Toby on the other hand carpooled with me, so he had to hear me rant and rave to Scott Hubbard all the way back to Stillwater that day.

Needless to say, we had another Print Revision Task Force meeting a few weeks later.  Tom, Toby and I drove back to Oklahoma City.  I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen.

The meeting began with the engineer in charge of the task force saying, “The first thing we are going to address is Kevin Breazile’s statement about sending files to the power plant.  We have invited someone from IT to answer this question.”  Then he turned to a guy sitting at the table.  I don’t remember his name either, only that I had worked with him also through the years (oh yes I do.  It was Mike Russell).

The engineer turned to the IT guy and said (using a tone that indicated that I belonged in a mental institution or maybe kindergarten), “Kevin seems to think that he can somehow get on his computer at the power plant and access a folder on a server here at Corporate Headquarters and download a file.”  He stopped and with a big smirk on his face looked at the IT guy.  Mike just sat there for a moment looking at him.

The engineer just stood there with an evil grin on his face waiting…  Mike said, “So?  What do you want to know?”  The engineer said, “Well.  Is that even possible?”  Mike replied, “Of course!  It’s actually easier for him to do that than it is for someone on the 3rd floor of this building to access the mainframe on the fourth floor.”

The engineer’s jaw dropped and he eked out a meager little  “what?”  Mike asked if that was all.  When he was assured that this was the only question, he stood up and walked out the door.  As he was leaving he turned a side glance toward me and winked at me.  I was grinning ear-to-ear.  I could tell, I wasn’t the only one that had a beef with this particular engineer.

So, you would have thought that it would have been a quieter ride back to the plant that day, but leave it to me….  I kept on going on about how that guy was so sure of himself that he didn’t even bother to ask the IT guy before the meeting began just to check his own erroneous facts.  Geez!  That was the most surprising part of the day.  If he had only asked him before the meeting, he wouldn’t have made a fool out of himself with his snide comments just before he was put in his place.

So, Toby and I proved that doing the impossible isn’t all that impossible when what someone thinks is impossible really isn’t so.  This stemmed from a lesson my dad taught me growing up when he told me, “Don’t ever say “can’t”.  There is always a way.”

Comments from the original post:

  1. Dan Antion May 24, 2014

    Ah, the good old days when the best computer was the new 386. Things weren’t impossible but you had to think about it and plan quite a bit. Great stories!

  2. Ruth May 24, 2014

    Always enjoy reading and thinking about a world I wouldn’t even know about if it weren’t for your unique blog!

    Ruth in Pittsburgh

  3. Ron May 24, 2014

    Great story! I heard a pastor once say “What you “know” can keep you from learning the truth.” I saw this principle in operation many times in my career.

    I had been at the WFEC Hugo Power Plant for a short time when the Plant Manager directed me (Maint. Supt.) to have the Mechanics “block the condenser” for a “hydro”. (Prior to a condenser hydro, several mechanics would work for about 4 hours dragging heavy timbers into the 3 foot tall space between the bottom of the hotwell and the concrete floor. They would space these timbers evenly across the entire condenser floor and use wedges to remove all clearance at each support beam. All this work was “required” to support the additional water weight (several feet higher than normal operating level)). I knew this “blocking” was never done at any OG&E plant but I didn’t want to make the Plant Manager look like an idiot. So I did what he asked. We “blocked” the condenser for a hydro. Then I got with just the Plant Engineer and asked him to get the Mechanical Prints for the condenser. I asked him if it was necessary to block the condenser for hydro. He said they had always done it because of the extra weight of the water. When we looked at the condenser drawings there was a note indicating it was designed to support a full hydro water level. He showed the print to the Plant Manager (one on one). Nobody was made to look foolish and for the next condenser hydro we didn’t “block” it – and the Mechanics were really happy!

    1. Plant Electrician May 24, 2014

      We used to have a saying that I picked up from Bob Kennedy. “We’ve been doing it this way for 35 years. “

  4. Dave Tarver May 24, 2014

    Well over the years there were a lot of engineers that way.  Not all.  We have had outstanding ones as well and the stinkers too.  Just hate the politics of people so evil and cruel.  Man is beyond ugly so often.

Advertisements

Elvin Power Plant Tool Room Adventures With Bud

Originally posted September 27, 2014, added a picture of Bud

When I say that Bud Schoonover is known as “Elvin”, I don’t mean to imply that he was Elvin in nature.  What I mean to say is that he did not necessarily possess the qualities of an elf.  Well, except for his smile, which is somewhat Elvish-like.  Bud’s smile was usually more like a look of warning for those who didn’t know him well.  I have always said that he reminded me of a six foot, 5 inch tall, white Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son, and about 75 to 100 pounds heavier.

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son smiling like Bud Schoonover

What I mean by saying that Bud is known as “Elvin” is that is what his Mother called him when he was born.  Though somewhere along the line he became known as Bud;  Not from his middle name… because I think that was Floyd.  Bud was my good friend and carpooling buddy (See the post “Carpooling with Bud Schoonover“).  Maybe that was why people called him Bud.  Because he was everyone’s “buddy”.

I don’t mean to make it sound like Bud has passed away, because as far as I know, he is still an active Republican voter living on South Palm Street in Ponca City.  I also don’t want you to think that I was only friends with Bud Schoonover because he was a good carpooling buddy.  No.  Bud had all sorts of talents.  He gave great weather reports each morning when we would gather to take our trek to the Power Plant some 20 miles away, as I mentioned in the other post about Bud (since first writing this post, Bud has passed away.  See the post:  Dynamic Power Plant Trio – And Then There was One).

I don’t think that there was anyone at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma that didn’t like Bud.  There was just something naturally likable about him.  Bud worked in the tool room and the warehouse ever since the day I first arrived at the plant in 1979. — Well, the warehouse wasn’t much of a warehouse back then.  It just had stuffed piled up against the walls.  No shelves, No storage racks.  No drawers and bins full of parts.

Bud is four years and 26 days younger than my own father, and four years and 18 days younger than Elvis Presley.

The King

The King

He will be 76 years old this January.  Needless to say, Bud retired from the Power Plant in 1994 after having just turned 55.  At his going away party, some guys at the plant fixed up a Wal-Mart shopping cart with a bunch of accessories attached to it so that he would be properly equipped when he went to work at Wal-Mart as a Greeter. — For those of you who don’t know…. Wal-Mart used to hire elderly people to greet people when you walked into the store.  They might pull a cart out of the stack of carts and give it to you if you looked like you were in need of a cart.

Wal-Mart Shopping Cart

Wal-Mart Shopping Cart

Bud was extra careful when working in the warehouse.  He wanted to make sure that he was getting everything right, so he would check, and double check, and then check again…. just to make sure everything matched.  One good example of this was when he was tasked with ordering a half set of coal burner nozzles and tips for the boiler.

There were 24 of these Coal burner nozzle and tips in the boiler.  The nozzles costing about $13,000 and the tips ran somewhere around $4,000 each.

Coal Burner Nozzle Tips

Coal Burner Nozzle

There was another assembly that attached to the end with the hole on the side that allowed the nozzle to change the pitch it was called the Tip.

So, Bud wanted to make sure he created the order correctly.  So, when Bud placed the order with the supplier, he not only included the Supplier’s part number, but he also included the manufacturer’s part number.  Just to make sure they knew they were sending the correct part, he even sent them the old manufacturing part number that they used a few years before they changed their part numbering system.  — So, when he sent the order, it had all three part number for the 12 nozzles.  He did the same thing with the smaller piece for the end of the nozzle.

To Bud’s surprise, one bright sunny morning in December, 1989 (well, it may not have been that sunny that day), guess what showed up at the loading dock?  12 nozzles with the suppliers part number, 12 nozzles with the manufacturer’s part number, and 12 more nozzles with the manufacturer’s old part number!  Yeah…. Didn’t count on that one.

I think I know how Bud must have felt when that happened.  Probably the same way I felt the morning I was summoned to the front office to pick up my mail, only to find a stack of a couple hundred envelopes from all over the company after printing something out on all the printers in the company (See “Power Plant Customer Service Team Gone Wild“).  I think Bud took these things in more in stride than most people might.  His reaction to finding out that the order he had created for $156,000 had suddenly turned into $468,000 was probably something like…. “Oh Geez.  I sure don’t want to do that again!”

During the “We’ve Got the Power” program (see the post “Power Plant We’ve Got the Power“), the HR and Warehouse director, Linda Dallas asked us if we would put in a proposal to scrap the extra nozzles since these nozzles were very big.  She didn’t think it would look good if her own team created the proposal since she was already responsible for the warehouse.  We had two people from the warehouse on our We’ve Got the Power team, Dick Dale and Darlene Mitchell, so she thought we could do something out the conundrum.  Two nozzles fit on a pallet, taking up space all over the warehouse.

The nozzles with the Tips attached

The nozzles with the Tips attached

We could save money just by scrapping it because we wouldn’t have to pay taxes on the parts.  It cost too much to return them to the supplier because the restocking fee was too high. — And E-Bay didn’t exist back then.

Instead of accepting our proposal, it was decided that instead of just changing out half of the nozzles during the next outage, they would just replace all of the nozzles.  This reduced the number of nozzles left in the warehouse to a more manageable number.  So, Bud’s Faux Pas, may have just helped increase the efficiency of the boiler significantly with the replacement of the nozzles which may have translated into savings of unknown millions of dollars, of which Bud received no credit… But that’s okay.  Bud wasn’t one to seek credit for his ingenious accidental idea of triple ordering boiler Nozzles.

One of the favorite stories I would tell my children as they were growing up when they would ask me to tell them a Bud Schoonover story was the story about the last tool in the tool room.  — This is Bud’s own special way of handling the restocking of the tool room.  It goes like this….  For instance….

If you went to the tool room to ask for a yellow flashlight and it happened to be the last yellow flashlight in the tool room, and it was Bud Schoonover’s week to man the tool room, then you would hear something like this:

Yellow Flashlight similar to the one I carried

Yellow Flashlight similar to the one I carried

“I can’t give you a yellow flashlight, because I only have one left.”  — You may want to respond with something like, “But Bud, if there’s one left, then why can’t I have it?”  Bud’s reply would be, “Because if I give you the last one, then I’d have to order more.”

At this point, you may want to start over asking if you can have a yellow flashlight, with the hope that Bud may have forgotten that he was down to his last yellow flashlight….  You might even phrase it a little differently… You might say something like, “Well… Can I just borrow a yellow flashlight for a few hours?  At least for as long as I have to do some work in the dark?” — I have seen this approach almost work.  He would stop and think about it like Andy Griffith in “No Time For Sergeants” trying to answer questions being asked by the Psychiatrist:

Andy Griffith talking to the Psychiatrist

Andy Griffith talking to the Psychiatrist in No Time for Sergeants

Then the next question you may ask (I know, since I asked it more than once) is: “So, Bud, how about ordering some more yellow flashlights.”  Bud would reply with something like, “No.  I don’t really want to order anything this week.”, as he nods in the direction of the computer monitor sitting on the desk just to his left…  — Oh…. computer shy…. that’s why.  Not comfortable ordering stuff on the computer (especially after ordering all those coal burner nozzles).

I can understand that.  He is the same age as my own father, and my dad at that time would literally call me at least one time every single day to ask me a computer question.  Like…. “How do I move a paragraph from one part of a document to another part?”  — “Um… Yeah Dad, (for the hundredth time), you do it like this….”

There’s something about every one of my friends and family that were born between December 30, 1934 and January 27th 1939.  They all had the same problem with computers.  Must be that particular generation born within that four year period.  I’m sure Elvis, who was born right in the middle of that time frame (on January 8, 1935), would have had the same trouble with the PC if he had lived long enough.  — I know… I know…  I just saw him the other day myself.

Only he had gained some weight

Only he had gained some weight

Anyway, there was one sure fire way to get that tool that I needed from the tool room while Bud Schoonover was manning the front gate, and that was to volunteer to go to the warehouse and pick up a box of the parts yourself and carry them back and hand them to Bud, while taking one out for yourself.  — And the time I needed a flashlight, I did just that.

One time I went to the tool room in the middle of the winter when we had water pipes that were frozen and I needed a propane torch to heat the pipe to melt the ice.  Bud told me that he couldn’t give me a propane torch because he only had one left.  I looked up two racks over from the gate and could see at least two boxes of propane bottles on the top shelf.

I told Bud that I wouldn’t be taking his last bottle of propane, because there was at least two bottles right up there on that shelf.  Bud insisted that he only had one bottle of propane left and he couldn’t give it to me.  So, while smiling at Bud and explaining that I could see the two bottles right up there on the top of the shelf,… with one hand on his shoulder (which was about a whole foot taller than my head), and the other hand unlocking the gate, I told him I would show him.

So, I stepped into the tool room, and said, “It’s ok Bud, I won’t take your last bottle of Propane, but I do have to take this bottle here, because we have a water pipe that is frozen solid, and I need to use the propane torch to warm it up.  Here… I”ll just take this one, and you can keep this other one here….”

Power Plant Propane torch

Power Plant Propane Torch

As I walked back out the tool room smiling all the time at Bud, who was just staring at me with a worried look finally lowered his shoulders which had been creeping up closer to his ears as I had sidestepped him to get to the propane bottle.

The funny thing was that by the end of the week, there would be a whole list of parts and tools that only had one left in the tool room.  Bud would consider it a successful week if he could make it through the week without having to get on the computer and order some more parts.  He knew that next Monday, when Dick Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

or Darlene Mitchell

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

arrived, they would restock the shelves, and he would be in the warehouse filling the orders and bringing them over on a two wheeler to the tool room.  And the world would be right once again.

As I mentioned above, since originally posting this post, Bud Schoonover had joined Dick Dale in the warehouse of Paradise.  Here is the latest picture of Bud:

Bud Schoonover

Bud Schoonover

Comments from the Original post:

  1. Ron Kilman September 27, 2014

    Great story on Bud. He was a might tight. Thanks for the photos of Dick and Darlene. Great memories.

  2. Citizen Tom September 28, 2014

    That a funny story. Bud must have been fun to work with.

    When we have an bad experience, we often learn the wrong lesson. Lots lots people learn to distrust computers, but they are just machines. Like any machine, we have to learn to use a computer properly.

    Apparently, Bud just filled out a form incorrectly. Did it really make any difference whether the form was on a computer? Would he have filled in a paper form correctly?

    What I find weird is that someone could place $468,000 order, and no one on the other end would look at the order carefully enough to wonder why Bud had used three different numbers to order the same part. Was it advantageous to the folks receiving the order to overlook the obvious? Why didn’t they call and confirm the order?

Importance of Power Plant Backup Battery Preventative Maintenance

The very last thing I ever learned in High School was the importance of Backup Battery Preventative Maintenance. In fact, the entire senior class of 1978 at Rockbridge High School in Columbia, Missouri learned this lesson at the same time. It was during the graduation ceremony in May while the students were walking across the stage to receive their diplomas.

I had already received mine and I was back in my seat sitting between Tracy Brandecker and Patrick Brier (we were sitting alphabetically. My name is Breazile). Pat was sitting on my left and Tracy was on my right. We were grinning from ear-to-ear to be graduating. My friends from the second grade, Mark Schlemper, Russell Somers and Brent Stewart had just walked across the stage in the gymnasium while a storm raged outside. As my friend from the fifth grade forward, Matt Tapley was walking across the stage there was a loud crack of thunder and the sound of an explosion as the lights went out.

Matt Tapley has albinism, giving him white hair and skin. In his black robe, the entire class witnessed Matt’s head bobbing up and down in the faint light given off from the emergency lights to either side of the stage as he was bowing to his classmates. We all clapped. The clapping soon turned to laughter as the emergency lights quickly dimmed and went entirely out within a minute.

An emergency light

An emergency light

As we sat in total darkness waiting for some resourceful faculty member to make their way to the hidden fallout shelter in the basement of the school to retrieve the portable generator and a spotlight, I was amazed by how quickly the emergency lighting had failed. The transformer to the school had been destroyed by the lightning strike so we finished the ceremony by the light of the large spotlight from the back of gym. My thought was that the school is only 4 years old and already the emergency lighting is too old to stay lit long enough to even begin evacuating the building, if that was what we had intended to do.

Fast forward to the spring of 1984. I had become an electrician a few months earlier. As I was learning the electrical ropes, I learned the importance of Preventative Maintenance in a power plant setting. The majority of an electrician’s job when I first joined the electric shop was doing “Preventative Maintenance”. I have some horror stories of bad preventative maintenance that I will share much later. I will point out now that most Americans know of some stories themselves, they just don’t realize that the root cause of these major failures were from a lack of preventative maintenance.

A power plant, like the emergency lights in the High School, has a battery backup system, only it is on a grand scale. There are backup batteries for every system that needs to remain online when there is a total blackout of power. These batteries needed to be inspected regularly. We inspected them monthly.

At first, I had done battery inspections with various electricians. Some people didn’t seem to take this task very seriously. I remember that when I did the inspections with Mike Rose, he usually finished by taking a gallon of soda water (a gallon of water with a box of baking soda dissolved into it) and pouring it all over the batteries.

My bucket buddy, Diana Lucas (Dee), on the other hand, took a different approach. We carefully filled each cell with just the right amount of distilled water. Then she showed me how to meticulously clean any corrosion from the battery posts using a rag soaked in the soda water, and then she would paint the area on the post where the corrosion was with No-Ox grease.

A jar of No-Ox Grease (No-Ox means No Oxide)

A jar of No-Ox Grease (No-Ox means No Oxide)

When I say batteries, you may think that I’m talking about batteries like you have in your car, or even in a large piece of equipment like a big dirt mover. Some of the batteries were the size of a battery used in a large dozer or dirt mover:

A battery used in a large dozer

A battery used in a large dozer

Some of the batteries that we inspected were of this type. They were usually hooked up to generators that could be started up in case all the power was out and we needed to start up a diesel generator. However, this was just the puppies when it came to the Station Power Batteries. These were some serious batteries:

The battery shown on the left is about the size of a small file cabinet

These are the type of UPS Station batteries used at the plant. The battery shown on the left is about the size of a small file cabinet

As big as these batteries are, it takes 58 of them for each system to come up with a 130 volt circuit. That’s right. 58 of these batteries all in a series. The station batteries are all in rooms by themselves known as…. “Unit 1 and Unit 2 Battery rooms”. Smaller station battery sets are found at different locations. Today, those places include the relay house in the main substation, the Microwave room on the roof of #1 boiler. The River pumps, the radio tower building, the coalyard switchgear, Enid Turbine Generators and the Co-Generation plant in Ponca City. I’m sure I’m leaving some out. Maybe a current electrician at the plant can remind me of the others in a comment below. Each of these locations have approximately 58 station batteries.

While I was still a novice electrician, one morning in May I was told that I was going with Dee and Ben Davis to Enid to a Battery training class at an electric company office where the manufacturer (C&D) was going to go over the proper maintenance of the station batteries. Ben drove the pickup. I remember sitting in the middle between Dee and Ben both going and coming back from our lesson on Battery Preventative Maintenance….

Interesting that Ben was sitting to my left and Dee to my right that day… just like Pat and Tracy during the graduation ceremony 6 years earlier to the month when we first learned the impact of bad preventative maintenance on backup batteries. This time we were learning how to prevent the problem I had witnessed years before. I don’t know why I draw parallels like that. It just seem to make life a little neater when that happens. I don’t remember Ben and Dee grinning ear-to-ear like Pat and Tracy were the night we graduated from High School, but I can assure you, I was the entire 45 minutes going to Enid and the 45 minutes going back to the plant.

Since I had been trained for battery maintenance, I suppose it was like Andy Griffith becoming the Permanent Latrine Orderly (PLO) in the movie “No Time For Sergeants”. I was able to go to town inspecting all kinds of backup batteries.

Andy Griffith as Permanent Latrine Orderly in No Time for Sergeants grinning ear-to-ear

Andy Griffith as Permanent Latrine Orderly in No Time for Sergeants grinning ear-to-ear

Gene Roget (pronounced with a french accent as “Row Jay” with a soft J) was a contract electrician when I first became an electrician in the shop. I wrote about him in the post New Home in the Power Plant Electric Shop. He was a great mentor that taught me a lot about how to be an electrician. He taught me how to use all the different tools in my tool bucket. He taught me how to bend conduit and make it come out the right length on both ends…

He especially taught me the importance of doing a “pretty” job when running wire or conduit or just rewiring a motor. I remember Gene stopping one day when we were walking to the precipitator and he paused to look up at the transfer tower. I asked him where he was looking. He said, “I’m just admiring the wonderful job someone did bending that set of conduit. that’s a perfect job! Just perfect!”

Anyway, Gene and I were given the task of checking all the batteries in the emergency lights throughout the plant. It happened that the emergency lights at the plant were all about 5 years old. Probably about the same age as the lights were in the high school the night of our graduation. The lights in the plant had wet cells. Which meant that you had to add distilled water to them like you do in your car, or in the station batteries. This amounted to a pretty large task as there were emergency lights stationed throughout the plant.

We found many of the lights that would never have been able to light up enough to cause a cockroach to run for cover. We took the bad ones back to the shop to work on them. A lot of the batteries had gone bad because they had never been checked. They have a built-in battery charger, and some of the chargers were not working. I drew a wiring diagram of the charger so that we could troubleshoot them and replace components that had gone bad.

All of this was like a dream to me. At the time I couldn’t think of any other place I would rather be. I loved taking things that were broken and fixing them and putting them back into operation. Eventually we decided to change the emergency light batteries to dry batteries. Those didn’t need water. We could pull out the six wet cells from each emergency light box and just plug the new batteries in place. This made a lot more sense. Who has time to go around regularly and check 50 or 60 emergency lights every 3 months? Not us. Not when we were trying to save the world.

Back to the Station Batteries:

Just to give you an idea of how important these batteries are, let me tell you what they are used for…. Suppose the power plant is just humming along at full power, and all of the sudden, the power goes out. It doesn’t matter the reason. When there is a blackout in a city, or a state, be assured, the power plant itself is in a blackout state as well. After all, the power plant is where the electricity is being created.

In the plant there is large equipment running. The largest and most valuable piece of equipment by far in a power plant is the Turbine Generator. The entire plant exists to spin this machine. As big as it is, it spins at 3600 revolutions per minute, or 60 times each second. In order to do that, oil has to be flowing through the bearings otherwise they would burn up almost instantly. This would cause the generator to come to a screeching halt — and I mean “screeching!”

A turbine Generator Room at a nuclear plant with a waxed floor!

A turbine Generator Room at a nuclear power plant with a waxed floor!

So, in order to stop a turbine generator properly, when a unit is taken offline, once it has coasted to a smooth stop, the turbine has to be engaged to something called a “Turning Gear” which slowly rotates the turbine generator. This is turned off only when the shaft has cooled down. Without this, you might as well call General Electric and order a new one.

So, one of the most important things the station batteries do is run emergency oil pumps that engage immediately when the power is cutoff from the plant. This allows the turbine generator and other important equipment throughout the plant to slowdown and come to a stop gracefully in case the power is instantly gone.

I will write a story later about a day when this happened at our plant. The moments of confusion, and the quick decisions that had to be made to keep the unit 1 boiler from melting to the ground. Rest assured that throughout this time, the emergency oil pumps had kicked in. The station batteries did their job when they were called upon. While the control room operators were performing their emergency tasks to the letter and the electricians were scrambling to come up with a workable solution to an unforeseen problem, the turbine-generator, the PA (Primary Air) fans, the FD (Forced Draft) Fans, the ID (Induction) fans were all coasting down as the groundwork was being laid to quickly restore power.

Someone in an office in the middle of Oklahoma City may have noticed their lights flicker for a moment. Maybe they dimmed slightly…

If not for the proper maintenance of the power plant station batteries, the lights would have possibly gone dark. Someone would have had to go looking for the portable generator and the spotlight. Ceremonies in progress may have to continued under candlelight.

Toby O’Brien and Doing the Impossible

Originally posted May 23, 2014:

There were three times when I was an electrician at a coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma when, according to others, I had done something that they labelled “impossible”.  One of those times began when a Plant Engineer Toby O’Brien came to me and asked me if I could find a way to connect to the Prime Computer down at Corporate Headquarters so that he could edit some Engineering drawings he had worked on when he was working at Oklahoma City.  That in itself wasn’t what was impossible.  That came later, but it pertained to a similar subject.

Somewhere in Corporate Headquarters stashed away in a room somewhere was a Prime Computer just waiting for Toby.

Prime Computer

Prime Computer

Toby knew that I had an account on the Honeywell Mainframe computer downtown, since I was always getting myself in trouble playing around on it.  Since I could connect to that, he wondered if it would be possible to connect to the Prime Computer where his Medusa CAD drawings were kept.  He gave me some information about how he used to log into it when he was working downtown…. before  he was banished to the Power Plant Palace 70 miles north out in the middle of the country.

Toby had a CAD tablet and a disk to install the driver on a computer.  This would allow him to work on his CAD drawings.  For those of you who don’t remember, or have never seen such a thing.  It is like a very fancy mouse…. or should I say, Mouse Pad.  Since you used a stylus to draw and point and click on a large pad called a tablet.  Not anything like the little tablets we have today.

CAD Drawing Tablet

CAD Drawing Tablet

At the time, the only connection we had to the Honeywell Mainframe from the power plant was through a router called a Memotec.  The bandwidth was a whopping 28,000 baud.  A Baud is like bytes per second, only it is measured over an audio line as an audio signal.  Like the sound that a Fax machine makes when it first connects.  Toby had talked to some guys down at IT and they had a copy of the same Honeywell emulator called “GLink” we were using at the plant, only it would connect at a super whopping 56,000 baud.  Twice as fast!  They wanted someone to “Beta Test” it.  They knew I liked doing that sort of stuff, so they were willing to give us a copy to try out.

 

This is GLink today.  Back then it was for Windows 3.1

This is GLink today. Back then it was for Windows 3.1

Toby and I decided that the best place to try out our “Beta Testing” was in the Chemistry Lab.  The main reason was that it had one of the newer 386 desktop computers and it was in a room right next to the data closet where the Memotec was talking to the mainframe downtown.  So, if I had to run in there real quick and spit in the back and “whomp it a good ‘un”, I wouldn’t have too go far.  That was a trick I learned from watching “No Time for Sergeants” with Andy Griffith.  Here is the lesson:

If you have trouble viewing the video from the picture above, this this link:  “No Time For Sergeants Radio Operator“.

To make the rest of this part of the story a little shorter, I’ll just summarize it to say that by logging into the Honeywell Mainframe using my account, I was then able to connect to the Prime Computer using Toby’s account and he was able to edit his CAD drawings from the Chemistry Lab at the Power Plant 70 miles away from Corporate Headquarters.  I know that doesn’t sound like much, but in those days, this was “new technology” for us Power Plant guys anyway.

Before I continue with the “impossible” task, I need to explain a little about how electricians kept the Electrical Blueprints up-to-date at a Power Plant.  This was a task that I was given when Tom Gibson was the Electrical Supervisor.  I was supposed to take all the blueprints that had been revised because of some change that had happened at the plant, and make sure they were properly updated.  Then I had to go through a process to make sure they were permanently updated, not only on the three copies that we had at our plant, but also with the “System of Record” set of blueprints at Corporate Headquarters.

So, let me tell you the process, and I’m sure you will be able to relate this task to something you encounter in your job today.  Even if it is preparing the Salads at a Sirloin Stockade before opening time.

The first step happens when someone in the electric shop has to rewire some piece of equipment or something because the equipment was moved, removed, upgraded to something else, or someone thought it would work better if we did it a different way.  Then whoever made the change to the electric wiring would go to the prints that were kept in the electric shop and update them so that the new wiring job was reflected in the Blueprints.

This is important because if someone a week later had to go work on this equipment, they would need to be able to see how the equipment is now wired.  If they were working off of an old print, then they might blow something up, or injure or even kill someone…. most likely themselves, if it ever came down to it.

The other two copies of prints also needed to be updated.  One was in the Instrument and Controls shop, and the most important copy was in the “Print Room” right next to Tom Gibson’s office.

The second step was to send off a request to Corporate Headquarters in Oklahoma City for a copy of all the blueprints that were changed so that the change could be made on the copy and sent back to Oklahoma City.

The third step is when a fresh copy of the blueprints arrived at the plant from Oklahoma City a few weeks later.  These were updated with the changes and sent back to Oklahoma City.

The fourth step is when the blueprints are reviewed by an engineer downtown and the changes are made permanently by a drafter downtown.

Step five:  Then three copies of the permanently changed prints were sent back to plant where they replaced the three marked up copies.

This process generally took two to three months given that the drafter downtown had to take the Original drawing, scan it in the computer, make changes to it, and then save it, and send it to the printer to be printed.

Toby and I had “petitioned” our plant management to buy us a copy of AutoCAD so that we could make our own revisions right at the plant, and send the changes directly to Oklahoma City, all complete and ready to go.  The only problem with this was that AutoCAD software did not come cheap.  It was several thousand dollars for just one copy.

Even though this was before the World Wide Web, I knew where I could get a pirated copy of AutoCAD, but since neither Toby or I considered ourselves criminals, we never really considered that a viable alternative.  Tom Gibson was pitching for us to have a copy, but it was figured that if we had a copy, the company would have to buy a copy for all six main power plants, and they weren’t willing to dish out that much money.

Somewhere along the line, after Tom Gibson had kept pushing for the importance of having up-to-date Plant Electric Blueprints in a timely fashion, a task force was formed to address a faster way to make print revisions.  Because Toby and I (and Terry Blevins) had been pushing this at our plant, Tom asked Toby and I (actually, that should be “Toby and me”, but “Toby and I” makes me sound smarter than I am) to be on the Task Force with him.

So, one morning after arriving at the plant, we climbed into a company car and made the drive to Oklahoma City to the Corporate Headquarters.  When we arrived, we sat in a big conference room with members from the different power plants, and a number of engineers from downtown.  I was pretty excited that something was finally going to be done.

I don’t remember the name of the engineer that was the leader of the task force, I only remember that I had worked with him once or twice through the years on some small projects.  When the meeting began, I expected that we would have some kind of brainstorming activity.  I was all ready for it, since I had all sorts of ideas about how we could just edit the prints directly from the plant on the Prime Computer where the prints were stored, just like Toby had done.

When the meeting began there was no brainstorming session.  There wasn’t even a “What do you guys think about how this can be done?”  No.  The engineer instead went on to explain his solution to the problem.  I was a little disappointed.  Mainly because I was all fired up about being asked to be on a task force in Oklahoma City to work on…. well…. anything…. to tell you the truth.  And here we were listening to a conclusion.  — Sound familiar?  I knew it would.

This engineer had it all figured out.  Here was his solution:

Step 1:  A request was sent by company mail to downtown (same at the old second step) for some blueprints that need to be updated.

Step 2:  The prints are downloaded onto a floppy disk (3.5 inch High Density – which meant, 1.44 Megabyte disks).

Step 3:  The disks were mailed through company mail back to the Power Plant.

Step 4:  The Power Plant receives the disks and loads them onto their computer at the plant and they edit the blueprint using a pared down CAD program called “RedLine”.

Step 5:  The print revision is saved to the disk and the disk is mailed back to Corporate Headquarters using the Company Mail.

Step 6:  The print is reviewed by the engineers for accuracy and is loaded into the computer as the system of record.

Ok…. this sounded just like the previous method only we were using a “RedLine” program to edit the changes instead of using Red, Green and Gray pencils.

It was evident that the engineer in charge of the meeting was expecting us to all accept this solution and that the task force no longer had to meet anymore, and we could all go home and not ever return to consider this problem again.  — Well, this was when I said the “Impossible”.

I raised my hand as if I was in a classroom.  The guy knowing me to be a regular troublemaker asked me what I wanted.  I said, “Why mail the files?  Why not just put them in a folder and have the person at the plant go there and pick them up?”  — In today’s world the idea of a drop-box is about as easy to understand as “Google it”.  Back then… I guess not.  Especially for some engineers who had already decided on a solution.

So, the engineer responded, “Because that can’t be done.”  I said, “Why not?”  He said, “It’s impossible.  Someone in a power plant can’t just go into a computer at Corporate Headquarters and access a file.”

Well, that did it….. I told him that we were able to edit CAD drawings on the Prime computer from the power plant.  He said, “No you didn’t.  That’s impossible!”  I looked over at Toby who was sitting next to me with a big grin on his face.  So I said,  “Who is the IT guy in the room?  He can tell you that you can  get a file from the mainframe from the power plant.”

The engineer replied that he didn’t invite any IT people, because there wasn’t any reason.  Everyone knows that you can’t copy files on a Corporate computer from a power plant.  So, I said, “Invite someone from the IT department to the next meeting.  I’m sure he will agree with me that this can be done.  — Shortly after that, the  meeting was adjourned (but at least I had managed to convince the team we needed a second meeting).

You should have heard me rant and rave all the way back to the power plant that afternoon.  How could he possibly be so naive to make definite statements about something and basically call me a liar when I said that we had already done it.  I’m sure Tom Gibson was glad when we arrived back at the plant and he was able to get out of the company car and into the silence of his own car for his drive back to Stillwater.  Toby on the other hand carpooled with me, so he had to hear me rant and rave to Scott Hubbard all the way back to Stillwater that day.

Needless to say, we had another Print Revision Task Force meeting a few weeks later.  Tom, Toby and I drove back to Oklahoma City.  I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen.

The meeting began with the engineer in charge of the task force saying, “The first thing we are going to address is Kevin Breazile’s statement about sending files to the power plant.  We have invited someone from IT to answer this question.”  Then he turned to a guy sitting at the table.  I don’t remember his name either, only that I had worked with him also through the years (oh yes I do.  It was Mike Russell).

The engineer turned to the IT guy and said (using a tone that indicated that I belonged in a mental institution or maybe kindergarten), “Kevin seems to think that he can somehow get on his computer at the power plant and access a folder on a server here at Corporate Headquarters and download a file.”  He stopped and with a big smirk on his face looked at the IT guy.  Mike just sat there for a moment looking at him.

The engineer just stood there with an evil grin on his face waiting…  Mike said, “So?  What do you want to know?”  The engineer said, “Well.  Is that even possible?”  Mike replied, “Of course!  It’s actually easier for him to do that than it is for someone on the 3rd floor of this building to access the mainframe on the fourth floor.”

The engineer’s jaw dropped and he eked out a meager little  “what?”  Mike asked if that was all.  When he was assured that this was the only question, he stood up and walked out the door.  As he was leaving he turned a side glance toward me and winked at me.  I was grinning ear-to-ear.  I could tell, I wasn’t the only one that had a beef with this particular engineer.

So, you would have thought that it would have been a quieter ride back to the plant that day, but leave it to me….  I kept on going on about how that guy was so sure of himself that he didn’t even bother to ask the IT guy before the meeting began just to check his own erroneous facts.  Geez!  That was the most surprising part of the day.  If he had only asked him before the meeting, he wouldn’t have made a fool out of himself with his snide comments just before he was put in his place.

So, Toby and I proved that doing the impossible isn’t all that impossible when what someone thinks is impossible really isn’t so.  This stemmed from a lesson my dad taught me growing up when he told me, “Don’t ever say “can’t”.  There is always a way.”

Comments from the original post:

  1. Dan Antion May 24, 2014

    Ah, the good old days when the best computer was the new 386. Things weren’t impossible but you had to think about it and plan quite a bit. Great stories!

  2. Ruth May 24, 2014

    Always enjoy reading and thinking about a world I wouldn’t even know about if it weren’t for your unique blog!

    Ruth in Pittsburgh

  3. Ron May 24, 2014

    Great story! I heard a pastor once say “What you “know” can keep you from learning the truth.” I saw this principle in operation many times in my career.

    I had been at the WFEC Hugo Power Plant for a short time when the Plant Manager directed me (Maint. Supt.) to have the Mechanics “block the condenser” for a “hydro”. (Prior to a condenser hydro, several mechanics would work for about 4 hours dragging heavy timbers into the 3 foot tall space between the bottom of the hotwell and the concrete floor. They would space these timbers evenly across the entire condenser floor and use wedges to remove all clearance at each support beam. All this work was “required” to support the additional water weight (several feet higher than normal operating level)). I knew this “blocking” was never done at any OG&E plant but I didn’t want to make the Plant Manager look like an idiot. So I did what he asked. We “blocked” the condenser for a hydro. Then I got with just the Plant Engineer and asked him to get the Mechanical Prints for the condenser. I asked him if it was necessary to block the condenser for hydro. He said they had always done it because of the extra weight of the water. When we looked at the condenser drawings there was a note indicating it was designed to support a full hydro water level. He showed the print to the Plant Manager (one on one). Nobody was made to look foolish and for the next condenser hydro we didn’t “block” it – and the Mechanics were really happy!

    1. Plant Electrician May 24, 2014

      We used to have a saying that I picked up from Bob Kennedy. “We’ve been doing it this way for 35 years. “

  4. Dave Tarver May 24, 2014

    Well over the years there were a lot of engineers that way.  Not all.  We have had outstanding ones as well and the stinkers too.  Just hate the politics of people so evil and cruel.  Man is beyond ugly so often.

Elvin Power Plant Tool Room Adventures With Bud

Originally posted September 27, 2014, added a picture of Bud

When I say that Bud Schoonover is known as “Elvin”, I don’t mean to imply that he was Elvin in nature.  What I mean to say is that he did not necessarily possess the qualities of an elf.  Well, except for his smile, which is somewhat Elvish-like.  Bud’s smile was usually more like a look of warning for those who didn’t know him well.  I have always said that he reminded me of a six foot, 5 inch tall, white Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son, and about 75 to 100 pounds heavier.

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son smiling like Bud Schoonover

What I mean by saying that Bud is known as “Elvin” is that is what his Mother called him when he was born.  Though somewhere along the line he became known as Bud;  Not from his middle name… because I think that was Floyd.  Bud was my good friend and carpooling buddy (See the post “Carpooling with Bud Schoonover“).  Maybe that was why people called him Bud.  Because he was everyone’s “buddy”.

I don’t mean to make it sound like Bud has passed away, because as far as I know, he is still an active Republican voter living on South Palm Street in Ponca City.  I also don’t want you to think that I was only friends with Bud Schoonover because he was a good carpooling buddy.  No.  Bud had all sorts of talents.  He gave great weather reports each morning when we would gather to take our trek to the Power Plant some 20 miles away, as I mentioned in the other post about Bud.

I don’t think that there was anyone at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma that didn’t like Bud.  There was just something naturally likable about him.  Bud worked in the tool room and the warehouse ever since the day I first arrived at the plant in 1979. — Well, the warehouse wasn’t much of a warehouse back then.  It just had stuffed piled up against the walls.  No shelves, No storage racks.  No drawers and bins full of parts.

Bud is four years and 26 days younger than my own father, and four years and 18 days younger than Elvis Presley.

The King

The King

He will be 76 years old this January.  Needless to say, Bud retired from the Power Plant in 1994 after having just turned 55.  At his going away party, some guys at the plant fixed up a Wal-Mart shopping cart with a bunch of accessories attached to it so that he would be properly equipped when he went to work at Wal-Mart as a Greeter. — For those of you who don’t know…. Wal-Mart used to hire elderly people to greet people when you walked into the store.  They might pull a cart out of the stack of carts and give it to you if you looked like you were in need of a cart.

Wal-Mart Shopping Cart

Wal-Mart Shopping Cart

Bud was extra careful when working in the warehouse.  He wanted to make sure that he was getting everything right, so he would check, and double check, and then check again…. just to make sure everything matched.  One good example of this was when he was tasked with ordering a half set of coal burner nozzles and tips for the boiler.

There were 24 of these Coal burner nozzle and tips in the boiler.  the nozzles costing about $13,000 and the tips ran somewhere around $4,000 each.

Coal Burner Nozzle Tips

Coal Burner Nozzle

There was another assembly that attached to the end with the hole on the side that allowed the nozzle to change the pitch it was called the Tip.

So, Bud wanted to make sure the created the order correctly.  So, when Bud placed the order with the supplier, he not only included the Supplier’s part number, but he also included the manufacturer’s part number.  Just to make sure they knew they were sending the correct part, he even sent them the old manufacturing part number that they used a few years before they changed their part numbering system.  — So, when he sent the order, it had all three part number for the 12 nozzles.  He did the same thing with the smaller piece for the end of the nozzle.

To Bud’s surprise, one bright sunny morning in December, 1989 (well, it may not have been that sunny that day), guess what showed up at the loading dock?  12 nozzles with the suppliers part number, 12 nozzles with the manufacturer’s part number, and 12 more nozzles with the manufacturer’s old part number!  Yeah…. Didn’t count on that one.

I think I know how Bud must have felt when that happened.  Probably the same way I felt the morning I was summoned to the front office to pick up my mail, only to find a stack of a couple hundred envelopes from all over the company after printing something out on all the printers in the company (See “Power Plant Customer Service Team Gone Wild“).  I think Bud took these things in more in stride than most people might.  His reaction to finding out that the order he had created for $156,000 had suddenly turned into $468,000 was probably something like…. “Oh Geez.  I sure don’t want to do that again!”

During the “We’ve Got the Power” program (see the post “Power Plant We’ve Got the Power“), the HR and Warehouse director, Linda Dallas asked us if we would put in a proposal to scrap the extra nozzles since these nozzles were very big.  She didn’t think it would look good if her own team created the proposal since she was already responsible for the warehouse.  We had two people from the warehouse on our We’ve Got the Power team, Dick Dale and Darlene Mitchell, so she thought we could do something out the conundrum.  Two nozzles fit on a pallet, taking up space all over the warehouse.

The nozzles with the Tips attached

The nozzles with the Tips attached

We could save money just by scrapping it because we wouldn’t have to pay taxes on the parts.  It cost too much to return them to the supplier because the restocking fee was too high. — And E-Bay didn’t exist back then.

Instead of accepting our proposal, it was decided that instead of just changing out half of the nozzles during the next outage, they would just replace all of the nozzles.  This reduced the number of nozzles left in the warehouse to a more manageable number.  So, Bud’s Faux Pas, may have just helped increase the efficiency of the boiler significantly with the replacement of the nozzles which may have translated into savings of unknown millions of dollars, of which Bud received no credit… But that’s okay.  Bud wasn’t one to seek credit for his ingenious accidental idea of triple ordering boiler Nozzles.

One of the favorite stories I would tell my children as they were growing up when they would ask me to tell them a Bud Schoonover story was the story about the last tool in the tool room.  — This is Bud’s own special way of handling the restocking of the tool room.  It goes like this….  For instance….

If you went to the tool room to ask for a yellow flashlight and it happened to be the last yellow flashlight in the tool room, and it was Bud Schoonover’s week to man the tool room, then you would hear something like this:

Yellow Flashlight similar to the one I carried

Yellow Flashlight similar to the one I carried

“I can’t give you a yellow flashlight, because I only have one left.”  — You may want to respond with something like, “But Bud, if there’s one left, then why can’t I have it?”  Bud’s reply would be, “Because if I give you the last one, then I’d have to order more.”

At this point, you may want to start over asking if you can have a yellow flashlight, with the hope that Bud may have forgotten that he was down to his last yellow flashlight….  You might even phrase it a little differently… You might say something like, “Well… Can I just borrow a yellow flashlight for a few hours?  At least for as long as I have to do some work in the dark?” — I have seen this approach almost work.  He would stop and think about it like Andy Griffith in “No Time For Sergeants” trying to answer questions being asked by the Psychiatrist:

Andy Griffith talking to the Psychiatrist

Andy Griffith talking to the Psychiatrist in No Time for Sergeants

Then the next question you may ask (I know, since I asked it more than once) is: “So, Bud, how about ordering some more yellow flashlights.”  Bud would reply with something like, “No.  I don’t really want to order anything this week.”, as he nods in the direction of the computer monitor sitting on the desk just to his left…  — Oh…. computer shy…. that’s why.  Not comfortable ordering stuff on the computer (especially after ordering all those coal burner nozzles).

I can understand that.  He is the same age as my own father, and my dad at that time would literally call me at least one time every single day to ask me a computer question.  Like…. “How do I move a paragraph from one part of a document to another part?”  — “Um… Yeah Dad, (for the hundredth time), you do it like this….”

There’s something about every one of my friends and family that were born between December 30, 1934 and January 27th 1939.  They all had the same problem with computers.  Must be that particular generation born within thatfour year period.  I’m sure Elvis, who was born right in the middle of that time frame (on January 8, 1935), would have had the same trouble with the PC if he had lived long enough.  — I know… I know…  I just saw him the other day myself.

Only he had gained some weight

Only he had gained some weight

Anyway, there was one sure fire way to get that tool that I needed from the tool room while Bud Schoonover was manning the front gate, and that was to volunteer to go to the warehouse and pick up a box of the parts yourself and carry them back and hand them to Bud, while taking one out for yourself.  — And the time I needed a flashlight, I did just that.

One time I went to the tool room in the middle of the winter when we had water pipes that were frozen and I needed a propane torch to heat the pipe to melt the ice.  Bud told me that he couldn’t give me a propane torch because he only had one left.  I looked up two racks over from the gate and could see at least two boxes of propane bottles on the top shelf.

I told Bud that I wouldn’t be taking his last bottle of propane, because there was at least two bottles right up there on that shelf.  Bud insisted that he only had one bottle of propane left and he couldn’t give it to me.  So, while smiling at Bud and explaining that I could see the two bottles right up there on the top of the shelf,… with one hand on his shoulder (which was about a whole foot taller than my head), and the other hand unlocking the gate, I told him I would show him.

So, I stepped into the tool room, and said, “It’s ok Bud, I won’t take your last bottle of Propane, but I do have to take this bottle here, because we have a water pipe that is frozen solid, and I need to use the propane torch to warm it up.  Here… I”ll just take this one, and you can keep this other one here….”

Power Plant Propane torch

Power Plant Propane Torch

As I walked back out the tool room smiling all the time at Bud, who was just staring at me with a worried look finally lowered his shoulders which had been creeping up closer to his ears as I had sidestepped him to get to the propane bottle.

The funny thing was that by the end of the week, there would be a whole list of parts and tools that only had one left in the tool room.  Bud would consider it a successful week if he could make it through the week without having to get on the computer and order some more parts.  He knew that next Monday, when Dick Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

or Darlene Mitchell

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

arrived, they would restock the shelves, and he would be in the warehouse filling the orders and bringing them over on a two wheeler to the tool room.  And the world would be right once again.

Since originally posting this post, Bud Schoonover had joined Dick Dale in the warehouse of Paradise.  See the post:  “Dynamic Power Plant Trio – And Then There Was One“.  Here is the latest picture of Bud:

Bud Schoonover

Bud Schoonover

Comments from the Original post:

  1. Ron Kilman September 27, 2014

    Great story on Bud. He was a might tight. Thanks for the photos of Dick and Darlene. Great memories.

  2. Citizen Tom September 28, 2014

    That a funny story. Bud must have been fun to work with.

    When we have an bad experience, we often learn the wrong lesson. Lots lots people learn to distrust computers, but they are just machines. Like any machine, we have to learn to use a computer properly.

    Apparently, Bud just filled out a form incorrectly. Did it really make any difference whether the form was on a computer? Would he have filled in a paper form correctly?

    What I find weird is that someone could place $468,000 order, and no one on the other end would look at the order carefully enough to wonder why Bud had used three different numbers to order the same part. Was it advantageous to the folks receiving the order to overlook the obvious? Why didn’t they call and confirm the order?

Elvin Power Plant Tool Room Adventures With Bud

Originally posted September 27, 2014, added a picture of Bud

When I say that Bud Schoonover is known as “Elvin”, I don’t mean to imply that he was Elvin in nature.  What I mean to say is that he did not necessarily possess the qualities of an elf.  Well, except for his smile, which is somewhat Elvish-like.  Bud’s smile was usually more like a look of warning for those who didn’t know him well.  I have always said that he reminded me of a six foot, 5 inch tall, white Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son, and about 75 to 100 pounds heavier.

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son smiling like Bud Schoonover

What I mean by saying that Bud is known as “Elvin” is that is what his Mother called him when he was born.  Though somewhere along the line he became known as Bud;  Not from his middle name… because I think that was Floyd.  Bud was my good friend and carpooling buddy (See the post “Carpooling with Bud Schoonover“).  Maybe that was why people called him Bud.  Because he was everyone’s “buddy”.

I don’t mean to make it sound like Bud has passed away, because as far as I know, he is still an active Republican voter living on South Palm Street in Ponca City.  I also don’t want you to think that I was only friends with Bud Schoonover because he was a good carpooling buddy.  No.  Bud had all sorts of talents.  He gave great weather reports each morning when we would gather to take our trek to the Power Plant some 20 miles away, as I mentioned in the other post about Bud.

I don’t think that there was anyone at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma that didn’t like Bud.  There was just something naturally likable about him.  Bud worked in the tool room and the warehouse ever since the day I first arrived at the plant in 1979. — Well, the warehouse wasn’t much of a warehouse back then.  It just had stuffed piled up against the walls.  No shelves, No storage racks.  No drawers and bins full of parts.

Bud is four years and 26 days younger than my own father, and four years and 18 days younger than Elvis Presley.

The King

The King

He will be 76 years old this January.  Needless to say, Bud retired from the Power Plant in 1994 after having just turned 55.  At his going away party, some guys at the plant fixed up a Wal-Mart shopping cart with a bunch of accessories attached to it so that he would be properly equipped when he went to work at Wal-Mart as a Greeter. — For those of you who don’t know…. Wal-Mart used to hire elderly people to greet people when you walked into the store.  They might pull a cart out of the stack of carts and give it to you if you looked like you were in need of a cart.

Wal-Mart Shopping Cart

Wal-Mart Shopping Cart

Bud was extra careful when working in the warehouse.  He wanted to make sure that he was getting everything right, so he would check, and double check, and then check again…. just to make sure everything matched.  One good example of this was when he was tasked with ordering a half set of coal burner nozzles and tips for the boiler.

There were 24 of these Coal burner nozzle and tips in the boiler.  the nozzles costing about $13,000 and the tips ran somewhere around $4,000 each.

Coal Burner Nozzle Tips

Coal Burner Nozzle

There was another assembly that attached to the end with the hole on the side that allowed the nozzle to change the pitch it was called the Tip.

So, Bud wanted to make sure the created the order correctly.  So, when Bud placed the order with the supplier, he not only included the Supplier’s part number, but he also included the manufacturer’s part number.  Just to make sure they knew they were sending the correct part, he even sent them the old manufacturing part number that they used a few years before they changed their part numbering system.  — So, when he sent the order, it had all three part number for the 12 nozzles.  He did the same thing with the smaller piece for the end of the nozzle.

To Bud’s surprise, one bright sunny morning in December, 1989 (well, it may not have been that sunny that day), guess what showed up at the loading dock?  12 nozzles with the suppliers part number, 12 nozzles with the manufacturer’s part number, and 12 more nozzles with the manufacturer’s old part number!  Yeah…. Didn’t count on that one.

I think I know how Bud must have felt when that happened.  Probably the same way I felt the morning I was summoned to the front office to pick up my mail, only to find a stack of a couple hundred envelopes from all over the company after printing something out on all the printers in the company (See “Power Plant Customer Service Team Gone Wild“).  I think Bud took these things in more in stride than most people might.  His reaction to finding out that the order he had created for $156,000 had suddenly turned into $468,000 was probably something like…. “Oh Geez.  I sure don’t want to do that again!”

During the “We’ve Got the Power” program (see the post “Power Plant We’ve Got the Power“), the HR and Warehouse director, Linda Dallas asked us if we would put in a proposal to scrap the extra nozzles since these nozzles were very big.  She didn’t think it would look good if her own team created the proposal since she was already responsible for the warehouse.  We had two people from the warehouse on our We’ve Got the Power team, Dick Dale and Darlene Mitchell, so she thought we could do something out the conundrum.  Two nozzles fit on a pallet, taking up space all over the warehouse.

The nozzles with the Tips attached

The nozzles with the Tips attached

We could save money just by scrapping it because we wouldn’t have to pay taxes on the parts.  It cost too much to return them to the supplier because the restocking fee was too high. — And E-Bay didn’t exist back then.

Instead of accepting our proposal, it was decided that instead of just changing out half of the nozzles during the next outage, they would just replace all of the nozzles.  This reduced the number of nozzles left in the warehouse to a more manageable number.  So, Bud’s Faux Pas, may have just helped increase the efficiency of the boiler significantly with the replacement of the nozzles which may have translated into savings of unknown millions of dollars, of which Bud received no credit… But that’s okay.  Bud wasn’t one to seek credit for his ingenious accidental idea of triple ordering boiler Nozzles.

One of the favorite stories I would tell my children as they were growing up when they would ask me to tell them a Bud Schoonover story was the story about the last tool in the tool room.  — This is Bud’s own special way of handling the restocking of the tool room.  It goes like this….  For instance….

If you went to the tool room to ask for a yellow flashlight and it happened to be the last yellow flashlight in the tool room, and it was Bud Schoonover’s week to man the tool room, then you would hear something like this:

Yellow Flashlight similar to the one I carried

Yellow Flashlight similar to the one I carried

“I can’t give you a yellow flashlight, because I only have one left.”  — You may want to respond with something like, “But Bud, if there’s one left, then why can’t I have it?”  Bud’s reply would be, “Because if I give you the last one, then I’d have to order more.”

At this point, you may want to start over asking if you can have a yellow flashlight, with the hope that Bud may have forgotten that he was down to his last yellow flashlight….  You might even phrase it a little differently… You might say something like, “Well… Can I just borrow a yellow flashlight for a few hours?  At least for as long as I have to do some work in the dark?” — I have seen this approach almost work.  He would stop and think about it like Andy Griffith in “No Time For Sergeants” trying to answer questions being asked by the Psychiatrist:

Andy Griffith talking to the Psychiatrist

Andy Griffith talking to the Psychiatrist in No Time for Sergeants

Then the next question you may ask (I know, since I asked it more than once) is: “So, Bud, how about ordering some more yellow flashlights.”  Bud would reply with something like, “No.  I don’t really want to order anything this week.”, as he nods in the direction of the computer monitor sitting on the desk just to his left…  — Oh…. computer shy…. that’s why.  Not comfortable ordering stuff on the computer (especially after ordering all those coal burner nozzles).

I can understand that.  He is the same age as my own father, and my dad at that time would literally call me at least one time every single day to ask me a computer question.  Like…. “How do I move a paragraph from one part of a document to another part?”  — “Um… Yeah Dad, (for the hundredth time), you do it like this….”

There’s something about every one of my friends and family that were born between December 30, 1934 and January 27th 1939.  They all had the same problem with computers.  Must be that particular generation born within thatfour year period.  I’m sure Elvis, who was born right in the middle of that time frame (on January 8, 1935), would have had the same trouble with the PC if he had lived long enough.  — I know… I know…  I just saw him the other day myself.

Only he had gained some weight

Only he had gained some weight

Anyway, there was one sure fire way to get that tool that I needed from the tool room while Bud Schoonover was manning the front gate, and that was to volunteer to go to the warehouse and pick up a box of the parts yourself and carry them back and hand them to Bud, while taking one out for yourself.  — And the time I needed a flashlight, I did just that.

One time I went to the tool room in the middle of the winter when we had water pipes that were frozen and I needed a propane torch to heat the pipe to melt the ice.  Bud told me that he couldn’t give me a propane torch because he only had one left.  I looked up two racks over from the gate and could see at least two boxes of propane bottles on the top shelf.

I told Bud that I wouldn’t be taking his last bottle of propane, because there was at least two bottles right up there on that shelf.  Bud insisted that he only had one bottle of propane left and he couldn’t give it to me.  So, while smiling at Bud and explaining that I could see the two bottles right up there on the top of the shelf,… with one hand on his shoulder (which was about a whole foot taller than my head), and the other hand unlocking the gate, I told him I would show him.

So, I stepped into the tool room, and said, “It’s ok Bud, I won’t take your last bottle of Propane, but I do have to take this bottle here, because we have a water pipe that is frozen solid, and I need to use the propane torch to warm it up.  Here… I”ll just take this one, and you can keep this other one here….”

Power Plant Propane torch

Power Plant Propane Torch

As I walked back out the tool room smiling all the time at Bud, who was just staring at me with a worried look finally lowered his shoulders which had been creeping up closer to his ears as I had sidestepped him to get to the propane bottle.

The funny thing was that by the end of the week, there would be a whole list of parts and tools that only had one left in the tool room.  Bud would consider it a successful week if he could make it through the week without having to get on the computer and order some more parts.  He knew that next Monday, when Dick Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

or Darlene Mitchell

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

arrived, they would restock the shelves, and he would be in the warehouse filling the orders and bringing them over on a two wheeler to the tool room.  And the world would be right once again.

Since originally posting this post, Bud Schoonover had joined Dick Dale in the warehouse of Paradise.  See the post:  “Dynamic Power Plant Trio – And Then There Was One“.  Here is the latest picture of Bud:

Bud Schoonover

Bud Schoonover

Comments from the Original post:

  1. Ron Kilman September 27, 2014

    Great story on Bud. He was a might tight. Thanks for the photos of Dick and Darlene. Great memories.

  2. Citizen Tom September 28, 2014

    That a funny story. Bud must have been fun to work with.

    When we have an bad experience, we often learn the wrong lesson. Lots lots people learn to distrust computers, but they are just machines. Like any machine, we have to learn to use a computer properly.

    Apparently, Bud just filled out a form incorrectly. Did it really make any difference whether the form was on a computer? Would he have filled in a paper form correctly?

    What I find weird is that someone could place $468,000 order, and no one on the other end would look at the order carefully enough to wonder why Bud had used three different numbers to order the same part. Was it advantageous to the folks receiving the order to overlook the obvious? Why didn’t they call and confirm the order?

Importance of Power Plant Backup Battery Preventative Maintenance

The very last thing I ever learned in High School was the importance of Backup Battery Preventative Maintenance. In fact, the entire senior class of 1978 at Rockbridge High School in Columbia, Missouri learned this lesson at the same time. It was during the graduation ceremony in May while the students were walking across the stage to receive their diplomas.

I had already received mine and I was back in my seat sitting between Tracy Brandecker and Patrick Brier (we were sitting alphabetically. My name is Breazile). Pat was sitting on my left and Tracy was on my right. We were grinning from ear-to-ear to be graduating. My friends from the second grade, Mark Schlemper, Russell Somers and Brent Stewart had just walked across the stage in the gymnasium while a storm raged outside. As my friend from the fifth grade forward, Matt Tapley was walking across the stage there was a loud crack of thunder and the sound of an explosion as the lights went out.

Matt Tapley has albinism, giving him white hair and skin. In his black robe, the entire class witnessed Matt’s head bobbing up and down in the faint light given off from the emergency lights to either side of the stage as he was bowing to his classmates. We all clapped. The clapping soon turned to laughter as the emergency lights quickly dimmed and went entirely out within a minute.

An emergency light

An emergency light

As we sat in total darkness waiting for some resourceful faculty member to make their way to the hidden fallout shelter in the basement of the school to retrieve the portable generator and a spotlight, I was amazed by how quickly the emergency lighting had failed. The transformer to the school had been destroyed by the lightning strike so we finished the ceremony by the light of the large spotlight from the back of gym. My thought was that the school is only 4 years old and already the emergency lighting is too old to stay lit long enough to even begin evacuating the building, if that was what we had intended to do.

Fast forward to the spring of 1984. I had become an electrician a few months earlier. As I was learning the electrical ropes, I learned the importance of Preventative Maintenance in a power plant setting. The majority of an electrician’s job when I first joined the electric shop was doing “Preventative Maintenance”. I have some horror stories of bad preventative maintenance that I will share much later. I will point out now that most Americans know of some stories themselves, they just don’t realize that the root cause of these major failures were from a lack of preventative maintenance.

A power plant, like the emergency lights in the High School, has a battery backup system, only it is on a grand scale. There are backup batteries for every system that needs to remain online when there is a total blackout of power. These batteries needed to be inspected regularly. We inspected them monthly.

At first, I had done battery inspections with various electricians. Some people didn’t seem to take this task very seriously. I remember that when I did the inspections with Mike Rose, he usually finished by taking a gallon of soda water (a gallon of water with a box of baking soda dissolved into it) and pouring it all over the batteries.

My bucket buddy, Diana Lucas (Dee), on the other hand, took a different approach. We carefully filled each cell with just the right amount of distilled water. Then she showed me how to meticulously clean any corrosion from the battery posts using a rag soaked in the soda water, and then she would paint the area on the post where the corrosion was with No-Ox grease.

A jar of No-Ox Grease (No-Ox means No Oxide)

A jar of No-Ox Grease (No-Ox means No Oxide)

When I say batteries, you may think that I’m talking about batteries like you have in your car, or even in a large piece of equipment like a big dirt mover. Some of the batteries were the size of a battery used in a large dozer or dirt mover:

A battery used in a large dozer

A battery used in a large dozer

Some of the batteries that we inspected were of this type. They were usually hooked up to generators that could be started up in case all the power was out and we needed to start up a diesel generator. However, this was just the puppies when it came to the Station Power Batteries. These were some serious batteries:

The battery shown on the left is about the size of a small file cabinet

These are the type of UPS Station batteries used at the plant. The battery shown on the left is about the size of a small file cabinet

As big as these batteries are, it takes 58 of them for each system to come up with a 130 volt circuit. That’s right. 58 of these batteries all in a series. The station batteries are all in rooms by themselves known as…. “Unit 1 and Unit 2 Battery rooms”. Smaller station battery sets are found at different locations. Today, those places include the relay house in the main substation, the Microwave room on the roof of #1 boiler. The River pumps, the radio tower building, the coalyard switchgear, Enid Turbine Generators and the Co-Generation plant in Ponca City. I’m sure I’m leaving some out. Maybe a current electrician at the plant can remind me of the others in a comment below. Each of these locations have approximately 58 station batteries.

While I was still a novice electrician, one morning in May I was told that I was going with Dee and Ben Davis to Enid to a Battery training class at an electric company office where the manufacturer (C&D) was going to go over the proper maintenance of the station batteries. Ben drove the pickup. I remember sitting in the middle between Dee and Ben both going and coming back from our lesson on Battery Preventative Maintenance….

Interesting that Ben was sitting to my left and Dee to my right that day… just like Pat and Tracy during the graduation ceremony 6 years earlier to the month when we first learned the impact of bad preventative maintenance on backup batteries. This time we were learning how to prevent the problem I had witnessed years before. I don’t know why I draw parallels like that. It just seem to make life a little neater when that happens. I don’t remember Ben and Dee grinning ear-to-ear like Pat and Tracy were the night we graduated from High School, but I can assure you, I was the entire 45 minutes going to Enid and the 45 minutes going back to the plant.

Since I had been trained for battery maintenance, I suppose it was like Andy Griffith becoming the Permanent Latrine Orderly (PLO) in the movie “No Time For Sergeants”. I was able to go to town inspecting all kinds of backup batteries.

Andy Griffith as Permanent Latrine Orderly in No Time for Sergeants grinning ear-to-ear

Andy Griffith as Permanent Latrine Orderly in No Time for Sergeants grinning ear-to-ear

Gene Roget (pronounced with a french accent as “Row Jay” with a soft J) was a contract electrician when I first became an electrician in the shop. I wrote about him in the post New Home in the Power Plant Electric Shop. He was a great mentor that taught me a lot about how to be an electrician. He taught me how to use all the different tools in my tool bucket. He taught me how to bend conduit and make it come out the right length on both ends…

He especially taught me the importance of doing a “pretty” job when running wire or conduit or just rewiring a motor. I remember Gene stopping one day when we were walking to the precipitator and he paused to look up at the transfer tower. I asked him where he was looking. He said, “I’m just admiring the wonderful job someone did bending that set of conduit. that’s a perfect job! Just perfect!”

Anyway, Gene and I were given the task of checking all the batteries in the emergency lights throughout the plant. It happened that the emergency lights at the plant were all about 5 years old. Probably about the same age as the lights were in the high school the night of our graduation. The lights in the plant had wet cells. Which meant that you had to add distilled water to them like you do in your car, or in the station batteries. This amounted to a pretty large task as there were emergency lights stationed throughout the plant.

We found many of the lights that would never have been able to light up enough to cause a cockroach to run for cover. We took the bad ones back to the shop to work on them. A lot of the batteries had gone bad because they had never been checked. They have a built-in battery charger, and some of the chargers were not working. I drew a wiring diagram of the charger so that we could troubleshoot them and replace components that had gone bad.

All of this was like a dream to me. At the time I couldn’t think of any other place I would rather be. I loved taking things that were broken and fixing them and putting them back into operation. Eventually we decided to change the emergency light batteries to dry batteries. Those didn’t need water. We could pull out the six wet cells from each emergency light box and just plug the new batteries in place. This made a lot more sense. Who has time to go around regularly and check 50 or 60 emergency lights every 3 months? Not us. Not when we were trying to save the world.

Back to the Station Batteries:

Just to give you an idea of how important these batteries are, let me tell you what they are used for…. Suppose the power plant is just humming along at full power, and all of the sudden, the power goes out. It doesn’t matter the reason. When there is a blackout in a city, or a state, be assured, the power plant itself is in a blackout state as well. After all, the power plant is where the electricity is being created.

In the plant there is large equipment running. The largest and most valuable piece of equipment by far in a power plant is the Turbine Generator. The entire plant exists to spin this machine. As big as it is, it spins at 3600 revolutions per minute, or 60 times each second. In order to do that, oil has to be flowing through the bearings otherwise they would burn up almost instantly. This would cause the generator to come to a screeching halt — and I mean “screeching!”

A turbine Generator Room at a nuclear plant with a waxed floor!

A turbine Generator Room at a nuclear power plant with a waxed floor!

So, in order to stop a turbine generator properly, when a unit is taken offline, once it has coasted to a smooth stop, the turbine has to be engaged to something called a “Turning Gear” which slowly rotates the turbine generator. This is turned off only when the shaft has cooled down. Without this, you might as well call General Electric and order a new one.

So, one of the most important things the station batteries do is run emergency oil pumps that engage immediately when the power is cutoff from the plant. This allows the turbine generator and other important equipment throughout the plant to slowdown and come to a stop gracefully in case the power is instantly gone.

I will write a story later about a day when this happened at our plant. The moments of confusion, and the quick decisions that had to be made to keep the unit 1 boiler from melting to the ground. Rest assured that throughout this time, the emergency oil pumps had kicked in. The station batteries did their job when they were called upon. While the control room operators were performing their emergency tasks to the letter and the electricians were scrambling to come up with a workable solution to an unforeseen problem, the turbine-generator, the PA (Primary Air) fans, the FD (Forced Draft) Fans, the ID (Induction) fans were all coasting down as the groundwork was being laid to quickly restore power.

Someone in an office in the middle of Oklahoma City may have noticed their lights flicker for a moment. Maybe they dimmed slightly…

If not for the proper maintenance of the power plant station batteries, the lights would have possibly gone dark. Someone would have had to go looking for the portable generator and the spotlight. Ceremonies in progress may have to continued under candlelight.

Toby O’Brien and Doing the Impossible

Originally posted May 23, 2014:

There were three times when I was an electrician at a coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma when, according to others, I had done something that they labelled “impossible”.  One of those times began when a Plant Engineer Toby O’Brien came to me and asked me if I could find a way to connect to the Prime Computer down at Corporate Headquarters so that he could edit some Engineering drawings he had worked on when he was working at Oklahoma City.  That in itself wasn’t what was impossible.  That came later, but it pertained to a similar subject.

Somewhere in Corporate Headquarters stashed away in a room somewhere was a Prime Computer just waiting for Toby.

Prime Computer

Prime Computer

Toby knew that I had an account on the Honeywell Mainframe computer downtown, since I was always getting myself in trouble playing around on it.  Since I could connect to that, he wondered if it would be possible to connect to the Prime Computer where his Medusa CAD drawings were kept.  He gave me some information about how he used to log into it when he was working downtown…. before  he was banished to the Power Plant Palace 70 miles north out in the middle of the country.

Toby had a CAD tablet and a disk to install the driver on a computer.  This would allow him to work on his CAD drawings.  For those of you who don’t remember, or have never seen such a thing.  It is like a very fancy mouse…. or should I say, Mouse Pad.  Since you used a stylus to draw and point and click on a large pad called a tablet.  Not anything like the little tablets we have today.

CAD Drawing Tablet

CAD Drawing Tablet

At the time, the only connection we had to the Honeywell Mainframe from the power plant was through a router called a Memotec.  The bandwidth was a whopping 28,000 baud.  A Baud is like bytes per second, only it is measured over an audio line as an audio signal.  Like the sound that a Fax machine makes when it first connects.  Toby had talked to some guys down at IT and they had a copy of the same Honeywell emulator called “GLink” we were using at the plant, only it would connect at a super whopping 56,000 baud.  Twice as fast!  They wanted someone to “Beta Test” it.  They knew I liked doing that sort of stuff, so they were willing to give us a copy to try out.

 

This is GLink today.  Back then it was for Windows 3.1

This is GLink today. Back then it was for Windows 3.1

Toby and I decided that the best place to try out our “Beta Testing” was in the Chemistry Lab.  The main reason was that it had one of the newer 386 desktop computers and it was in a room right next to the data closet where the Memotec was talking to the mainframe downtown.  So, if I had to run in there real quick and spit in the back and “whomp it a good ‘un”, I wouldn’t have to go far.  That was a trick I learned from watching “No Time for Sergeants” with Andy Griffith.  He is the lesson:

If you have trouble viewing the video from the picture above, this this link:  “No Time For Sergeants Radio Operator“.

To make the rest of this part of the story a little shorter, I’ll just summarize it to say that by logging into the Honeywell Mainframe using my account, I was then able to connect to the Prime Computer using Toby’s account and he was able to edit his CAD drawings from the Chemistry Lab at the Power Plant 70 miles away from Corporate Headquarters.  I know that doesn’t sound like much, but in those days, this was “new technology” for us Power Plant guys anyway.

Before I continue with the “impossible” task, I need to explain a little about how electricians kept the Electrical Blueprints up-to-date at a Power Plant.  This was a task that I was given when Tom Gibson was the Electrical Supervisor.  I was supposed to take all the blueprints that had been revised because of some change that had happened at the plant, and make sure they were properly updated.  Then I had to go through a process to make sure they were permanently updated, not only on the three copies that we had at our plant, but also with the “System of Record” set of blueprints at Corporate Headquarters.

So, let me tell you the process, and I’m sure you will be able to relate this task to something you encounter in your job today.  Even if it is preparing the Salads at a Sirloin Stockade before opening time.

The first step happens when someone in the electric shop has to rewire some piece of equipment or something because the equipment was moved, removed, upgraded to something else, or someone thought it would work better if we did it a different way.  Then whoever made the change to the electric wiring would go to the prints that were kept in the electric shop and update them so that the new wiring job was reflected in the Blueprints.

This is important because if someone a week later had to go work on this equipment, they would need to be able to see how the equipment is now wired.  If they were working off of an old print, then they might blow something up, or injure or even kill someone…. most likely themselves, if it ever came down to it.

The other two copies of prints also needed to be updated.  One was in the Instrument and Controls shop, and the most important copy was in the “Print Room” right next to Tom Gibson’s office.

The second step was to send off a request to Corporate Headquarters in Oklahoma City for a copy of all the blueprints that were changed so that the change could be made on the copy and sent back to Oklahoma City.

The third step is when the copy of the blueprints arrived at the plant a few weeks later, they were updated with the changes and sent back to Oklahoma City.

The fourth step is when the blueprints are reviewed by an engineer downtown and the changes are made permanently by a drafter downtown.

Step five:  Then three copies of the permanently changed prints were sent back to plant where they replaced the three marked up copies.

This process generally took two to three months given that the drafter downtown had to take the Original drawing, scan it in the computer, make changes to it, and then save it, and send it to the printer to be printed.

Toby and I had “petitioned” our plant management to buy us a copy of AutoCAD so that we could make our own revisions right at the plant, and send the changes directly to Oklahoma City, all complete and ready to go.  The only problem with this was that AutoCAD software did not come cheap.  It was several thousand dollars for just one copy.

Even though this was before the World Wide Web, I knew where I could get a pirated copy of AutoCAD, but since neither Toby or I considered ourselves criminals, we never really considered that a viable alternative.  Tom Gibson was pitching for us to have a copy, but it was figured that if we had a copy, the company would have to buy a copy for all six main power plants, and they weren’t willing to dish out that much money.

Somewhere along the line, after Tom Gibson had kept pushing for the importance of having up-to-date Plant Electric Blueprints in a timely fashion, a task force was formed to address a faster way to make print revisions.  Because Toby and I (and Terry Blevins) had been pushing this at our plant, Tom asked Toby and I to be on the Task Force with him.

So, one morning after arriving at the plant, we climbed into a company car and made the drive to Oklahoma City to the Corporate Headquarters.  When we arrived, we sat in a big conference room with members from the different power plants, and a number of engineers from downtown.  I was pretty excited that something was finally going to be done.

I forget the name of the engineer that was the leader of the task force, I only remember that I had worked with him once or twice through the years on some small projects.  When the meeting began, I expected that we would have some kind of brainstorming activity.  I was all ready for it, since I had all sorts of ideas about how we could just edit the prints directly from the plant on the Prime Computer where the prints were stored, just like Toby had done.

When the meeting began there was no brainstorming session.  There wasn’t even a “What do you guys think about how this can be done?”  No.  The engineer instead went on to explain his solution to the problem.  I was a little disappointed.  Mainly because I was all fired up about being asked to be on a task force in Oklahoma City to work on…. well…. anything…. to tell you the truth.  And here we were listening to a conclusion.  — Sound familiar?  I knew it would.

This engineer had it all figured out.  Here was his solution:

Step 1:  A request was sent by company mail to downtown (same at the old second step) for some blueprints that need to be updated.

Step 2:  The prints are downloaded onto a floppy disk (3.5 inch High Density – which meant, 1.44 Megabyte disks).

Step 3:  The disks were mailed through company mail back to the Power Plant.

Step 4:  The Power Plant receives the disks and loads them onto their computer at the plant and they edit the blueprint using a pared down CAD program called “RedLine”.

Step 5:  The print revision is saved to the disk and the disk is mailed back to Corporate Headquarters using the Company Mail.

Step 6:  The print is reviewed by the engineers for accuracy and is loaded into the computer as the system of record.

Ok…. this sounded just like the previous method only we were using a “RedLine” program to edit the changes instead of using Red, Green and Gray pencils.

It was evident that the engineer in charge of the meeting was expecting us to all accept this solution and that the task force no longer had to meet anymore, and we could all go home and not ever return to consider this problem again.  — Well, this was when I said the “Impossible”.

I raised my hand as if I was in a classroom.  The guy knowing me to be a regular troublemaker asked me what I wanted.  I said, “Why mail the files?  Why not just put them in a folder and have the person at the plant go there and pick them up?”  — In today’s world the idea of a drop-box is about as easy to understand as “Google it”.  Back then… I guess not.  Especially for some engineers who had already decided on a solution.

So, the engineer responded, “Because that can’t be done.”  I said, “Why not?”  He said, “It’s impossible.  Someone in a power plant can’t just go into a computer at Corporate Headquarters and access a file.”

Well, that did it….. I told him that we were able to edit CAD drawings on the Prime computer from the power plant.  He said, “No you didn’t.  That’s impossible!”  I looked over at Toby who was sitting next to me with a big grin on his face.  So I said,  “Who is the IT guy in the room?  He can tell you that you can  get a file from the mainframe from the power plant.”

The engineer replied that he didn’t invite any IT people, because there wasn’t any reason.  Everyone knows that you can’t copy files on a Corporate computer from a power plant.  So, I said, “Invite someone from the IT department to the next meeting.  I’m sure he will agree with me that this can be done.  — Shortly after that, the  meeting was adjourned.

You should have heard me rant and rave all the way back to the power plant that afternoon.  How could he possibly be so naive to make definite statements about something and basically call me a liar when I said that we had already done it.  I’m sure Tom Gibson was glad when we arrived back at the plant and he was able to get out of the company car and into the silence of his own car for his drive back to Stillwater.  Toby on the other hand carpooled with me, so he had to hear me rant and rave to Scott Hubbard all the way back to Stillwater that day.

Needless to say, we had another Print Revision Task Force meeting a few weeks later.  Tom, Toby and I drove back to Oklahoma City.  I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen.

The meeting began with the engineer in charge of the task force saying, “The first thing we are going to address is Kevin Breazile’s statement about sending files to the power plant.  We have invited someone from IT to answer this question.”  Then he turned to a guy sitting at the table.  I don’t remember his name either, only that I had worked with him also through the years.

The engineer turned to the IT guy and said, “Kevin seems to think that he can somehow get on his computer at the power plant and access a folder on a server here at Corporate Headquarters and download a file.”  He stopped and looked at the IT guy (Ed, I think is his name).  Ed just sat there for a moment looking at him.

The engineer just stood there with an evil grin on his face waiting…  Ed said, “So?  What do you want to know?”  The engineer said, “Well.  Is that even possible?”  Ed replied, “Of course!  It’s actually easier for him to do that than it is for someone on the 3rd floor of this building to access the mainframe on the fourth floor.”

The engineer’s jaw dropped and he eked out a meager little  “what?”  Ed asked if that was all.  When he was assured that this was the only question, he stood up and walked out the door.  As he was leaving he turned a side glance toward me and winked at me.  I was grinning ear-to-ear.  I could tell, I wasn’t the only one that had a beef with this particular engineer.

So, you would have thought that it would have been a quieter ride back to the plant that day, but leave it to me….  I kept on going on about how that guy was so sure of himself that he didn’t even bother to ask the IT guy before the meeting began just to check his own erroneous facts.  Geez!  That was the most surprising part of the day.  If he had only asked him before the meeting, he wouldn’t have made a fool out of himself with his snide comments just before he was put in his place.

So, Toby and I proved that doing the impossible isn’t all that impossible when what someone thinks is impossible really isn’t so.  This stemmed from a lesson my dad taught me growing up when he told me, “Don’t every say “can’t”.  There is always a way.”

Comments from the original post:

  1. Dan Antion May 24, 2014

    Ah, the good old days when the best computer was the new 386. Things weren’t impossible but you had to think about it and plan quite a bit. Great stories!

  2. Ruth May 24, 2014

    ALways enjoy reading and thinking about a world I wouldn’t even know about if it weren’t for your unique blog!

    Ruth in Pittsburgh

  3. Ron May 24, 2014

    Great story! I heard a pastor once say “What you “know” can keep you from learning the truth.” I saw this principle in operation many times in my career.

    I had been at the WFEC Hugo Power Plant for a short time when the Plant Manager directed me (Maint. Supt.) to have the Mechanics “block the condenser” for a “hydro”. (Prior to a condenser hydro, several mechanics would work for about 4 hours dragging heavy timbers into the 3 foot tall space between the bottom of the hotwell and the concrete floor. They would space these timbers evenly across the entire condenser floor and use wedges to remove all clearance at each support beam. All this work was “required” to support the additional water weight (several feet higher than normal operating level)). I knew this “blocking” was never done at any OG&E plant but I didn’t want to make the Plant Manager look like an idiot. So I did what he asked. We “blocked” the condenser for a hydro. Then I got with just the Plant Engineer and asked him to get the Mechanical Prints for the condenser. I asked him if it was necessary to block the condenser for hydro. He said they had always done it because of the extra weight of the water. When we looked at the condenser drawings there was a note indicating it was designed to support a full hydro water level. He showed the print to the Plant Manager (one on one). Nobody was made to look foolish and for the next condenser hydro we didn’t “block” it – and the Mechanics were really happy!

    1. Plant Electrician May 24, 2014

      We used to have a saying that I picked up from Bob Kennedy. “We’ve been doing it this way for 35 years. “

  4. Dave Tarver May 24, 2014

    Well over the years there were a lot of engineers that way.  Not all.  We have had outstanding ones as well and the stinkers too.  Just hate the politics of people so evil and cruel.  Man is beyond ugly so often.

Elvin Power Plant Tool Room Adventures With Bud

When I say that Bud Schoonover is known as “Elvin”, I don’t mean to imply that he was Elvin in nature.  What I mean to say is that he did not necessarily possess the qualities of an elf.  Well, except for his smile, which is somewhat Elvish-like.  Bud’s smile was usually more like a look of warning for those who didn’t know him well.  I have always said that he reminded me of a six foot, 5 inch tall, white Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son, and about 75 to 100 pounds heavier.

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son smiling like Bud Schoonover

What I mean by saying that Bud is known as “Elvin” is that is what his Mother called him when he was born.  Though somewhere along the line he became known as Bud;  Not from his middle name… because I think that was Floyd.  Bud was my good friend and carpooling buddy (See the post “Carpooling with Bud Schoonover“).  Maybe that was why people called him Bud.  Because he was everyone’s “buddy”.

I don’t mean to make it sound like Bud has passed away, because as far as I know, he is still an active Republican voter living on South Palm Street in Ponca City.  I also don’t want you to think that I was only friends with Bud Schoonover because he was a good carpooling buddy.  No.  Bud had all sorts of talents.  He gave great weather reports each morning when we would gather to take our trek to the Power Plant some 20 miles away, as I mentioned in the other post about Bud.

I don’t think that there was anyone at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma that didn’t like Bud.  There was just something naturally likable about him.  Bud worked in the tool room and the warehouse ever since the day I first arrived at the plant in 1979. — Well, the warehouse wasn’t much of a warehouse back then.  It just had stuffed piled up against the walls.  No shelves, No storage racks.  No drawers and bins full of parts.

Bud is for years and 26 days younger than my own father, and four years and 18 days younger than Elvis Presley.

The King

The King

He will be 76 years old this January.  Needless to say, Bud retired from the Power Plant in 1994 after having just turned 55.  At his going away party, some guys at the plant fixed up a Wal-Mart shopping cart with a bunch of accessories attached to it so that he would be properly equipped when he went to work at Wal-Mart as a Greeter. — For those of you who don’t know…. Wal-Mart used to hire elderly people to greet people when you walked into the store.  They might pull a cart out of the stack of carts and give it to you if you looked like you were in need of a cart.

Wal-Mart Shopping Cart

Wal-Mart Shopping Cart

Bud was extra careful when working in the warehouse.  He wanted to make sure that he was getting everything right, so he would check, and double check, and then check again…. just to make sure everything matched.  One good example of this was when he was tasked with ordering a half set of coal burner nozzles and tips for the boiler.

There were 24 of these Coal burner nozzle and tips in the boiler.  the nozzles costing about $13,000 and the tips ran somewhere around $4,000 each.

Coal Burner Nozzle Tips

Coal Burner Nozzle

There was another assembly that attached to the end with the hole on the side that allowed the nozzle to change the pitch it was called the Tip.

So, Bud wanted to make sure the created the order correctly.  So, when Bud placed the order with the supplier, he not only included the Supplier’s part number, but he also included the manufacturer’s part number.  Just to make sure they knew they were sending the correct part, he even sent them the old manufacturing part number that they used a few years before they changed their part numbering system.  — So, when he sent the order, it had all three part number for the 12 nozzles.  He did the same thing with the smaller piece for the end of the nozzle.

To Bud’s surprise, one bright sunny morning in December, 1989 (well, it may not have been that sunny that day), guess what showed up at the loading dock?  12 nozzles with the suppliers part number, 12 nozzles with the manufacturer’s part number, and 12 more nozzles with the manufacturer’s old part number!  Yeah…. Didn’t count on that one.

I think I know how Bud must have felt when that happened.  Probably the same way I felt the morning I was summoned to the front office to pick up my mail, only to find a stack of a couple hundred envelopes from all over the company after printing something out on all the printers in the company (See “Power Plant Customer Service Team Gone Wild“).  I think Bud took these things in more in stride than most people might.  His reaction to finding out that the order he had created for $156,000 had suddenly turned into $468,000 was probably something like…. “Oh Geez.  I sure don’t want to do that again!”

During the “We’ve Got the Power” program (see the post “Power Plant We’ve Got the Power“), the HR and Warehouse director, Linda Dallas asked us if we would put in a proposal to scrap the extra nozzles since these nozzles were very big.  She didn’t think it would look good if her own team created the proposal since she was already responsible for the warehouse.  We had two people from the warehouse on our We’ve Got the Power team, Dick Dale and Darlene Mitchell, so she thought we could do something out the conundrum.  Two nozzles fit on a pallet, taking up space all over the warehouse.

The nozzles with the Tips attached

The nozzles with the Tips attached

We could save money just by scrapping it because we wouldn’t have to pay taxes on the parts.  It cost too much to return them to the supplier because the restocking fee was too high. — And E-Bay didn’t exist back then.

Instead of accepting our proposal, it was decided that instead of just changing out half of the nozzles during the next outage, they would just replace all of the nozzles.  This reduced the number of nozzles left in the warehouse to a more manageable number.  So, Bud’s Faux Pas, may have just helped increase the efficiency of the boiler significantly with the replacement of the nozzles which may have translated into savings of unknown millions of dollars, of which Bud received no credit… But that’s okay.  Bud wasn’t one to seek credit for his ingenious accidental idea of triple ordering boiler Nozzles.

One of the favorite stories I would tell my children as they were growing up when they would ask me to tell them a Bud Schoonover story was the story about the last tool in the tool room.  — This is Bud’s own special way of handling the restocking of the tool room.  It goes like this….  For instance….

If you went to the tool room to ask for a yellow flashlight and it happened to be the last yellow flashlight in the tool room, and it was Bud Schoonover’s week to man the tool room, then you would hear something like this:

Yellow Flashlight similar to the one I carried

Yellow Flashlight similar to the one I carried

“I can’t give you a yellow flashlight, because I only have one left.”  — You may want to respond with something like, “But Bud, if there’s one left, then why can’t I have it?”  Bud’s reply would be, “Because if I give you the last one, then I’d have to order more.”

At this point, you may want to start over asking if you can have a yellow flashlight, with the hope that Bud may have forgotten that he was down to his last yellow flashlight….  You might even phrase it a little differently… You might say something like, “Well… Can I just borrow a yellow flashlight for a few hours?  At least for as long as I have to do some work in the dark?” — I have seen this approach almost work.  He would stop and think about it like Andy Griffith in “No Time For Sergeants” trying to answer questions being asked by the Psychiatrist:

Andy Griffith talking to the Psychiatrist

Andy Griffith talking to the Psychiatrist in No Time for Sergeants

Then the next question you may ask (I know, since I asked it more than once) is: “So, Bud, how about ordering some more yellow flashlights.”  Bud would reply with something like, “No.  I don’t really want to order anything this week.”, as he nods in the direction of the computer monitor sitting on the desk just to his left…  — Oh…. computer shy…. that’s why.  Not comfortable ordering stuff on the computer (especially after ordering all those coal burner nozzles).

I can understand that.  He is the same age as my own father, and my dad at that time would literally call me at least one time every single day to ask me a computer question.  Like…. “How do I move a paragraph from one part of a document to another part?”  — “Um… Yeah Dad, (for the hundredth time), you do it like this….”

There’s something about every one of my friends and family that were born between December 30, 1934 and January 27th 1939.  They all had the same problem with computers.  Must be that particular generation born within thatfour year period.  I’m sure Elvis, who was born right in the middle of that time frame (on January 8, 1935), would have had the same trouble with the PC if he had lived long enough.  — I know… I know…  I just saw him the other day myself.

Only he had gained some weight

Only he had gained some weight

Anyway, there was one sure fire way to get that tool that I needed from the tool room while Bud Schoonover was manning the front gate, and that was to volunteer to go to the warehouse and pick up a box of the parts yourself and carry them back and hand them to Bud, while taking one out for yourself.  — And the time I needed a flashlight, I did just that.

One time I went to the tool room in the middle of the winter when we had water pipes that were frozen and I needed a propane torch to heat the pipe to melt the ice.  Bud told me that he couldn’t give me a propane torch because he only had one left.  I looked up two racks over from the gate and could see at least two boxes of propane bottles on the top shelf.

I told Bud that I wouldn’t be taking his last bottle of propane, because there was at least two bottles right up there on that shelf.  Bud insisted that he only had one bottle of propane left and he couldn’t give it to me.  So, while smiling at Bud and explaining that I could see the tool bottles right up there on the top of the shelf,… with one hand on his shoulder (which was about a whole foot taller than my head), and the other hand unlocking the gate, I told him I would show him.

So, I stepped into the tool room, and said, “It’s ok Bud, I won’t take your last bottle of Propane, but I do have to take this bottle here, because we have a water pipe that is frozen solid, and I need to use the propane torch to warm it up.  Here… I”ll just take this one, and you can keep this other one here….”

Power Plant Propane torch

Power Plant Propane Torch

As I walked back out the tool room smiling all the time at Bud, who was just staring at me with a worried look finally lowered his shoulders which had been creeping up closer to his ears as I had sidestepped him to get to the propane bottle.

The funny thing was that by the end of the week, there would be a whole list of parts and tools that only had one left in the tool room.  Bud would consider it a successful week if he could make it through the week without having to get on the computer and order some more parts.  He knew that next Monday, when Dick Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

or Darlene Mitchell

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

arrived, they would restock the shelves, and he would be in the warehouse filling the orders and bringing them over on a two wheeler to the tool room.  And the world would be right once again.

Importance of Power Plant Backup Battery Preventative Maintenance — Repost

The very last thing I ever learned in High School was the importance of Backup Battery Preventative Maintenance.  In fact, the entire senior class of 1978 at Rockbridge High School in Columbia, Missouri learned this lesson at the same time.  It was during the graduation ceremony in May while the students were walking across the stage to receive their diplomas.

I had already received mine and I was back in my seat sitting between Tracy Brandecker and Patrick Brier (we were sitting alphabetically.  My name is Breazile).  Pat was sitting on my left and Tracy was on my right.  We were grinning from ear-to-ear to be graduating.  My friends from the second grade, Mark Schlemper, Russell Somers and Brent Stewart had just walked across the stage in the gymnasium while a storm raged outside.  As my friend from the fifth grade forward, Matt Tapley  was walking across the stage there was a loud crack of thunder and the sound of an explosion as the lights went out.

Matt Tapley has albinism, giving him white hair and skin.  In his black robe, the entire class witnessed Matt’s head bobbing up and down in the faint light given off from the emergency lights to either side of the stage as he was bowing to his classmates.  We all clapped.  The clapping soon turned to laughter as the emergency lights quickly dimmed and went entirely out within a minute.

An emergency light

An emergency light

As we sat in total darkness waiting for some resourceful faculty member to make their way to the hidden fallout shelter in the basement of the school to retrieve the portable generator and a spotlight, I was amazed by how quickly the emergency lighting had failed.  The transformer to the school had been destroyed by the lightning strike so we finished the ceremony by the light of the large spotlight from the back of gym.  My thought was that the school is only 4 years old and already the emergency lighting is too old to stay lit long enough to even begin evacuating the building, if that was what we had intended to do.

Fast forward to the spring of 1984.  I had become an electrician a few months earlier.  As I was learning the electrical ropes, I learned the importance of Preventative Maintenance in a power plant setting.  The majority of an electrician’s job when I first joined the electric shop was doing “Preventative Maintenance”.  I have some horror stories of bad preventative maintenance that I will share much later.  I will point out now that most Americans know of some stories themselves, they just don’t realize that the root cause of these major failures were from a lack of preventative maintenance.

A power plant, like the emergency lights in the High School, has a battery backup system, only it is on a grand scale.  There are backup batteries for every system that needs to remain online when there is a total blackout of power.  These batteries needed to be inspected regularly.  We inspected them monthly.

At first, I had done battery inspections with various electricians.  Some people didn’t seem to take this task very seriously.  I remember that when I did the inspections with Mike Rose, he usually finished by taking a gallon of soda water (a gallon of water with a box of baking soda dissolved into it) and pouring it all over the batteries.

My bucket buddy, Diana Lucas (Dee), on the other hand, took a different approach.  We carefully filled each cell with just the right amount of distilled water.  Then she showed me how to meticulously clean any corrosion from the battery posts  using a rag soaked in the soda water, and then she would paint the area on the post where the corrosion was with No-Ox grease.

A jar of No-Ox Grease (No-Ox means No Oxide)

A jar of No-Ox Grease (No-Ox means No Oxide)

When I say batteries, you may think that I’m talking about batteries like you have in your car, or even in a large piece of equipment like a big dirt mover.  Some of the batteries were the size of a battery used in a large dozer or dirt mover:

A battery used in a large dozer

A battery used in a large dozer

Some of the batteries that we inspected were of this type.  They were usually hooked up to generators that could be started up in case all the power was out and we needed to start up a diesel generator.  However, this was just the puppies when it came to the Station Power Batteries.  These were some serious batteries:

The battery shown on the left is about the size of a small file cabinet

These are the type of UPS Station batteries used at the plant.  The battery shown on the left is about the size of a small file cabinet

As big as these batteries are, it takes 58 of them for each system to come up with a 130 volt circuit.  That’s right.  58 of these batteries all in a series.  The station batteries are all in rooms by themselves known as….  “Unit 1 and Unit 2 Battery rooms”.  Smaller station battery sets are found at different locations.  Today, those places include the relay house in the main substation, the Microwave room on the roof of #1 boiler.  The River pumps, the radio tower building, the coalyard switchgear, Enid Turbine Generators and the Co-Generation plant in Ponca City.  I’m sure I’m leaving some out.  Maybe a current electrician at the plant can remind me of the others in a comment below.  Each of these locations have approximately 58 station batteries.

While I was still a novice electrician, one morning in May I was told that I was going with Dee and Ben Davis to Enid to a Battery training class  at an electric company office where the manufacturer (C&D) was going to go over the proper maintenance of the station batteries.  Ben drove the pickup.  I remember sitting in the middle between Dee and Ben both going and coming back from our lesson on Battery Preventative Maintenance….

Interesting that Ben was sitting to my left and Dee to my right that day… just like Pat and Tracy during the graduation ceremony 6 years earlier to the month when we first learned the impact of bad preventative maintenance on backup batteries.  This time we were learning how to prevent the problem I had witnessed years before.  I don’t know why I draw parallels like that.  It just seem to make life a little neater when that happens.  I don’t remember Ben and Dee grinning ear-to-ear like Pat and Tracy were the night we graduated from High School, but I can assure you, I was the entire 45 minutes going to Enid and the 45 minutes going back to the plant.

Since I had been trained for battery maintenance, I suppose it was like Andy Griffith becoming the Permanent Latrine Orderly (PLO) in the movie “No Time For Sergeants”.  I was able to go to town inspecting all kinds of backup batteries.

Andy Griffith as Permanent Latrine Orderly in No Time for Sergeants grinning ear-to-ear

Andy Griffith as Permanent Latrine Orderly in No Time for Sergeants grinning ear-to-ear

Gene Roget (pronounced with a french accent as “Row Jay” with a soft J) was a contract electrician when I first became an electrician in the shop.  I wrote about him in the post New Home in the Power Plant Electric Shop.  He was a great mentor that taught me a lot about how to be an electrician.  He taught me how to use all the different tools in my tool bucket.  He taught me how to bend conduit and make it come out the right length on both ends…

He especially taught me the importance of doing a “pretty” job when running wire or conduit or just rewiring a motor.  I remember Gene stopping one day when we were walking to the precipitator and he paused to look up at the transfer tower.  I asked him  where he was looking.  He said, “I’m just admiring the wonderful job someone did bending that set of conduit.  that’s a perfect job!  Just perfect!”

Anyway, Gene and I were given the task of checking all the batteries in the emergency lights throughout the plant.  It happened that the emergency lights at the plant were all about 5 years old.  Probably about the same age as the lights were in the high school the night of our graduation.  The lights in the plant had wet cells.  Which meant that you had to add distilled water to them like you do in your car, or in the station batteries.  This amounted to a pretty large task as there were emergency lights stationed throughout the plant.

We found many of the lights that would never have been able to light up enough to cause a cockroach to run for cover.  We took the bad ones back to the shop to work on them.  A lot of the batteries had gone bad because they had never been checked.  They have a built-in battery charger, and some of the chargers were not working.  I drew a wiring diagram of the charger so that we could troubleshoot them and replace components that had gone bad.

All of this was like a dream to me.  At the time I couldn’t think of any other place I would rather be.  I loved taking things that were broken and fixing them and putting them back into operation.  Eventually we decided to change the emergency light batteries to dry batteries.  Those didn’t need water.  We could pull out the six wet cells from each emergency light box and just plug the new batteries in place.  This made a lot more sense.  Who has time to go around regularly and check 50 or 60 emergency lights every 3 months?  Not us.  Not when we were trying to save the world.

Back to the Station Batteries:

Just to give you an idea of how important these batteries are, let me tell you what they are used for….  Suppose the power plant is just humming along at full power, and all of the sudden, the power goes out.  It doesn’t matter the reason.  When there is a blackout in a city, or a state, be assured, the power plant itself is in a blackout state as well.  After all, the power plant  is where the electricity is being created.

In the plant there is large equipment running.  The largest and most valuable piece of equipment by far in a power plant is the Turbine Generator.  The entire plant exists to spin this machine.  As big as it is, it spins at 3600 revolutions per minute, or 60 times each second.  In order to do that, oil has to be flowing through the bearings otherwise they would burn up almost instantly.  This would cause the generator to come to a screeching halt — and I mean “screeching!”

A turbine Generator Room at a nuclear plant with a waxed floor!

A turbine Generator Room at a nuclear power plant with a waxed floor!

So, in order to stop a turbine generator properly, when a unit is taken offline, once it has coasted to a smooth stop, the turbine has to be engaged to something called a “Turning Gear” which slowly rotates the turbine generator.  This is turned off only when the shaft has cooled down.  Without this, you might as well call General Electric and order a new one.

So, one of the most important things the station batteries do is run emergency oil pumps that engage immediately when the power is cutoff from the plant.  This allows the turbine generator and other important equipment throughout the plant to slowdown and come to a stop gracefully in case the power is instantly gone.

I will write a story later about a day when this happened at our plant.  The moments of confusion, and the quick decisions that had to be made to keep the unit 1 boiler from melting to the ground.  Rest assured that throughout this time, the emergency oil pumps had kicked in.  The station batteries did their job when they were called upon.  While the control room operators were performing their emergency tasks to the letter and the electricians were scrambling to come up with a workable solution to an unforeseen problem, the turbine-generator, the PA (Primary Air) fans, the FD (Forced Draft) Fans, the ID (Induction) fans were all coasting down as the groundwork was being laid to quickly restore power.

Someone in an office in the middle of Oklahoma City may have noticed their lights flicker for a moment.  Maybe they dimmed slightly…

If not for the proper maintenance of the power plant station batteries, the lights would have possibly gone dark.  Someone would have had to go looking for the portable generator and the spotlight.  Ceremonies in progress may have to continued under candlelight.