Tag Archives: Pawnee

Power Plant Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day came a week early for the men at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma in the year 2000.  Instead of the scheduled May 14th Mother’s Day, the Power Plant Men gathered in the First Baptist Church in Pawnee Oklahoma to say goodbye to their Power Plant Mother Saturday, May 6, 2000.  That was the day that Juliene Alley, our Power Plant Mother was laid to rest.

You might think that a woman welder spending her time at a Power Plant welding tubes in the dark insides of the boiler during overhaul, or crammed up inside a bowl mill where the air you breathe can be as hot as 160 degrees Fahrenheit would fit the image of a broad shouldered tough woman that you wouldn’t want to meet in an Alley at night.   This in no way describes Juliene.  If I had a picture of Juliene, you would see a woman of small stature with a slightly worn countenance and a humble but confident expression with a slight smile that had been etched permanently  into her face from years of being content with whatever lot in life she had been dealt.

I am not able to say what her life was like before she arrived at the Power Plant in 1985 one week before her 34th birthday.  I know she had one son named Joseph Alley and she had been married to a man named Red.  For me, her life began when I first met her at the tool room waiting to get a tool from Bud Schoonover.  She was being treated with extra care by her welding crew.  They were very protective of her at first.  My first impression was that she was kind and soft spoken.

I didn’t work around Juliene for quite a while.   I don’t even remember if she had worked her way through the Labor Crew as we were required when I hired on at the plant.  I worked with Juliene only after the last downsizing when we were on the same cross-functional team in 1994.  By that time, the welders referred to Juliene as their “Mom”.

I never heard an unkind word come from Juliene.  It may have happened immediately following a Power Plant Joke had been played on her, but since it never would have occurred to me to play a joke on her, I only ever heard kind words from Juliene.  I’m sure her son  Joe could tell us more about that.  Juliene spent a lot of time working with Ed Shiever.  They were about the same height and it seemed to me that the two of them were paired often to work the same jobs.

Ed Shiever 15 years later

Ed Shiever

The title “Mom” wasn’t given to her as a ceremonial title just because of her gender.  When I watched Juliene with the welders, I could see and hear that she treated each one of the welders as if she was really and truly their Mother.  I have heard her scold them, put them in their places, and even calm them down when they needed to be put in “time out”.

Juliene did not die unexpectedly.  She died from a failing liver that lasted over many months.  It seems to me that her son Joe married his sweetheart Shauna a little earlier than intended so that it was in time for his Mother to attend the wedding in September 1999, eight months before she passed away.  The last time I talked with Juliene was when someone at the plant had called her in the hospital in Oklahoma City from the tool room telephone.  When I walked in the tool room to get a part, someone asked me if I wanted to speak with Juliene.

When I talked to her, I could tell that she was trying to be pleasant in spite of the knowledge that she only had about a week or two left.  I told her I would be praying for her.  She asked me if I knew where she could find a new liver.  I think I said something like, “I don’t have a spare one myself, but these machinists here are pretty good, maybe we can have one of them whip one up real quick.”

I have mentioned one of Juliene’s sons, Joe.  I have also mentioned Ed Shiever, who was a Power Plant Son to Juliene.  Here are some of Juliene’s other Power Plant children:

Noe Flores

Noe Flores

George Clouse

George Clouse

Robert Sharp

Robert Sharp

Mickey Postman

Mickey (Pup) Postman

Robert (T-Bone) Grover

Robert (T-Bone) Grover

Rod Meeks

Rod (Junior) Meeks

Robert Lewis

Robert Lewis

Kerry Lewallen

Kerry Lewallen

Chuck Morland

Chuck Morland

Dave McClure

Dave McClure

Earl Frazier

Earl Frazier

Bill Gibson

Bill (Gib) Gibson

With Ed Shiever, that makes over a dozen Power Plant Sons.  I’m sure there are others.  (If any others would like to be added, let me know, and if I have your pictures, I’ll post them here).

I attended Juliene’s funeral ceremony at the First Baptist Church in Pawnee on May 6, 2000.  The church was crowded that day with Power Plant Men.  Some had come from other Power Plants in the state to say goodbye to the Power Plant Mom we had all come to love.  Her Power Plant Sons stood up front and said their departing words to Juliene and to share their memories.

I have said in one of my early Power Plant Posts that each time a True Power Plant Man or Woman left the Power Plant that the character of the Power Plant would change.  The gift that Juliene Alley gave to the maintenance shop for many years was one of calm and civility.  I watched the welders over the years, and some of them began their Power Plant career with a less than “savory” attitude about life.  Over the years, I think the affect of having Juliene constantly in their lives tamed the welding shop to mold them into the respectable, caring, fine Power Plant Men that they became.  When Juliene left us that day at the Church, she left her character behind in her Power Plant Sons.

In memory of their Power Plant Mother, no character was lost from the Power Plant the day Juliene departed to tend to other pastures.  Eight months to the day of Juliene’s death on January 3, 2001, Joseph Edward Alley, her son, joined the ranks of Power Plant Men as he came to work at the Power Plant.  The joy of having the actual son of Juliene working in the plant was a reflection of how much we all loved his Mother.

Joe Alley with Juliene's new grandchild

Joe Alley with Juliene’s new grandchild

As you can see, Juliene’s family continues to grow.  Tomorrow we will be celebrating Mother’s Day.  Today, on Saturday, I remember back to Saturday May 6, 2000.  The day we celebrated our Power Plant Mother’s Day a week early.

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Power Plant Millennium Experience

I suppose most people remember where they were New Year’s Eve at midnight on Saturday, January 1, 2000.  That is a night I will never forget.  Some people were hiding in self-made bunkers waiting for the end of the world which never came, others were celebrating at home with their families and friends.  I suppose some people went on with their lives as if nothing was different that night.  Not my family.  My wife and two children spent the night at the Power Plant waiting to see if all of the testing we had performed the last two years had covered all possible failures of the Y2K scare.

A small group of Power Plant Men had been chosen to attend a party with our families in the main conference room at the Power Plant.  All the food and drinks were supplied by the company.  Our Plant Manager, Bill Green was there.  Children were given the opportunity to rest in some other room as it reached their bedtimes.

Two years before this fateful night, the company was in full swing preparing for the Y2K computer disaster that had been foretold by those who knew that many computer systems only used two digits for the year instead of all four.  so, when the year 2000 rolled around, it would suddenly show up in the computer as 00, which didn’t compute as a year in some systems. After all, you can’t divide something by 00.  Suddenly, the time between events that just happened before midnight and those that happen just after midnight are 100 years apart in the wrong direction.

The coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma was completed in 1979 and 1980, so, my first thought was that by that time, computers were far enough along to know better.  The Instrument and Controls Power Plant Men along with the Plant Engineers decided that the best way to check their systems was to change the clocks on the computers one at a time to just before midnight on New Year’s Eve and see what happens.

I thought that was a pretty ingenious way to go about testing the computer systems.  By changing the clock on each system one at a time to New Year’s Eve and watching it roll over to the new Millennium, you learn right away if you have a problem, and you have contained the disaster to one system at a time while you test it.  By doing this, it turned out that there was a problem with one system at the Co-Generation plant at the Continental Oil Refinery 20 miles north of the plant.

I wrote a post about the Co-Generation Plant in a previous post: “What Coal-fired Power Plant Electricians Are Doing at an Oil Refinery“.  When it was discovered that the computer at the Conoco Oil Refinery Power Plant would crash on New Year’s Eve, it was decided that we would just roll the clock back to 1950 (or so), and we wouldn’t have to worry about it for another 50 years.  The thought was that by that time, this computer would be replaced.

This was the original thought which caused the Y2K problem in the first place.  No one thought in the 1960’s that their computer systems would still be operating when the year 2000 came around, so they didn’t bother to use four digits for the year.  Disk space was expensive at that time, and anything that could save a few bytes was considered an improvement instead of a bug.

My wife wasn’t too pleased when I told her where we were going to spend New Year’s Eve when Y2K rolled around, but then again, where would you rather be if a worldwide disaster happened and the electricity shutdown across the country?  I would think the Power Plant would be the best place.  You could at least say, “I was in the actual Control Room at a Power Plant watching them throw the switch and light up Oklahoma City!”  Besides, we usually spent New Year’s Eve quietly at home with our kids.

Even though we were fairly certain everything had been accounted for, it was the unknown computer system sitting out there that no one had thought about that might shut everything down.  Some system in a relay house in a substation, or some terrorist attack.  So, there we sat watching the New Year roll in on a big screen TV at one end of the break room.  Children’s movies were being shown most of the evening to keep the young occupied while we waited.

I thought that Jim Arnold, the Supervisor over the Maintenance Department, wanted me in the break room at the Power Plant so that he could keep an eye on me to make sure I wasn’t going to be causing trouble that night.  Jim never really trusted me….  I suppose that was because strange things would happen when I was around.  Of course, I would never do anything that would jeopardize the operation of the Power Plant, but that didn’t stop me from keeping Jim guessing.

No.  Not really.  I was there because I had a way with computers.  I was the computer go to person at the plant, and if anything happened to any of them, I would probably be the person that could whisper it back into service.  Also, if for some reason the Generators tripped, I was a switchman that could open and close switches in the substation and start the precipitator back up and run up to the top of the boiler if the boiler elevator broke down and get it started back up.

Except for my natural affinity for computers, any of the electricians in the Power Plant could do all those other things.  I think there was just a little “prejudice” left over about me from when Bill Bennett our past A foreman used to say, “Let Kevin do it.  He doesn’t mind getting dirty”  (or…. he likes to climb the boiler, or…. he likes confined spaces, or… Kevin likes to stay up at all hours of the night working on things… I could go on… that was Bill’s response when someone asked him who should do the really grimy jobs  — of course… to some degree…. he was usually right).

I was actually a little proud to be told that I was going to have to spend New Year’s Eve at the Power Plant.  I had almost 17 years of experience as a Power Plant Electrician at that time, and I felt very comfortable working on any piece of equipment in the plant.  If it was something I had never worked on before, then I would quickly learn how it worked… As I said, all the electricians in the plant were the same way.  It was our way of life.

At 11:00 pm Central Time, we watched as the ball dropped in Time Square in New York City.  The 10 or so Power Plant Men with their families sat in anticipation waiting…. and waiting… to see if the lights went out in New York….  Of course you know now that nothing happened, but we were ready to jump into a crisis mode if there were any reports of power failures across the country.

You see…. The electric grid on the east side of the Rocky Mountains is all connected together.  If the power grid were to go down in one area, it could try dragging down the rest of the country.  If protective relays in substations across the country don’t operate flawlessly, then a blackout occurs in a larger area than just one particular area covered by one electric company.

When relays operate properly, a blackout is contained in the smallest area possible.  There was only one problem…. Breakers in substations are now controlled by remote computer systems.  If those systems began to act erratic, then the country could have a problem.  This did not happen that night.

There was a contract worker in the engineering department at our plant who was at his home in the country during this time hunkered down in a bunker waiting for the end of the world as was foretold by the minister of this church.  He had purchased a large supply of food and water and had piled them up in his shelter along with a portable generator.  He and his family waited out the end of the world that night waiting for the rapture.  He told me about that a few months later.  He was rather disappointed that the world hadn’t ended like it was supposed to.  He was so prepared for it.

After 11 pm rolled around and there was no disaster on the east coast, things lightened up a bit.  I decided to take my son and daughter on a night tour of the plant.  So, we walked over to the control room where they could look at the control panels with all of the the lights and alarms.  Here is a picture of Jim Cave and Allen Moore standing in front of the Unit 1 Control Panel:

Jim Cave with Allen Moore

Jim Cave with Allen Moore

Then I took each of them up to the top of the Boiler where you could look out over the lake at night from a view 250 feet high.  The Power Plant becomes a magical world at night, with the rumbling sounds from the boiler, the quiet hissing of steam muffled by the night.  The lights shining through the metal structure and open grating floors.

From the top of the boiler, you could look south and see the night lights from Stillwater, Pawnee and Perry.  Looking north, you could see Ponca City and the Oil Refinery at Conoco (later Phillips).  The only structure taller than the boilers are the smoke stacks.  There was always a special quality about the plant at night that is hard to put your finger on.  A sort of silence in a world of noise.  It is like a large ship on the ocean.  In a world of its own.

Power Plant at sunset

Power Plant at sunset across the lake

We returned to the break room 20 minutes before midnight, where our plant manager Bill Green and Jim Arnold tested their radios with the Control Room to make sure we were all in contact with each other.  I had carried my tool bucket up to the break room in case I needed to dash off somewhere in a hurry.

This is an actual picture of my tool bucket

This is an actual picture of my tool bucket

We felt confident by this time that a disaster was not going to happen when the clock rolled over to midnight.  When the countdown happened, and the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 counted down, We cheered “Happy New Year!” and hugged one another.  I think both of my children had dozed off by this point.

Bill Green called the control room.  The word came back that everything was business as usual.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  We waited around another hour just to make sure that nothing had shutdown.  By 1:00 am on January 1, 2000, Bill Green gave us the Green Light.  We were all free to return to our homes.

I gathered up my two children and my wife Kelly, and we drove the 25 miles back home to the comfort of our own beds.  When we went to bed early that morning after I had climbed into bed, I reached over and turned off the light on my nightstand.  When the light went out, it was because I had decided to turn it off.  Not because the world had suddenly come to an end.  A new Millennium had just begun.

A Window Into the Power Plant Man Bedroom

It is not clear how many heart attacks one Power Plant Man can have.  Walt Oswalt probably had a heart attack on a monthly basis, but rarely let anyone know about it.  Ray Eberle dropped by Walt’s farm one day to visit and found Walt out in the pasture passed out next to his combine as if dead.  When Ray began following the ABC’s for safety he found that Walt was still breathing.  Upon reviving him, Walt just said that he was tired and decided to take a nap.  Ray knew that he had just had another heart attack but didn’t want to admit it.

The best way to revive Walt at this point, we found, was to say out loud that we were going to take him to the hospital in Ponca City.  At that time, no one would be caught dead going there…. or maybe they would.  At least when they were discharged.

Walt had a different way of looking at the world.  It was probably brought on by a combination of being a long time Power Plant Man and being partly insane… in a likable sort of way… if you already have a good sense of humor.  If your sense of humor is lacking, then Walt may have appeared annoying.

Either way, Walt bounced between one adventure to another.

One day Ray Eberle, who considered Walt a dear friend, dropped by to visit Walt (which was a common occurrence).  When Ray walked into the living room of Walt’s double-wide, he found two coffin-like boxes laying in the middle of the floor.  Ray asked Walt why he had two wooden coffins laying on his living room floor, half thinking that maybe Walt was thinking ahead and found a deal on a couple of cheap coffins on the Internet.

Walt explained that the two boxes contained a marketing tool that was going to be the key to his success.  Walt decided to open one of the boxes and show Ray instead of trying to explain his new idea, so he took a pry bar and pried open the lid on one of the wooden coffins.  In all of Ray’s imagination, he had not figured on seeing what he saw when the lid was lifted from the box.

Carefully stacked inside the box were 50 high dollar pool cues.

Pool Cue

Pool Cue

Walt pulled one of the pool cues out of the box and showed Ray that each one was carefully engraved with the following words:

“Walt’s Excavating and Dirt Movers – Why go anywhere else when Walt can cheat you just the same?”   Then it had his phone number.

Walt explained to Ray that all he had to do was go down to each of the bars in the Morrison and Pawnee areas and hand out these pool cues to everyone, and before long, everyone in town will see his advertisement because “Everyone shoots pool and drinks beer.”

Ray looked at the satisfied look on Walt’s face as he was explaining his new business adventure and replied, “But I don’t shoot pool and drink beer.”  Walt said, “Yeah, but everyone else does.”  Walt also added that people will think that the part about “cheating you as good as anyone else” is a joke…. but it isn’t.

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

Ray was curious as he examined the very expensive pool cues and the fine engraving, so he asked Walt how much each of these pool cues cost.  Walt explained that since he had ordered 100 of them, he was able to get them at a discount of $75 each (or so.  I don’t remember the exact cost).  I do know that this added up to $7,500 worth of pool cues that Walt was going to give away for free.

Walt’s dream was that his tractor with the scoop shovel and dirt grater was going to be busy all over the county leveling roads and moving dirt.  Ray watched as Walt’s wife walked through the room with a slightly disgusted look on her face as she glanced over at the two coffins on the living room floor.  Ray decided to keep quiet until the storm had passed.

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

When Ray was telling me this story, I wondered how many times Walt’s wife had a heart attack.

On another occasion, Ray Eberle went to visit with Walt after work.  Walt invited Ray into the kitchen to have a drink of water.  Ray was admiring the new carpet Walt just had installed in the house.

As they sat there talking, Ray noticed that a complete window frame with the glass already installed was next to the kitchen table leaning against the wall.  Since Walt didn’t mention the window frame right away, Ray finally asked, “Walt, what are you planning on doing with this Window?”

A window like this, only new

A window like this, only new

Walt explained that he bought the window on sale and since he wanted to put another window in kitchen, he bought it.  Ray looked around the kitchen and wondered where Walt could possibly add a new window.  He wasn’t sure where Walt could add a window.  So, knowing Walt, he figured that the fastest way to find out was to ask….

“Walt, where in the kitchen are you going to put the window?”  Walt pointed to the wall directly behind Ray where there was a blank white wall.  “I’m going to put the window right there.”

Ray saw a flaw in this logic immediately, but decided to wait 30 seconds or so in order to check his logic with reality, just to make sure he wasn’t mistaken…. when he was sure, Ray replied, “But Walt…. Isn’t your bedroom on the other side of that wall?”

Without pausing Walt said, “Yeah.  I want to be able to see what’s happening in the kitchen when I’m in bed.”  Ray’s right hand slowly grabbed the edge of the table in order to steady himself, so that he didn’t spill the glass of water in his left hand.

At this point, Walt ensured Ray that he always wanted to have a window right there as he reached into a kitchen drawer and retrieved a claw hammer.

Claw Hammer

Claw Hammer

Walt walked over to the wall and said, “I am going to put that window right here… and using the claw on the hammer, he began tearing a hole in the sheet rock.  Ray, a little shocked backed off to give Walt room as he began destroying the wall in the kitchen.

Sheet rock was flying all over the new carpet, and Ray noticed that as Walt was attacking the wall, he was grinding the sheet rock dust into the carpet even further as he walked on the fallen bits of chalk.  Before long there was a gaping hole in the wall, more in a circle than the square hole that would be needed to mount the window.  Sheet rock fragments were all over the kitchen table, floor and spilling out into the living area.

About this time Walt’s wife returned home from work.  She took one look at the disaster in the kitchen.  Ray thought that she was either going to cry, have another heart attack or… well, some other kind of attack….  So, Ray thought it would be a good time to go home to see his own wife Barbara.

Ray said his quick goodbye’s and skedaddled through the front door amazed at the sudden destruction of the wall in the kitchen and the new carpet.

Ray decided not to visit Walt for a few days, just to let things “work themselves out”.  Finally when Ray came over for another visit with Walt, when he entered the living room and looked toward the wall in the kitchen, he could see that there was no window mounted in the wall, and the entire wall was back to the way it was before anything had happened.

A little confused, Ray asked Walt, “What happened to the window you were putting in the kitchen?”  Walt explained that when he went to put the window in the wall, he broke the glass, so he decided not to put a window there after all.  So, he asked Jerry Osborn if he would patch the wall up.

I mentioned in the last week’s post that Jerry Osborn was one of Walt’s “Guardian Angels”, see the post:  “When Power Plant Ingenuity Doesn’t Translate“.  He was the one that would clean up after Walt’s experiments.  Walt was always thinking outside the box.

Walt’s wife walked into the living room with a cheerful satisfied look on her face, “How are you doing today Ray?”, she asked, as she sat down on the couch.  Ray thought he knew how the window was broken.

One of Walt’s other ventures had to do with miniature ponies.  Walt had decided that even though he had no experience in the “miniature pony” arena, he had read up about the business on the Internet and decided that just by looking at a picture of a miniature pony on the Internet, he could tell if a pony was a keeper or not.

Much like his purchase of the truck in Chesapeake Bay (see the post:  “Mr. Frog’s Wild Power Plant Ride“), Walt decided to buy some miniature ponies from someone in Louisiana, sight unseen.  Before long, Walt owned some miniature ponies, and was in business.

Miniature Pony by Andrew Fuller

Miniature Pony by Andrew Fuller

Ray knew Walt really was in the miniature pony business the day he walked into Walt’s house and there in the middle of the floor in the living room were two large wooden boxes, that looked like two coffins.  Can you guess what was in them?

Walt couldn’t wait to show Ray his new batch of pool cues.  He pulled one out of the box, and there written on the side it said, “Walt’s Miniature Ponies, Why buy from someone else when Walt can cheat you just the same.”  Walt explained, “You know Ray… Everyone shoots pool and drinks beer… well, except for you.”

Rest in Peace Walt, and thanks for the great adventures!  The Power Plant Men of North Central Oklahoma wouldn’t have known what to do without you!

A Window Into the Power Plant Man Bedroom

It is not clear how many heart attacks one Power Plant Man can have.  Walt Oswalt probably had a heart attack on a monthly basis, but rarely let anyone know about it.  Ray Eberle dropped by Walt’s farm one day to visit and found Walt out in the pasture passed out next to his combine as if dead.  When Ray began following the ABC’s for safety he found that Walt was still breathing.  Upon reviving him, Walt just said that he was tired and decided to take a nap.  Ray knew that he had just had another heart attack but didn’t want to admit it.

The best way to revive Walt at this point, we found, was to say out loud that we were going to take him to the hospital in Ponca City.  At that time, no one would be caught dead going there…. or maybe they would.  At least when they were discharged.

Walt had a different way of looking at the world.  It was probably brought on by a combination of being a long time Power Plant Man and being partly insane… in a likable sort of way… if you already have a good sense of humor.  If your sense of humor is lacking, then Walt may have appeared annoying.

Either way, Walt bounced between one adventure to another.

One day Ray Eberle, who considered Walt a dear friend, dropped by to visit Walt (which was a common occurrence).  When Ray walked into the living room of Walt’s double-wide, he found two coffin-like boxes laying in the middle of the floor.  Ray asked Walt why he had two wooden coffins laying on his living room floor, half thinking that maybe Walt was thinking ahead and found a deal on a couple of cheap coffins on the Internet.

Walt explained that the two boxes contained a marketing tool that was going to be the key to his success.  Walt decided to open one of the boxes and show Ray instead of trying to explain his new idea, so he took a pry bar and pried open the lid on one of the wooden coffins.  In all of Ray’s imagination, he had not figured on seeing what he saw when the lid was lifted from the box.

Carefully stacked inside the box were 50 high dollar pool cues.

Pool Cue

Pool Cue

Walt pulled one of the pool cues out of the box and showed Ray that each one was carefully engraved with the following words:

“Walt’s Excavating and Dirt Movers – Why go anywhere else when Walt can cheat you just the same?”   Then it had his phone number.

Walt explained to Ray that all he had to do was go down to each of the bars in the Morrison and Pawnee areas and hand out these pool cues to everyone, and before long, everyone in town will see his advertisement because “Everyone shoots pool and drinks beer.”

Ray looked at the satisfied look on Walt’s face as he was explaining his new business adventure and replied, “But I don’t shoot pool and drink beer.”  Walt said, “Yeah, but everyone else does.”  Walt also added that people will think that the part about “cheating you as good as anyone else” is a joke…. but it isn’t.

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

Ray was curious as he examined the very expensive pool cues and the fine engraving, so he asked Walt how much each of these pool cues cost.  Walt explained that since he had ordered 100 of them, he was able to get them at a discount of $75 each (or so.  I don’t remember the exact cost).  I do know that this added up to $7,500 worth of pool cues that Walt was going to give away for free.

Walt’s dream was that his tractor with the scoop shovel and dirt grater was going to be busy all over the county leveling roads and moving dirt.  Ray watched as Walt’s wife walked through the room with a slightly disgusted look on her face as she glanced over at the two coffins on the living room floor.  Ray decided to keep quiet until the storm had passed.

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

When Ray was telling me this story, I wondered how many times Walt’s wife had a heart attack.

On another occasion, Ray Eberle went to visit with Walt after work.  Walt invited Ray into the kitchen to have a drink of water.  Ray was admiring the new carpet Walt just had installed in the house.

As they sat there talking, Ray noticed that a complete window frame with the glass already installed was next to the kitchen table leaning against the wall.  Since Walt didn’t mention the window frame right away, Ray finally asked, “Walt, what are you planning on doing with this Window?”

A window like this, only new

A window like this, only new

Walt explained that he bought the window on sale and since he wanted to put another window in kitchen, he bought it.  Ray looked around the kitchen and wondered where Walt could possibly add a new window.  He wasn’t sure where Walt could add a window.  So, knowing Walt, he figured that the fastest way to find out was to ask….

“Walt, where in the kitchen are you going to put the window?”  Walt pointed to the wall directly behind Ray where there was a blank white wall.  “I’m going to put the window right there.”

Ray saw a flaw in this logic immediately, but decided to wait 30 seconds or so in order to check his logic with reality, just to make sure he wasn’t mistaken…. when he was sure, Ray replied, “But Walt…. Isn’t your bedroom on the other side of that wall?”

Without pausing Walt said, “Yeah.  I want to be able to see what’s happening in the kitchen when I’m in bed.”  Ray’s right hand slowly grabbed the edge of the table in order to steady himself, so that he didn’t spill the glass of water in his left hand.

At this point, Walt ensured Ray that he always wanted to have a window right there as he reached into a kitchen drawer and retrieved a claw hammer.

Claw Hammer

Claw Hammer

Walt walked over to the wall and said, “I am going to put that window right here… and using the claw on the hammer, he began tearing a hole in the sheet rock.  Ray, a little shocked backed off to give Walt room as he began destroying the wall in the kitchen.

Sheet rock was flying all over the new carpet, and Ray noticed that as Walt was attacking the wall, he was grinding the sheet rock dust into the carpet even further as he walked on the fallen bits of chalk.  Before long there was a gaping hole in the wall, more in a circle than the square hole that would be needed to mount the window.  Sheet rock fragments were all over the kitchen table, floor and spilling out into the living area.

About this time Walt’s wife returned home from work.  She took one look at the disaster in the kitchen.  Ray thought that she was either going to cry, have another heart attack or… well, some other kind of attack….  So, Ray thought it would be a good time to go home to see his own wife Barbara.

Ray said his quick goodbye’s and skedaddled through the front door amazed at the sudden destruction of the wall in the kitchen and the new carpet.

Ray decided not to visit Walt for a few days, just to let things “work themselves out”.  Finally when Ray came over for another visit with Walt, when he entered the living room and looked toward the wall in the kitchen, he could see that there was no window mounted in the wall, and the entire wall was back to the way it was before anything had happened.

A little confused, Ray asked Walt, “What happened to the window you were putting in the kitchen?”  Walt explained that when he went to put the window in the wall, he broke the glass, so he decided not to put a window there after all.  So, he asked Jerry Osborn if he would patch the wall up.

I mentioned in the last week’s post that Jerry Osborn was one of Walt’s “Guardian Angels”, see the post:  “When Power Plant Ingenuity Doesn’t Translate“.  He was the one that would clean up after Walt’s experiments.  Walt was always thinking outside the box.

Walt’s wife walked into the living room with a cheerful satisfied look on her face, “How are you doing today Ray?”, she asked, as she sat down on the couch.  Ray thought he knew how the window was broken.

One of Walt’s other ventures had to do with miniature ponies.  Walt had decided that even though he had no experience in the “miniature pony” arena, he had read up about the business on the Internet and decided that just by looking at a picture of a miniature pony on the Internet, he could tell if a pony was a keeper or not.

Much like his purchase of the truck in Chesapeake Bay (see the post:  “Mr. Frog’s Wild Power Plant Ride“), Walt decided to buy some miniature ponies from someone in Louisiana, sight unseen.  Before long, Walt owned some miniature ponies, and was in business.

Miniature Pony by Andrew Fuller

Miniature Pony by Andrew Fuller

Ray knew Walt really was in the miniature pony business the day he walked into Walt’s house and there in the middle of the floor in the living room were two large wooden boxes, that looked like two coffins.  Can you guess what was in them?

Walt couldn’t wait to show Ray his new batch of pool cues.  He pulled one out of the box, and there written on the side it said, “Walt’s Miniature Ponies, Why buy from someone else when Walt can cheat you just the same.”  Walt explained, “You know Ray… Everyone shoots pool and drinks beer… well, except for you.”

Rest in Peace Walt, and thanks for the great adventures!  The Power Plant Men of North Central Oklahoma wouldn’t have known what to do without you!

Power Plant Summer Help Sanity Check

Originally Posted December 7, 2012:

What happens to a million dollar forest when left to the fate of two Power Plant Summer Help?  I can tell you; the result is not good.  Before I explain this statement, let me introduce some summer help to you so that you will have a deeper understanding of my summer help career.  It spanned 4 summers for a total of 12 months.

I would like to start out by saying that there were a few summer help that I thought were very intelligent and goodhearted people.  A dear friend of mine named Tim Flowers, who was a friend that I met while attending Oklahoma University my first year in school, was one of the smartest people you might run across in your lifetime.  He was also a very hard worker who didn’t mind putting his entire effort into his work.

Blake Tucker from Pawnee also had a brilliant mind and had an honorable work ethic.  He was fresh out of High School when he first went to work as a summer help at the coal-fired power plant in north central Oklahoma.  During his years as a summer help, I spent a lot of time with him working on mathematical calculations and on programming feats of magic.

Bill Cook, though he didn’t put his back into his work the way some would have liked to see, he did go on to work at the power plant on the labor crew a year and a half before I finally made it onto that team of singularly distinguished characters.  Bill confided in me, and I consider him a friend, though I haven’t seen him in 30 years.

David Foster became a friend of mine the second summer when we were were summer help together. He only worked at the plant that one summer, but I talked to him a few times during the years when he was in college and I would run into him coming out of church or on campus.  His father was a dentist in Ponca City.

This leaves me with all the rest of the summer help that worked with me during those 4 summers.  I wrote a post about the first summer help I worked with that really didn’t fit the requirements, since you were supposed to be going to school in order to be a summer help.  That was Steve Higginbotham.  You can read more about him in the post:  Steve Higginbotham’s Junky Jalopy Late for the Boiler Blowdown

Steve was a less than energetic person, but I could understand his lack of enthusiasm.  He had been dealt a shorthand in his life and he was making the best out of his situation.  What I found hard to understand were summer help that were fresh out of High School that were given the opportunity to work at an illustrious palace of a Power Plant, and they just didn’t want to work.

When I was leaving the house at age 14 to go to my first job where I was working for someone other than myself (I began selling tomatoes from my garden door-to-door at age 10), my dad told me something that became the core of my work ethic.  He said, “Son.”  Well, I don’t remember if he actually said “Son.” but it was something like that.  Maybe he said “Kevin, before you go, I want to tell you something.”  He said that I should do my best at whatever job they give me.  I should do a job that I would be proud to show others.  He never wanted to hear anything that would make him be ashamed of me.

It was a thrill to go work at a German Restaurant as a dishwasher making $1.50 an hour.  I worked my tail off each night.  I seldom took breaks, and I focused on keeping ahead of the work so that I wouldn’t become swamped.

So, it was hard for me, by the time I was 20, to see summer help come to the plant and work real hard at not working.  Young football players from Pawnee, who you would think would be able to put their best foot forward, were usually standing around talking smack about that one doofus of a summer help that wanted to get to work right away.  That one guy that liked wearing his face shield and ear muffs hanging down from his hard hat swinging the industrial weedeater to-and-fro all day long.

One with two handles like this one

One with two handles like this one (I like reusing pictures from old posts)

This one group of summer help that were hired that summer all seemed to have the same bug, except for Bill  Cook.  Bill didn’t get along with them because he wasn’t from the same bully class that they graduated.  At one point during the summer the tension between them and Bill rose to such a level that they had to handle it the only way left.

Bill had to meet one of them outside the gate after quittin’ time to settle matters.  The truth of the matter was that Bill had done nothing to stir up their ire.  They just didn’t like him.  It seemed to be a personality issue with them.  From what I understand, the cowards received what was coming to them as usually happens when they have mistook someone to be a weakling and easy pickings.

To illustrate the intelligence of this particular group of summer help (there were 3 of them), let me describe an instance where they were struggling real hard to keep from working.  I didn’t understand their desire to keep doing what they were doing in the first place, so I wasn’t about to stay in the situation all afternoon.

Stanley Elmore had told us to mow the area around the main parking lot.  This included the area by the main entrance.  At that time there were sections of grass on all sides of the parking lot including the side by the garage.  Stanley sent me and the 3 of them (not Bill Cook.  I think he knew the tension between them and tried to work it so that Bill could be doing other things) out to mow this area with regular push mowers.

It was just after lunch when we started.  I knew right away that the three amigos wanted to make this job last all afternoon.  I think they were afraid that when they finished they would be sent to the park to empty the trash cans of the foul rotten fish guts and soiled baby diapers.  A job that would make most summer help puke and even bring water to the eyes of a True Power Plant Man.

Well.  I grabbed one of the lawn mowers and headed out across the drive to the grass and started mowing around and around one stretch of grass.  By the time the others had dragged their mowers out and took their time starting them, I had finished one stretch of grass and went around to the other side of the parking lot to work on that side as well.

The grass on the far side of the parking lot wrapped around by the welding shop and over to the front entrance.  So, once this entire section was done, we would be finished.  It really wasn’t that much grass to mow.  Not when you had 4 lawn mowers all going around in a counter clockwise direction.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the three huddle together to have a quick discussion.  I knew they were going to try to thwart my efforts to quickly finish this job so they didn’t have to move on to the next adventure.  I also knew that there wasn’t anyway they were going to be able to stop me.

They had tried to stop me before earlier when we were going out to cut weeds down a long right-of-way.  One of them had let his weedeater string out real far so that the strings were sticking out about 2 feet.  He started his weedeater up so that the strings were whining and turned around so that the strings grabbed my leg and before I knew it I was flat on my back with a stabbing pain in my knee.  My kneecap had been knocked out of the socket, which I quickly hit with the palm of my  hand to knock it back over from the side of my knee.

I could see that this had been pre-planned by their reaction.  I think they thought it would take me out of commission or make me angry so they could watch me lose my top.  The guy that did it apologized in a half sarcastic way and I told him it was all right.  I wiped the dust off of my pants and grabbed my weedeater and went to work.  I could see them at the back of the truck standing there wondering where their plan had failed.

Anyway, back to mowing the grass around the parking lot.  I was able to tell immediately what they had planned.  Their idea was to hem me in and mow very slowly so that I would have no where to go but to follow along behind one of them travelling at a snails pace.  They were so slow they would take one step, wait a second, then take another step, etc.

So, as I came up behind one of them I suddenly took a left turn and cut a new path through the grass without even slowing down.  I quickly came to the other side of the curb, and I turned left again and was heading back in the direction I came from just as if nothing was wrong.

I knew the law of physics.  Newton’s First Law of Physics.  If a body is in motion it tends to stay in motion unless it is acted on by another force.  Well.  The mind of the weak have little force.  Newton was not only one of my favorite Physicist, he was one of my favorite Mathematicians as well.

Sir Isaac Newton Had 3 laws of motion and liked to mow grass (ok. So I made up that second part)

Sir Isaac Newton Had 3 laws of motion and liked to mow grass (ok. So I made up that second part)

Well.  He did like sitting in the park under an apple tree.  — So how did they keep the grass mowed back in 1642?  Maybe they trained the grass just to stay small.  Why don’t we have grass that just stays short?  We could do that easy enough.

Because of the laws of motion and the size of my lawn mower and the speed in which I was mowing, I had calculated that I should be able to finish mowing the entire area in about 15 more minutes (or 900 seconds) if I were to do it all myself.  — Funny how things run through your mind when you are mowing grass.  No wonder Sonny Karcher loved mowing grass so much.

Anyway.  That little story illustrates my point about how some summer help put all their brain power into thinking about how to stay out of work that they couldn’t even conceive of someone thinking outside the box.  How difficult was it for me to just turn and mow a patch of grass out in the middle of the stretch of grass we were mowing?

Once they realized that there wasn’t anyway to stop me, they went ahead and finished their job.  I couldn’t figure out why they wanted to stand out in the sun in 100 degree temperature anyway pretending to mow grass.  Didn’t they know that just made the day seem longer?

It was during that summer that the plant manager was sold on the idea of planting a forest around the coal yard to prevent the wind from blowing all the coal away (Oklahoma is windy).  So, a million dollars was spent to hire a company to plant a number of rows of trees along the south road next to the coal yard.  When the trees were planted, they were like sickly little sticks.  The summer help were sent to go water them from time-to-time using the small Mitsubishi tractor pulling a trailer with a tank of water on it.

A tractor just like this

A tractor just like this

I have to admit that I never gave the idea much hope.  The ground where the trees were planted was hard clay.  The company that received the million dollars hardly even put any real usable tree-growing dirt in the hole when they planted the trees.

The trees were planted very close together so that you couldn’t mow around them on a tractor.  So, when the weeds started growing tall and the field had been mowed, Stanley sent a couple of the lazy summer help up there to weed eat around the trees.

I had been told some time in my childhood that one of the fastest ways to kill a tree was to strip the bark off all the way around the tree.  Not just strip the bark, but cut a little into the tree itself around the base of the tree.  If you did this, the tree would die.  The only actual living part of the tree is the outside section.  Here is a link to a site that describes the part of a tree and a picture from that site:

How Does A Tree Grow

cutting the Cambium layer all the way around a tree will kill the tree

cutting the Cambium layer all the way around a tree will kill the tree

So, do I need to go on?  That’s right.  When the summer help had finished trimming the verge around the trees their fate had been sealed.  Two summer help in a matter of an hour totally wiped out the million dollar tree experiment.  They had stripped the bark clean around every tree.

Not to be outdone.  The Plant Manager spent 2 million dollars to have larger trees installed with plenty of good soil around the embankments on the north side of the coal pile.  These were good healthy trees.There was even an irrigation system installed to make sure they were properly watered.  This worked at least a year or two.  Long enough for a lot of the trees to catch hold.  The only problem is that the wind almost always blows from the west or the south defeating the purpose of the “windbreak” on the north side of the coal pile.

Ok.  One more summer help story before I go.  A friend of mine named Ben Cox became a summer help for a summer the fourth summer I worked as a summer help (how many times can I use the word summer in one sentence?).  I had worked with him at the Bakery in Columbia, Missouri and he had followed me home that summer to try his hand at summer helping at the power plant.  Tim Flowers and I had tried to dissuade him, but to no avail.  I have mentioned Ben Cox before in the story about Ramblin’ Ann.  He and I used to tag team Ramblin’ Ann just to keep our sanity.  See the link below as a refresher on Ramblin’ Ann:

Ed Sheiver Trapped in a Confined Space with a Disciple of Ramblin’ Ann

Ben wasn’t the most physically fit, and we didn’t want to see him have a heart attack at such an early age.  Ben, however, held his own as best he could and survived a summer of working outdoors.  He actually did better than Tim and I expected.

One day when we were driving to the coal yard Ben asked me why there were large hills of sand piled up across the road from the intake.  Instead of telling him that the sand had been dredged out of the intake channel when they were filling the lake and sand was being pumped from the river up to the lake with the water, I told him something else…

I told Ben that they kept the large piles of sand there in case they ran out of coal.  They would burn the sand as a last resort.  I explained that they didn’t like to burn sand because it burned hotter than coal and it turned into glass in the boiler and really messed things up.  But if there was a long coal strike and they totally ran out of coal, they would have to burn sand in order to keep producing electricity.

Tim and I watched closely as Ben mulled this over in his mind.  At first he didn’t believe me, but after I explained why we didn’t burn sand all the time, you could start to see the wheels turning in his mind.  Burning sand…. wow!  There is sand all over the place!  I never told him differently.  I’m sure if he tried to sell the idea to someone, he would have found out quick enough.

Comment from the original post:

Ron Kilman December 12, 2012:

Your stories are so good! They bring back memories I hadn’t thought of for years. The part about “burning sand” reminded me of the Brown & Root engineer that was looking for an easy way to put holes in a thick set of blueprints. “Someone” (Kenneth Palmer or John Blake might have been involved) convinced him that shooting them with a 22 would be the easiest way to do the job. He then proceeded to take a new set of prints and totally destroy them!

Power Plant Millennium Experience

I suppose most people remember where they were New Year’s Eve at midnight on Saturday, January 1, 2000.  That is a night I will never forget.  Some people were hiding in self-made bunkers waiting for the end of the world which never came, others were celebrating at home with their families and friends.  I suppose some people went on with their lives as if nothing was different that night.  Not my family.  My wife and two children spent the night at the Power Plant waiting to see if all of the testing we had performed the last two years had covered all possible failures of the Y2K scare.

A small group of Power Plant Men had been chosen to attend a party with our families in the main conference room at the Power Plant.  All the food and drinks were supplied by the company.  Our Plant Manager, Bill Green was there.  Children were given the opportunity to rest in some other room as it reached their bedtimes.

Two years before this fateful night, the company was in full swing preparing for the Y2K computer disaster that had been foretold by those who knew that many computer systems only used two digits for the year instead of all four.  so, when the year 2000 rolled around, it would suddenly show up in the computer as 00, which didn’t compute as a year in some systems. After all, you can’t divide something by 00.  Suddenly, the time between events that just happened before midnight and those that happen just after midnight are 100 years apart in the wrong direction.

The coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma was completed in 1979 and 1980, so, my first thought was that by that time, computers were far enough along to know better.  The Instrument and Controls Power Plant Men along with the Plant Engineers decided that the best way to check their systems was to change the clocks on the computers one at a time to just before midnight on New Year’s Eve and see what happens.

I thought that was a pretty ingenious way to go about testing the computer systems.  By changing the clock on each system one at a time to New Year’s Eve and watching it roll over to the new Millennium, you learn right away if you have a problem, and you have contained the disaster to one system at a time while you test it.  By doing this, it turned out that there was a problem with one system at the Co-Generation plant at the Continental Oil Refinery 20 miles north of the plant.

I wrote a post about the Co-Generation Plant in a previous post: “What Coal-fired Power Plant Electricians Are Doing at an Oil Refinery“.  When it was discovered that the computer at the Conoco Oil Refinery Power Plant would crash on New Year’s Eve, it was decided that we would just roll the clock back to 1950 (or so), and we wouldn’t have to worry about it for another 50 years.  The thought was that by that time, this computer would be replaced.

This was the original thought which caused the Y2K problem in the first place.  No one thought in the 1960’s that their computer systems would still be operating when the year 2000 came around, so they didn’t bother to use four digits for the year.  Disk space was expensive at that time, and anything that could save a few bytes was considered an improvement instead of a bug.

My wife wasn’t too pleased when I told her where we were going to spend New Year’s Eve when Y2K rolled around, but then again, where would you rather be if a worldwide disaster happened and the electricity shutdown across the country?  I would think the Power Plant would be the best place.  You could at least say, “I was in the actual Control Room at a Power Plant watching them throw the switch and light up Oklahoma City!”  Besides, we usually spent New Year’s Eve quietly at home with our kids.

Even though we were fairly certain everything had been accounted for, it was the unknown computer system sitting out there that no one had thought about that might shut everything down.  Some system in a relay house in a substation, or some terrorist attack.  So, there we sat watching the New Year roll in on a big screen TV at one end of the break room.  Children’s movies were being shown most of the evening to keep the young occupied while we waited.

I thought that Jim Arnold, the Supervisor over the Maintenance Department, wanted me in the break room at the Power Plant so that he could keep an eye on me to make sure I wasn’t going to be causing trouble that night.  Jim never really trusted me….  I suppose that was because strange things would happen when I was around.  Of course, I would never do anything that would jeopardize the operation of the Power Plant, but that didn’t stop me from keeping Jim guessing.

No.  Not really.  I was there because I had a way with computers.  I was the computer go to person at the plant, and if anything happened to any of them, I would probably be the person that could whisper it back into service.  Also, if for some reason the Generators tripped, I was a switchman that could open and close switches in the substation and start the precipitator back up and run up to the top of the boiler if the boiler elevator broke down and get it started back up.

Except for my natural affinity for computers, any of the electricians in the Power Plant could do all those other things.  I think there was just a little “prejudice” left over about me from when Bill Bennett our past A foreman used to say, “Let Kevin do it.  He doesn’t mind getting dirty”  (or…. he likes to climb the boiler, or…. he likes confined spaces, or… Kevin likes to stay up at all hours of the night working on things… I could go on… that was Bill’s response when someone asked him who should do the really grimy jobs  — of course… to some degree…. he was usually right).

I was actually a little proud to be told that I was going to have to spend New Year’s Eve at the Power Plant.  I had almost 17 years of experience as a Power Plant Electrician at that time, and I felt very comfortable working on any piece of equipment in the plant.  If it was something I had never worked on before, then I would quickly learn how it worked… As I said, all the electricians in the plant were the same way.  It was our way of life.

At 11:00 pm Central Time, we watched as the ball dropped in Time Square in New York City.  The 10 or so Power Plant Men with their families sat in anticipation waiting…. and waiting… to see if the lights went out in New York….  Of course you know now that nothing happened, but we were ready to jump into a crisis mode if there were any reports of power failures across the country.

You see…. The electric grid on the east side of the Rocky Mountains is all connected together.  If the power grid were to go down in one area, it could try dragging down the rest of the country.  If protective relays in substations across the country don’t operate flawlessly, then a blackout occurs in a larger area than just one particular area covered by one electric company.

When relays operate properly, a blackout is contained in the smallest area possible.  There was only one problem…. Breakers in substations are now controlled by remote computer systems.  If those systems began to act erratic, then the country could have a problem.  This did not happen that night.

There was a contract worker in the engineering department at our plant who was at his home in the country during this time hunkered down in a bunker waiting for the end of the world as was foretold by the minister of this church.  He had purchased a large supply of food and water and had piled them up in his shelter along with a portable generator.  He and his family waited out the end of the world that night waiting for the rapture.  He told me about that a few months later.  He was rather disappointed that the world hadn’t ended like it was supposed to.  He was so prepared for it.

After 11 pm rolled around and there was no disaster on the east coast, things lightened up a bit.  I decided to take my son and daughter on a night tour of the plant.  So, we walked over to the control room where they could look at the control panels with all of the the lights and alarms.  Here is a picture of Jim Cave and Allen Moore standing in front of the Unit 1 Control Panel:

Jim Cave with Allen Moore

Jim Cave with Allen Moore

Then I took each of them up to the top of the Boiler where you could look out over the lake at night from a view 250 feet high.  The Power Plant becomes a magical world at night, with the rumbling sounds from the boiler, the quiet hissing of steam muffled by the night.  The lights shining through the metal structure and open grating floors.

From the top of the boiler, you could look south and see the night lights from Stillwater, Pawnee and Perry.  Looking north, you could see Ponca City and the Oil Refinery at Conoco (later Phillips).  The only structure taller than the boilers are the smoke stacks.  There was always a special quality about the plant at night that is hard to put your finger on.  A sort of silence in a world of noise.  It is like a large ship on the ocean.  In a world of its own.

Power Plant at sunset

Power Plant at sunset across the lake

We returned to the break room 20 minutes before midnight, where our plant manager Bill Green and Jim Arnold tested their radios with the Control Room to make sure we were all in contact with each other.  I had carried my tool bucket up to the break room in case I needed to dash off somewhere in a hurry.

This is an actual picture of my tool bucket

This is an actual picture of my tool bucket

We felt confident by this time that a disaster was not going to happen when the clock rolled over to midnight.  When the countdown happened, and the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 counted down, We cheered “Happy New Year!” and hugged one another.  I think both of my children had dozed off by this point.

Bill Green called the control room.  The word came back that everything was business as usual.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  We waited around another hour just to make sure that nothing had shutdown.  By 1:00 am on January 1, 2000, Bill Green gave us the Green Light.  We were all free to return to our homes.

I gathered up my two children and my wife Kelly, and we drove the 25 miles back home to the comfort of our own beds.  When we went to bed early that morning after I had climbed into bed, I reached over and turned off the light on my nightstand.  When the light went out, it was because I had decided to turn it off.  Not because the world had suddenly come to an end.  A new Millennium had just begun.

Turning the Tables on a Power Plant Telephone Interloper

Originally posted June 13, 2014:

When discussing Telephones at the Coal-Fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, I have to remember that some of my readers have a completely different perspective of telephones than me. My children grew up probably never seeing a real rotary dial phone except in movies or old TV shows. It might be a little hard for them to imagine a telephone being a possible murder weapon. Telephones have come a long way since I grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s.

A Rotary Dial Telephone

A Rotary Dial Telephone

When you turned the dial on a Rotary phone you put your finger int he hole on the number you want to dial and then you swing it around until your finger bumps up against the metal bracket. When you pull you finger out of the hole, the phone sends a rapid succession of pulses to the telephone company telling them what number you just dialed. It was very… well…. tedious and manual…. and not even electronic. It was electric signals and switches. “Mechanical” is the word I think I’m trying to say.

Even the way you received a dial tone was by sending something called a “Ring-to-ground” signal to the telephone company. That would happen when you would lift the receiver off the hook. There are only two wires used to communicate in an old phone and only one of those had voltage on it. when you ground that wire (called the “Ring”) momentarily, the phone company would then send a dial tone to your phone.

You could actually do this on a dead phone line at times when the phone company had shut off your service. On an old pay phone, when the proper coin was inserted in the phone, the coin itself was used to ground the ring wire, thus telling the telephone company to send the dial tone, allowing you to use the phone. In 1983 there was a movie called “Wargames”.

Wargames Starring Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy

Wargames Starring Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy

I had learned about how these telephones worked from Bill Rivers just before going to watch this movie. During the movie Matthew Broderick’s character needed to make a phone call at a pay phone but didn’t have a coin. By taking the mouthpiece off of the transmitter, and using a metal pop top he found on the ground, he was able to ground the “ring” wire to the pay phone, and he received a dial tone. There was a good ol’ boy sitting behind me in the movie theater that said, “You can’t do that!” — Being the newly educated smart (-alec) guy I was, I turned around and said, “Yeah. You really can.”

Anyway. This isn’t a story so much about how old phones work. I just wanted to bring the younger readers back-to-date on phones since now they don’t really call them telephones anymore. It is more like, “Smart Phone” and “Cell Phone”, “Mobile Phone” or just “Phone”. The phone in the house isn’t even referred to as a telephone. We now call them “Home Phone” to distinguish them from the actual phones that we use.

Anyway, when I joined the electric shop in 1983, I learned about the phone system. We didn’t use the older Rotary Dial phones at the plant. We were one step up. We had “Touch Tone” Phones.

A Power Plant Touch Tone Phone

A Power Plant Touch Tone Phone

As I have mentioned in previous posts, we had our own telephone computer at the Power Plant. It was called a ROLM phone system. See the post “A Slap In the Face at a Gas-fired Power Plant“.

A ROLM Phone Computer

A ROLM Phone Computer – I like showing this picture of the Phone computer

To give you an idea of the technology used by this phone system, you connected to it using a “teletype” terminal that you connected to a telephone by clipping the receiver in a cradle. Then you dialed the phone computer. When you connected, it was at 300 Baud. Think of 300 bytes per second, only using audio…. like a fax machine. — It was like connecting using a modem. 300 baud meant that when it typed out the results on the paper that scrolled out the top, you could watch it as it slowly printed out each line. The maximum speed of the terminal was 300 baud.

 

This is the TI Silent 700 Terminal.  We used this exact model of Teletype terminal at the Power Plant

This is the TI Silent 700 Terminal. We used this exact model of Teletype terminal at the Power Plant

In this picture you can see the cradle in the back where the phone receiver would fit in those two rubber cups.

After many years of going to the lab to connect to the telephone computer to make changes and to monitor the telephone traffic, in 1992 I decided to bring my 8088 computer to work and set it on the desk in the electric shop. We didn’t have our own computer yet. At that time the only people that had computers were office workers and the Shift Supervisor. We had started a computer club and having a computer in the shop was a big help. I had just replaced this computer at home with a 486.

This is a Leading Edge computer.  My father had this one.  An earlier version than the 8088 that I was using.

This is a Leading Edge computer. My father had this one. An earlier version than the 8088 that I was using.

I had a modem on my computer, so I tried connecting to the telephone computer, and it worked! So, sometimes during lunch when Charles Foster and I were sitting there talking about movies we had seen eating vegetables from his garden, I would connect to the ROLM computer and just watch the call log. I could see whenever someone was dialing in and out of the plant.

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

We had a special call in number into the plant that allowed you to make “trunk” calls. This is another term you don’t hear much anymore. You see….. for the younger readers (again)…. long distant calls used to cost a lot of money. You would be charged by how many minutes you were on the call. During the day, it could be as high as $3.00 a minute to call across the country. Amazing huh? Because today, most of you with cell phones and even your land lines (which are rarely real land lines anymore) long distant phone calls are now free with your phone plan.

Yeah, if you wanted to call someone in the next town over, you would have to pay a fee for every minute you were on the call…. That was when AT&T had a monopoly on the phone lines in the United States. Sure, you only payed $7.00 each month for your phone, but you could only call people in your immediate area or you would be charged extra.

A Trunk line gave you access to a much wider area. The Electric company had a trunk line that gave them access to most of Oklahoma. You could dial into a local number that would connect you to the company phone system. Then after entering the correct password number, you could dial access numbers that would take you to another office location in the electric company. Once on that phone system, you could dial to get an outside line, and then dial a local number in that area.

Our plant had three access numbers that allowed you to dial out locally to Stillwater, Ponca City and Pawnee. This was useful when a foreman needed to call people out to work. They could dial into the plant, then back out to one of these other towns and then dial the local phone number of the crew member they were trying to reach without incurring a personal charge on their phone line.

So, here I was in 1992 during lunch watching the phone traffic in and out of the plant (not exactly NSA style, but sort of), when I saw something unexpected. A long string of numbers showed up. Someone had dialed in on the Stillwater trunk, then dialed out on the Oklahoma City trunk, from there they placed a long distance call to phone number in the same area code. The prefix on the phone number was familiar to me. It was a Ponca City phone number. I had lived in Ponca City for three years when I had been married, from 1986 to 1989. I knew a Ponca City phone number when I saw one.

I thought this was odd, because it wouldn’t be normal for someone to dial from Stillwater through out plant to Oklahoma City only to call a Ponca City phone number when they could have dialed the local Ponca City access code. Then they wouldn’t have had to make a long distance call which bypassed our trunk call system causing the electric company to be billed for the long distance telephone call.

At the time I was a CompuServe user. This was when the World Wide Web was in it’s infancy. I was still using a DOS computer. When I connected to the Internet, it was either by using my dad’s Internet account from Oklahoma State University where I would use Telnet to access a bunch of mainframe computers all over the country, or I would use the DOS-based version of CompuServe. CompuServe was the king of Internet access before America Online came around and seemingly overnight made CompuServe obsolete.

A screenshot of the CompuServe Program I was using.

A screenshot of the CompuServe Program I was using.

In 1992, CompuServe had a service where you could look up phone numbers and find out whose number it was. Imagine that! Yeah. That was one of the neatest features on CompuServe! That and getting stock quotes. — Like I said…. There was no “www.whitepages.com” online. The only catch to using the reverse phone number feature, was that it was like making a long distance call. It cost money. You were charged by the minute for using the CompuServe reverse telephone number service, with the least amount being a dollar.

So, I bit the bullet and accessed the Phone Number lookup section of CompuServe. I quickly typed in the number. When the name and address of the user popped up, I quickly hit “Print Screen”, and then exited the service. My fee came to $1.00, but at least I knew what number had been dialed in Ponca City.

Charles, Scott Hubbard and I were a little excited by the time Terry Blevins walked into the electric shop office after lunch was over, I told him what I had seen.

Terry Blevins

Terry Blevins

When I told Terry the name of the person that had received the long distance call, he recognized the name right away. When I gave him the address, he was sure he knew who it was. The phone number belonged to the Music Director at the Ponca City High School. His son was attending college in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Well, that sort of cinched it. We had a pretty good idea who had made the call. It was a college student calling home, who had been given the phone number most likely by a fellow student who knew the code to call home in Oklahoma City. So, the only local access code this guy knew was how to dial through our plant to Oklahoma City and back out where he was free to make a long distance call home.

Armed with this knowledge, I headed up to the front office. I went straight to the Plant Manager, Ron Kilman’s office. I told Ron what I had found. I explained in detail how the person had dialed from Stillwater into our plant and then to Oklahoma City and out and then placed a long distance call to Ponca City leaving us with the phone bill. Since it was the middle of the day, the cost of a long distance call was not cheap.

I told Ron that I had used CompuServe to lookup the phone number and found that Terry had said that it belonged to the Music Director at the Ponca City High School and that he had a son in college in Stillwater. I was all ready to pounce on this guy. This was a fraudulent use of the telephone service and there were some pretty strict laws then about stealing long distance from someone else.

Ron, being the more level-headed of the two of us thought about it for a minute and said, “What would be the best way to stop this from happening?” — Oh. Well. I was so intent on catching the culprit, I hadn’t thought about that angle…. “Well….” I said, “We could change the pass code used to log into our phone system. We would just have to tell our supervisors what the new number is.”

Ron asked me what it would take to do that. I told him I could do it in two minutes. We quickly settled on a new 4 digit pass code and I left his office and returned to the electric shop and made the change essentially turning the tables on the Telephone Interloper. I suppose the college student in Stillwater was lucky that our plant manager at the time was the type to forgive and forget.

Three years later the entire electric company phone system was replaced by a new AT&T computer which was managed by AT&T. As you can tell… Technology just keeps moving forward making seemingly really neat new inventions quickly obsolete.

Comments from the original post:

    1. Dave Tarver June 14, 2014

      I still stand in awe at all the talent we had at the plant- never has one place had so many guys of remarkable skill and overall just good people and kind hearted.

        1. Plant Electrician June 14, 2014

          I can’t agree with you more! We had the cream of the crop for sure.

  1. Ron Kilman June 14, 2014

    Your memory still amazes me. I don’t remember that at all.
    I’ll bet most young people today don’t know why we say to “dial” a phone number!

    1. Plant Electrician June 14, 2014

      It was just a moment in your busy day. It was the highlight of my week.

Power Plant Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day came a week early for the men at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma in the year 2000.  Instead of the scheduled May 14th Mother’s Day, the Power Plant Men gathered in the First Baptist Church in Pawnee Oklahoma to say goodbye to their Power Plant Mother Saturday, May 6, 2000.  That was the day that Juliene Alley, our Power Plant Mother was laid to rest.

You might think that a woman welder spending her time at a Power Plant welding tubes in the dark insides of the boiler during overhaul, or crammed up inside a bowl mill where the air you breathe can be as hot as 160 degrees Fahrenheit would fit the image of a broad shouldered tough woman that you wouldn’t want to meet in an Alley at night.   This in no way describes Juliene.  If I had a picture of Juliene, you would see a woman of small stature with a slightly worn countenance and a humble but confident expression with a slight smile that had been etched permanently  into her face from years of being content with whatever lot in life she had been dealt.

I am not able to say what her life was like before she arrived at the Power Plant in 1985 one week before her 34th birthday.  I know she had one son named Joseph Alley and she had been married to a man named Red.  For me, her life began when I first met her at the tool room waiting to get a tool from Bud Schoonover.  She was being treated with extra care by her welding crew.  They were very protective of her at first.  My first impression was that she was kind and soft spoken.

I didn’t work around Juliene for quite a while.   I don’t even remember if she had worked her way through the Labor Crew as we were required when I hired on at the plant.  I worked with Juliene only after the last downsizing when we were on the same cross-functional team in 1994.  By that time, the welders referred to Juliene as their “Mom”.

I never heard an unkind word come from Juliene.  It may have happened immediately following a Power Plant Joke had been played on her, but since it never would have occurred to me to play a joke on her, I only ever heard kind words from Juliene.  I’m sure her son  Joe could tell us more about that.  Juliene spent a lot of time working with Ed Shiever.  They were about the same height and it seemed to me that the two of them were paired often to work the same jobs.

Ed Shiever 15 years later

Ed Shiever

The title “Mom” wasn’t given to her as a ceremonial title just because of her gender.  When I watched Juliene with the welders, I could see and hear that she treated each one of the welders as if she was really and truly their Mother.  I have heard her scold them, put them in their places, and even calm them down when they needed to be put in “time out”.

Juliene did not die unexpectedly.  She died from a failing liver that lasted over many months.  It seems to me that her son Joe married his sweetheart Shauna a little earlier than intended so that it was in time for his Mother to attend the wedding in September 1999, eight months before she passed away.  The last time I talked with Juliene was when someone at the plant had called her in the hospital in Oklahoma City from the tool room telephone.  When I walked in the tool room to get a part, someone asked me if I wanted to speak with Juliene.

When I talked to her, I could tell that she was trying to be pleasant in spite of the knowledge that she only had about a week or two left.  I told her I would be praying for her.  She asked me if I knew where she could find a new liver.  I think I said something like, “I don’t have a spare one myself, but these machinists here are pretty good, maybe we can have one of them whip one up real quick.”

I have mentioned one of Juliene’s sons, Joe.  I have also mentioned Ed Shiever, who was a Power Plant Son to Juliene.  Here are some of Juliene’s other Power Plant children:

Noe Flores

Noe Flores

George Clouse

George Clouse

Robert Sharp

Robert Sharp

Mickey Postman

Mickey (Pup) Postman

Robert (T-Bone) Grover

Robert (T-Bone) Grover

Rod Meeks

Rod (Junior) Meeks

Robert Lewis

Robert Lewis

Kerry Lewallen

Kerry Lewallen

Chuck Morland

Chuck Morland

Dave McClure

Dave McClure

Earl Frazier

Earl Frazier

Bill Gibson

Bill (Gib) Gibson

With Ed Shiever, that makes over a dozen Power Plant Sons.  I’m sure there are others.  (If any others would like to be added, let me know, and if I have your pictures, I’ll post them here).

I attended Juliene’s funeral ceremony at the First Baptist Church in Pawnee on May 6, 2000.  The church was crowded that day with Power Plant Men.  Some had come from other Power Plants in the state to say goodbye to the Power Plant Mom we had all come to love.  Her Power Plant Sons stood up front and said their departing words to Juliene and to share their memories.

I have said in one of my early Power Plant Posts that each time a True Power Plant Man or Woman left the Power Plant that the character of the Power Plant would change.  The gift that Juliene Alley gave to the maintenance shop for many years was one of calm and civility.  I watched the welders over the years, and some of them began their Power Plant career with a less than “savory” attitude about life.  Over the years, I think the affect of having Juliene constantly in their lives tamed the welding shop to mold them into the respectable, caring, fine Power Plant Men that they became.  When Juliene left us that day at the Church, she left her character behind in her Power Plant Sons.

In memory of their Power Plant Mother, no character was lost from the Power Plant the day Juliene departed to tend to other pastures.  Eight months to the day of Juliene’s death on January 3, 2001, Joseph Edward Alley, her son, joined the ranks of Power Plant Men as he came to work at the Power Plant.  The joy of having the actual son of Juliene working in the plant was a reflection of how much we all loved his Mother.

Joe Alley with Juliene's new grandchild

Joe Alley with Juliene’s new grandchild

As you can see, Juliene’s family continues to grow.  Tomorrow we will be celebrating Mother’s Day.  Today, on Saturday, I remember back to Saturday May 6, 2000.  The day we celebrated our Power Plant Mother’s Day a week early.

Power Plant Summer Help Sanity Check –Repost

Originally Posted December 7, 2012:

What happens to a million dollar forest when left to the fate of two Power Plant Summer Help?  I can tell you; the result is not good.  Before I explain this statement, let me introduce some summer help to you so that you will have a deeper understanding of my summer help career.  It spanned 4 summers for a total of 12 months.

I would like to start out by saying that there were a few summer help that I thought were very intelligent and goodhearted people.  A dear friend of mine named Tim Flowers, who was a friend that I met while attending Oklahoma University my first year in school, was one of the smartest people you might run across in your lifetime.  He was also a very hard worker who didn’t mind putting his entire effort into his work.

Blake Tucker from Pawnee also had a brilliant mind and had an honorable work ethic.  He was fresh out of High School when he first went to work as a summer help at the coal-fired power plant in north central Oklahoma.  During his years as a summer help, I spent a lot of time with him working on mathematical calculations and on programming feats of magic.

Bill Cook, though he didn’t put his back into his work the way some would have liked to see, he did go on to work at the power plant on the labor crew a year and a half before I finally made it onto that team of singularly distinguished characters.  Bill confided in me, and I consider him a friend, though I haven’t seen him in 30 years.

David Foster became a friend of mine the second summer when we were were summer help together. He only worked at the plant that one summer, but I talked to him a few times during the years when he was in college and I would run into him coming out of church or on campus.  His father was a dentist in Ponca City.

This leaves me with all the rest of the summer help that worked with me during those 4 summers.  I wrote a post about the first summer help I worked with that really didn’t fit the requirements, since you were supposed to be going to school in order to be a summer help.  That was Steve Higginbotham.  You can read more about him in the post:

Steve Higginbotham’s Junky Jalopy Late for the Boiler Blowdown

Steve was a less than energetic person, but I could understand his lack of enthusiasm.  He had been dealt a shorthand in his life and he was making the best out of his situation.  What I found hard to understand were summer help that were fresh out of High School that were given the opportunity to work at an illustrious palace of a Power Plant, and they just didn’t want to work.

When I was leaving the house at age 14 to go to my first job where I was working for someone other than myself (I began selling tomatoes from my garden door-to-door at age 10), my dad told me something that became the core of my work ethic.  He said, “Son.”  Well, I don’t remember if he actually said “Son.” but it was something like that.  Maybe he said “Kevin, before you go, I want to tell you something.”  He said that I should do my best at whatever job they give me.  I should do a job that I would be proud to show others.  He never wanted to hear anything that would make him be ashamed of me.

It was a thrill to go work at a German Restaurant as a dishwasher making $1.50 an hour.  I worked my tail off each night.  I seldom took breaks, and I focused on keeping ahead of the work so that I wouldn’t become swamped.

So, it was hard for me, by the time I was 20, to see summer help come to the plant and work real hard at not working.  Young football players from Pawnee, who you would think would be able to put their best foot forward, were usually standing around talking smack about that one doofus of a summer help that wanted to get to work right away.  That one guy that liked wearing his face shield and ear muffs hanging down from his hard hat swinging the industrial weedeater to-and-fro all day long.

One with two handles like this one

One with two handles like this one (I like reusing pictures from old posts)

This one group of summer help that were hired that summer all seemed to have the same bug, except for Bill  Cook.  Bill didn’t get along with them because he wasn’t from the same bully class that they graduated.  At one point during the summer the tension between them and Bill rose to such a level that they had to handle it the only way left.

Bill had to meet one of them outside the gate after quittin’ time to settle matters.  The truth of the matter was that Bill had done nothing to stir up their ire.  They just didn’t like him.  It seemed to be a personality issue with them.  From what I understand, the cowards received what was coming to them as usually happens when they have mistook someone to be a weakling and easy pickings.

To illustrate the intelligence of this particular group of summer help (there were 3 of them), let me describe an instance where they were struggling real hard to keep from working.  I didn’t understand their desire to keep doing what they were doing in the first place, so I wasn’t about to stay in the situation all afternoon.

Stanley Elmore had told us to mow the area around the main parking lot.  This included the area by the main entrance.  At that time there were sections of grass on all sides of the parking lot including the side by the garage.  Stanley sent me and the 3 of them (not Bill Cook.  I think he knew the tension between them and tried to work it so that Bill could be doing other things) out to mow this area with regular push mowers.

It was just after lunch when we started.  I knew right away that the three amigos wanted to make this job last all afternoon.  I think they were afraid that when they finished they would be sent to the park to empty the trash cans of the foul rotten fish guts and soiled baby diapers.  A job that would make most summer help puke and even bring water to the eyes of a True Power Plant Man.

Well.  I grabbed one of the lawn mowers and headed out across the drive to the grass and started mowing around and around one stretch of grass.  By the time the others had dragged their mowers out and took their time starting them, I had finished one stretch of grass and went around to the other side of the parking lot to work on that side as well.

The grass on the far side of the parking lot wrapped around by the welding shop and over to the front entrance.  So, once this entire section was done, we would be finished.  It really wasn’t that much grass to mow.  Not when you had 4 lawn mowers all going around in a counter clockwise direction.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the three huddle together to have a quick discussion.  I knew they were going to try to thwart my efforts to quickly finish this job so they didn’t have to move on to the next adventure.  I also knew that there wasn’t anyway they were going to be able to stop me.

They had tried to stop me before earlier when we were going out to cut weeds down a long right-of-way.  One of them had let his weedeater string out real far so that the strings were sticking out about 2 feet.  He started his weedeater up so that the strings were whining and turned around so that the strings grabbed my leg and before I knew it I was flat on my back with a stabbing pain in my knee.  My kneecap had been knocked out of the socket, which I quickly hit with the palm of my  hand to knock it back over from the side of my knee.

I could see that this had been pre-planned by their reaction.  I think they thought it would take me out of commission or make me angry so they could watch me lose my top.  The guy that did it apologized in a half sarcastic way and I told him it was all right.  I wiped the dust off of my pants and grabbed my weedeater and went to work.  I could see them at the back of the truck standing there wondering where their plan had failed.

Anyway, back to mowing the grass around the parking lot.  I was able to tell immediately what they had planned.  Their idea was to hem me in and mow very slowly so that I would have no where to go but to follow along behind one of them travelling at a snails pace.  They were so slow they would take one step, wait a second, then take another step, etc.

So, as I came up behind one of them I suddenly took a left turn and cut a new path through the grass without even slowing down.  I quickly came to the other side of the curb, and I turned left again and was heading back in the direction I came from just as if nothing was wrong.

I knew the law of physics.  Newton’s First Law of Physics.  If a body is in motion it tends to stay in motion unless it is acted on by another force.  Well.  The mind of the weak have little force.  Newton was not only one of my favorite Physicist, he was one of my favorite Mathematicians as well.

Sir Isaac Newton  Had 3 laws of motion and liked to mow grass (ok. So I made up that second part)

Sir Isaac Newton Had 3 laws of motion and liked to mow grass (ok. So I made up that second part)

Well.  He did like sitting in the park under an apple tree.  — So how did they keep the grass mowed back in 1642?  Maybe they trained the grass just to stay small.  Why don’t we have grass that just stays short?  We could do that easy enough.

Because of the laws of motion and the size of my lawn mower and the speed in which I was mowing, I had calculated that I should be able to finish mowing the entire area in about 15 more minutes (or 900 seconds) if I were to do it all myself.  — Funny how things run through your mind when you are mowing grass.  No wonder Sonny Karcher loved mowing grass so much.

Anyway.  That little story illustrates my point about how some summer help put all their brain power into thinking about how to stay out of work that they couldn’t even conceive of someone thinking outside the box.  How difficult was it for me to just turn and mow a patch of grass out in the middle of the stretch of grass we were mowing?

Once they realized that there wasn’t anyway to stop me, they went ahead and finished their job.  I couldn’t figure out why they wanted to stand out in the sun in 100 degree temperature anyway pretending to mow grass.  Didn’t they know that just made the day seem longer?

It was that summer that the plant manager was sold on the idea of planting a forest around the coal yard to prevent the wind from blowing all the coal away.  So, a million dollars was spent to hire a company to plant a number of rows of trees along the south road next to the coal yard.  When the trees were planted, they were like sickly little sticks.  The summer help were sent to go water them from time-to-time using the small Mitsubishi tractor pulling a trailer with a tank of water on it.

A tractor just like this

A tractor just like this

I have to admit that I never gave the idea much hope.  The ground where the trees were planted was hard clay.  The company that received the million dollars hardly even put any real usable tree-growing dirt in the hole when they planted the trees.

The trees were planted very close together so that you couldn’t mow around them.  So, when the weeds started growing tall and the field had been mowed, Stanley sent a couple of the lazy summer help up there to weed eat around the trees.

I had been told some time in my childhood that one of the fastest ways to kill a tree was to strip the bark off all the way around the tree.  Not just strip the bark, but cut a little into the tree itself around the base of the tree.  If you did this, the tree would die.  The only actual living part of the tree is the outside section.  Here is a link to a site that describes the part of a tree and a picture from that site:

How Does A Tree Grow

cutting the Cambium layer all the way around a tree will kill the tree

cutting the Cambium layer all the way around a tree will kill the tree

So, do I need to go on?  That’s right.  When the summer help had finished trimming the verge around the trees their fate had been sealed.  Two summer help in a matter of an hour totally wiped out the million dollar tree experiment.  They had stripped the bark clean around every tree.

Not to be outdone.  The Plant Manager spent 2 million dollars to have larger trees installed with plenty of good soil around the embankments on the north side of the coal pile.  These were good healthy trees.There was even an irrigation system installed to make sure they were properly watered.  This worked at least a year or two.  Long enough for a lot of the trees to catch hold.  The only problem is that the wind almost always blows from the west or the south defeating the purpose of the “windbreak” on the north side of the coal pile.

Ok.  One more summer help story before I go.  A friend of mine named Ben Cox became a summer help for a summer the fourth summer I worked as a summer help (how many times can I use the word summer in one sentence?).  I had worked with him at the Bakery in Columbia, Missouri and he had followed me home that summer to try his hand at summer helping at the power plant.  Tim Flowers and I had tried to dissuade him, but to no avail.  I have mentioned Ben Cox before in the story about Ramblin’ Ann.  He and I used to tag team Ramblin’ Ann just to keep our sanity.  See the link below as a refresher on Ramblin’ Ann:

Ed Sheiver Trapped in a Confined Space with a Disciple of Ramblin’ Ann

Ben wasn’t the most physically fit, and we didn’t want to see him have a heart attack at such an early age.  Ben, however, held his own as best he could and survived a summer of working outdoors.  He actually did better than Tim and I expected.

One day when we were driving to the coal yard Ben asked me why there were large hills of sand piled up across the road from the intake.  Instead of telling him that the sand had been dredged out of the intake channel when they were filling the lake and sand was being pumped from the river up to the lake with the water, I told him something else…

I told Ben that they kept the large piles of sand there in case they ran out of coal.  They would burn the sand as a last resort.  I explained that they didn’t like to burn sand because it burned hotter than coal and it turned into glass in the boiler and really messed things up.  But if there was a long coal strike and they totally ran out of coal, they would have to burn sand in order to keep producing electricity.

Tim and I watched closely as Ben mulled this over in his mind.  At first he didn’t believe me, but after I explained why we didn’t burn sand all the time, you could start to see the wheels turning in his mind.  Burning sand…. wow!  There is sand all over the place!  I never told him differently.  I’m sure if he tried to sell the idea to someone, he would have found out quick enough.

Comment from the original post:

Ron Kilman December 12, 2012:

Your stories are so good! They bring back memories I hadn’t thought of for years. The part about “burning sand” reminded me of the Brown & Root engineer that was looking for an easy way to put holes in a thick set of blueprints. “Someone” (Kenneth Palmer or John Blake might have been involved) convinced him that shooting them with a 22 would be the easiest way to do the job. He then proceeded to take a new set of prints and totally destroy them!

Turning the Tables on a Power Plant Telephone Interloper

When discussing Telephones at the Coal-Fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, I have to remember that some of my readers have a completely different perspective of telephones than me.  My children grew up probably never seeing a real rotary dial phone except in movies or old TV shows.  It might be a little hard for them to imagine a telephone being a possible murder weapon.  Telephones have come a long way since I grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s.

A Rotary Dial Telephone

A Rotary Dial Telephone

When you turned the dial on a Rotary phone you put your finger int he hole on the number you want to dial and then you swing it around until your finger bumps up against the metal bracket.  When you pull you finger out of the hole, the phone sends a rapid succession of pulses to the telephone company telling them what number you just dialed.  It was very… well…. tedious and manual…. and not even electronic.  It was electric signals and switches.  “Mechanical” is the word I think I’m trying to say.

Even the way you received a dial tone was by sending something called a “Ring-to-ground” signal to the telephone company.  That would happen when you would lift the receiver off the hook.  There are only two wires used to communicate in an old phone and only one of those had voltage on it.  when you ground that wire (called the “Ring”) momentarily, the phone company would then send a dial tone to your phone.

You could actually do this on a dead phone line at times when the phone company had shut off your service.  On an old pay phone, when the proper coin was inserted in the phone, the coin itself was used to ground the ring wire, thus telling the telephone company to send the dial tone, allowing you to use the phone.  In 1983 there was a movie called “Wargames”.

Wargames Starring Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy

Wargames Starring Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy

I had learned about how these telephones worked from Bill Rivers just before going to watch this movie.  During the movie Matthew Broderick’s character needed to make a phone call at a pay phone but didn’t have a coin.  By taking the mouthpiece off of the transmitter, and using a metal pop top he found on the ground, he was able to ground the “ring” wire to the pay phone, and he received a dial tone.  There was a good ol’ boy sitting behind me in the movie theater that said, “You can’t do that!”  — Being the newly educated smart (-alec) guy I was, I turned around and said, “Yeah.  You really can.”

Anyway.  This isn’t a story so much about how old phones work.  I just wanted to bring the younger readers back-to-date on phones since now they don’t really call them telephones anymore.  It is more like, “Smart Phone” and “Cell Phone”, “Mobile Phone” or just “Phone”.  The phone in the house isn’t even referred to as a telephone.  We now call them “Home Phone” to distinguish them from the actual phones that we use.

Anyway, when I joined the electric shop in 1983, I learned about the phone system.  We didn’t use the older Rotary Dial phones at the plant.  We were one step up.  We had “Touch Tone” Phones.

A Power Plant Touch Tone Phone

A Power Plant Touch Tone Phone

As I have mentioned in previous posts, we had our own telephone computer at the Power Plant.  It was called a ROLM phone system.  See the post “A Slap In the Face at a Gas-fired Power Plant“.

A ROLM Phone Computer

A ROLM Phone Computer – I like showing this picture of the Phone computer

To give you an idea of the technology used by this phone system, you connected to it using a “teletype” terminal that you connected to a telephone by clipping the receiver in a cradle.  Then you dialed the phone computer.  When you connected, it was at 300 Baud.  Think of 300 bytes per second, only using audio…. like a fax machine. — It was like connecting using a modem.  300 baud meant that when it typed out the results on the paper that scrolled out the top, you could watch it as it slowly printed out each line.  The maximum speed of the terminal was 300 baud.

 

This is the TI Silent 700 Terminal.  We used this exact model of Teletype terminal at the Power Plant

This is the TI Silent 700 Terminal. We used this exact model of Teletype terminal at the Power Plant

In this picture you can see the cradle in the back where the phone receiver would fit in those two rubber cups.

After many years of going to the lab to connect to the telephone computer to make changes and to monitor the telephone traffic, in 1992 I decided to bring my 8088 computer to work and set it on the desk in the electric shop.  We didn’t have our own computer yet.  At that time the only people that had computers were office workers and the Shift Supervisor.  We had started a computer club and having a computer in the shop was a big help.  I had just replaced this computer at home with a 486.

This is a Leading Edge computer.  My father had this one.  An earlier version than the 8088 that I was using.

This is a Leading Edge computer. My father had this one. An earlier version than the 8088 that I was using.

I had a modem on my computer, so I tried connecting to the telephone computer, and it worked!  So, sometimes during lunch when Charles Foster and I were sitting there talking about movies we had seen eating vegetables from his garden, I would connect to the ROLM computer and just watch the call log.  I could see whenever someone was dialing in and out of the plant.

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

We had a special call in number into the plant that allowed you to make “trunk” calls.  This is another term you don’t hear much anymore.  You see….. for the younger readers (again)…. long distant calls used to cost a lot of money.  You would be charged by how many minutes you were on the call.  During the day, it could be as high as $3.00 a minute to call across the country.  Amazing huh?  Because today, most of you with cell phones and even your land lines (which are rarely real land lines anymore) long distant phone calls are now free with your phone plan.

Yeah, if you wanted to call someone in the next town over, you would have to pay a fee for every minute you were on the call…. That was when AT&T had a monopoly on the phone lines in the United States.  Sure, you only payed $7.00 each month for your phone, but you could only call people in your immediate area or you would be charged extra.

A Trunk line gave you access to a much wider area.  The Electric company had a trunk line that gave them access to most of Oklahoma.  You could dial into a local number that would connect you to the company phone system.  Then after entering the correct password number, you could dial access numbers that would take you to another office location in the electric company.  Once on that phone system, you could dial  to get an outside line, and then dial a local number in that area.

Our plant had three access numbers that allowed you to dial out locally to Stillwater, Ponca City and Pawnee.  This was useful when a foreman needed to call people out to work.  They could dial into the plant, then back out to one of these other towns and then dial the local phone number of the crew member they were trying to reach without incurring a personal charge on their phone line.

So, here I was in 1992 during lunch watching the phone traffic in and out of the plant (not exactly NSA style, but sort of), when I saw something unexpected.  A long string of numbers showed up.  Someone had dialed in on the Stillwater trunk, then dialed out on the Oklahoma City trunk, from there they placed a long distance call to phone number in the same area code.  The prefix on the phone number was familiar to me.  It was a Ponca City phone number.   I had lived in Ponca City for three years when I had been married, from 1986 to 1989.  I knew a Ponca City phone number when I saw one.

I thought this was odd, because it wouldn’t be normal for someone to dial from Stillwater through out plant to Oklahoma City only to call a Ponca City phone number when they could have dialed the local Ponca City access code.  Then they wouldn’t have had to make a long distance call which bypassed our trunk call system causing the electric company to be billed for the long distance telephone call.

At the time I was a CompuServe user.  This was when the World Wide Web was in it’s infancy.  I was still using a DOS computer.  When I connected to the Internet, it was either by using my dad’s Internet account from Oklahoma State University where I would use Telnet to access a bunch of mainframe computers all over the country, or I would use the DOS-based version of CompuServe.  CompuServe was the king of Internet access before America Online came around and seemingly overnight made CompuServe obsolete.

A screenshot of the CompuServe Program I was using.

A screenshot of the CompuServe Program I was using.

In 1992, CompuServe had a service where you could look up phone numbers and find out whose number it was.  Imagine that!  Yeah.  That was one of the neatest features on CompuServe!  That and getting stock quotes.  — Like I said…. There was no “www.whitepages.com” online.  The only catch to using the reverse phone number feature, was that it was like making a long distance call.  It cost money.  You were charged by the minute for using the CompuServe reverse telephone number service, with the least amount being a dollar.

So, I bit the bullet and accessed the Phone Number lookup section of CompuServe.  I quickly typed in the number.  When the name and address of the user popped up, I quickly hit “Print Screen”, and then exited the service.  My fee came to $1.00, but at least I knew what number had been dialed in Ponca City.

Charles, Scott Hubbard and I were a little excited by the time Terry Blevins walked into the electric shop office after lunch was over, I told him what I had seen.

Terry Blevins

Terry Blevins

When I told Terry the name of the person that had received the long distance call, he recognized the name right away.  When I gave him the address, he was sure he knew who it was.  The phone number belonged to the Music Director at the Ponca City High School.  His son was attending college in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Well, that sort of cinched it.  We had a pretty good idea who had made the call.  It was a college student calling home, who had been given the phone number most likely by a fellow student who knew the code to call home in Oklahoma City.  So, the only local access code this guy knew was how to dial through our plant to Oklahoma City and back out where he was free to make a long distance call home.

Armed with this knowledge, I headed up to the front office.  I went straight to the Plant Manager, Ron Kilman’s office.  I told Ron what I had found.  I explained in detail how the person had dialed from Stillwater into our plant and then to Oklahoma City and out and then placed a long distance call to Ponca City leaving us with the phone bill.  Since it was the middle of the day, the cost of a long distance call was not cheap.

I told Ron that I had used CompuServe to lookup the phone number and found that Terry had said that it belonged to the Music Director at the Ponca City High School and that he had a son in college in Stillwater.  I was all ready to pounce on this guy.  This was a fraudulent use of the telephone service and there were some pretty strict laws then about stealing long distance from someone else.

Ron, being the more level-headed of the two of us thought about it for a minute and said, “What would be the best way to stop this from happening?”  — Oh.  Well.  I was so intent on catching the culprit, I hadn’t thought about that angle….  “Well….”  I said, “We could change the pass code used to log into our phone system.  We would just have to tell our supervisors what the new number is.”

Ron asked me what it would take to do that.  I told him I could do it in two minutes.  We quickly settled on a new 4 digit pass code and I left his office and returned to the electric shop and made the change essentially turning the tables on the Telephone Interloper.  I suppose the college student in Stillwater was lucky that our plant manager at the time was the type to forgive and forget.

Three years later the entire electric company phone system was replaced by a new AT&T computer which was managed by AT&T.  As you can tell… Technology just keeps moving forward making seemingly really neat new inventions quickly obsolete.