Tag Archives: Ponca City

Weary of Power Plant Drug Testing

Originally posted February 28, 2014:

One day, seemingly out of the blue, a van drove into the parking lot of the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma. It was carrying some people that had come to our plant to perform drug tests on everyone in the plant. The test consisted of each one of us going into the Men’s rest room (or Women’s rest room, depending on the usual one you occupied) and peeing into a small bottle while someone stood behind you keeping their eye on you. This was the first time drug testing like this had taken place at the plant. A few years earlier, in order to find “druggies”, the “snitch” was hired to go around and try to coax people to go hide somewhere and do drugs with the snitch. I wrote about this in the post “Power Plant Snitch“.

This was different. The first time, it would obviously have been a case of entrapment to have someone come around and ask you to go to a janitor closet somewhere and smoke an illegal substance. Drug testing was more objective. If the drug test came up positive, you knew you were either guilty of taking illegal drugs or you were pregnant (or… maybe that was the other test). We had heard before that we may at any time be subjected to drug testing, so when the people showed up to actually do it, I don’t think many people were surprised.

For the most part, there were few people that had an issue with going into the bathroom and peeing in a small bottle. There were, however, a couple of exceptions. The person that I remember had the most problem with it was Diana Brien. She said that when she went in to try to pee in a bottle with someone watching her, she just couldn’t do it. I figured this must be a problem more with women then men. For one reason. Men are always standing there peeing into something with other people standing right next to them watching them.

A urine drug test bottle

A urine drug test bottle

Just today when I was at work peeing into the urinal at work, I turned to the right and said, “Hey Tom! How’s it going?” Tom said, “Fine buddy! How are things with you?” I replied, “Oh, you know. I’m still here. That’s something.” We both nodded and went about our business. Something tells me the same thing doesn’t happen in the Women’s restroom.

With Power Plant Men, it is even more cordial than that. We tend to take showers in groups in one big community shower, where in the women’s locker room, they each had their own stall with a curtain. I only know because as an electrician, I had to go in there to change light bulbs.

The cordial nature of Power Plant Men in the shower came to my attention one day when I was a janitor cleaning out the bathroom in the Coalyard Maintenance building where the Labor Crew was housed. I remember hearing a conversation between Dale Mitchell and Chuck Morland as they were coming out of the shower. Dale told Chuck, “Gee Chuck, after seeing you, I have to question my manhood….” He went on to describe why. I won’t go into detail, but it had to do with Chuck Morland having a lot more “Manhood” than Dale had. You can probably guess that while I was around the corner mopping out the stalls where the toilets were, I was doing my best not to laugh out loud.

It literally took Dee all day to drum up enough nerve to go take the drug test. She kept drinking coffee, and water, but every time she had to go pee in front of the person from Corporate Headquarters, she froze up. By the end of the day, she had peed in the bottle, and it was over. Of the 250 employees, I don’t know if any were found to have been on drugs. After the warning, I wouldn’t have thought so. We were under the impression that if it was determined that you were on drugs, then they would take you to someplace where a more trustworthy test could be performed. If you were found to be on drugs, then we thought at that point that you would lose your job.

A few weeks before the drug tests began, when they were warning us that they were coming they said that if any of us had a drinking or a drug problem, they should come forward soon and ask for help. If you asked for help, then the company would provide services for you that would help you with your problem. If you later failed the drug test and you hadn’t asked for help, then you were going to be fired.

There was one person in our shop that we figured wasn’t going to be able to pass the drug test. That was Michael Rose. He drank so much that his blood alcohol level was normally high enough that if you were in an underground coal conveyor tunnel and the lights all went out, all you had to do was prick his finger and light it with your lighter, and you had a mini-torch until you were able to find your way out. When he passed the drug test it was pretty plain that either the test wasn’t worth a flip, or they weren’t testing for the type of alcohol Mike consumed.

In the following years, drug tests were supposedly administered by random. I will tell you why I say, “supposedly”. Some time after the initial drug test, one morning, our team was told to all get in a truck with our foreman and drive to Ponca City to a clinic and have a drug test taken. I think this was a blood test. It was done in such a rushed way, it was like they were on to someone, but didn’t want to just have that one person go take the test. That way, no one would be upset by being singled out to go take a drug test. At least that is what it seemed.

I remember our team all sitting there in the waiting room waiting to be tested. We each went in one at a time. When we were done, we drove back to the plant, and nothing was ever found (as far as we knew). I thought maybe this was the second level test because some anomaly had showed up on one of our initial tests. Anyway, it seems like all of us passed the second round of drug tests.

After that, about once ever year or two, a set of people would be randomly chosen from the plant to be drug tested. I know when most of those drug tests occurred because I was randomly chosen more times than not to be tested. In the next 10 years, I was tested at least 5 more times. So much so that I began to wonder why. It seemed as if every time there was a “random” drug test, I was chosen. I was usually with a different bunch of Power Plant Men, but each time I was there. Was I just so lucky? I am you know. I wrote a post about that. See “Power Plant Men’s Club Prizes and a Story of Luck“.

I may have just been paranoid, but it came as less of a surprise each time. The tests even became more sophisticated. Eventually, there was a chart on the side of the bottle you peed in. So, not only did it take your temperature, but it also measured your urine to see if you were trying to cheat the test.

A color chart for a drug test that includes a test to see if you have been cheating on the test.

A color chart for a drug test that includes a test to see if you have been cheating on the test.

I didn’t mind taking the tests. I figured it might as well be me than any of the other Power Plant Men. Why bother them? We were all clean.

It was when I was watching a movie once where someone sniffed some cocaine up their nose that an idea came to me as to why I might be singled out to take the drug test each couple of years. You see, I had the habit of wiping my nose with the back of my hand. Not because I had the sniffles, but because it was irritated all the time.

When I was in college I had my nose broken one night when a friend, Jeff Firkins and I were going for a walk in Columbia, Missouri. It was around two in the morning, and somehow we just ended up in Douglas Park spinning around on a merry-go-round.

A merry-go-round like this, only less colorful

A merry-go-round like this, only less colorful

My friends from Columbia who read this blog know that when you were Caucasian in the spring of 1980, it is not a clever idea to go play on the merry-go-round in Douglas Park at night. I seem to remember looking very Caucasian in 1980.

We were having so much fun that we didn’t mind when a couple of local park dwellers came and gave us a subtle hint that they wanted us to leave their turf. So, eventually, it ended with a scuffle between myself and 4 other guys in which I ended up with a broken nose. I knew that I had a cut across my nose from one guy’s ring, but I didn’t realize it was actually broken until many years later when an ear, nose and throat doctor x-rayed it and showed it to me.

I thought that because I was always rubbing my nose, then Louise Kalicki was suggesting to the drug testers that I would be likely candidate for sniffing something up my nose. I didn’t mind disappointing them each time. The nearest I came to sniffing something up my nose was when I worked in the bakery and I ate a lot of powdered donuts.

When I left the electric company in 2001, in order to go work for Dell, I had to take a drug test. I had to go to a local doctor in Stillwater, Oklahoma and have my blood drawn. Then that was the end of it. After working for Dell for 12 years, I have not been subjected to repeated drug testing. Working in a corporate environment is much different, however than working in a power plant.

I think it is much more of a factor when the Power Plant Men and Women that work in a Power Plant are on drugs. I certainly wouldn’t want to work around someone on drugs in a power plant. There are too many ways in which someone could be hurt or killed. Driving heavy equipment, or operating machinery that could crush you in a heartbeat, you want to make sure that the person in the driver’s seat is fully functional and aware.

There was only one time when I was at the plant where I can remember that someone was fired because they were on the job while they were intoxicated. It was an unfortunate case, because the poor guy had things going on in his life at the time that were only exacerbated by him losing his job. I think at one point, he became so low after being fired that someone described him as a bum roaming the streets of Tulsa.

I had only wished that it had been possible for him to have kept his dignity and been offered help. I know those things aren’t always possible and there were other factors involved I’m sure. Just a side note. I believe that this man, whom I have always held in the highest regard, finally picked himself up by his bootstraps and regained his self respect.

As I mentioned earlier, Mike Rose passed his drug test that day, to everyone’s surprise. Even he was surprised. One weekend he had been called out to work to fix the air conditioner for the logic room. When Bill Bennett called Mike, Mike told him that he had been drinking and he wasn’t really fit to go to work at the moment. Bill assured him that it would be all right, if he could only go out and get the logic room air conditioner fixed quickly.

The logic room is the room that houses the plant computer that runs all the equipment in the plant (or it did at the time). It didn’t like being warm. If you can imagine the heat in the middle of the summer in Oklahoma. The plant operation was going to be jeopardized if something wasn’t done quickly. Jim Stevenson had already been fired because of the Snitch that I mentioned at the top of the post. So at the time, Mike was the only option available.

Mike went to work and found that the main relay to the air conditioning unit wasn’t picking up. So, in his inebriated state, he took a block of wood and pressed it against the lever that manually pushed the relay in, and closed the door on it so that the block of wood was pinned between the door and the lever. Keeping the air conditioner running. Needless to say, there was a legitimate reason why the relay wasn’t picking up, and by Monday morning the unit had burned up.

A large air conditioner about the size of the one that Mike Rose worked on

This is a large air conditioner a third of the size than the one that Mike Rose worked on

I think it was Leroy (or it may have been Tom Gibson) wanted to fire him right away for going to work drunk and destroying the air conditioner. Bill Bennett came to his rescue and pointed out that Mike had warned him before he came to work that he was drunk and Bill had assured him that it would be all right just this once. What could you say? I suppose shoulders were shrugged and life at the Power Plant went on as usual. I don’t think the drug testing ever amounted to anything. When someone was let go, it wasn’t because they had peed in a bottle.

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Power Plant “We’ve Got the Power” Program

Originally posted March 14, 2014:

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

“We’ve Got the Power” Igloo Lunch Box

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

A windbreaker like this, only gray. The

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

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

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

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

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

Terry Blevins

Terry Blevins

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

Jody Morse

Jody Morse

Darlene Mitchell

Darlene Mitchell

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

Richard Dale many years later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponca-City-House

The house we rented in Ponca City, Oklahoma

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

Stillwater-house

House we rented in Stillwater

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

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

Two Lazy-Boys received as an award from the

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

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

Dining Room Table received as an award from the

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

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

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

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

Linda Shiever

Linda Shiever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments from the Orignal Post:

  1. Ron March 15, 2014

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

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

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

    1. Plant Electrician March 15, 2014

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

  2. Morguie March 17, 2014

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

  3. Jonathan Caswell March 17, 2014

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

  4. Tim March 18, 2014

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

 

Power Plant Pilfering and Being Peeved with Peavler

Originally posted April 5, 2014:

Today, work ended in a strange way.  I was working away at Dell when I had a call with a business partner to go over some configuration of our timekeeping application.  When I joined the call, the person on the other end of the line, who usually sounded like a normal woman with a slightly Hispanic accent sounded more like an insect alien with a very nervous tic.

I tried several quick remedies on my computer to resolve the audio issues I was experiencing.  You see, at Dell, when we use the telephone, we are actually using our computer with a headset attached.  After shutting down a few processes that I knew were not necessary in the hope of clearing up our communication, I thought that maybe rebooting my computer would be the simple solution.  That was the lesson I had learned back at the gas-powered power plant in Harrah Oklahona in 1985.

Ellis Rook had told me back then that he didn’t mess with trying to figure out why the phone system wasn’t working.  Whenever there was a problem, he preferred to just reload the program from disk, which took about a half an hour.  No worries that all the phones in the plant would be down for a half an hour as the Rolm Phone computer was rebooting.  So, I rebooted my system, since restarting the communication program didn’t work.

A ROLM Phone Computer

A ROLM Phone Computer

When my computer rebooted and I attempted to log in, when the screen would go blank just before the moment when you would expect the wallpaper to show up, my computer would indicate that it was logging me off and then would shutdown only to restart again….  Drats!  …and I had this important call with my coworker that I was sure had not really changed into the alien that had been talking to me moments before.

I tried this a couple more times, and each time the computer would shutdown and restart.  So, I swiveled around in my chair and turned to my current manager who was sitting across the bullpen cube from me and I said, “My computer has crashed.”  It just keep restarting.  She replied, “Go take it down to the computer clinic and have them fix it.  They are great!  They will fix you up right away.

Like this only bigger to fit seven docking stations

Our bullpen cube is like this only bigger to fit seven docking stations.  adding an extra seat in the back and one extra on each side

On a side note, I just want to add that my current manager at Dell has been the absolute most influential manager I have ever met next to Charles Foster.  She has perfected the art of “Expanding her bubble”.  Charles taught me this technique many years ago.

So, on a side note of a side note, let me just tell you what my former foreman Charles Foster at the Power Plant did once.  He ordered some equipment for everyone in the electric shop which ran into a few “extra” dollars.  When he was called on the carpet to explain why he thought he had the authority to make this purchase, he explained it this way:

“When I went to ‘manager training’ they told me that during your career you will have times where it will be necessary to perform activities that you are not sure you are able to perform, so you should go ahead and try them.  If you get your hand slapped, you just pull back and don’t do that again.’  This is called ‘Expanding your bubble’.  I was just  expanding my bubble.”  He said Ben Brandt, the assistant plant manager, looked at him with a blank stare for a moment, and then told him that he was free to go.  Evidently, according to the listening devices that we had hidden in his office, Ben turned to Tom Gibson, the Electric Supervisor, and said, “That’s a pretty good explanation.”

I bring this encounter up, because my current manager, Ali Levin, of whom I also have the greatest respect, just recently had an opportunity to expand her bubble.  She was so successful that those around her that know what she has accomplished just stare in awe at her.  I predict that within the next decade this young lady will have become the CIO (Chief Information Officer) of a Fortune 500 company (mark my word).

So, what does this all have to do with Charles Peavler and Power Plant Pilfering?  Well.  The final verdict from the super technicians down in our computer repair lab, said that since it was Friday afternoon, I wouldn’t be able to have my computer back in working order until Monday morning.  Which meant that I would have to go all weekend without being able to log in and perform feats of magic on my laptop.

Ok.  I was resigned to go home early and wait patiently until Monday morning when I could begin popping up various applications and flipping between them and the multiple Instant Message windows talking to various business customers throughout the day as I performed the satisfying dance of my day-to-day job.  So.  I left work early.

This evening as I sat down to create a post about Power Plant Men and my previous life working as an electrician at a Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahama, the sudden loss of my computer flashed me back to a time when someone that was working with me experienced a similar loss.  Instead of a laptop.  This electrician had lost a set of “Jumpers”.

 

Electric Jumpers

Electric Jumpers

Ok.  These jumpers don’t look like much, I know.  But jumpers are almost as important to a plant electrician as a laptop is to an IT developer at Dell.  That is, you just can’t get your work done without it.

So, it was either Donald Relf or Bob Eno who was working with me on Friday, March 29, 1993.  During overhaul, we had been calibrating precipitator control cabinets all day.  Much like today, April 5, 2014 when my computer died.  At the end of the day as we were packing up our equipment Bob or Donald, I don’t remember, saw me leave my tool bucket next to the old typewriter stand that we were using as a portable workbench.  He asked me if it was safe to leave our tool buckets there over the weekend.

I assured him that the coal-fired plant in North Central Oklahoma hired only “top-notch” Power Plant Men.  His tools would be perfectly safe sitting out in the Precipitator control room over the weekend.  I was so confident because I had always left my tools where I was working in the precipitator during overhaul and I had never had anything stolen.  If anything, someone may have left me a present of chocolate behind only because they knew that I always did favors for chocolate.

You can imagine my surprise when we returned to the Precipitator Control Room on Unit 1 on Monday morning only to find that Bob (or Donald) had their jumpers missing from their tool bucket.  We each used 5 gallon buckets to carry our tools.  Mine had been untouched.  No extra chocolate that day, but no unsavory fingerprints were detected.

A black tool bucket like this

I had a black tool bucket like this

As it turned out, we relied on Bob’s (or Donald’s) jumpers to do our job, so we actually had to return to the electric shop and create a new set of jumpers for him.  I felt so ashamed.  After all, I had so proudly explained that only those with the greatest integrity worked at our plant, and he didn’t have to worry about leaving his tools, and here I was having to cover for his losses.  This was the only time in the 20 years I worked at the Power Plant where someone had stolen something from a tool bucket when they weren’t purposely playing a joke on me.

When I found time that day, I went to the control room and asked the Shift Supervisor if he could tell me who worked as the Unit 1 auxiliary operator over the weekend.  I knew that this would narrow the culprit down to three people.  He looked through his logs and said that Darrell Low, Charles Peavler and Jim Kanelakos had Unit 1 over the weekend.

Knowing how the shifts worked, I knew that each of these people had walked through the Unit 1 precipitator exactly 3 times over the weekend, before we returned on Monday morning. I also knew that no one else would have ventured to stroll through the Precipitator control room who was working over the weekend on overhaul.  I knew this because of all the hundreds of hours I had already spent in this control room over the weekend, only one operator per shift ever visited.  It was usually my reminder to take a break and go to the bathroom and buy something from a vending machine before returning.

I studied this list.  Hmmm….. Darrell Low….  A person with impeccable character.  Would love to play a good joke when given the change, but honest as the day is long.  Jim Kanelakos…. Devious at times, but personally a very good friend.  A person so dear to me that I him kept personally in my daily prayers.  Charles Peavler… well… by the title of this post…. you already know the rest of the story.

I eliminated Darrell immediately since I knew his character and I would trust him with my life (which I actually would at times when he would place clearances for me).  I suspected Peavler right off, but I thought I would make sure that Jim Kanelakos wasn’t just playing a joke on me first.  So, I approached him and asked him if he had taken a pair of jumpers from a tool bucket in the Precipitator control room over the weekend.

At first Jim looked at me with a hurt feeling that I thought might be a perfect expression if he was playing a joke on me.  He was holding the look of sorrow and hurt that I would actually accuse him vaguely of stealing a pair of jumpers from a tool bucket.  When I pressed him on the issue.  The hurt look changed to a look of resolve and he said directly, “No.  I didn’t take them.”

I knew immediately that he was telling me the truth.  Jim and I had worked together with Charles Peavler on the labor crew together.  We actually used to analyse his behavior as sort of a joke, and kind of a refresher of our Psychology background.  Jim Kanelakos had earned a Masters Of Arts in Psychology, while I had a bachelors in the same field.  So, we used to have fun joking around together about the unusual behavior of Peavler.

Charles Peavler looked like the Sergeant on Gomer Pyle.  Except that he had chewed tobacco so long that his lower lip was permanently curled so that he looked like Popeye.  I say that because they had the same lower jaw and the same amount of hair on his head:

Popeye

Popeye or is it Charles Peavler

Once I was certain that Charles Peavler had taken the Jumpers from Bob’s (or Donald’s – I’m relying on one of you telling me which one) tool bucket, I approached him with the attitude that I already knew it was him.  I came up to him in the Control room and said, “Charles!  You know that pair of jumpers that you took from that tool bucket over the weekend?  I need those back!”

I  explained to him that I had told the visiting electrician that it was safe to leave his tools there because no one would touch his stuff.  So, I felt personally responsible to get the jumpers back.  Charles immediately denied that he had taken the jumpers.  He said that he didn’t know what I was talking about.  I told him that I had checked, and he was the only person over the weekend that would have taken them.  So, I needed them back.  He continued to deny that he had taken them.

As the overhaul was lasting a few weeks longer, I continually approached Charles in the middle of the control room where the Control Room operators were within earshot asking him to give the jumpers back to me.  I would tell him how I need them so that we could continue our work.  Also I would explain each time that the reputation of our Power Plant was at stake.

Finally one day he said, “Well.  I don’t have them here.  I took them home.” — That was a great relief to me.  I had been continually accusing him day after day of taking those jumpers.  I was finally glad to find out I hadn’t been accusing someone falsely, which was always a vague thought in the back of my mind.  The moment he told me he had taken the jumpers home, I jumped on him (not literally – though the thought occurred to me).  I said, “I need those jumpers back!”

It took about a week.  Each day whether he was on the day shift or the night shift or the evening shift, since we were on overhaul working a lot of overtime, he was not able to escape me.  I would go up to him and ask him, “Did you bring those jumpers today? ”  Each time in the middle of the control room, quite loudly.

Finally, about a week after he admitted having the jumpers when I asked him about it in the middle of the control room, he went into the locker room and soon returned with the pair of jumpers and handed them to me.  I quickly returned them to Bob (or Donald), and apologized profusely for the inconvenience.  I didn’t tell him exactly what had happened to the jumpers, only that I had finally tracked them down.

I guess, he didn’t know that I knew him so well.  So well in fact that to this day, I have kept Charles Peavler also in my prayers every day.  When he lost his mother in on April 1, 2000 (fourteen years this week), I felt his loss also.  He left the plant on July 29, 1994 during the last (and the worst) downsizing the Power Plant ever experienced.  To this day, though I was peeved with Peavler back then, I still care for him deeply.  I don’t think he was a “True Power Plant Man”, but neither was Jim Kanelakos or myself.

Some day Charles will meet our maker.  When he does, he will be able to say,  “Yeah.  I did steal a pair of jumpers once.  But I ended up by giving them back.”  I clearly remember the look of relief that day when Charles placed those jumpers in my hand.  It was if a heavy burden had been lifted.  Actually, by that time I had decided that it was as important for Charles to give back those jumpers as it was for Bob (or Donald) to get them back.  Something had compelled him to lift that pair of jumpers, I think it was an opportunity for him to face reality.  I thought that he was having a “Come to Jesus” moment when he confessed.

I often wondered what Charles’ mother Opal Peavler would have thought of Charles.  I suppose she finally found out.  I suspect that by the time she found out, that Charles had mended his ways.  After all, he was on his way when we had danced this dance in the middle of the control room that week in 1992.  He did finally admit that he had stolen something.  I’m sure he thought at the time that an electrician could easily make a new pair of first class jumpers.  We wouldn’t care that someone had come along and taken one measly pair of jumpers.

Actually, if Charles had ever come to the electric shop and asked any electrician for a pair of jumpers, any one of the electricians would have been glad to whip up a pair as if by magic.  I think it was just that one moment when he was alone with a tool bucket staring at him and a  perfectly prepared pair of jumpers were gleaming up at him that in a moment of weakness, he decided he could pilfer this pair without anyone knowing.

To tell you the truth.  I was very proud of Charles Peavler the day he placed those jumpers in my hand.  Geez.  I didn’t realize until after I finished this post that I have a picture of Peavler:

Gene Day is the one standing on the right with the Orange shirt.

Charles Peavler is the one standing on the left with the Pink shirt.

 

 

Making Friends from Foes – A Tale of Power Plant Woes

Originally posted April 25, 2014:

Later in life, thinking back to when I was young, I sometimes wonder at how my first real friend, Mark Schlemper remained my friend throughout my childhood.  I remember as a boy, there were times when I wasn’t the friendliest friend.  Sometimes I was downright selfish.  Mark, on the other hand, was always considerate.  Not in an Eddie Haskell way, but in a sincere way.  I learned a lot about being a kinder person from Mark, and I’m forever grateful.

Mark Schlemper with his Mother. Two very good people.

My favorite picture of Mark Schlemper with his Mother

I think if Mark had not been my friend during my childhood, then this story would have a very different ending.

Last Friday (April 18, 2014), I posted a story called “Vertan or Sand and Making Enemies of a Power Plant Man“.  At the end of that post I explained that I had become the enemy of a team leader during the “We’ve Got The Power” program.  I explained this program in the post:  “Power Plant ‘We’ve Got The Power’ Program“.  With all that said, here is the story:

I was a plant electrician at a coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma when we took part in the “We’ve Got The Power” program.  At the time, I was in charge of maintaining the Unit 1 precipitator.  The precipitator is what takes the ash out of the exhaust from the boiler, so that you don’t normally see smoke coming out of a Power Plant Smokestack.

My bucket buddy in the Electric Shop, Diana Brien was on a team that tried an experiment on the Unit 1 precipitator by injecting sand into the intake duct in the hope that it would increase the performance.  I didn’t put much faith in the experiment, because it was based on something that had happened almost a year earlier when sand was burned in the boiler in order to burn off the oil that had been soaked into the sand.

I hadn’t seen any sand build up in front of the precipitator during the next overhaul, and didn’t believe that any of it had been able to make it’s way through the economizer and the air preheaters to the precipitator.

Diagram of a boiler

Diagram of a boiler.  The precipitator is after the air preheater where it is labelled “Flue gas”

When Ron Kilman asked me about it, I said that I didn’t think it would do any good, but also, it wouldn’t do any harm either, so I told Ron that I couldn’t see any reason not to do the experiment.  Who knows.  Maybe something unexpected would happen.  — Something did, but not quite in the way anyone would have expected.

On the day of the experiment, sand was blown into the intake duct of the precipitator.  When the experiment was taking place, Diana Brien sat at the precipitator computer behind the Unit 1 Alarm Panel in the Control Room.  She was printing out readings every so many minutes as the experiment progressed.

At times, I walked by and checked on her to see how it was going.  One time when I was standing there watching the readings on the computer, all of the sudden the Opacity shot up.  Opacity is used to measure how much smoke is going out of the smoke stack.  Something definitely happened to cause a large puff of smoke.

I switched screens to look at the power on each of the control cabinets.  After a few seconds I found that cabinet 1A10 had zero Volts on the secondary side of the transformer.  It should have been somewhere above 40 Kilovolts.  The cabinet hadn’t tripped, but it wasn’t charging up the plates.  Cabinet 1A10 was in the very back row of the precipitator, and when the power shuts off on the cabinet it readily lets go of the ash that had built up on it when the rappers on the roof strike the plates.

When I saw the puff occur, I knew where to go look, because this happened whenever one of the back cabinets was turned off.  I told Dee that it looked like a fuse had blown on the cabinet.  The ash was going to continue billowing out of the precipitator for a couple of hours if I didn’t go do something about it.  So, I told Dee that I was going to go to the Precipitator Control Room and replace the fuse.

I passed through the electric shop to grab my tool bucket and headed out to the precipitator.  When I arrived, I found the cabinet just as it had indicated on the computer.  The fuse had obviously failed.  Interesting timing.  Coincidence?  I thought it was.  The fuses controlling the back cabinets were usually the ones that blew because we ran them at a much higher voltage than the rest of the cabinets (at the time).

This is a picture of the exact fuse I replaced, except the writing was pink instead of blue

This is a picture of the exact fuse I replaced, except the print was orange instead of blue

I quickly replaced the fuse (after attaching grounding cables to the leads, and using a pair of high voltage gloves).  Then I powered the cabinet back on.

 

High Voltage gloves like this

High Voltage gloves like this

I returned to the Control Room and told Dee that I replaced the fuse on cabinet 1A10.  The opacity had returned to normal.  I watched a few more minutes to make sure everything had stabilized, and then I left.

When Ron Kilman was evaluating the results of the experiment, he could plainly see that something strange had happened.  Smoke had been pouring out of the smoke stack in the middle of the experiment.  So, he asked me what I thought about it.

First of all, as a disclaimer, our team had our own experiments we had been conducting on the precipitator in hopes of coming up with money savings ideas.  So, when I told Ron what had happened with the fuse blowing, I wondered if he would trust me to tell the truth, since I had my own skin in the game.

I explained in detail to Ron how the fuse had blown and that I was standing next to Dee watching the computer when the smoke started blowing out of the stack.  I could tell that a fuse had blown by looking at the readings, so I went out and replaced the fuse.  I told him that fuses do blow periodically in the back of the precipitator, but I couldn’t explain why it happened to fail at that particular time.  After I gave him my explanation, he seemed satisfied that I was telling the truth.

I think a token amount of points were awarded to the team because something obviously had happened during the experiment, though it wasn’t clear that sand had anything to do with it.  On the other hand, our team was awarded a large amount of points for increasing the precipitator performance using a different method that I may bring up in a later post.  To the team that burned the sand, this looked a lot like foul play.

The leader of the team was the Shift Supervisor Jim Padgett.  He became very upset when he found out that I had gone to the precipitator control room during the experiment and worked on the equipment.  Our team had been awarded a lot of points that was enough to purchase the dining room table set that I have in my dining room today:

Dining Room Table received as an award from the "We've Got The Power" program

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

It became known throughout the control room and the electric shop that Jim Padgett viewed me as his enemy.  The other electricians would jokingly refer to Jim as my “friend”, knowing that Jim had basically declared “war” on me.  Any time someone in the shop would have something to say about Jim, they would say, “Kevin’s friend” Jim Padgett….”

When I first became aware that Jim was upset with me, I understood why.  If I had been in his shoes I would probably feel the same way.  It’s a rotten feeling when you believe that someone has cheated you out of something important.  So, I decided up front that I was going to become Jim’s best friend.  This is where I think my memory of Mark Schlemper with his patience for me as a boy helped me with this decision.

I had determined that any time Jim asked me to do something I wouldn’t hesitate to help him.  It took about a year before Jim could look at me without grimacing.  Finally, one day, he asked me if I would go look at something for him to see if we needed a clearance, or if it was something that could be fixed right away.  It was something minor, but I knew that this was an indicator that the ice was finally beginning to melt.  I was able to fix the problem on the spot, and returned to let him know.

Once we were on semi-speaking terms again, I took an opportunity one day to ask Jim if he would like to join our Computer Club.  I had started a Computer Club in the Electric Shop.  Anyone could join it for a one time fee of $5.00 that was used to buy shareware and disk cases.  For a while I also published a newsletter letting the members of the club know what games and such we had that could be checked out.

Once Jim Padgett joined the Computer Club, it was much easier to have a regular conversation outside of the normal daily business.  I had put the thought in my mind when I decided that Jim was going to become my best friend that nothing would make me happier than to be able to do something for Jim.  That way, no matter what I was doing at the time, if Jim asked me to do something for him, I would drop whatever I was doing and do my best to help.

I could go on and on explaining how gradually over time, not only was Jim my friend, but Jim acted more and more as if I was his friend as well.  Let me just say that the entire process took almost exactly ten years.  I can remember the exact moment when Jim indicated to me that I had become his friend.

Here is what happened:

The phone next to my bed rang at 2:15 in the morning on Thursday February 17, 2000.  I instantly knew what it meant when the phone rang in the middle of the night.  It meant that someone at the plant was calling because there was a problem.  Who else would be up on in the middle of the night?  The night shift of course.

When I answered the phone, Jim Padgett said, “I hate to wake you up buddy.”  I replied, “No.  That’s okay.  What’s up?”  Jim explained that the dumper was down and a train was about halfway through dumping the coal and everything was dead in the water.  I said, “Ok.  I’ll be right out.”

I turned to Kelly and told her that I had to go fix the dumper.  She already knew of course.  I pulled on a pair of jeans, a flannel shirt, and on the way out the door, I slipped on my work boots and laced them up.  Then I drove the 30 miles out to the plant.

It was just before 3:00 am when I arrived.  I grabbed my hardhat from the electric shop and took the elevator up to the Control Room.  Jim apologized again and told me that how the dumper acted when it shutdown.  I went back down the elevator to the electric shop where I grabbed the key to the pickup truck and my tool bucket and left the electric shop into the cool night air.

Power Plants at night take on magical properties.  It’s hard to explain.  Lights shining from the 25 story boilers, noises from steam pipes.  Hums from motors and transformers.  Night Hawks screeching.

When I arrived at the coalyard, I went straight into the Dumper Switchgear where the relays that controlled the dumper were mounted.  Having worked on the dumper for the past 17 years, I could troubleshoot the circuits in my sleep.  — Actually, I may have done just that.  It didn’t take long, and I had replaced a contact on a relay that had broken and had the Coalyard Operator test the dumper long enough to know it was going to work.

When I returned back to Control Room Jim was sitting in the Shift Supervisor’s office.  I walked in and showed him the small relay contact that had caused the failure.  Jim, looked at me and said something that I thought only a friend would say so casually.  I won’t use his exact words, though I remember not only the exact words, I remember his exact expression.  He indicated to me that he had passed some gas, and he was apologizing about it.  I replied, “Well.  That happens.” (No.  Not the other thing that happens).  I told him I was going to go home.  It was about 3:40 by that time.

Jim wished me a good night, and smiling with gratitude, thanked me again for coming  out.  As I was going back to the parking lot, and on the way home driving through the dark, tired from being woken up in the middle of the night, I had a great feeling of peace.  That brief conversation with Jim just before I left was so pleasant in an odd way that I knew we had become friends.  This was such a long way from where we had been 10 years earlier when Jim had literally wanted to kill me (well, not that he actually would…).

When I arrived home, I peeled my clothes off in the utility room to keep from tracking coal all over the house.  I set the small broken relay contact on the kitchen table as a token to my wife, so she could see why I was called out when she wakes up in the morning.  I climbed back into bed around 4:15 to sleep for another two hours.

That morning when I arrived at the plant, the first thing I learned was that about the time that my alarm had woken me up that morning, Jim Padgett had left his shift and driven to his home in Ponca City.  When he walked in the door to his house, he collapsed and died instantly of a heart attack.  That would have been about 3 hours after the moment that we had said goodbye.

 

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

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

I grieved for Jim’s wife Jane, who had worked for a while at the plant before marrying Jim, but I didn’t grieve for Jim.  Something told me, and maybe it was Jim, that he was at peace.  In the moment that I heard about Jim’s death, I burned the conversation we had just had that morning into my mind so that I would never forget it.

To this day whenever I know that someone is upset with me for something that I have done to them personally (which still happens occasionally), I am determined that they will become one of my best friends.  I will do anything for that person if they ask (unless, of course it is to “not be their friend”).  I have my childhood friend Mark Schlemper to thank for the attitude that helped me decide to reach out to Jim Padgett.  Without that experience while growing up, Jim and I would never have become friends.

I would like to leave you with a song that reminds me of Jim whenever I hear it.  It is called “Bright Eyes” from the movie “Watership Down”. Art Garfunkel sings it:

Note:  If you are not able to watch the video above, try clicking this link:  Bright Eyes, Art Garfunkel

 

Comments from the original post:

  1. Dan Antion April 26, 2014

    I’m glad that you were able to work through a tough situation and reach the point of friendship. although, it does make the loss harder to accept.

  2. Jack Curtis May 6, 2014

    Your story would have been a matter of course for my grandparents and immediately understood and admired by my parents. I suspect that telling it to today’s children might draw blank stares …

    Midwestern values likely still include such behaviors, at least for a reasonable number of people. I doubt many folk on the coasts would identify with it. We have lost a lot and have yet to learn the price of that, seems to me.

Runaway Fire Hydrant Leaves Power Plant in the Dark

Originally posted May 17, 2014:

Don’t believe it when the Electric Company tells you that the reason your town lost electricity for an hour was because a squirrel climbed onto a transformer and shorted it out. The real reason just may be more bizarre than that and the company doesn’t want you to know all the different creative ways that power can be shut off. This is a tale of just one of those ways. So, get out your pencil and paper and take notes.

A notepad like this

Power Plant Notepad

One spring day in 1993 while sitting at the Precipitator computer for Unit one at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, while I was checking the controls to make sure all the cabinets were operating correctly, suddenly there was a distant boom, and the lights in the control room went out. The computer stayed on because it was connected to an electric panel called the VSP or Vital Services Panel, which in turn was supplied by the UPS system (Uninterruptible Power Supply). That was one of those moments where you may pause for a moment to make sure you aren’t still at home dreaming before you fly into a panic.

The Precipitator cabinets all indicated on the computer that they had just shutdown. I rose from the chair and walked around to the front of the Alarm Panel for Unit one, and found that the fluorescent lights were only out on Unit 1. The lights were still on for Unit 2. The Control Panel was lit up like a Christmas Tree with Green, Red, Blue and Yellow Lights. The Alarm Printer was spewing out paper at high speed. As the large sheets of paper were pouring out onto the floor, I watched as Pat Quiring and other brave Power Plant Control Room operators were scurrying back and forth turning switch handles, pushing buttons, and checking pressure gauges.

Just this site alone gave me confidence that everything was going to be all right. These Control Room operators were all well trained for emergencies just like this, and each person knew what their job was. No one was panicking. Everyone was concentrating on the task at hand.

Someone told me that we lost Unit 1, and the Auxiliary Power to Unit 1 at the same time. So, Unit 1 was dead in the water. This meant, no fans, no pumps, no lights, no vending machines, no cold water at the water fountain and most importantly, no hot coffee!!! I could hear steam valves on the T-G floor banging open and the loud sound of steam escaping.

I turned quickly to go to the electric shop to see what I could do there in case I was needed. I bolted out the door and down the six flights of stairs to the Turbine-Generator (T-G) basement. Exiting the stairway, and entering the T-G basement the sound was deafening. I grabbed the earplugs that were dangling around my neck and crammed them into my ears. Steam was pouring out of various pop-off valves. I ducked into the electric shop where across the room Andy Tubbs, one of the electric foreman was pulling large sheets of electric blueprints from the print cabinet and laying them across the work table that doubled as the lunch table.

 

Andy Tubbs - True Power Plant Electrician

Andy Tubbs – True Power Plant Electrician

When I asked Andy what happened, I learned that somehow when a crew was flushing out a fire hydrant the water somehow shot up and into the bus work in the Auxiliary Substation (that supplies backup power to the Power Plant) and it shorted out the 189,000 volt substation directly to ground. When that happened it tripped unit 1 and the auxiliary substation at the same time leaving it without power.

 

An example of part of an Auxiliary Substation

An example of part of an Auxiliary Substation

I will explain how a fire hydrant could possibly spray the bus work in a substation in a little while, but first let me tell you what this meant at the moment to not have any power for a Power Plant Boiler and Turbine Generator that has just tripped when it was at full load which was around 515 Megawatts of power at the time.

Normally when a unit trips, the boiler cools down as the large Force Draft (FD) Fans blow air through the boiler while the even larger Induced Draft (ID) fans suck the air from the boiler on the other end and blow the hot air up the smoke stack. This causes the steam in the boiler tubes to condense back into water. Steam valves open on the boiler that allow excessive steam to escape.

When the boiler is running there is a large orange fireball hovering in space in the middle of the boiler. The boiler water is being circulated through the boiler and the Boiler Feed Pump Turbines are pumping steam back and forth between the turbine generator and the boiler reheating the steam until every bit of heat from the boiler that can be safely harnessed is used.

When all this stop suddenly, then it is important that the large fans keep running to cool down the steam, since it is no longer losing energy in the generator as it was when it was busy supplying electricity to 1/2 million people in Oklahoma City. The power is fed to the fans from the Auxiliary substation located right outside the Main Switchgear where all the breakers reside that supply the power to the fans. Unfortunately, in this case, the Auxiliary substation was shutdown as well, leaving the boiler without any fans.

Without fans for cooling, and pumps to circulate the water, the walls of the boiler began heating up to dangerous temperatures. Steam was whistling out of pop off valves, but if the steam drum on the top of the boiler were to run dry, then the entire boiler structure could be compromised and begin melting down. — So, this was serious. Something had to be done right away. It wouldn’t be as bad as the China Syndrome since we were burning coal instead of nuclear power, but it would have caused a lot of damage nonetheless.

 

From the movie "The China Syndrome" where a similar emergency existed only in the movie, it was a Nuclear Plant

From the movie “The China Syndrome” where a similar emergency existed only in the movie, it was a Nuclear Plant

I have a side story about this picture, but I think I’ll save it for another post because I don’t want to digress from the main story at this point (Ok. Let me just say “Jack Maloy and Merl Wright” for those who can’t wait)  See the post: “Power Plant Conspiracy Theory“.

With the prospect that the boiler might melt to the ground in a pile of rubble, it would seem that the main priority was to turn the Auxiliary Substation back on so the fans could be turned back on and prevent the boiler from collapsing. So, we walked out to the substation and looked at the switches that would have to be operated in order to first power up the main bus and then to close to supply power to the two big transformers and the six smaller transformers that supplied the Unit 1 Main Switchgear.

While inspecting the switches where the electricity had gone to ground we found that one of the main insulators was cracked.

A High Voltage Insulator like this

A High Voltage Insulator like this

Since this insulator was cracked, we didn’t really want to operate the switch to test if another 189,000 volts would go straight to ground again, especially since one of us would be standing right underneath it cranking the switch. So, we went back to the shop to find an alternative.

By this time the Plant Manager, Ron Kilman arrived in the shop, and understanding the urgency to find a solution asked us what were the alternatives. He was relying on our expertise to make the decision.

Ron Kilman

Ron Kilman is the one on the left in the plaid shirt

The other solution would be to cut the power over from Unit 2 which was still humming away pushing electricity to Oklahoma City out of the 345,000 volt substation. The cut over would be very simple because the switchgear was designed with this in mind. We analyzed the power rating on the auxiliary transformers on Unit 2 and thought that we might be cutting it close to have them running both sets of fans at the same time, especially since the full load amps of a huge fan starting up was about 10 times the normal rate.

The transformer was rated to handle the load, but consider this. What if this caused Unit 2 to trip as well. With the Auxiliary substation offline, if Unit 2 tripped, we would be in twice the amount of trouble we were currently in. What a day it would have been if that had happened and two 250 foot boilers had come crashing to the ground in a pile of rubble. After reading the power ratings on the auxiliary transformers I was thinking, “Yeah, let’s do it! These transformers can handle it.” Andy was not so eager.

So, we were left with one alternative. That was to shut the switch in the Auxiliary substation that had the cracked insulator and take our chances that it wasn’t going to short to ground and blow up over our heads. I think I was eager to close the switch for Andy, but if I remember correctly, he didn’t want me to be the one to suffer the consequences and decided to close the switch himself. Needless to say. Andy closed the switch, and nothing blew up.

High Voltage Switch similar to the one we were closing

High Voltage Switch similar to the one we were closing

As soon as the power was restored to the switchgear, the fans were powered up and the temperature in the boiler was quickly reduced. The coffee pot in the Electric Shop began heating the coffee again. The power plant was saved from a major catastrophe. That was delayed for another day… of which I will talk about later (see the post “Destruction of a Power Plant God).”

So, how exactly does a fire hydrant shoot water up into the bus work of a substation like the picture of the switch directly above? The culprit fire hydrant wasn’t in the substation, it sat alongside it outside the fence a good 50 feet from the high voltage switch. No hose was attached to the fire hydrant. It was only being flushed out as part of a yearly activity to go around and make sure the fire hydrants are all operating correctly.

Here is the story about how the squirrel climbed into the transformer this time….

George Alley, Dale Mitchell and Mickey Postman were going around to the 30,000 fire hydrants on the plant ground (ok. maybe not that many, but we did have a lot of them), and they were opening up the valves and flushing them out. That means, they were letting them run for a while to clear them out from any contaminates that may have built up over the year of not being used.

Throughout their adventure they had opened a multitude of Hydrants situated out in the fields along the long belt conveyor from the coalyard and around the two one-million gallon #2 Diesel tanks.

Large Oil Tank about the size of the two that are at the Power Plant

Large Oil Tank about the size of the two that are at the Power Plant

The brave Power Plant Men, learned that when opening a fire hydrant wide open in the middle of field had unintended consequences. It tended to wash out the ground in front of the flow of the water shooting out of the hydrant. So the team of experts devised a plan to place a board in front of the hydrant when it would be in danger of tearing a hole in the terrain. The board would divert the water into the air where it would fan out and not cause damage to the surrounding area.

This was working fine, and when they arrived at the fire hydrant next to the substation, since the stream from the hydrant was pointing directly into the substation (hmm. a design flaw, I think), they decided to prop the board up against the fence to keep from washing away the gravel in the substation. Well. When a fire hydrant is opened that hasn’t been used for a year, the first flow of water to shoot out is dark brown.

You may think that this is because the water has somehow become dirty over the past year, but that isn’t quite the case. What has happened is that the pipe has been rusting little by little and the water has become saturated with the rust. So, the water shooting out of the hydrant was full of rust (hence the need to flush them out).

Well. Rust is made of metal. Metal is conductive, especially when it is mixed with water. When the water hit the board, it was deflected into the air and happened to direct itself directly into the high voltage switch in the substation. This caused a circuit to the ground which, once it created an arc pumped all the electricity directly into the ground.

Normally when something like this happens it doesn’t trip the Main Power Transformer to a Power Plant.

A Main Power Transformer

A Main Power Transformer

This time it did. I know there was a few heads scratching trying to figure it out. I think I figured out what happened a little while later. You see… here is the rest of the story….

Once the unit was back online and the emergency was over, someone finally noticed that the telephone system couldn’t call outside of the plant. Well. I was the main telephone person at the time, so the control room called me and asked me to look into the problem.

I checked the telephone computer and it was up and running just fine. Internal calls could be made. Only any call outside just concluded with a funny humming sound. After checking the circuit in the Logic Room next to the Rolm Telephone Computer I headed for…. guess where….. the Main Switchgear….

A ROLM Phone Computer

A ROLM Phone Computer

In the middle of the main switchgear in the back of the room right next to the Auxiliary Substation beyond the back wall, the outside telephone line came into the plant. The first thing it did was go through a special Telephone Surge Protector.

Telephone Grounding Panel

Telephone Grounding Panel

In this picture above, the silver circular buttons on the left side are really an old style surge protector. whenever there was a power surge, the carbon connection in the surge protector would quickly melt causing the circuit to go straight to ground. Thus protecting the rest of the telephone circuit. So, if some kid in their house decides to connect the 120 volts circuit to the telephone for fun to see what would happen, this circuit would protect the rest of the phone circuits. Keep in mind that this was during the early 1990 when “Surge Protection” still was basically all “mechanical”.

Anyway, when I arrived at this panel and I checked the surge protector to the main line going out of the plant, guess what I found…. Yep. Shorted to ground. Luckily there were some spares that were not wired to anything in the panel and I was able to swap them out for the ones that had been destroyed. — These were a one time use. Which meant, if they ever had to short to ground, they had to be replaced.

Ok. Fine. After a little while, we were able to call back out of the plant, though there was still some residual noise on the line. It was like this… when you called out of the plant, the person on the other end sounded like they were buried in a grave somewhere and they were trying to talk to someone living just like in an episode of the Twilight Episode where a phone line landed on a grave and the dead person tried to call his long lost love from the past.

 

Gladys Cooper in the Twilight Zone Episode "Night Call"

Gladys Cooper in the Twilight Zone Episode “Night Call”

I didn’t give it much thought other than that I figured the 189,000 volt arc to ground must have shorted out the telephone line since the phone line ran directly under the auxiliary substation ground grid.

It wasn’t until the next morning when the Southwestern Bell repairman showed up at the plant. I knew him well, since he had been working on our phone lines since before the AT&T breakup in 1984. When I met him in the front of the electric shop, he said that he needed to check our telephone circuits. I told him that I knew that we had a problem because we had a high voltage short to ground yesterday and I found our surge protectors melted away.

He explained to me that not only was our circuit affected, but that every relay house from here to Ponca City was blown out. That’s when I realized that the problem was the reverse of the usual situation. What had happened was that the Ground Grid in the substation and the surrounding area (including the Unit 1 Main Power Transformer) had become hot. What do you do when the ground grid becomes charged?

The Ground Grid is what is supposed to protect you when a surge happens, but what happens when the ground grid itself is the problem? In this case, when the high voltage line about 60 feet from the telephone cable surge protector, arced to ground, it fed a tremendous amount of power back through the ground grid. when equipment detected the surge in voltage, they automatically defaulted their circuits to ground. That’s why the telephone circuit died. That’s what tripped the Main Power Transformer.

When the telephone circuit detected the high voltage surge, it shorted to ground (which was the problem), causing the high voltage to feed directly into the phone line and down the line to the next Southwestern Bell relay switch, which also defaulted to ground, trying to bleed off the surge as it went from relay switch to switch until enough of the power was able to be diverted to ground.

That day sure turned out to be a learning experience. I learned that when all the lights go out in the control room, that it is almost assured that the coffee pot in the electric shop is going to stop working. I also learned that in order to coax the plant manager to the electric shop, a major electrical tragedy is one good way. I learned that when shooting rusty water into the air don’t point it at a high voltage auxiliary substation switch. — I’m sure Mickey Postman learned that lesson too. I also learned that just like in Star Trek… whenever there is a dangerous job to do, the Captain is always the one that wants to do it. Does that make sense? Send a Peon like me in there…

I also learned something else about Power Plant Men…. You see…. People like Dale Mitchell, George Alley and Mickey Postman all are examples of incredibly wonderful Power Plant Men. When they were out there doing their duty and something tragic like this, all the Power Plant Men felt their pain. They knew that they all felt guilty for tripping the unit. It didn’t matter that a million dollars every so many minutes was walking out the door in revenue. The only thing that mattered was that these three men were safe.

 

Mickey Postman

Mickey Postman

Since I have left the Power Plant, I have found that the idea that the employee is the greatest asset that a company can possess is not a universal idea. You see, there was never the thought that any of these people should be fired for their mistake. On the contrary. The true Power Plant Men did whatever they could to let them know that they knew exactly how they felt. It could have happened to any of them.

Besides the friendship between Power Plant Men, one of the things I miss most about working at the Power Plant is that the employees are held in high esteem as a real asset to the company. Many could learn from their example.

Comments from the Original post

    1. Ron May 17, 2015

      That was an exciting day! Another great story. Thanks for the memories.

    1. Dan Antion May  17, 2014

      I like the mix of storytelling and information sharing you deliver here. Thanks again

    1. Dave Tarver May 17, 2014

      Aug 8, 2011 I lost all reserve in and lost both units in 2 separate storms and A1 would not start for a few minutes and A2 was leaking antifreeze terribly not a scratch and back online in 34 hours both units and no one ever asked me one question even with a Safety Dept not one question asked of me the SS on duty. Not many men on the planet have ever experienced an uncontrolled total plant outage- you would of thought a learning opportunity would of took place. Feb 2011 worst winter temps in years 50 Units or more tripped in Texas let alone the trusty units of Redbud and McClain were fighting Sooner rolled right along with storm warnings for two weeks ahead – the ICS still went to Detroit for just tours of other facilities once again the fall guy Tarver McArthur stood alone. I had authored a Freeze Protection Plan for the plant and that seemed to save the day and explain to the regulatory bodies how we were online and everyone else in Texas was off and enjoying rolling blackouts in a terrible winter weather situation not to mention our powers that be were all stranded in Detroit and very few people could get to the plant without getting stuck trying to get there as well – but a few health heart issues later I am still here to tell about it all you would think folks would want to take advantage of someone that had went through the fire and Ice but thats ok I want them someday distant to get all the credit they deserve when the trumpets sound as that is truly what matters most. DT

  1. NEO May 17, 2014

    Great story, and yes, you took exactly the proper lesson from it, and it is too bad that many of our bosses haven’t learned it.

    And yup, I’ve buried a lot of electrocuted squirrels over the years.

 

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 in the 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 your 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 while 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 to the Corporate Headquarters trunk, then out to Oklahoma City and from there they placed a long distance call to a 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 (but it was not free for us) 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 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 Conspiracy Theory

Originally posted September 20, 2014.

I remember the moment when it dawned on me that I may be witnessing an incredible Coal-fired Power Plant Conspiracy!  I had just walked into the Control Room one morning in 1990 at the plant in North Central Oklahoma and saw the Shift Supervisor Jack Maloy and Merl Wright in a state of high concentration.

I always knew something was up when Jack Maloy was standing behind the large blue monitors near the Unit 1 Main Electric Board watching the big picture while the Control Room Operator Merl Wright was at the Main Control Panel turning knobs, tapping indicators to make sure they had the correct readings, twisting switches, holding them until red lights turned green…

I love this picture!

I love this picture! — not our plant but may be part of the conspiracy

Where had I seen this before?  Something was telling me that everything wasn’t as it seemed.  Sure… there was an emergency going on.  There was no doubt about that.  I knew that between Jack Maloy and Merl Wright, the current problem of the main boiler drum losing water was quickly going to be solved.  I knew that Oklahoma City wasn’t going to experience any blackouts that day.  This was a Cracker Jack team!  But I couldn’t help thinking I had seen this somewhere before, and it was gnawing at my common sense.

Here is a picture of Jack Maloy’s team at the time:

Helen Robinson is third from the left in the back row.

Jack Maloy is standing on the far right with the vertically striped shirt (like bars in a jail) directly behind Merl Wright kneeling before him – Coincidence?  I think not.

I backed off in a corner to observe the situation while a crowd of operators began to grow to watch the master Shift Supervisor and his faithful Control Room Operator divert a disaster.  Merl picked up the walkie talkie from the desk and called Larry Tapp ( Larry is the man in the light blue shirt in the front row in the middle.  He’s the only one in the front row that is actually standing, while the rest are down on their knees while the picture is being taken).

Larry was on the boiler opening and closing valves.  John Belusko, the Unit Supervisor was out there with him.  I can’t tell you what magic they were performing, since I think that’s top secret.  I figured that, because the operators seemed to be talking in code.  Merl would key the microphone on the walkie talkie and say something like, “Larry, 45”.  Larry would reply with something like “Quarter Turn”.  “Position?”, “18 as far as I can tell”.

A Motorola Walkie Talkie like this

A Motorola Walkie Talkie like this

I translated the coded words to say:  “….crawling under the path of the boom, whipped hold of a rope, secured one end to the bulwarks and then flinging the other like a lasso, caught it around the boom as it swept over his head, and at the next jerk, the spar was that way trapped and all was safe.”  (Something I had read in Moby Dick, by Herman Melville).

Jack paced back and forth behind the counter with the monitors.  Then he stopped and read the paper that was streaming out of the alarm printer as it continued humming as the paper piled up on the floor in front of him.  Jack was a heavy smoker, and I could tell that right then he would rather be standing out on the T-G floor having a smoke at that moment.  Before cigarettes were banned in the control room, Jack would have been pointing at that board with the cigarette.

When the water level began rising in the Boiler Drum, I could see the relieve on everyone’s face.  I supposed it meant that a major catastrophe had been avoided due to the intricate knowledge that each operator possessed and their ability to quickly respond to any situation.  This made the uneasy feeling I was having even worse.  I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had seen this before.  Just like Deja Vu.

It wasn’t till about a week later when my mom asked me if I knew someone at work named Jack Maloy.  She had been talking to a friend of hers from Church named Louise and she mentioned that her husband worked at the Power Plant north of town.  I replied by saying that I knew Jack Maloy well.  He is a Shift Supervisor.  She said that his wife Louise told her that Jack was a real nice person, but she wished that he would go to Church more.  She hoped he would come around to that some day.

Then my mom mentioned something that brought back that feeling of uneasiness again.  She said that the Maloys had moved to Oklahoma in 1979 from California.  I thought that was odd that Jack had only arrived in Oklahoma in 1979, as he was a Shift Supervisor for as long as I could remember.  Maybe even as far back as 1979 when I first worked at the plant as a summer help.

In that case, he would have been hired as a Shift Supervisor straight from California. — That seemed odd, since the majority of Shift Supervisors had worked their way up from Auxiliary Operator to Control Room Operator to Unit Supervisor, then finally to Shift Supervisor.  Why would Jack be hired fresh from California?  And how did Jack know so much about being a Shift Supervisor at our plant so quickly?

Then it dawned on me.  You see…. It all went back to a lunch break about a year earlier when Charles Foster, an Electric Foreman and I were eating lunch in the Electric Shop office.  When we didn’t know what to talk about, our favorite past time was to talk about movies and TV shows we had watched.  We would describe the movie in detail to each other.  On this particular day, Charles was doing the talking, and he was telling me about a movie that had to do with a Power Plant in California (yeah.  California).

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

As Charles described the story, he told me that there was this Shift Supervisor named Jack (yeah… like our Shift Supervisor… Jack Maloy), and he was such a good Shift Supervisor that he could tell that there was something wrong with the Boiler Feed Pumps just by the way the coffee in his coffee cup would vibrate.  Yeah.  He was that good.

Charles went on to tell me about how at one part of the movie the water level was dropping in a tank and it was imperative that they raise the water level or some big disaster was going to happen. — Now you see where I’m going with this?  Yeah.  Sounds familiar doesn’t it?  At that time, the incident in the Control Room hadn’t happened yet with Jack Maloy.

The movie sounded interesting so, when I had the opportunity, we rented the VHS tape from the video store and I watched it.  Sure enough.  This is what I saw….

Here is Jack the Shift Supervisor in California working with his Control Room operator trying to divert a disaster

Here is Jack the Shift Supervisor in California working with his Control Room operator trying to divert a disaster

Here is Jack Maloy and Merl Wright from the team picture above:

Jack Maloy and Merl Wright

Jack Maloy and Merl Wright

Very similar don’t you think?  Two Shift Supervisors named Jack from California with the exact same hairstyle.  Two Control Room Operators that look like Wilford Brimley.  Coincidence?

Wilford Brimley in the movie playing the same job as Merl Wright

Wilford Brimley in the movie playing the same job as Merl Wright

Even Wilford Brimley’s hairline is the same as Merl Wright’s hairline!

For those of you who don’t know yet.  The name of the movie is:  The China Syndrome.  It is about a nuclear Power Plant that has a near meltdown:

The China Syndrome

The China Syndrome

Need more?  Ok.  — hey this is fun…..  So…. This movie came out in 1979.  The same year that Jack Maloy shows up in Oklahoma from California.  Obviously an experienced Power Plant Shift Supervisor.  Merl Wright went to work 10 months earlier in 1978 at an older power plant just down the road (The old Osage plant), and then shortly after, was transferred to the same plant with Jack Maloy, only to end up working for Jack.

Need more?  The China Syndrome Movie came out on March 16, 1979.  Jack Maloy began working at the Coal-Fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma February 26, 1979, just two and a half weeks earlier.

I mentioned this coincidence to Charles Foster one day, but as far as I know, I never mentioned it again to anyone else… Maybe Scott Hubbard, since he was my best friend as well…

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard – See how he smiled when I told him?

So, here are my thoughts about this….

What if Jack Maloy was the Shift Supervisor being portrayed in the movie “The China Syndrome”?  He needed to move out of California just before the movie came out just in case someone found out his true identity.  Being a Shift Supervisor at a Nuclear Power Plant, he would surely be in high demand at any Electric Company.  Our particular Power Plant was in an out-of-the-way location.  Sort of like a “witness protection program”.

I don’t know Merl’s earlier background, so I can still think that he moved to Oklahoma from California and began working for the Electric Company on April 24, 1978 just two weeks before I moved to Oklahoma from Columbia, Missouri.  Since I don’t know any better, I can continue thinking this.  It makes it more fun that way. — Of course, Merl, who may on occasion read this blog, may correct me in the comment section below…

So, what was it that I was experiencing that morning when I walked in the control room?  I mean… What was I “really” experiencing?  If, suppose, Jack and Merl really are the two that were in the control room when the “China Syndrome” almost occurred?  Was it just an innocent crisis where the water level somehow decided to drop to a dangerously low level all by itself because of a faulty valve that was supposed to be closed, but was really open?

Or…

Was Jack and Merl trying to relive the excitement they had felt years earlier when they worked in a nuclear plant and they almost melted a hole all the way from there to China?  Was this what experienced bored Power Plant Heroes do during downtime?  I suppose it’s possible.  It could have been a drill drummed up to test the acuity of the operators.  To keep them on their toes.  All “Shipshape and Bristol Fashion” just like on the Pequod in Moby Dick.

Something to think about.

Today Merl still lives in Ponca City, Oklahoma.  Jack Maloy has moved to Cape Carol, Florida with his wife Louise.  I suppose now that he has more time on his hand, hopefully he has given up smoking and is now making his wife happy by attending Church regularly.  We can only hope he is at peace, on the opposite side of the United States from California so he doesn’t accidentally run into his old cohorts.

We are all glad that on his way to Florida from California that Jack decided to stop for 25 or so years in Oklahoma to Supervise the Coal-fired Power Plant out in the middle of the countryside….  As Charles Champlin from the Los Angeles Times said of the movie “The China Syndrome”  — “Stunning and Skillfully Executed!”  — Yeah.  That describes Merl and Jack.  Either way… Conspiracy or not.  These two men are my heroes!

I wish Merl and Jack the best rest of their lives!

Comments from the original post:  (one of my most commented posts)

  1. Fred September 20, 2014

    I remember in the 1980’s when someone had taken one of the spare annunciator windows out and placed a hand written paper in it that said ” China Syndrome”. It was there for a while.

    1. Plant Electrician September 20, 2014

      Thanks Fred for reminding me of that.  Um… I didn’t do it!

  2. Dave Tarver September 20, 2014

    Jack was from Byng, Oklahoma- a Byng graduate he had attended Okmulgee Tech as well- He worked at Barstow, CA awhile at a plant there- and there training was far different than ours is who he learned so much- he even did some lineman training for them as well as other stuff- I don’t know all his capacity while he was there- he had a lot of experience with combined cycle unit they had but, I know one thing he was a heck of an operator- seen him do some things know one else could ever do- he had the best power plant knowledge of any of the operators ever other than Joe , he, Joe Gallahar, and Padgett were all really good ones. learned a lot from everyone.

  3. sacredhandscoven September 21, 2014

    LOL You hooked me in early on this one, but as soon as you said “by the way the coffee in his coffee cup would vibrate” I knew which track we were on an enjoyed the rest of the ride. Reminded me of the movie and also the very real stress of Three Mile Island. Funny how your “conspiracy theory” brought those feelings of terror back more than 35 years after I was sitting glued to the TV every day when I came home from high school!

  4. Ron Kilman September 22, 2014

    Great story! And 2 great men. Thanks for the memories.

  5. spill71 September 23, 2014

    awesome conspiracy story…maybe Jack knew just how to mess with the system, just so he could save it, all in hopes that they would make another movie out of his job.
    So anyway, I really enjoyed that. Thanks for sharing.

  6. chriskeen September 29, 2014

    We got The China Syndrome from the library based on this post! Good movie, it does seem very coincidental the way Jack just sort of appeared at your plant right before the movie came out. I love a good conspiracy theory 😉

  7. dweezer19 September 30, 2014

    God, I must be old. China Syndrome came to mind as soon as you said near tragedy in California plant! I saw this in the theater fresh out of high school. Jane and Jack were incredible by the way. Interesting theories. Anything is possible. And probable. Nice post.

  1. bmackela October 22, 2014

    Good post. Did you ever talk to Jack about California?

    1. Plant Electrician October 22, 2014

      No. I didn’t want to open that can of worms. 🙂

Elvin Power Plant Tool Room Adventures With Bud

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

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

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son smiling like Bud Schoonover

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

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

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

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

The King

The King

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

Wal-Mart Shopping Cart

Wal-Mart Shopping Cart

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

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

Coal Burner Nozzle Tips

Coal Burner Nozzle

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

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

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

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

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

The nozzles with the Tips attached

The nozzles with the Tips attached

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

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

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

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

Yellow Flashlight similar to the one I carried

Yellow Flashlight similar to the one I carried

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

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

Andy Griffith talking to the Psychiatrist

Andy Griffith talking to the Psychiatrist in No Time for Sergeants

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

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

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

Only he had gained some weight

Only he had gained some weight

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

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

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

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

Power Plant Propane torch

Power Plant Propane Torch

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

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

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

or Darlene Mitchell

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

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

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

Bud Schoonover

Bud Schoonover

Comments from the Original post:

  1. Ron Kilman September 27, 2014

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

  2. Citizen Tom September 28, 2014

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

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

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

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

Hubbard Here! Hubbard There! Power Plant Hubbard Everywhere!

I’m not exactly sure why, but after having written 144 Power Plant Stories about the Coal-Fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, I have yet to really tell you about one of the most important Power Plant Men during my 20 year stay at the Power Plant Palace. I have mentioned many times that he was my carpooling buddy. I have called him my Power Plant Brother. I have explained many of his characteristics in other posts, but I have never really formally introduced you to the only person that would answer the Walkie Talkie radio and the gray phone with “Hubbard Here!”

Gaitronics Gray Phone

Gaitronics Gray Phone

There are a couple of reasons why I have waited until now I suppose. One of the reasons is that I have two very terrific stories about Scott and me that I will be telling next year, as they took place after the 1994 downsizing, which I will be covering next year. The other reason is that I wasn’t sure exactly how to tell you that at one point in my extraordinary career at the Power Plant Palace, I really didn’t have the warm-and-fuzzies for Scott Hubbard at all. In fact, the thought of Scott Hubbard to me early in my career as an electrician was rather a sour one.

Let me explain…. I wrote a post August, 2012 that explained that while I was on the labor crew the Power Plant started up a new crew called “Testing” (See the post: “Take a Note Jan” said the Supervisor of Power Plant Production). A rule (from somewhere…. we were told Corporate Headquarters) had been made that you had to have a college degree in order to even apply for the job. Two of us on Labor Crew had college degrees, and our A foremen asked us to apply for the jobs. When we did, we were told that there was a new rule. No one that already worked for the Electric Company could be considered for the new jobs. The above post explains this and what followed, so I won’t go into anymore detail about that.

When the team was formed, new employees were seen following around their new foreman, Keith Hodges (who is currently the Plant Manager of the same plant – I originally wrote this post in 2014).

Keith Hodges 8 years before becoming foreman of the testing team with his new son, Keith Junior

Keith Hodges 8 years before becoming foreman of the testing team with his new son, Keith Junior

Ok. While I’m on the subject of family pictures of the 1983 testing team’s new foreman, here is a more recent picture:

Keith Hodges 30 years after becoming foreman of the testing team with his new granddaughter Addison. Time flies!

Keith Hodges 30 years after becoming foreman of the testing team with his granddaughter Addison. Time flies! Quality of Power Plant employee pictures improve!

When we were on the labor crew and we would be driving down to the plant from our coal yard home to go do coal cleanup in the conveyor system, we would watch a group of about 10 people following Keith like quail following the mother hen around the yard learning all about their new home at the Power Plant. — I’ll have to admit that we were jealous. We knew all about the plant already, but we thought we had been judged, “Not Good Enough” to be on the testing team.

One of those guys on the new testing team was Scott Hubbard. Along with him were other long time Power Plant men like, Greg Davidson, Tony Mena, Richard Allen, Doug Black and Rich Litzer. Those old testers reading this post will have to remind me of others.

I joined the electric shop in 1983 a few months after the testing team had been formed, and I really would have rather been an electrician than on the testing team anyway, it was just the principle of the thing that had upset us, so I was still carrying that feeling around with me. So much so, that when the first downsizing in the company’s history hit us in 1988, and we learned that Scott Hubbard was going to come to the Electric Shop during the reorganization to fill Arthur Hammond’s place, who had taken the incentive package to leave (See the post “Power Plant Arguments with Arthur Hammond“), my first reaction was “Oh No!”

Diane Brien, my coworker (otherwise known as “my bucket buddy”) had told me that she had heard that Scott Hubbard was going to join our team to take Art’s place. When I looked disappointed, she asked me what was the problem.

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

After thinking about it for a moment, I said, “I don’t know. There’s just something that bugs me about Scott Hubbard”. — I knew what it was. I had just been angry about the whole thing that happened 5 years earlier, and I was still carrying that feeling around with me.  I guess I hadn’t realized it until then. I also thought at the time that no one could really replace my dear friend Arthur Hammond who had abandoned the illustrious Power Plant Life to go try something else.

Anyway, Scott Hubbard came to our crew in 1988 and right away he was working with Ben Davis, so I didn’t see to much of him for a while as they were working a lot at a new Co-Gen plant at the Conoco (Continental) oil refinery in Ponca City. So, my bucket buddy, Dee and I carried on as if nothing had changed. That was until about 9 months later…. When I moved from Ponca City to Stillwater.

I had been living in Ponca City since a few months after I had been married until the spring of 1989. Then we moved to Stillwater. I had to move us on a Friday night out of the little run down house we were living in on 2nd Street in Ponca City to a much better house on 6th Avenue in Stillwater.

 

The house we rented in Ponca City, Oklahoma

The little house we rented in Ponca City, Oklahoma

I felt like the Jeffersons when I moved from a Street to an Avenue!

 

House we rented in Stilleater

House we rented in Stillwater

I am mentioning the Friday night on May 5, 1989 because that was the day that I moved all our possessions out of the little junky house in Ponca City to Stillwater. My wife was out of town visiting her sister in Saint Louis, and I was not able to move all of our belongings in my 1982 Honda Civic, as the glove compartment was too small for the mattress:

A 1982 Honda Civic

A 1982 Honda Civic

I figured I was going to rent a U-Haul truck, load it up with all our possessions and drive the 45 miles to Stillwater. My only problem was figuring out how I was going to transport my car. While trying to figure it out, Terry Blevins and Dick Dale offered to not only help me with that, but they would help me move everything. Terry had an open trailer that he brought over and Dick Dale loaded his SUV with the rest of the stuff. With the one trailer, the SUV and my 1982 Honda Civic, all our possessions were able to be moved in one trip. — I didn’t own a lot of furniture. It consisted of one sofa, one 27 inch TV, One Kitchen Table a bed and a washer and dryer and boxes full of a bunch of junk like clothes, odds and ends and papers. — Oh. And I had a computer.

Once I was safely moved to Stillwater that night by my two friends, (who, had to drive back to Ponca City around 2:00 am after working all that Friday), my wife and I began our second three years of marriage living in a house on the busiest street in the bustling town of Stillwater, 6th Avenue. Otherwise known as Hwy 51. The best part of this move was that we lived across the street from a Braum’s. They make the best Ice Cream and Hamburgers in the state of Oklahoma! (or… well, they used to back then.  I have heard rumors lately they have gone downhill – 2019 comment).

Braum's is a great place to go for a Chocolate Malt and a Burger. It is only found around Oklahoma and the surrounding states not too far from the Oklahoma border.

Braum’s is a great place to go for a Chocolate Malt and a Burger. It is only found around Oklahoma and the surrounding states not too far from the Oklahoma border.

I keep mentioning that I’m mentioning this because of this reason or that, but it all boils down to how Scott Hubbard and I really became very good friends. You see…. Scott lived just south of Stillwater, and so, he had a pretty good drive to work each day. Now that I lived in Stillwater, and we were on the same crew in the electric shop, it only made sense that we should start carpooling with each other. So, we did.

Throughout the years that we carpooled, we also carpooled with Toby O’Brien and Fred Turner. I have talked some about Toby in previous posts, but I don’t believe I’ve mentioned Fred very often. He worked in the Instrument and Controls department, and is an avid hunter just like Scott. Scott and Fred had been friends long before I entered the scene and they would spend a lot of time talking about their preparations for the hunting season, then once the hunting season began, I would hear play-by-play accounts about sitting in dear stands waiting quietly, and listening to the sounds of approaching deer. I would hear about shots being fired, targets missed, prey successfully bagged, dressed and butchered. I would even be given samples of Deer Jerky.

I myself was not a hunter, but I think I could write a rudimentary “Hunter’s Survival Guide” just by absorbing all that knowledge on the way to work in the morning and again on the way home.

The thing I liked most about Scott Hubbard was that he really enjoyed life. There are those people that go around finding things to grumble about all the time, and then there are people like Scott Hubbard. He generally found the good in just about anything that we encountered. It rubbed off on the rest of the crew and it made us all better in the long run. I don’t think anyone could work around Scott Hubbard for very long and remain a cynical old coot no matter how hard they tried (unless your name was the same as your initials and it was spelled OD).

Scott Hubbard and I eventually started working together more and more until we were like two peas in a pod. Especially during outages and call outs in the middle of the night. I think the operators were used to seeing us working together so much that in the middle of the night when they needed to call out one of us, they just automatically called us both. So, we would meet at our usual carpooling spot and head out to the plant.

As I mentioned at the top of this post, I have two very good stories about Scott and myself. One of those has to do with a time when we were called out in the middle of the night to perform a special task. I won’t describe it now, so, I’ll tell a short story about one Saturday when we were called out on a Saturday to be on standby to do some switching in the Substation.

I believe one of the units was being brought back online, and Scott and I were at the plant waiting for the boiler and the Turbine to come up to speed. Things were progressing slower than anticipated, so we had to wait around for a while. This was about the time that the Soviet Union fell in 1991. We had been following this closely as new things were being learned each day about how life in Russia really was. I had a copy of the Wall Street Journal with me and as we sat in a pickup truck slowly driving around the wildlife preserve known as “The Power Plant”, I read an article about Life in the former Soviet Union.

The article was telling a story about how the U.S. had sent a bunch of food aid to Russia to help them out with their transition from slavery to freedom. The United States had sent Can Goods to Russia not realizing that they had yet to invent the can opener. What a paradigm shift. Thinking about how backward the “Other Super Power” was made our life at the “Super Power Plant” seem a lot sweeter. We even had military vets who still carried around their can openers on their key chains. I think they called them “P 38’s”

 

P-38 Can Opener

GI issued P-38 Can Opener

The conditions in Russia at the time reminded me of the beginning sentence of the classic novel “A Tale of Two Cities”, “Call me Ismael”….. Oh wait. That’s “Moby Dick”. No. I meant to say, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times!” — It’s funny how you remember certain moments in Power Plant history just like it was yesterday, and other memories are much more foggy. For instance, I don’t even remember the time when we… um…. oh well…..

The first thing that comes to the mind of any of the Power Plant Men at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Centeral Oklahoma when you mention Scott Hubbards name, is how Scott answers the radio when he is paged. He always replied with a cheerful “Hubbard Here!” After doing this for so long, that just about became his nickname. “Hubbard Here!” The latest picture I have of Scott Hubbard was during Alan Kramer’s retirement party at the plant a few years ago. I’m sure you can spot him. He’s the one with the “Hubbard Here smile!

Scott Hubbard it the second on the right next to a very bald Jimmie Moore

Scott Hubbard it the second on the right next to a very bald Jimmie Moore

I will leave you with the official Power Plant Picture. Here is a picture of Scott Hubbard in a rare moment of looking serious:

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

The Vast Universe of Power Plant Heroes

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

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

A 1982 Honda Civic

A 1982 Honda Civic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

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

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

 

Miss Marple from BBC series

Miss Marple from BBC series played by Joan Hickson

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

Miss Marple played by Margaret Rutherford

Miss Marple played by Margaret Rutherford

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

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

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

I had a telescope like this

I had a Tasco telescope like this

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Horsehead Nebula

Horsehead Nebula

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

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

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

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

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

Update:

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

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

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

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

Comments from the Original post:

    1. Ron Kilman November 1, 2014

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

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

      Love your stories.

    1. tellthetruth1 November 3, 2014

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

      Sounds like a lovely bloke. 🙂