After I left the power plant and went to work for Dell on August 20, 2001, I wrote letters back to my friends at the plant letting them know how things were going. This is the eleventh letter I wrote.
10/26/01 – 7 Degrees at Dell
Dear Pals at Sooner,
If you go to www.Mapquest.com on the internet and look at Austin Texas, you will discover something shockingly familiar. If you zoom into downtown Austin, you will see a roadmap that you have seen somewhere before. It seems that the same people that engineered the City of Austin also designed the plan for Sooner Plant. Now the truth can come out.
We all know who built Sooner Plant right? Brown & Root. We all know who owned Brown & Root right? Lady Bird Johnson. Yes. And we all know what town Lady Bird Johnson ruled right? Austin TX. So is it merely a coincidence that Sooner Plant wasn’t built facing north and south (or east and west) like every place else in the civilized state of Oklahoma? Is it a coincidence that both Austin and Sooner Plant are exactly 7 degrees off of true north? Or is there a conspiracy afoot?
Note to Reader: To learn more about how Brown and Root built Sooner Plant, see this post Indian Curse or Brown and Root Blunder.
From a Lady Bird’s eye view, Sooner Plant looks very similar to Austin. — The Intake even resembles the river that runs through town.
I think while Brown & Root was building Sooner Plant, that Lady Bird was envisioning her own secret Shangri La resort. That must be the reason for all the land and the wildlife preserve. You think I’m kidding? Just look at this website: www.wildflower.org Guess where that is? Right in the middle of Austin. And guess who founded it. That’s right. Just west of the capitol (Which by the way, with the tall tower on the Texas University campus looks just like two smoke stacks). — So you thought all along that the big field just west of the boilers was to build more plants. — Think again. — I think Lady Bird was planning on causing OG&E to go bankrupt when they had to overpay for the plant. I don’t think she thought the Corporation Commission would raise the electric rates high enough and we would be forced to abandon the plant. — Then Her plan would have went into effect. She would have taken the T-G building and turned it into a Hotel. She would have turned the Maintenance shop into an inside tennis court with a couple of fancy restaurants. Belts 10 and 11 would of course been turned into the world’s largest water slide. — This plan seems so obvious. Especially after seeing Austin from a Lady Bird’s Eye View.
What do you think? I have already heard plans from you guys about making a Cappuccino machine from the turbine steam down in the Maintenance shop. This only goes to show that the place was literally designed as a resort. That’s why you always feel like you are on vacation from reality whenever you are at work!!!! Now you know.
After all these years, I finally have an answer as to why someone would build a plant 7 degrees off of true north. It just seems so obvious now.
Always thinkin’ at Dell,
Kevin J. Breazile
Programmer Analyst II
Dell Computer Corporation
The 107th “Rest Of” Power Plant Post
Originally posted on 12/05/2015
There are various reasons why “outsiders” might look at Power Plant Men with a certain degree of uncertainly. It could be because their worn jeans are permanently stained with coal dust. It could be that they use a language that only seasoned mechanics, operators and welders understand. I think that the main reason that Power Plant Men remain a mystery to many outsiders is because their Power Plant Ingenuity doesn’t always translate into viable solutions outside the plant grounds.
This is best illustrated by sharing another in a series of “Walt Oswalt Stories”. I may be able to squeeze two Walt stories into one. If you haven’t read the earlier Walt Oswalt Stories, then maybe you should take a break first and read these two posts: “Mr. Frog’s Wild Power Plant Ride” and “Power Plant Trip Leads to a Game of Frogger“. Now let’s see how this story goes….
Before I share more of the life and times of Walt Oswalt, let me just preface the story with a few factors that influence the lives of Power Plant Men at the plant, that lead to occasional confusion when they move beyond the Power Plant Boundary.
I suppose that most Power Plant Ingenuity springs from the need to perform tasks that others would consider impossible. In order to perform these feats of magic, Power Plant Men develop a 7th sense where they have a canny ability to think outside the box.
I can’t say for sure when I first came face-to-face with this type of thinking, but it was probably the first day I ever worked with a Power Plant Man side-by-side. Various people with completely different backgrounds were hired to work on thousands of pieces of equipment that were each designed by people with incredible imaginations. In order to fix, repair or operate some of this equipment, the most obvious solution was usually not the best solution to be found.
Let me give you a for-instance…
When I relayed the story about when there was a large explosion just below the Turbine Generator that was followed with an oil fire hot enough to melt the roof off of the building, (see the post: “Destruction of a Power Plant God“), the shaft on the Main Power Generator was going to be warped because the turning gear was not able to run, mainly because all the cables feeding everything no longer existed…
If the generator warped, it would have cost the Electric Company (or their Insurance Company) a lot of money to replace as well as months of lost revenue. In order to save the generator, Charles Patten thought of using cans of STP Oil Treatment to lubricate the bearings while manually rotating the turning gear.
As Operators and Charles and some other brave souls worked throughout the night to turn the generator by hand, the fire department fought the fire that was only a few feet away.
Such bravery and ingenuity can not be celebrated enough. The life time salaries of Charles’ entire crew wouldn’t have amounted to as much cost as Charles Patten saved the company through that one act of bravery. The only reason we came to know about this was because someone passed it up the line to someone who cared enough to share it with others. Usually great feats of magic goes on every day, just not on such a grand scale.
The reason I’m sharing this with you is because after years of service at a Power Plant, the Men and Women become so accustomed to doing the impossible, that the word “impossible” is usually not in their vocabulary. In other words…. “Everything has a Solution. That seems to be the Power Plant Motto…. and management might add… “Everything has a Safe Solution”.
The problem is that “Power Plant Solutions” don’t always translate into the world beyond the Power Plant. I don’t mean that Charles Patten went home and tried STP Oil Treatment when he washed his dog…. remember… this is a story about Walt Oswalt.
Walt Oswalt had worked many years at the Power Plant in Mustang, Oklahoma before being offered a job at the new Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma by Orville Ferguson. Orville had asked Walt to move north to work at the new Power Plant because he knew that whatever task you gave to Walt, he would figure out how to “get-‘er-done”.
As with many Power Plant Men at the plant, when Walt went home in the evening, it wasn’t to go lay back in a chair and drink a beer. Not right away anyway. First he had to do some farming…. After all, even though a Power Plant Man’s salary paid the bills, making a little extra never hurt anyone… or so it was thought anyway.
It turned out that Walt had a new barn put on his land that was the admiration of his neighbors. A nice shiny new metal barn… this is not a picture of the actual barn… This is just a metal barn I found on Google images to illustrate my point:
As you know from my previous posts (if you read them…) that one of Ray Eberle’s best friends was Walt Oswalt. So, Ray would go over to visit him often since he lived just down the road. On one particular day when Ray came by for a visit he found Walt loading square bales of hay in his shiny new barn.
Now, be careful… or you might learn something…. Ray noticed right away that Walt was laying the bottom layer of hay flat as shown in the picture above. This might not seem like such a bad thing to an amateur like me or you, so let me explain….. The floor of the barn was dirt.
So, as tactfully as Ray could muster the words, he asked Walt… “Don’t you want to set the bottom bales of hay on edge so the wires don’t rust from the moisture that comes up through the ground?” — You see… the bale of hay is held together by two or three metal wires going around the bale.
Ray was concerned that the wires would rust and then the bottom bales would fall apart when it came time to move them later in the winter when they were needed. If you just rotated the bale onto it’s side, then the wires would go around the bale instead of under and over the bale. This was common practice in a world of which I am totally unfamiliar… – but learning.
Walt Oswalt replied with one of his most favorite phrases: “I have that all figured out.” He explained why he wasn’t worried about the wires rusting with this explanation…. Now put on your thinking cap and see if you can follow along with this logic…
This is Walt’s explanation: “You see… I happen to know that salt absorbs moisture, so before I put the bales of hay in the barn, I covered the entire floor with salt. That way the salt will absorb all the moisture and the wires won’t get wet.”
I know how Walt could come up with such a fantastic idea as this… after all, he had come up with some doozies at work in order to do the impossible, so why not think outside the box (or the barn in this case) to come up with a solution just so that you can lay your bottom bales of hay wire-side down… (why? I suppose just to prove that it could be done).
Maybe he had an argument about this at a bar one day and decided to prove that you don’t “always” have to put the bottom layer on their side… because if you think about it, it’s just as easy to lay them on their side as it is flat. I know that salt is cheap, but gee whiz… sprinkling salt all over the floor of your brand new shiny metal barn in order to lay the bottom row of hay flat…. I’m just not seeing it… but then… I’m not Walt.
Within two months, Ray went to visit Walt and his shiny new barn only to find that the walls of Walt’s new barn now looked like this:
The bottom of the barn had rusted completely away around the entire barn. Walt’s neighbors were no longer envious of Walt’s new barn. In fact, I think some non-power plant neighbors were probably even unsympathetic to Walt’s circumstance.
I guess Walt didn’t consider the other feature that salt displayed…. That salt corrodes metal… Especially when wet… The entire bottom layer of hay in the barn was useless. The wires had all corroded away and it was a mess. Ray really felt bad for his friend. What could Ray do, but show his support for Walt.
Fast forward another couple of months….. Ray Eberle drops by Walt Oswalt’s house for a visit again only to find that the rusted out barn now looks completely new again…. “What Happened?” Walt explained that Jerry Osborn came over and fixed the barn….. I suppose it’s time to introduce another one of the “True Power Plant Men” of his day… Jerry Osborn.
As with many true power plant men, Jerry Osborn could fix just about anything he ever laid his hands on. Sometimes that was all he had to do… Lay his hands on it and nod a little and the pump would start running again…. sometimes it was so eerie it even startled Jerry. Jerry Osborn had a way of nodding his head much like Jerry Mitchell, only a somewhat younger version.
Whenever Walt backed himself into a corner, all he had to do was call up Jerry and he would show up and patch things up. Jerry was sort of like Walt’s Guardian Angel. Jerry was a master carpenter, sheet rocker, mechanic, and observer of mankind.
Though some people thought Jerry was lazy on the job, because he kept himself clean like Jerry Mitchell used to do (see the post: “A Power Plant Man Becomes an Unlikely Saint“), the truth was that when it came to helping your neighbor, Jerry would always come through.
Ray was standing there admiring the shiny new barn when he noticed that Walt was pacing off some squares in the barn, so he asked him what he was doing…
Walt said, “Oh. I’m going to turn the barn into a stable. I’m just pacing off how I am going to place the stalls. Ray watched for a few minutes as Walt walked back and forth in the barn…. Ray noticed that Walt wasn’t writing anything down so he asked, “Aren’t you going to write this down so you can remember it?”
Walt replied, “Nope. I have it all right here,” pointing to his head. “I’ll remember it.” Ray was becoming a little concerned, because he knew that Walt wasn’t the best with figures, and he also wasn’t the best with using a saw, or a hammer and he especially wasn’t the best at building a barn full of stalls…. Ray began to wonder when Walt would find time to build stalls between his weekly heart-attacks.
Ray thought he was going to find a total mess when Walt called him to come by and look at the new stalls in his barn. When Ray walked in the barn, he was totally amazed. The stalls looked like they were done by a professional stall installing service (if there is such a thing). Ray told Walt that he was really impressed that Walt had built such terrific stalls.
Walt explained that all he had to do was tell Jerry Osborn what he wanted and Jerry built the stalls! How is that for service?
I know this is a small picture, but let me show it to you again….
This story began as just another Walt Oswalt Story, but as usual with Walt, there is always something else that pops up when talking about Walt. The first Walt Oswalt story I wrote shortly after Walt had died. When I went to write the second Walt Oswalt Story, I found out that Vance Shiever (the husband of Linda Shiever the Plant timekeeper) had died that very week (only a year earlier).
I didn’t have a picture of Jerry Osborn, so, I Googled Jerry and found that he had died on February 27, 2014. This is the picture on the memorial site for Jerry. It seems that the Power Plant Party is growing in heaven faster than I imagined.
Let me tell you a little more about Jerry, since I have not mentioned him in many posts so far…
As you can tell by the way Jerry was taking care of Walt, he was a considerate man. I never had much to say about Jerry because Jerry never spent much time talking about himself… as a matter of fact, Jerry didn’t spend much time talking at all.
When Jerry was a foreman, he would stand guard over his crew in a silent vigil watching them work. This bothered some of those that worked for him, because they thought that he was either “bird-dogging” them while others thought that he should be pitching in and giving them a hand.
I had another take on Jerry. When I watched Jerry watching his crew, I had the feeling that he was looking out for them some way. Sort of “praying” for their safety in some way. I also saw a look of admiration as he watched his crew at work. I mentioned above that I looked at Jerry as Walt’s Guardian Angel. I think he was doing the same thing with his crew.
As I said, Jerry wasn’t much for words. When he spoke, it was because he had something to say. He was the type of Power Plant Man that I knew so well… The type that leaves a first “Bad Impression” (see the post: “Power Plant Art of Making a Bad First Impression“). I could see right through that facade. Jerry wasn’t the grumpy old fart he wanted you to think he was. He was the one looking out for your back.
Rest In Peace Jerry, and now that Walt has joined you, take care of him up there, and try to keep him out of trouble…. you know that Walt is “worth his salt!”
The 106th “Rest Of” Power Plant Post
Originally posted 10/31/2015
Bill Green, the Plant Manager at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma stopped me in the hallway August 17, 1998. He told me that we were going to have a new Plant Engineer working for us in two weeks and she had heard that we had a Confined Space Rescue team and she wanted to join it. I told Bill that I looked forward to having a new member on our team. We had been a team for 4 years and some new blood would be great.
Bill told me that the new engineer’s name was Theresa Acedansky and that she was a volunteer fire fighter. She was coming to work for us from Foster Wheeler I thought that Acedansky was a unique name. I thought that I would spend some of my spare lunch times looking up Theresa on the Internet.
At the time, there were some Internet search engines such as Excite that would crawl the web looking for all the available pages on the Internet, and give you a complete list of every page found. In 1998, I think the number of web pages were still in the millions, so it wasn’t the daunting list that we have today. Most people were still getting acquainted with the Internet at this point.
Google and Bing own almost all of the search tools today, and they only give you what they want to show you. So, back then, when I searched on “Acedansky”, I found basically everything ever written that had that word in it.
By the time that Miss Acedansky arrived at our plant on August 31, 1998, I pretty much knew her work background (Remember, this was before LinkedIn that began in 2003) and where she had graduated high school. I knew about her sister in Pennsylvania (I think it was), and her mother in Florida who worked at a Catholic Church. I had basically stalked this person I had never set eyes on for the two weeks prior to her arrival.
I did all this gathering of information because I was (as Bill Bennett used to call me) a “scamp” or a “rascal”. I figured that anything I could find could be used to introduce Theresa to the fine art of “Power Plant Jokes”. Just as I had compiled my list for Gene Day in order to help him work through his psychological problems (See the post “The Psychological Profile of a Control Room Operator“), I figured I could offer a similar service to Theresa when she arrived.
I think I might have been able to spook her a little a couple of weeks after she arrived when I pinged her on ICQ, which was one of the few direct chat windows at the time.
She was easy to find since her ICQ number was listed on a fire fighter web site. When I began asking her about how her sister was doing in whatever town she was in, and how her mom liked Florida since she had moved there (and I knew about when), she said, “Gee, I didn’t realize that I had talked so much about myself.”
What is easy to find on someone today on the Internet took a little more work back then, and people didn’t realize the vast amount of knowledge available at your fingertips.
Since Theresa was joining our Confined Space Team and would need the proper training, we took advantage of the situation to have the rest of us trained again. It had been four years since we had formal training. We made arrangements to have a Confined Space Training team from Dallas come up and teach us.
We practiced tying knots in our rescue rope behind our backs in the dark wearing our leather rescue gloves.
The padding across the palm of the rescue gloves we used were to keep from burning your hands when you were rappelling down a rope. With the formal training we were given the opportunity to once again put on SCBAs and go through a smoke-filled maze crawling through tunnels to rescue someone.
After our training Randy Dailey, “Mr. Safety” from our team suggested that we meet regularly with the rest of the Confined Space Rescue Teams at other plants in order to learn “Best Practices” from each other. So, we contacted the other teams and began meeting regularly at each of the plants, or some other spot where we could all meet together.
When we arrived at the Muskogee Power Plant to meet with the rest of the Confined Space Teams, we found that the entire team at Muskogee had all become certified EMTs (which means Emergency Medical Technician).
The Muskogee Plant was right across the Arkansas river from Muskogee where Firefighters and rescue teams were close by. Our plant in North Central Oklahoma was out in the country, 25 miles from the nearest rescue team.
We took the idea that our Confined Space Rescue Team should all be trained EMTs, which was positively received… if we wanted to go out and do it ourselves. That may have been easy if we all lived in the same town, but as it was, it is 45 miles from Ponca City to Stillwater, or Pawnee, or Perry, the four towns where Power Plant Men in North Central Oklahoma resided. So, all of us taking training as a team on our own was not practical. So, that never happened.
We did, however, become very proficient in tying someone down in a stretcher. Our team practiced tying someone into a stretcher until it took us only one minute and 37 seconds to have someone completely hog-tied down in a stretcher to the point that they couldn’t move.
We demonstrated this to our plant during one of our monthly safety meetings by tying up our Plant Manager Bill Green in a stretcher so that he couldn’t move more than an inch in any direction. Then we proved it by picking him, turning him over so that he was facing the floor. Then swiveling him around so that he was upside down with his head toward the floor and his feet up in the air. We showed how his head didn’t slide down to touch the rail on the stretcher.
I think as we were swiveling our Plant Manager around all tied up in the stretcher, Bill was asking himself if this was such a good idea. At the same time, the members of the rescue team were thinking this would be a good time to ask Bill again if we could be trained EMTs. I can say that it felt good to take the Plant Manager and set him on his head, I wish someone had taken a picture… but alas, we didn’t have cell phones with cameras at that time.
In 1999 we held a “Confined Space Rescue Conference” in Oklahoma City. Harry McRee did some rescue team training for us at the training facility in Oklahoma City where the rescuers had to be lowered down into a tank in the dark in order to rescue their rescue dummy. It was there that I met with Harry about the Switchman Training I had been doing at our plant (see the post: “Power Plant Men Learn to Cope with Boring“). I have kept Harry’s card since the first day I met him. He was a very likable person and I suppose still is to this day.
Because we had officially called this a “Conference” (I think so that we could repeat it each year around the same time), we had T-Shirts made:
This has been my favorite “company” shirt I have ever worn (out). There are various reasons I think that I like this shirt so much. One reason may be that it is made with very sturdy material. Sure, it’s cotton, but it’s made with what is called “SuperWeight” cotton (from Gildan Activewear). It has kept this shirt from falling apart even though I have worn it regularly over the past 16 years (now 22 years).
Or maybe because Green is my favorite color because it reminds me of grass and trees, and um… other green things. Ok… no…. I admit it…. It’s really because of what the shirt says and what it represents. See here is what is written on the shirt:
There is the pride of having served on the Confined Space Rescue Team for the number one best Electric Company in the country (and therefore in the world).
No. I think the real reason I like wearing this shirt is because to me, it brings me back to the days when I worked with some of the best people that God ever thought to create. The Power Plant Men and Women found in North Central Oklahoma. It is this reason that I keep looking for this shirt to come back to my closet from the laundry so that I can put it on again. When it does, I wear it for several days at a time.
It isn’t that I wear it because of Pride. I wear it for comfort. Not the comfort from wearing a shirt with a fraying collar, but the comfort that I receive by flying back to the time we spent together as a Power Plant Team. I wear this shirt for the same reason that I write these Power Plant Man Posts. I wear this shirt to celebrate their lives.
So, whatever happened to Theresa Acedansky?
Since I have left the Power Plant, I have been able to return to visit four times. One time I visited in 2004 and David Evans, a Control Room Operator told me that Theresa Acedansky, who I knew had moved to the Muskogee Power Plant, had married a Power Plant Man at the Muskogee Plant.
David couldn’t remember the name of the person that she married. Today, that isn’t hard to find. Just this morning, I looked it up and found that Theresa married Tommy Seitz. Knowing that, I was able then to find her on LinkedIn, only to find that we already share 35 connections. So, I sent her a connection request.
I also learned that Theresa and Tommy now live in Oklahoma City, and that Tommy’s father died in 2010… Ok… I know… creepy huh? We know everything we want to know about each other these days. So… you would think I would be able to come up with a picture of Theresa….
That was a difficult one, but I did finally find one. You see, I know that when Theresa gets involved in something she is the type of person that dives right in and puts all of her effort forward…. She did that when she was a firefighter. She did that when she was a confined space rescuer. She also does this with her current job as the Director of Utility Technical Learning at the Electric Company.
I knew from back in 1998 that Theresa’s middle initial was M. I think I actually knew what the M stood for, but I can’t remember today… Maybe Maria or Mary. This helped the search this morning. What I did find was that Theresa is a member of a group called PRB Coal Users’ Group. PRB stands for Powder River Basin… Which happens to be where the Electric Company buys the coal used at the Coal-fired plants. Not only is she in the group, but she is the Vice Chairperson on the Board of Directors for this group. Why doesn’t this surprise me?
And as Paul Harvey would say, “Now we know the rest of the story…..”
The 105th “Rest Of” Power Plant Post
Originally posted on 12/24/2015
If I were to create a list of each time a tragedy occurred in the life of the Power Plant Men and Women of our plant, it would be quite long. Most of the tragedies go unnoticed because when a Power Plant Man enters the front gate, an attempt is made to leave the rest of the world behind so that their full attention can be focused on returning home safely at the end of the day.
Sometimes the tragedy is too much to put aside. Sometimes the tragedy is so devastating that the entire character of the person is shaken. Sometimes it is only one’s Faith in God and in the fellow Power Plant Men that the heart is kept beating.
Just as in a small town like Mayberry (from the Andy Griffith Show), everyone knows everyone’s business in a Power Plant. This was true when I worked as an electrician in the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma. There were some people you were closer to than others, but whenever there was a tragedy in anyone’s life at the plant, everyone felt the pain.
In everyone’s life, there is always a loss of loved ones. This is expected in most cases. When someone’s Mother died, we knew that a certain amount of grief would be felt. Those weren’t “tragedies” per se, unless the death was unexpected or caused by an accident. Power Plant Men know that death is a part of life. They would be there to comfort each other during those times.
The most devastating tragedy that one can imagine is the loss of a son or a daughter through a tragic accident. In this post I will focus on two times when I worked at the Power Plant when True Power Plant Men lost their sons through a tragic accident. I bring up these two events because I wish to share the grief that was felt by the entire community at the time. I think this is important because times like this help define the character of everyone involved.
Ron Hunt was born November 2, 1948. He graduated from Ponca City High School in 1966. He had a number of jobs before being hired in 1981 at the Power Plant as a mechanic. After working at the plant for almost 20 years, one day his crew had to work late into the night to repair the Number 2 Conveyor Belt.
Some time around 2 am, when the work was almost done, the counterweight for the belt that weighs at least 5 tons, that had been welded in place to keep the weight off of the belt while they were working on it, was being cut loose in order to put the belt back into service. At this point the entire crew had been working for over 18 hours without much of a break.
The counterweight, which is used to keep the the belt tight, was bolted to the railing so that when the plates were cut off the weight wouldn’t fall. Ron Hunt was standing on the counter weight working with the others to cut the weight loose. As the plates were cut using blow torches, the weight gave way, and dropped.
The bolts that were used to hold the weight in place had not been tightened. After working 18 hours, and not being mechanical engineers who understand the importance of tensile strength in bolts that are tight as opposed to bolts that are loose, the group of men didn’t know that the loose bolts didn’t have the strength to hold the weight in place. Especially if the weight dropped an inch before hitting the bolts.
Because of this circumstance, the weight fell to the ground with Ron standing on top of it. As it fell, Ron scraped his leg causing a serious gash down the side of his leg. He was rushed to the hospital, where after a couple of months he was able to report back to work at the plant.
Not long after Ron Hunt had returned to work, one afternoon, his son was driving a Coca Cola Truck, or some other beverage truck from Ponca City down Highway 177 toward Stillwater. About 5 miles after passing the plant where his father worked, as he was approaching the railroad tracks that go through Morrison Oklahoma, a train suddenly appeared from behind the tree line. The lights on the railroad crossing turned on and the arms began to lower.
As most Power Plant Men that lived south of the plant knew, whenever a train was approaching that particular crossing, the warning light and the arms didn’t start coming down until the train was almost at the crossing. Many of us had the experience of trying to come to a fast halt when suddenly the light turned on while we were within 100 yards of the tracks and a train suddenly appeared from behind the trees.
This is what happened to Ron Hunt’s son that day. The truck was not close enough to the tracks to clear the tracks and avoid hitting the crossing arms that suddenly dropped down, and was too close to the tracks to stop a truck full of product. Skid marks were left where the Ron’s son had desperately tried to stop the truck in time. Unfortunately, he was not able to stop before crossing the railroad track directly in front of the train. He was killed in a fiery crash as the engine of the train derailed.
For weeks on the ride home from work, when we approached the railroad track, we would see the railroad investigators working on the accident. Each day, as we crossed the tracks we were reminded of the tragedy. We would think about what Ron Hunt was going through. We could only imagine what Ron was going through.
Jim Kirkendall worked in the Coalyard from the first day he arrived at the Power Plant, March 19, 1979. This was just a month and a half before I showed up my first summer to work as a summer help. The plant was still under construction, so I met Jim when I would go to the coalyard to work with Gary Michelson or Jerry Mitchell when we were filtering all the oil in the plant through the blotter press.
Jim has red hair and reminded me of an English detective, much like Philip Jackson who played Inspector Japp in the British TV series “Poirot”:
Jim Kirkendall experienced such a tragedy one day that the entire plant was stunned into sorrowful silence when they learned what happened. The day was June 10, 1998. When his son was late coming home that day in Morrison Oklahoma, Jim went out to look for him in the pasture where he had been baling large bales of hay.
As Jim approached looked out over the pasture, he could see the tractor with the baler attached, and the bale of hay that was still attached was on fire. As Jim quickly approached the baler, he found that his son Jim Aaron had been caught in the baler and had been baled up in the round bale that was on fire.
I don’t know how anyone can remain alive after coming across a scene where your very own 17 year old son has been killed in such a way. I think the grief alone would have been so suffocating that I would have died right there on the spot. Somehow Jim survived this experience.
I bring up both of these tragic events today, because in order to understand the bond that exists between the Power Plant Men and Women who have worked side-by-side at a Power Plant for many years, it helps to know that when tragedies like these occur, the entire group of Power Plant Men is changed. Even though the events themselves are tragic, the resulting change in the character of the plant is improved.
Times like these have taught the Power Plant Men and Women who they really are inside. It turns out that they are all men and women of great compassion. They joke about it at times with Safety stickers like this:
This hard hat sticker expresses the bond that exists within the Power Plant family more than it was originally intended. After Randy Dailey gave me a stack of these a few years after I left the plant, I have kept these stickers handy to remind me of that bond.
I was reminded of this bond this past week when Ben Davis reached out to me to let me know that Ray Eberle’s wife Barbara passed away the previous Friday. I knew that Barbara was very ill, and that Ray has been by her side almost constantly for the past year caring for her, so I was not surprised by the news.
Ray’s nickname for me is “little buddy”. I follow his family on Facebook and up until the very end when Barbara was very sick, whenever she would post something on Facebook it was very positive. A proud grandparent.
I left the plant over 14 years ago. Yet, what happens in the lives of my Power Plant Family is just as important to me today as it was the day I left.
I know that Ray grieved when Barbara died, but I also know that he had a feeling of joy at the same time. His wife Barbara had been struggling with her health for a long time. Ray knows that now her life is finally fulfilled. No more pain.
Ben Davis sent me an e-mail shortly after he learned about Barbara.
Not because I asked him to keep me informed about Power Plant News. He told me what happened because we are part of the same family, and we share each other’s joys and sorrows.
Even though Ray has been retired for the last few years, he is still as much a part of the family as I am, and I have been gone for 14 years (now almost 20).
I suppose some day in the not too distant future, everyone I know from the Power Plant will have retired or passed away. Some day there will even be a video online of the entire plant being destroyed as it is bulldozed under to make way for newer technology. The lives of these brave Power Plant Men will not be forgotten.
The lives of the Power Plant Men are etched into eternity. Not because they pushed countless electrons down wires to light up houses, but because of the bond that exists between them. Because the love that Power Plant Men and Women have for each other is the type of Love that comes from God.
As a follow up to this post (as this is a repost); this past summer (July 18, 2018) I visited the the small town of Morrison. Because I had heard so many stories about the Morrison Cafe I thought I would stop there to eat dinner. I sat on a stool at the counter and ordered my meal.
A few minutes later an older man approached me. He had a gray beard and a wrinkled face. He said, “You’re Kevin Breazile. Aren’t you?” I looked at his face and it seemed familiar. I had seen those eyes so many times before. Flashing through my Rolodex of Power Plant faces, I finally matched the eyes with the man.
I said, “Jim! Jim Kirkendall!” He asked me what I was doing there and I told him I was just passing through and stopped by the Morrison Cemetery to visit some old friends (including Ray Eberle’s wife, Barbara). We said a few more words and he went to sit with 3 other old men at a table by the door.
When I was ready to leave to go meet with my other old friend Ray Eberle who had just pulled up outside, I told the waitress that I would like to pay Jim and his friend’s bill for dinner. That was my parting gift for Jim, who has been in my heart all these years.
The 104th “Rest Of” Power Plant Post
Originally posted 9/19/2015
The first time I sat through a Performance Review was with my mentor Larry Riley when I was on Labor Crew. On a scale of 1000 I was somewhere around 850. He said that this was the highest he had ever rated anyone so I should be proud, and I was. As I walked out of the room and returned to work, I suddenly felt depressed. I thought this was a strange response after just being told I was Larry’s “Star Pupil”.
Throughout the years, the Performance Review process changed a number of times. The scale was changed to 1 to 10, then 1 to 5, then the numbers were taken away altogether and replaced with, Exceeds Expectations, Meets Expectations, and Fails to Meet Expectations.
The different scales all meant the same thing, and that was that if someone was applying for a job or up for a promotion, then this number became significant. The number was used to rank employees. Anyone who had a particularly low score was told they were on probation, and if they didn’t improve, then they would lose their job some time in the future.
The only person I can remember that was placed on probation was Curtis Love. Later, Curtis was let go because he had dented the truck (while still on probation) when he backed it into a yellow post and didn’t tell his foreman Larry. Curtis didn’t know that Larry saw it happen standing about 100 yards away in front of the Labor Crew Building.
For more about Curtis, read the post “Power Plant Safety As Interpreted by Curtis Love“. Other than that, it was nearly impossible to lose your job… Unless, of course, you upset Jim Arnold by caring a cellphone with you.
After the reorganization in 1994, a woman from HR came to our Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma from Corporate Headquarters in Oklahoma City. She chose some people randomly to interview about how to make the performance review process better. I happened to be one of the people she randomly chose… Go figure. I had my own ideas about Performance Reviews.
I did what I usually did, and waited my turn to speak… Well… sometimes I do that anyway…. like, in this case. Ok. This was a rare case. I wanted to wait until everyone else gave their two cents before I gave her my dollar fifty, so I waited until she asked me specifically what I thought.
I began with the sentence that went something like this: “I don’t think the performance review should be tied to a person’s promotions, or job opportunities. I think if the purpose for the performance review is to improve performance, then it has to be uncoupled from any kind of retribution or promotion.”
I continued…. “When the performance review is tied to your promotions, then a game is played with upper management where the scores are adjusted and comments are changed after the initial rating by the manager so that only one person can have the highest rating in a department or a team for example. If we really want to improve our performance then the program should be changed so that it focuses on behavior and how it can be approved.”
After blurting out… I mean, carefully laying out my ideas…. I could see the HR lady’s wheels turning in her head. That was what I thought anyway. I could tell she could see what I was saying and she was ready to take that back to Oklahoma City. I thought, “Poor young lady, she still has ideals from her youth that the system can be changed. She is in for a rude awakening when she goes back to Corporate Headquarters and tries to pitch an idea like that.” In a way I felt like I had set her up for failure.
I was surprised several months later when volunteers were elicited to become “Assessment Counselors”. Of course, I signed up as soon as I heard about it. After all, the reason I first decided to work toward a psychology degree was because I was thinking about becoming a High School Counselor. I had seen the effects of both very bad counselors (I won’t mention all their names here) and a very good one (Mr. Klingensmith at Jefferson Junior High in Columbia, Missouri) and thought it was important to have good counselors in schools.
By the time I decided that my major would be psychology I had already worked at the Power Plant for one summer as a summer help, and didn’t realize that the allure of working with such a great group of men and women had already seeped into my blood, so I still thought there was some other job waiting for me out there besides “Power Plant Janitor”. Silly me. I mean, where else do you get to work where you can wear a yellow hard hat, safety glasses, mop floors and still get to look out over a beautiful lake with all the wildlife just a few yards away?
I went to “Assessment Counselor” training and learned that the new “Performance Review” was going to consist of performing a “360 degree Assessment” every two years on each employee. What this means is that each person will rate their own performance. Then they will rate their coworkers. Their manager will rate each of their direct reports. Direct Reports will rate their managers. Customers from other teams, preferably people that have observed your work throughout the year when you performed jobs for them will rate you.
A 360 degree assessment is when everyone around you rates you. Sealed packets are mailed to each person that needs to rate each other. So, each person at the plant would be rating a lot of people. Then the packets are mailed back in, put in the computer and a final report is created.
The person that is going to be rated either enters who they want to be their assessment counselor, or if they don’t, then one is appointed to them. That was where I came in. I was a 360 degree Assessment Counselor for 4 years. Right up until the day I left the plant in 2001.
The longest lasting benefit I received from being an assessment counselor was that at one point the assessment counselors were given a special High Quality OGIO Sports duffel bag:
This duffel bag has been around the world from Malaysia to Brazil, as I have traveled the world counselling people. Well, giving them my two cents anyway. It has finally worn out it’s usefulness and now sits prominently in the Power Plant Museum I maintain in my closet (or what my wife refers to as “pile of junk”).
The way the assessment worked was that I would receive a sealed envelope in the mail with all the material needed to perform the assessment on a person. I would then schedule a meeting with them to go over their results. Power Plant Men are very uncomfortable with this sort of thing. I know I always disliked performance reviews ever since I received my first one from Larry, even though it was a glowing review.
The first thing I would explain to the Power Plant Men was that this review belongs to only them and no one else. No one will see it except them, and well, myself. It will not be used to decide your raise or promotions or anything else. This is solely for their own benefit to see what other people think about how they work and to try to improve.
The real benefit was that you could see the comments left by other “anonymous” coworkers which gave you a pretty good picture how others viewed your work. Sometimes that can be an eye opener. Then it was my job to help the Power Plant Men develop a plan to improve their “Areas of Opportunities”.
For the typical Power Plant Man at our plant, it was a difficult job to even find one hidden “area of opportunity” because just about everyone at our plant had been hand picked from a much larger group of workers over the years to be where they were today. Being the cream-of-the-crop meant that “Opportunities for Improvement” were far and few between. Well, I say that, but there was always Gene Day….
I could sit all day with Gene and come up with 30 ways he could improve himself, but that was because I had been studying him for so many years… Actually, I don’t remember if I was ever Gene’s Assessment Counselor, I was just thinking of who could use the most improvement, and suddenly Gene came to mind. See the post “Power Plant Humor and Joking with Gene Day“.
For those unfortunate enough to have me as their assessment counselor, they found that what they thought was going to be the typical 10 minute review of their performance usually turned into a 3 hour session where I wouldn’t let them leave the room until we had three specific action items to work on for the next year.
Many times it came down to one comment from one person that alluded to some small behavior that could be improved. Even though it might be vague, I would use it to start a discussion about how the person might be able to improve in that area. Then we would come up with some measurable way the person could work to improve that particular attribute. It could be “I will do such and such at least 2 times each month for the next 4 months”.
It took a couple of years before the Power Plant Men became comfortable enough to see any benefit at all from the 360 assessment, but one thing for sure…. It was better than going through a performance review that was written by your foreman and then edited three times by people higher up who didn’t know how your really worked before it was presented to you.
By the third year I had a growing reputation as someone that took the 360 degree assessment seriously and like a priest in a confessional, kept everything confidential. That is why even today, I can only tell you all about Gene Day’s performance review and how much he needed to improve because I don’t ever remember being his assessment counselor, although I wish I had, so that I could have helped straighten him out some… But then… you can’t teach an old Gene new tricks and Gene was the oldest of the old (I say that, because I know he occasionally reads these posts).
I mentioned in the post “Power Plant Lock Out – Tag Out or Just Tag Out” that my favorite “roomie” who was/is a foreman at the Power Plant in Harrah, Oklahoma on a lake called “Horseshoe Lake” asked me to be his assessment counselor in 2001. We met at the Perkins Restaurant in Stillwater to go over it.
Steve Trammel had been my roommate when we were on a 10 week overhaul in Muskogee Oklahoma in 1984 just before Christmas (See the post “Something is in the Water at the Muskogee Power Plant“). We have always remained good friends, and I was honored that he had asked for me to be his assessment counselor 15 years later.
There were three situations where I felt like I was unable to help the people I was assigned to counsel. The first situation was when the person reading the comments would focus on trying to figure out who said what. As we would go over each of the comments, they would say something like, “Yeah. I know who said that. They just said that because of….” Then we would read another comment and they would say something similar.
I could still work with people that initially took this approach because we could talk about why the person would say what they said and figure out how we could go about changing the other person’s attitude toward the person I was counselling. Maybe by taking the tactics I had taken when Jim Padgett had become mad at me. (See the post: “Making Friends From Foes – A Tale of Power Plant Woes“).
The second situation that I found difficult was when the comments were broad attacks about the person. In the sense that the person should look for another type of work, or something of that sort. I had one female operator who was particularly upset about comments like that on her 360 assessment. Even though we eventually came up with three ways she could improve, most of the time was spent helping her recover from the grief caused by the apparent insult in her assessment.
The third and most difficult situation I encountered while being a 360 degree assessment counselor was when I counseled someone from upper management that was planning to retire in a few years. This person made it clear by saying right off the bat that it didn’t matter what their assessment said, he wasn’t going to change anything. That didn’t stop me from going through all of the steps with him to create an action plan to improve his behavior.
All and all, I knew that most people didn’t take their action items and do anything about them. That didn’t bother me. I figured that during those three hours where we spent sitting their talking about their behavior was enough for most of them to put a thought in the back of their minds that would help them adjust their behavior at least a little when certain situations would arise.
As I mentioned before. The people I was chosen to counsel were the best men and women in the Power Plant Industry. The majority of the time as I watched each of them leave the room after sitting with them for three hours, I was proud to have been given the opportunity to sit with them and tell each of them that their coworkers and customers thought the world of them!
For a counselor who is looking to change the world, having to counsel this particular bunch of Power Plant People would have been very frustrating since there was barely any opportunity for improvement. For me, this was the greatest job in the world. “Here Fred (Generic Fred, not Fred Turner, well, it could have been Fred Turner), Look what your coworkers said about you! Isn’t this great!?!”
The 103rd “Rest Of” Power Plant Post
Originally posted 8/29/2015
The electricians on our crew must have heard Gary Wehunt say the phrase “…of a morning” a dozen times before someone brought it to his attention. I think it was Andy Tubbs while we were sitting in our Monday Morning Safety Meeting. He said, “What did you just say?” Gary repeated himself, “I do ‘such and such’ of a morning.” “Of a morning? What does that mean?” Gary asked, “What? Of a Morning. Isn’t that right?”
I figured that Gary had been listening to the song by Juice Newton too many times called “Just Call Me Angel of the Morning”. Because in this song it sure sounds as if she says “of a morning”. At least it did to me. She says “of the morning” part of the time, and other times she says “of a morning”. Here. Listen to it, and you tell me….
It’s true that there is a certain “Power Plant Speak” that seems unique to people that work in factories, power plants, line crews and other such situations. I can speak only for the power plants where I worked. I would describe the type of speech as “colorful”. Not in a vulgar sort of way, but in a flowery way.
Power Plant Men in general didn’t curse as you may see them depicted in movies. The majority of Power Plant Men I worked with had too much respect for each other to use foul language, and those that did usually apologized when something slipped out. Saying things like, “Sorry Kev, you had to hear that.”
I was watching a show the other day on TV with my wife and it showed a group of men using vulgar language while talking about women. I told my wife, I have worked around men in a number of Power Plants and I have rarely heard someone talk disrespectfully about women like that in the workplace. For the most part, the men and women at a Power Plant are the cream of the crop when it comes to decency.
The people who had a tendency to use foul language were the “old-timers”. Especially if they were an old-timer supervisor. It seems that the culture before the 80’s was that using foul language was a normal way of communicating. Even upper level supervisors would yell at people using curse words that today would seem very inappropriate. I just caught the tail end of that, and it seemed to come mainly from the construction hands that were building the plant. See the post: “A Power Plant Man Becomes an Unlikely Saint“.
When I say that Power Plant Speak is colorful, I mean that the words they use are… unique.
Sometimes Power Plant Men used inappropriate words without knowing what they meant. When something isn’t working properly, a Power Plant Man may say that it is “Gilflirted”. This was a common word used by Power Plant Men, but few of them actually knew the exact meaning. When Martin Prigmore told Diana Brien and me what it really meant one day, I didn’t believe him (yes. “me” is the proper word to use in this sentence. Not “I”).
He said his grandfather had told him what it meant in relation to a horse. According to the Urban Dictionary, it is exactly what Martin said. To us, Gilflirted just meant, “It’s fouled up.” Almost no one knew the wiser. (Before you go looking for the exact meaning, let me just say that it is a disgusting word. You should probably pass this one up. I wish I didn’t know). I remember my mom telling my sister when we were young not to use words and phrases when she didn’t understand the meaning. Now I know why.
I used to keep a dictionary of words that Charles Foster, my first electric foreman and my foremost friend used that were “variations” of words that he meant to say.
Charles knew that he didn’t say some words correctly, and he especially didn’t write them well. He had dyslexia so he was never a good speller. I would check his spelling before he would send an important memo to someone. Here is a post about when we figured out that Charles was Dyslexic: “Personal Power Plant Hero – Charles Foster“.
Here are some of the words Charles would use: Sipherned: This meant to Siphon something. Dasunul: This meant Decimal. Telepoly (prounounced similar to Monopoly): This meant Telepathy (this was my favorite). When we would both be thinking the same thing at the same time (which was often), Charles would say, “We’ve got that Telepoly going on here.”
Here are some more words…. Litatur: Literature. Tindency: Tendency. Stratety: Strategy. etc…I think you get the point.
So, when the company offered a course called: Practical English and the Command of Words… We jumped on it. Maybe this way we could learn us some good English!
This is probably the best English course I ever had…. um… I mean “took”. Geez. You can see, I learned a lot…. I still have a tough time when it comes to writing run-on sentences. This course has 48 lessons each of which would make a great Monday Morning Safety Meeting Topic… only it doesn’t deal with Safety, unless… you could argue… It is a safer workplace when people can communicate better….. okay. Yeah. I know. That’s stretching it. But it would be fun. It was created by the “English Language Institute of America, Inc.”
Each topic in this course had an interesting title, like “Negatives from Positives”. Or “Dangerous Resemblances”… Sounds like a murder mystery. How about “Perplexing Plurals”? “Fragrance, Odor or Aroma?” — Yeah. The title of an English class.
I had a couple of takeaways from this course that I still remind myself today. The first one is to not end a sentence with a preposition. Because a Preposition implies that something is supposed to follow…. I remember I used to bug my foreman Alan Kramer when he would end sentence with “….at”, which seemed to be the most common preposition ending word at the plant. “Where’re you at?” I used to repeat the word “At” whenever Alan would finish a sentence with “At”. I know I was driving him up the wall. The second one was “….to”. Like “Where’re you going to?”
In order to get around ending a sentence with the word “At”, I remember the foremen trying to change the sentence like this…. “Where’re you at… Kevin?” That’s great! The sentence no longer ended with a preposition, but it still wasn’t “King’s English” was it? <smile>
The easy solution to this is to stop the contraction “Where’re you” and spread it out to make “Where are you?” No need for the “At”. The contraction is what confuses the sentence. You can say “Where are you going?” instead of “Where’re you going to?” Just don’t contract “where’re” and drop the preposition.
Okay. Another lesson about prepositions is that if you can’t just drop it, then you are probably using the wrong words and you need to reword the entire sentence… Take this sentence… “Who do you work for?” You wouldn’t just say, “Who do you work?” That’ doesn’t sound right… “Work” is not the right word. What you are really asking is, “Where are you employed?” — oh… sorry for the lesson…. English class is dismissed… by the way… in all my years in school, I never made an A in English. The best grade I had was a B+.
The second “takeaway” from this course was to never use the word “Get” or “Got” or one of their other words like “getting” or”gotten”, etc. There is always a better word. “Get” could mean too many different things. “I’ve got it.” What does that mean? I figured it out? I found it? I retrieved it? or even… “Enough already!” How about “I have it”. there’s a contraction again “I’ve” that has caused a person to throw in an extra word.
Whenever you want to use the word “Get” stop and ask yourself, what do I really want to say. there is always a better word. It is annoying because script writers for television shows should learn this lesson. Every day (almost), I hear someone on TV say, “I’ve got to have it!” (instead of “I need it”) or some such thing. Once you start listening for it, you hear it everywhere. Oh. Sorry… I did say… English Class dismissed… didn’t I?
I’m not sure how many Power Plant Men took the English course, but when it was over, once while walking through the Welding Shop at the beginning of break time I heard out of the corner of my ear, one welder asking the other…. “Tea?” My first thought was “Geez! They really took this “English” stuff seriously… until I heard the follow-up question…. “Sweet or UnSweet?”
There was another course that I think every person at the plant had to take. It was called “The Path To Dialogue”. Well, this says “The Path Of Dialogue”, but it seemed like we always called it the “Path To Dialogue”, which seems more like going down a path, I suppose.
The course talked about each section of that diagram on the first page. Let me blow up the diagram for you… (No! Not like that!).
Down at the bottom, you can see the different ways that people use to try to kill the conversation. Recognize any of these? One side is withdrawing and the other side is, “Meet me out behind the barn (or in the elevator, as the case may be).” The course started with the bottom of the pyramid and worked upward.
The course actually taught the student how to ask questions in a way that promoted a dialogue instead of working to crush it. This is a very useful course that was given to us by the Praxis Institute in 1995. Everyone took it, but not everyone bought into the idea.
Just as during the Confined Space training, a few people who were in upper management (like Jim Arnold for instance) didn’t think things like this applied to them. “A ‘Path To Dialogue’ is fine and dandy for the peons that work for me, but all I need to do is tell you what to do and the discussion is over.” The rest of us learned some very valuable lessons from this course. Oh. Just as a reminder… Here is Jim Arnold in all of his glory:
Years later, what I learned in this course comes in handy in my job today. I run into a lot of things like “Monologuing” and “Hiding”. The worst one is “Politicking”. I still have to check myself to make sure I’m not doing the same thing.
I have always thought that the True Power Plant Men were made from “The Right Stuff”. Taking these courses didn’t make them better people. They were great men and women all along. These courses just helped them express themselves better so that other people could understand what great people worked at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.
The thought of educating skilled labor to be better speakers and to give them the tools to communicate better with each other may slip the minds of plant managers around the globe. I think that when a company steps up to the plate and shows that educating their own employees is an important part of their culture it tells the workers that they are respected.
The Electric Company always had a pro-education policy. They would pay for your school as long as it had something to do with working for an Electric Company. I had taken advantage of this benefit many times. I took a lot of Vo-tech courses since we had a nice Vo-tech school just down the road from my house.
Around the year 1995, this policy became even more generous. They said that they would pay 100% of the tuition and fees for employees attending an accredited school, and they would even pay 75% of the books required for the courses. They even broadened the types of degrees you could take to almost anything.
Living in a college town, I found this to be a very enticing proposition. I didn’t act on it right away. I suppose I was waiting for a certain catalyst to kick me out the door.
The catalyst came one day during the spring of 1997 when my wife Kelly, who was working on a Masters for Healthcare Administration at Oklahoma State University, came home one night from class and said, “Kevin. We had a speaker in class today who owns a software company here in Stillwater. He described the type of employee he wants to hire, and he described you perfectly. You need to go back to school and get a degree in Computer Science! What do you think?”
I had to think about this…. Going back to college, while working is a difficult task. I did that before when I obtained my Masters in Religious Education from Loyola a few years earlier. That took three years. I always loved programming computers, only I had considered it more of a hobby than a job. This would require a full four years of school if it was even possible, since I would have to work it around my job. All of these questions went through my mind…
I thought and thought. Then I thought about it some more…. Then…. 5 seconds after Kelly had asked me what I thought…. I had made up my mind…. “Okay. I’ll do it.” I’ll tell you more about that experience in some other posts.
When I finally was enrolled, it turned out that since I had already taken English back when I was earning my degree in Psychology in 1982, I didn’t have to take it again! That was good… I was ready this time though. I had taken the “Power Plant King’s English!” It entitled me to continue working at the “Power Plant Palace” just up the road north of town.
The 102nd “Rest Of” Power Plant Post
Originally posted 8/22/2015
In the morning when a Power Plant Man drives through the gate at the plant, with the boilers and smoke stacks looming ahead of them, they know that whatever lies ahead for them can be any one of over 20,000 different Power Plant Man Jobs! Yes. That’s right. There are over 20,000 separate jobs that a person can be assigned on over 1,000 different pieces of equipment.
The bravery brings to mind the “Charge of the Light Brigade” (by Alfred Lord Tennyson), where “…All in the Valley of Death rode the six hundred”… only there were about 44 He-men and Women to repair whatever was in need of repair that day. And as in the commemorative poem about the Battle of Balaclava where “… Cannon to the right of them, Cannon to the Left of them, Cannon in front of them… Into the Jaws of Death, Into the Mouth of Hell Rode the Six Hundred.” Or 44 in the case of the Power Plant Men and Women.
It is true of the bravery possessed by True Power Plant Men and Women as they go about their daily quest for perfection. Unlike the Charge of the Light Brigade, who through an error in the command structure was ordered to perform a suicide mission, Power Plant Men go into daily battle well prepared using the correct tools, Safety Gear, Clearance Procedures and the knowledge of how to perform any one of the 20,000 jobs that could be assigned to them on any given day. (wait! Did I just create an extremely long run-on sentence? — No wonder I could never get an A in English class!).
As Lord Tennyson Memorialized the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 by writing the poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, one day when I showed up to work during the spring of 1998, I was assigned a similar task at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma. “What’s that you say? Similar to writing the Charge of the Light Brigade?” Yeah. You heard me. I was given the job of chronicling each and every task that a Power Plant Man or Woman could possibly ever perform at the Power Plant.
For the next three years, I spent 50% of my time at the plant sitting in front of a computer in the Master Print Room (where the master blueprints for the entire plant are kept) entering each task into the program called SAP. You may have heard me mention this program before.
We had started using SAP a year earlier at the Electric Company (1997). The benefit of using this product was that it connected all of the functions of the company together into one application. So, as soon as a Power Plant Man took a part out of the warehouse, it was reflected in the finance system on the Asset Balance sheet. When our time was entered into SAP, the expense was calculated and charged to the actual piece of equipment we had been working on during that day. It gave us a lot of visibility into where and how the company was spending their money.
This became even more useful if we were able to tell SAP more and more about what we did. That was where Ray Eberle and I came in. Ray was assigned to enter all of the Bill of Materials for every piece of equipment at the plant. I was assigned the task of entering all of the possible jobs that could be performed at the plant into SAP.
I entered jobs into a section called “Task Lists”. When I created a task about a specific job, I had to tell SAP all about how to perform that job. This is referred to as “Expert Data” in the world of Enterprise Software. (sorry to bother you with all these boring technical terms).
Each task had to include any Safety Concerns about doing the job. It included a list of instruction manuals for the equipment that needed to be repaired and where to find them. I had to include the Safety clearance procedure that needed to be performed in order to clear out the equipment before working on it.
The Task also included all the parts that could be used to fix the equipment if something was broken along with the warehouse part number. Then I would add a list of tools that would be used to perform the job. This would include every wrench size, screwdriver, soft choker, come-along, pry bar, and nasal spray that might be needed for the job (well, you never know… there could be job that required the use of nasal spray). Ok. You have me… I only threw that in there because I found this great picture of Nasal Spray on Google Images and this was the only way I think of to show it to you:
Finally I would list each of the steps that a person would take to fix the equipment they were assigned to repair. This was a step-by-step procedure about how to perform the job.
My first thought when I was assigned the job of chronicling every possible job a Power Plant Maintenance Man could perform was “Great! I will get to work on the computer! Everyone will be glad to help me with this task as it will make their lives easier!” Well… After I began the task of collecting information about the jobs, I unexpectedly found a lot of opposition to the idea of listing down each of the steps that a Power Plant Man performed to do their job. — Can you guess why?
Well… Yeah. It’s true that I have an annoying personality, and sometimes I may come across as unpleasant, but that wasn’t the main reason. Here is what happened….
When a Maintenance Order was created, one of the planners, Either Ben Davis (Planner 3) or Tony Mena (Planner 4) would flag the work order as needing a Task created for that particular job.
I would pull up the list of work orders and start creating the task list for that job. I could tell who was assigned to it, so I figured I would just go up to them and ask them how they were going to fix the equipment.
I remember going up to the first person on my list (Earl Frazier) the first day and explaining to him what I was doing. I asked him if he could tell me the steps to replacing the tail roller on belt 18 in the Surge Bin Tower. His response was, “Why should I tell you? You will just put all of that into the computer and then when you have described how to do all of the jobs, they can just get rid of us and hire some contractors to do our jobs.”
Oh… I hadn’t thought about that. It seemed unlikely, because there is a big difference between having a low wage contractor working on something and a dedicated Power Plant Man. There just isn’t any comparison.
In order to write up the task for this job, I just waited until the men were up in the Surge Bin Tower pulling the roller off of the belt, and I went up there and watched them. I took notes of all of the tools and equipment they were using, and asked one of them the steps they were taking to get the new roller up to the tower, and how they were taking the old one out, etc.
Ok… I wasn’t going to do this… but I can feel your anticipation clear from here while I am writing this, that you really want to know what kind of tools it took to pull the roller from the Surge Bin Tower Conveyor belt…. Here is a list of just the tools needed…. just warning you… reading this list of tools just may cause you to drop whatever you are doing and drive out in the country to your nearest Power Plant and apply for a job…. just to warn you… if you don’t think that would be good for you, you may want to skip this next paragraph.
One 9 Foot Extension Ladder. Two 1-1/2 ton come-alongs, and one 3/4 come-along. Two large pry bars, a 15/16 in. and 3/4 inch sockets, an air or electric impact wrench (to be used with the sockets). An 8 foot step ladder. One can of WD-40. a 3/8 in. screwdriver. Oxygen-Acetylene tanks with Torch, a Welding machine, two 8 ft. 2 by 4’s (that’s two pieces of wood). A hammer, a 1/8 in. wrench. One small pipe wrench. One hook to hold up the roller. Three extension cords, with adapters for the coal-handling safety plug-ins. One 4 in. electric grinder. Two 6 in. C Clamps and four 6 ft. Steel Chokers.
I decided that I would make things easier for myself up front by working on all of the electrician maintenance jobs first since I knew how to do most of those already. So, I spent the first year almost solely working on Electrical and Instrument and Control jobs. I could easily write the task lists for these, because I new all of the steps.
For instance… If I needed to take a clearance on the A Tripper Drive motor, I knew that the breaker was on the Motor Control Center (MCC) 13B Cubicle 1C already. I didn’t have to even look that one up. (I often wondered what they were thinking when they put Tripper B on MCC 13B Cubicle 2B. Why not put it in the same place (1C) on the next Motor Control Center? It would make things less confusing — Just things I think about when I’m sitting on my “thinkin’ chair”).
Some tasks were short and easy. Others were novels. Take “Elevator is Malfunctioning” Maintenance order. I included all sorts of troubleshooting tips for that one. I even drew a sort of diagram of relays showing how they should be picked up and dropped out as the elevator went up and down… When the elevator was going up, I put in a table of relay positions like this (U means the relay is picked up, D means it is dropped out). Those names at the top are the names of the relays.
|At Start up||D||U||D||U||D||D||D|
|Slowdown 2 up||D||D||D||D||D||D||U|
|Slowdown 3 up||D||D||D||D||U||D||U|
|At Stop up||D||D||D||D||U||D||D|
I wrote a similar one for when the elevator was going down.
Anyway….I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Ray Eberle and I worked together side-by-side for most of the three years while I was writing the task lists (see the post “Tales of Power Plant Prowess by Ray Eberle“). After I had written a number of novels about different Electrician jobs in the form of task lists, I began working on the general maintenance tasks.
After a while the Mechanics came around and saw the benefits of the task lists. I remember one of the men who had been the most vocal about not telling me how to do his job (yes. Earl Frazier) came up to me after I had written a task list about changing out the number 2 conveyor belt gear box and he asked me to add another wrench to the list. He said, that they had to go all the way back down the belt at the coal yard, drive back to the shop and retrieve the wrench, all because they hadn’t taken it with them the first time. I added it in a heartbeat and he left smiling.
Every once in a while I would run across a Maintenance Order where I could be somewhat creative. For instance, I had to write a task list about how to inspect the railroad tracks and right-away from the plant to where the tracks entered the town of Red Rock, Oklahoma about 5 miles away.
After explaining how the person connected the railroad truck to the tracks and drove on the tracks toward the growing Metropolis of Red Rock (population 282). I explained about how they were to make sure that all the wildlife was being treated well. I also said that when they arrived at Red Rock, they should go into the feed store and build up our public relations by striking up friendly conversations with the “locals”.
After completing over 10,000 different task lists….. I had begun to get into a routine where I felt like my creativity was becoming a little stifled. Then one day, Ray Eberle suggested that when I’m writing my task lists, I should think about how Planner 4 (Tony Mena) would like to see something a little more exciting than the usual…. “this is how you fix this piece of equipment” task list…
One day I remember writing a task list about something called a “Sparser Bar”. A sparser bar is something that sprays water at the bottom of a sump to stir up the coal when the pump is running so that it doesn’t build up or maybe on a conveyor belt for dust suppression. Anyway… One of the tasks I needed to write was for a person to “create a new Sparser bar”.
I wish I had the exact Task List that I wrote. I know that many years later, Ray Eberle sent me a copy of it when he ran across it one day, but I don’t have it readily available, so I’ll just go by memory (until someone at the plant wants to print it out and send it to me). I don’t know… I may be able to write a better one now…. let me see….
Here are the instruction:
- Cut a one and a quarter inch pipe 30 inches long.
- Drill 1/8 inch holes along the pipe so that you have exactly 24 holes evenly distributed across the pipe leaving at least 3 inches on either side of the pipe.
- If you accidentally drill 23 holes, then you should add an extra hole so that you end up with exactly 24 holes.
- If you drill 25 holes, then you should discard the pipe and start over again.
- Note: Do not drill holes that are larger than 1/8 inches in diameter as this will be too big. If you drill holes bigger than 1/8 inches, then discard the new sparser bar and begin again.
- Another Note: Do not drill the holes smaller than 1/8 inches in diameter. If you drill holes that are smaller than 1/8 inches, then obtain a 1/8 inch drill bit and use that to increase the diameter of the holes that you have drilled.
- Once you have exactly 24 holes in the new Sparser Bar, then rotate the pipe 30 degrees and drill 24 more holes in the exact same positions as the holes that are now 30 degrees from where you are going to drill the new holes.
- Note: Do not drill the second set of holes at a 40 degree angle from the first set of holes as this is not the correct angle. Only drill the holes at a 30 degree angle from the first set of holes.
- Also Note: Do not drill the holes at a 20 degree angle, as this is also not the correct angle from the first set of holes.
- Caution: If you find that you have drilled the second set of holes at an angle other than 30 degrees, please discard the sparser bar and begin again.
- Once you have exactly 48 holes (count them… 24 + 24) in the sparser bar, thread both ends of the pipe.
- After you have threaded both ends of the new sparser bar, put a metal cap on one end of the sparser bar.
- Note: Do Not under any circumstance put a metal cap on both ends of the sparser bar as this will render the sparser bar useless because there will not be any way to attach the sparser bar to the water line.
- Caution: If you find that you have accidentally put a metal cap on both ends of the sparser bar, then remove the metal cap from one end (and only one end) of the sparser bar so that it can be attached to the water line.
- After you have completed creating the new sparser bar with two rows of 24 1/8 in. holes each at an angle of exactly 30 degrees, then using a medium pipe wrench attach the new sparser bar to the water line.
- Align the holes on the sparser bar so that they will have the maximum desired affect when the water is turned on.
See? Only 7 easy steps. I think Tony Mena said he fell asleep trying to read my “Sparser Bar Task List”. I seem to remember Ray Eberle telling me that Tony said, “Kevin’s a nut!”
So, I have one more story to tell you about writing task lists, and then I will conclude this post with the proper conclusive paragraph….
At the plant, every piece of equipment had their own “Cost Center”. This came in handy when you were looking for spending trends and things like that. The structure of the cost center was like this: SO-1-FD-A-FDFLOP — I just made that up. It’s not a real cost center… I just wanted to show you the structure…. The first two characters SO represent the plant. The following “1” represents the unit. We had 2 units. The FD represents a “functional area” like “Force Draft Fan. The “A” represents the number of the piece of equipment, like A or B or C, etc…. depending on how many there are. The FDFLOP is the piece of equipment. In this case it might be a Forced Draft Fan Lube Oil Pump.
I’m explaining this apparently boring aspect of Power Plant Life, because I made an attempt to make it a little more interesting. Here is what I did…. The Ultra Clean water that goes in the boilers to make steam and are used to turn the turbine are stored in a couple of large water tanks in front of the main power transformer. The code for their functional area just happened to be: “AM”. So, when you were creating a task for working on a piece of equipment on the first of the two tanks, the Functional area would look like this: SO-1-AM-A…..
See where I’m going with this? It looks like it is saying… “So I am a….” This quickly reminded me of Jim Arnold, who was the Superintendent of Maintenance. The guy that had assigned me to write all of these task lists in the first place. He always seemed like he was king of the jungle, so I thought I would have a little fun with this….
I created a completely new Functional Area Cost Center for this water tank for a non-existent piece of equipment…. I called it the “Gould Outdoor Detector”. So, when I created the Cost Center string, it looked like this: SO-1-AM-A-GOD. For the Gould Outdoor Detector. — I know… I was being rotten.
Then using this cost center (that looked like “So, I am a God”), I created a Task List called: “How to be Superintendent of Maintenance”. I added a lot of steps to the task about how you can humiliate your employees and over work them, and kick them when they are down, and stuff like that. I don’t remember the details. Anyway, that was a lot of fun.
I created task lists up until the day before I left the plant. At my going away party Jim Arnold asked me how many task lists I had created in the last three years… the count was something close to 17,800 task lists. Yeah. That’s right. I wrote over 17,000 descriptions of Power Plant Man jobs in three years. Our plant had over three times more task lists in SAP than the rest of the entire electric company put together.
You can see that I was proud of some, like my the novel I wrote about Elevator Maintenance. You can also tell that working side-by-side with Ray Eberle kept us both entertained during those years. We were the best of friends when I left. I don’t know how many times I just about passed out because I was laughing so hard while we worked together.
If I were to write Power Plant Tasks today, I think I would write the ones that aren’t assigned to a Maintenance Order… they would be more like “How to be a True Power Plant Man”. It would be a novel that would describe the tremendous character of each and every True Power Plant Man and Woman that I learned to love during my stay at the “Power Plant Palace.”
NOTE: On December 17, 2019 Mike Gibbs sent me an email from the Power Plant saying that he had been assigned to sweep the Main Electric Switchgear. The tools for the task were these:
- High Precision, extra durable, polished handled, floor sweeping broom.
- Dust Pan
- plastic trash bags
The Instruction Manual was this: RED SKELTON’S MANUAL ON CHIMNEY SWEEPS, GARBAGE COLLECTING AND MAINTAINING CUSTODIAL INTEGRITY.
Mike made the comment that I may have to return to the plant to update the new hires on who Red Skelton is.
The 101st “Rest Of” Power Plant Post
Originally posted on 8/15/2015
Power Plant Men working for a large Coal-Fired Power Plant have the kind of culture where Cleanliness is next to “Leroy Godfrey-ness”. If you knew Leroy Godfrey, then you would know that he was a perfectionist in a lot of ways. Or… Well, he expected the Plant Electricians to be anyway. A few years after becoming an electrician, there was some work being done by Ben Davis, one of our best electricians, at the Conoco (Continental) Oil Refinery twenty miles north of the plant in Ponca City.
Being a low level Electrician Apprentice, I was not included in whatever was happening at the Refinery. I didn’t work at the refinery for many years. When I finally did go to Conoco, I wished I hadn’t.
What was happening? A Co-Generation plant was being built there. It is called a “Co-Generation” plant because it serves two purposes. Waste gas from the refinery is used to fire the boiler that produces the steam to turn the turbine. Any steam left over is sent over to the refinery to supplement their own needs. The electricity is used by the refinery and any left over electricity is sold by the Electric Company for a profit. So, in a sense, it is a “Co-Existence”.
For the most part, Power Plant Men were looking for opportunities to get in a company truck and leave the plant grounds to work on something outside the confines of the plant where they work every day, week in and week out. Trips to the river pumps or the parks on our lake were always nice, because you would see wildlife along the way. You could look out over the Arkansas River in the morning as the sun was rising and feel the cool breeze and smell the pastures nearby.
Trips to Enid to our small peaking units were fun too, because we were able to work on some different equipment out in a quiet substation where mud daubers were the only sound until the units came online. The drive to Enid was nice because the 45 mile trip across the countryside is pleasant and the traffic is very light. You can go for miles without seeing another car.
After only a couple of visits to the Conoco Oil Refinery, I never looked forward to the 20 minute drive from the plant when we had to work on the Co-Generation Plant co-owned by our company and the Oil Refinery. There were a few things about the refinery that bothered me about working there. One annoying factor was the hideous smell.
I had lived in Ponca City for three years and the sour odor that poured out of the Oil Refinery to the south of our house generally blew right up our street. One winter morning I remember stepping out of our rental house into the dark on my way to work, and the exhaust from the oil refinery must have been blowing directly down the street to our house where I lived because when I took a breath I gagged immediately and was at the point of vomiting on the front lawn.
A side note…
My wife and I lived in this tiny house shortly after we were married. Kelly was an RN (nurse) at the local hospital working the night shift while I was an electrician at the Power Plant during the day. I had the philosophy that if we started by living in a dump and saved our money, then as we gradually worked our way up to a bigger house, we would feel as if life was getting better, and we never had to worry about money, since we always lived well below our means.
I figured that if we lived far below our means, our means would keep growing. Living just below your means meant always staying in the same economic spot (how many sentences can I put the words “means” and “meant” right next to each other?). The quality of Life doesn’t get much better. When living well below your means, life continues to get better even if your job stays the same your entire life. I had figured that I was going to be a plant electrician until the day I retired, so, this was my way of planning ahead.
My wife endured living in this tiny house one block away from the railroad tracks traveled by the coal trains on their way to our plant (which shook our house as they passed) for three years before we moved to Stillwater, Oklahoma where we lived with more than twice the square feet and no smell from the oil refinery.
end of side note…
I started out by saying that the culture at our Power Plant was that Cleanliness was very important. I suppose this was true at the Oil Refinery as well, only, it seemed that even though the clutter was all picked up, there was something “inherently” dirty about the oil refinery. I’m not sure how to describe it, but you just felt like you didn’t want to touch anything because it was going to leave some sort of dirty film on you. It was….. grimy (one could say… oily… well… it was an oil refinery).
Our Power Plant is in North Central Oklahoma, and during the summer going for an entire month with over 100 degree weather every day was not uncommon. There are parts of the plant where you had to work some times where the temperature reached 160 degrees. Of course, you can’t stay in that environment very long, and those areas are generally not the areas of choice when choosing which job to work on next.
One hot summer day in 1996, Charles Foster and I had to go to the oil refinery to our Co-Generation plant to fix an Air Conditioner Condenser Fan Motor.
This isn’t like one of those fans on the side of your house in the box that you know as your “air conditioner” that blows hot air out when the air conditioner in your house is running, though it performs the same task, only on a much bigger scale.
When you entered the oil refinery you had to wear a long blue cloak or coat called “Nomex” (pronounced “No Mex”).
The reason for wearing this heavy “woolen” coat was to help save your life in case you happened to be around the next time (next time?) something exploded, blasting flames in your direction. — Yeah…. comforting huh? Knowing that this flame retardant coat was going to keep you from being burned alive when something exploded in the refinery. Oh joy.
Everyone in the refinery was wearing these blue coats. It was a requirement before you could drive your pickup through the security gate.
Once inside the gate, Charles and I checked our clearances to make sure it was safe to work on unwiring the motor that was mounted under the air conditioner coils. Another fan was running that was turning a large fan blade blowing hot air down next to us. We had brought our own fans to blow cooler air on us while we worked on the motor. This particular motor weighed about 400 lbs, to give you an idea of the size of motor we were repairing.
Charles and I had brought a temperature gun to check how hot everything was when we were working.
When we checked the temperature, we found that the area where we had to stand was 160 degrees. The motor itself was even hotter than that. We had to wear leather gloves just to work on it without burning our hands. Asbestos gloves would have rendered us useless because they make you feel like you are wearing “Hulk Hands” where your fingers are about 2 inches wide.
See what I mean?
The air was too hot to breathe except for quick shallow breaths. Even though we had a fan blowing directly on us, we took turns approaching the motor, turning some bolts a couple of times, and then quickly moving out of the area to where we could be in the cooler 105 degree temperature.
There is nothing like a mild irritation (such as working in extreme heat) to motivate you to hurry up a job. Charles and I worked diligently to remove the motor and then lowered it down with a platform hand lift that we kept in the shop.
This fan motor was on the roof of a building, so once we had removed the motor from where it was mounted, we still had to lower it down to the back of the truck which was backed up to the side of the building. Once in the truck, we brought it back to the plant where we could work on it.
When you first went to work in the oil refinery you had to take a specially designed safety course when you are issued your Nomex coat. During that class, you are told that if you hear the sirens go off, that generally means that there are some toxic gases being released accidentally in the plant, you are supposed to take action quickly.
The funniest (or not so funniest) instructions was that when the sirens go off, you are supposed to run in the opposite direction away from the sirens. Which sort of reminds me of Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail when they had to run away from the viscous fighting rabbit. Yelling “Run Away! Run Away!” Great safety evacuation plan. — Plan of action: “Run!!!”
The toxic gas that everyone was worried about is called Hydrogen Sulfide or H2S. This is the gas that smells like rotten eggs. The only problem is that when there is more than the minimal amount of H2S in the air, you can’t smell it for more than a few seconds because it quickly deadens your sense of smell.
Another fun reason to not want to go work in the Oil Refinery.
Anyway, Charles and I safely reversed the process to return the motor to its rightful place mounted on the bottom of the coils on the roof.
A few times I had to go to work at the Co-Generation plant because something was broken (like the fan motor), but most of the time that we went to the plant was to do our quarterly battery inspections. For more information about battery inspections, you can read this post: “Importance of Power Plant Backup Battery Preventative Maintenance“.
I have told you all the reasons why I didn’t enjoy working at the Oil Refinery in Ponca City, Oklahoma. There were reasons why I did enjoy it. I suppose if you have been reading my posts, you will know the most obvious answer to that question (oh. I guess I didn’t really ask a question… but if I had…). The only redeeming factor with working at the Co-Generation plant at the oil refinery was being able to work with the best Power Plant Men and Women in the country.
I have given you an example above when I worked with Charles Foster. I also worked with Scott Hubbard and Diana Brien.
Both of them top class electricians and First Class Friends. Just to be able to work side-by-side with such terrific people made me forget about the poison gases. I didn’t mind the heat. I even forgot I was wearing the heavy suffocating Nomex Coat. What’s a little grime when your friend tells you about their day? About what they are planning for the weekend? Or the rest of their life?
Actually, I think that’s what made everything about working both at the Oil Refinery and the Power Plant itself the most enjoyable job I can imagine. Sure. We had a culture of “cleanliness” at the plant but I think it was the culture of “friendliness” that really made all the difference. It was also the most painful part the day I finally left the Power Plant to adventure out to find the rest of the world in 2001.
The 100th “Rest Of” Power Plant Post
Originally posted 8/01/2015
The first time I saw Ray Eberle was during my first summer as a summer help in 1979. He was standing in the midst of a group of mechanics who sat around him as school children sit around the librarian as a story is being read. Ray was telling a story to a group of mesmerized Power Plant Men.
I had actually been seeking him out, though I didn’t know it. A week or so earlier I noticed that Sonny Karcher started putting on a distinct drawl at times when he was telling a story. Every once in a while Sonny would change his way of talking when he was making a point where he would let his lower lip come forward and work its way left and right as he talked, and he would close one eye more than the other and talk in a strange sort of a southern drawl.
I just knew he was imitating someone because it was so different than just the regular Sonny (See the post “Power Plant Invocations and Imitations of Sonny Karcher“). So, one day when I heard that drawl coming from someone in the welding shop, I veered over in that direction to find out who it was, and there was Ray Eberle sitting in the middle of a ring of welders all listening intently while Ray weaved a story full of intrigue and excitement.
Many years later I heard that Ray was invited to tell stories to hunters who were hunting elk in Montana around the campfires at night as an occupation. I think he passed on that opportunity. Who would think of leaving the comfort of a Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma to go sit around telling stories by campfires in Montana?
For many years I didn’t have the opportunity to work with Ray. He had joined the Safety Task Force that we had created at the plant. He had also become a member of the Confined Space Rescue Team, and was a HAZWOPER Emergency Rescue responder. I was on all of these teams with Ray, but I really had never worked side-by-side with him.
I know that at times, I had disappointed Ray by not living up to his expectations of what a True Power Plant Man should be. When we were on the Safety Task Force, after the reorganization, we had shifted gears to be more of an “Idea” task force instead of one that actually fixed safety issues. I was pushing hard to have the company move to a “Behavior-Based Safety” approach. It was a misunderstood process and if not implemented correctly would have the exact opposite effect (see the post “ABCs of Power Plant Safety“)
I know this bothered Ray. He let me know one day when I received an intra-company envelope with a memo in it. It said that he was resigning from the team:
I hang on to the oddest things. Some things that lift me up and some things that break my heart. I figure that there is a lesson for me in this memo. That is why I have held onto it for the past 20 years. I suppose this enforces my philosophy of trying to make a “Bad First Impression” (See the post: “Power Plant Art of Making a Bad First Impression“).
Ray Eberle told me once that he had always thought that I was a lazy stuck up electrician that didn’t like to get dirty and just sat around in the electric shop all the time. (read the post: “Power Plant Man Becomes an Unlikely Saint“) He said that he saw me as a “higher than thou” type of person that looked down on others. Then one day I said something that totally changed his perception of me. I said, “Don’t get twisted.”
It’s funny to learn sometimes what people actually think of you. Then it’s even funnier to think what makes them change their mind. You see… when Ray Eberle was sharing his thoughts about me, we had become very good friends. He said that he felt that he finally understood me when I uttered those three words “Don’t get twisted.”
I remember the moment I had said that. As members of the Confined Space Rescue Team, we were responsible for inspecting the SCBAs (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) each month. We were standing in the control room and had a couple of the SCBAs sitting out while the instructor was showing us the proper way to inspect them.
Ray had asked a few “what-if” questions (like “What if the pressure is right at the minimum amount?” or “What if we send a tank off to be refilled and we have an emergency?”) and his questions weren’t being answered. He was getting a little hot under the collar, so I said, “Don’t get twisted.”
I remember Ray’s reaction. He turned to me and said, “What did you say?” I looked him straight in the eye with a grin on my face and repeated “Don’t get twisted.”
At that moment I didn’t know if Ray was going to haul off and belt me one, so I was mentally preparing my various responses…. like…. get ready to duck… just try to stand there as if nothing had happened… run and call a therapist because my ego had been shattered (no… wait… that wasn’t then)…. Anyway… instead Ray just smiled at me and said calmly, “I thought that was what you had said.” I could see that he was in deep thought.
It was a couple of years later that I found out that at that moment Ray Eberle’s perception of who I was had done a 180. Isn’t it funny what causes someone to change their mind sometimes? Maybe he saw a spot of dirt on my tee shirt.
One day during the spring of 1998 my foreman, Alan Kramer told me that Jim Arnold wanted me to be assigned to create “Task Lists” in SAP.
Task lists are instructions on how to perform jobs associated with trouble tickets. Jim Arnold (probably to keep me out of trouble) had assigned me to write task lists and Ray Eberle to write Bill of Materials (or BOMs). Thus began our three year journey together working side-by-side entering data into the computer.
Writing task lists didn’t mean that I just sat in front of the computer all day. In order to create them, I had to find out what tools a person would use to fix something, and what procedure they would perform in order to do their job. This meant that a lot of times, I would go up to a crew that was working on something and I would ask them to tell me all the tools they used and how they did their job while standing at the job site.
I will write another post later about how I actually did the task of writing task lists, so I won’t go into any more detail. (Now that I have written all of the posts, I find that I have scattered my story about task lists through various other posts, but mainly, down below). After a short while, Ray and I figured out that we needed to be in the front office close to the Master Prints and the room where the “X-Files” (or X-drawings) were kept.
X-Files didn’t have to do with “Aliens”. X-Files were files in cabinets that had all the vendor information about every piece of equipment at the plant (just about). They were called X Files because their filing numbers all began with an X. Like X-160183. Which is probably the source of the name of the TV show.
About 50% of my time for the next three years was spent creating task lists. The rest of the time, I was still doing my regular electrician job, and going to school. After the first year, I moved into the Master Print Room and Ray and I set up shop working on the computers next to each other.
Ray was a collector of Habanero Sauce bottles.
He would travel the country looking for unique Habanero Sauce bottles. Each day, Ray would bring a bottle of habanero sauce to work and pour some on his lunch.
I ate the same boring lunch every day. It consisted of a ham sandwich with a slice of American cheese. Then I had some kind of fruit, like an apple or an orange. Since I was no longer eating lunch in the electric shop where Charles would give me peppers with my sandwich, when Ray asked me if I would like some hot sauce for my sandwich I was quick to give it a try.
There is something very addictive about habanero sauce. After a few days of having this sauce on my sandwich, I went to the grocery store and bought some of my own bottles of habanero sauce and salsa.
Ok. One side story…
I was sitting at home reading a school book at the dining room table, my 9 year old daughter Elizabeth walked up to the table and took a tortilla chip from my paper plate, dipped it in the (habanero) salsa in the bowl next to it, and began to put it in her mouth. Without looking up from my book, I said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
Thinking that I meant that she shouldn’t be stealing my chips, she went ahead and put it in her mouth. Grinning because she had stolen my chip, she began to walk away. Then she started to squeal a little. Moments later she was hopping all over the kitchen trying to find some way to put out the fire.
I told her the best remedy is to eat more chips. Don’t drink water. It makes it worse. Eat chips without salsa.
End of side story…
I mentioned above that Ray Eberle is a very good storyteller. He told me a series of stories that I call the “Walt Oswalt Stories”. These were real life stories about a Power Plant Man at our plant. They were so funny that I would go home and share them with my wife and she would fold over laughing at them. She said that Ray needs to write a book about Walt Oswalt.
I have shared some of these stories with various people in my later career and the reaction is always the same. These stories belong in a book. Later this year, I will share some of the Walt Oswalt stories in a post or two then you will see what I’m talking about. (See the posts: “A Window into a Power Plant Man Bedroom“, “Mr. Frog’s Wild Power Plant Ride“, “Power Plant Trip leads to a game of Frogger“).
One time in 2007 when I worked for Dell, I was meeting with the CEO of the world’s leading timekeeping company called Kronos (now UKG or Ultimate Kronos Group). His name is Aron Ain.
My director, Chris Enslin was with us in Massachusetts.
Aron had taken us out to eat dinner, and Chris asked me to tell Aron some Walt Oswalt stories, so I shared a couple.
Then a couple of years later in 2009, Chris told me that he was at a meeting with CEOs from companies all over the United States, and there was Aron standing in the middle of a group of CEOs telling them a Walt Oswalt story.
Here is a picture of Ray Eberle sitting next to me at our computers in the master print room at the power plant:
Each day at lunch, after we had eaten our sandwiches, Ray would reach into his lunch box and pull out a worn black book and begin reading it. He would spend about 10 to 15 minutes reading. Sometimes he would stop and tell me something interesting about something he had just read. When he was done, the book went back into his lunch box and we continued working.
I remember some of the interesting conversations we used to have about that worn black book in his lunch box. One time we talked about a story in the book about how a hand just appeared out of nowhere and began writing on a wall when this guy named Belshazzar was having a party. Then this guy named Daniel came and told him what it meant, and that night Belshazzar was killed. Ray said, “…. God sent the hand that wrote the inscription.” What do you think about that? My response was…. “Yeah. God sure has class. He could have just struck the guy down right there and then. Instead he has a hand appear and write something on the wall. That way we can now have the saying: The writing on the wall’.”
I always thought if you were going to pick a good friend to have, if you pick one that reads their Bible every day during lunch, they are bound to be trustworthy. I could tell that I could trust Ray with anything. So, I spent the three years with Ray telling him everything I knew about myself while Ray shared a good deal of his life story with me. Of course… being nine and a half years older than I was, he had lived a lot more life than I had.
When I left the Power Plant in 2001 to work for Dell, one of the things I missed the most was sitting next to Ray talking about our lives, eating our lunch with Habanero Sauce, and listening to Ray’s stories about Prominent Power Plant Men! I have considered Ray a very dear friend for many years and I am honored to have him take me into his confidence. I only hope that I could be as much of a friend to Ray as he has been to me.
The 99th “Rest Of” Power Plant Post
Originally posted 7/25/2015
Many years ago in my earlier days as a Power Plant Electrician while working on Relays at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, Ben Davis, a plant electrician and True Power Man introduced me to one of his favorite Rock and Roll Bands, the “Dire Straits”. One of their hit songs is “Money For Nothing.” About 14 years later, the Power Plant Men learned exactly how to make “Money For Nothing” and other “Money Matters”!
Albert Einstein was once asked what the greatest miracle known to man is, and he replied “Compound Interest”.
One day at the Power Plant our timekeeper Linda Shiever invited a Financial Planner to come to the plant and talk to the Power Plant Men about the importance of planning ahead for your retirement. This may have been the first time many of the Power Plant Men had ever heard of such a thing as “Compound Interest”.
To a Power Plant Man, “Compound Interest” sounds more like “paying close attention when you pound something with a sledge hammer”.
The Financial Planner explained to the Power Plant Men that it is important to begin planning for the future early in your life. He gave us a sheet of paper titled “Put the Magic of compounding to work for you.” It showed how someone 25 years old investing in the stock market (S&P 500 which averages 10% annually over time) by putting $2,000 in something that gives you a 10% return for 8 years, and then stops, while another person waits 8 years until they are 33 and spends the rest of their life putting $2,000 into the same stock market they will never have as much as the person who only put in $2000 for 8 years beginning when they were 25 years old.
Let me explain this a little more: Using compound interest at 10% rate for his example (since that is what you receive in the S&P 500 over time), he showed that the person that invested $16,000 beginning at 25 years old and adding $2000 each year for only 8 years will have a net earnings of over $1,000,000 by the time they are 71 years old. Yet the person that waited 8 years and invested $78,000 by adding $2,000 each year until they are 71 will only have a net earnings of $800,000. The importance was that compound interest works best when you start early.
This is a great lesson to learn. The problem was that the majority of the audience was already well over 40 years old. There may have been one person in the room that was 25 years old, and that was only because they weren’t telling the truth about their age.
On Friday, September 6, 1996 a group of us from the plant were told to show up at a hotel conference room not far from corporate headquarters to attend a meeting that was called “Money Matters”. The other phrase they used to describe the meeting was that it was a “Root Learning” class. The reason it was called Root Learning was because the company that put the class together for the Electric Company was called Root Learning.
When we arrived, we were told which table we were going to sit. Bruce Scambler was the leader of the table where I was appointed to sit. When we were assigned seats, it was in a way that the Power Plant Men were spread out across the tables, so that we were each sitting with people from other departments in the company. I supposed right away that this was so that we could maximize the spread of the Power Plant culture to others.
This turned out to be a class about how the company has problems that need to be resolved. When the class began the leader placed a poster in the middle of the table. It showed a picture of a canyon. The workers were on one side and the leaders were on the other with the managers stuck in the middle. It was very similar to this picture:
This was an ingenious representation of the problems the company had with the management structure. The poster we had was customized for our particular company.
We talked for a couple of hours about how we could bridge the gap between management and the workers. What were some of the barriers in the tornado that kept destroying those bridges…. etc.
The following year on September 24, 1997, we attended another meeting in Enid Oklahoma where we learned about Shareholder value. The leader of my table this year was a young man from HR at Corporate Headquarters (I’ll mention this guy in a later post). This topic made more sense as it really did talk about Money this time. This time the maps they showed us had race cars on it which showed the different competing electric companies. Something like this:
Being the main electric company in the state, our truck was on the Regulated track. Some of the electric providers had figured out a way to go the unregulated route. Our company kept looking for ways to get on the unregulated road by offering other services that were not regulated. After looking at the poster that looked similar to the one above for a while and talking about it, we moved on to the next poster:
Even though the chart is the main part of this picture, most of the discussion took place around the “Expense Street” section in the picture. There was an added pie chart that was on a card that was placed on this street which showed how the expenses of the company were broken down.
The main expense for the company was Fuel. I want to say that it was close to 40% of expenses. Taxes was the next largest expense for the company. It made up somewhere around 30% of our total expenses. The rest of the expenses were the other costs to run the company. Employee wages made up around 8% of the total expenses for the company.
It was the job of the leader at the table to explain that the cost for fuel was pretty well fixed, so we can’t do anything about that. We also can’t do anything about how much taxes the company pays. We didn’t have control over the supplies and other costs the company buys. So, the bottom line was that the little sliver of expenses for the company that represented “Employee Wages” was really the only thing we can adjust to increase shareholder value…..
What? Run that one by me again? We were a 3 billion dollar revenue company. We had around 3,000 employees which we had reduced to around 2,000 employees when the Corporation Commission cut how much we could charge for electricity, and now you’re saying that the only way to keep the company afloat is to “adjust” employee wages because 92% of everything else it “out-of-bounds”? I think you can see why we spent a lot of time discussing this… This turned into a pretty lively discussion.
Learning about the “Time Value of Money” can be very helpful. I had a financial calculator that I kept at the plant. One day one of the Power Plant Men came to me and asked me to figure out how they could buy a Harley Davidson Motorcycle. Earl Frazier said that he could only afford something like $230 per month and the wanted to buy this motorcycle. How would he do that? The motorcycle cost something like $38,000 or more. I don’t remember the exact details.
Sounds complicated doesn’t it? How does a Power Plant Man buy a Harley Davidson for only $230.00 per month with only a four year loan? Earl had heard that I knew all about the “Time Value of Money” and that if there was a way, I would be able to tell him how to do it. His parameters were that the cost of the motorcycle was $38,000 (I’m just guessing as I don’t remember the exact amounts), and he could only pay $230 each month.
Well. Even with a no interest loan, it would take over 13 years to pay for the motorcycle. So, my only option for solving this problem was to pull out my financial calculator:
This calculator allowed me to find the monthly payment quickly for a loan at a specific interest rate over a specific number of months. So, I worked backward from that point. I told Earl to come back in a couple of hours and I would let him know his options.
When Earl returned, I had his answer…. I told him this…. Each month he needed to begin putting his $230.00 into an annual CD at the bank for 5% (yeah… they had those at that time). In two and a half years, he would stop doing that. And just put his money in his regular checking account. Then 9 months later, he takes the money in his checking account and buys the Harley Davidson. This way he would put 10% down up front (because CDs would have been rolling into his account also).
Then, each month, as his CDs became available, he would roll part of them back into another year, leaving out a certain amount each time to supplement the $230.00 he would still be paying each month for his motorcycle, since his payments would be significantly higher than that. Then exactly after 4 years, he would have used up all of the money in his account just as he would be paying off his motorcycle. This would only work if he could get a loan for the motorcycle that charged 3.7% interest rate or less which was a reasonable rate at the time.
Earl responded by saying, “You mean I will have to wait 3 years before I can buy the motorcycle?!?!” Yeah. That was the bottom line… and by the end of it all, he would have to pay for the motorcycle over a 7 year period when it came down to it. He wasn’t too happy about having to wait, but that was the only way he could do it for $230 monthly payments.
Here is a side story… A few years later when I went to work for Dell, we also had Root Learning classes there as well. Here is one of the posters we used during the class:
In this picture, Dell is the big boat at the top. When I walked into the class I recognized the style of the poster right off the bat. Oh! Root Learning! This will be fun. These types of classes were a fun way to express the realities of the business and the obstacles they have to overcome to achieve their goals.
I still remember the leader at our table 13 years later. His name is Jonah Vaught. I worked with him about 5 years after that class. I acted like I knew him, and I could tell that he was wondering where we had met. So, I finally told him…. “You were the group leader when we were doing that Money Matters class back in 2002.”
End of Side story….
Now when I listen to the Dire Straits’ song “Money For Nothing” (like Paul Harvey’s “Rest of the Story”) you know what goes through my mind… First sitting in the switchgear working on relays with Ben Davis listening to Rock and Roll on the radio (see the post: “Relay Tests and Radio Quizzes with Ben Davis“).
Secondly, I remember the Power Plant Men learning the “Time Value of Money” in a fun way that kept them interested.
Thirdly, I remember Charles Lay finally realizing when he was 63 years old that he was going to have to work the rest of his life because he hadn’t been saving for retirement…. See the post “Pain in the Neck Muskogee Power Plant Relay Testing“). Some times when you learn about the Time Value of Money…. it’s too late to do anything about it because time has already run out.