Tag Archives: power plants

From Pioneers to Power Plant Managers

Originally posted December 28, 2013:

Times were changing in 1987 when the electric company in Oklahoma decided that they needed to downsize the company in order to change with the new business environment.  I always seemed to think that the executives down at corporate headquarters in Oklahoma City knew that the old pioneers in charge of the Power Plants would be very difficult customers when it came to the new business model.

Like I said…. Times were changing.  The digital era was being introduced to the power industry.  We had already upgraded the precipitator controls to make them computerized.  Other areas of the plant were going to be next.  Especially the employees.  Of course, none of us knew that quite yet, except Bill Rivers, who was a natural visionary, and he was gone.

Side story time:

I had always been interested in computers and programming from the time I was a sophomore in High School when I had just turned 15 years old.  My friend Jesse Cheng had introduced me to one of the first programmable calculators, the HP-25.

Hewlett Packard 25

The HP-25 calculator

This was the most wonderful Christmas present I had ever received.  I literally felt myself fainting when I opened the present and found that I had been given a pair of cowboy boots, only to find an HP-25 calculator inside when I opened it up.  Ralphie had nothing on me that day.

It was much like the Christmas Story with Ralphie.  I had tried every with way to convince my parents that using a slide rule in High School was passe (pronounced “pass A”).  All the other students in my advanced chemistry class were using calculators, and I was still stuck with my dad’s old circular slide rule.  It was a pretty neat one, I’ll grant you that, but it just… well….. I could work things out on paper faster than I could use the slide rule.

The Gilson Atlas circular slide rule I used in High School

The Gilson Atlas circular slide rule I used in High School

I introduced my friend Jesse Cheng in the post “Why Do Power Plant Men Always Lose the Things They Love Most“.  He had an HP-25 calculator and had loaned it to me to take a Chemistry test.  He showed me how it used Reverse Polish Notation, which is different than a normal calculator, but more like a computer.

The calculator could be programmed with 49 steps.  Because it had a stack built right into it, and the reason it used Reversed Polish Notation, we could create all sorts of games with just those 49 steps.  The book that came with the calculator had a moon landing game.  We made more sophisticated games, like one called Battleship.

Anyway.  Because of this early exposure with actually programming something in a logical manner, I was eager to learn more about programming.  During college, my calculator was often sitting on my desk in the dorm room running a long program to help me perfect a random number generator.  Finally in my Junior year in college, my calculator was completely fried.

After I was married at the end of 1985, I began subscribing to a magazine called “Compute”.  It had actual programs in it in Basic.  I would read the programs to learn how it worked, but at that point, I didn’t own a computer, so all I could do was dream about writing programs.

It wasn’t until Thanksgiving 1987 when I went to visit my ol’ friend Jesse Cheng in Columbia, Missouri who was interning as a medical doctor that I felt a sudden need to have a computer of my own.  He had built a computer using a Heath Kit and we used it to play two computer games.  One was called Starflight:

Starflight by Electronic Arts

Starflight by Electronic Arts

The other was called F15 Strike Eagle:

F-15 Strike Eagle by Microprose

F-15 Strike Eagle by Microprose

When I returned home I was pretty eager to buy a computer.  Up until that time, every time my wife and I had gone to the mall, I always had stopped in the computer stores to look at the latest computers.  I never had really considered buying one.  But now, they had 20 megabyte hard drives!  And you could play these terrific games like Starflight and F-15 Strike Eagle.

So, one day after we had left the mall, and my wife could see the look on my face, she finally said…. “Why don’t you go and buy one?”  I asked her, “Are you sure?  Because you know what is going to happen if I get a computer.  I’ll be playing on it all the time.”  She said, “No.  I want you to go buy one.”  So we turned around and went back to the mall.

That was the start of my journey into the world of computers.

End of Side Story.

As I explained in the post “Boppin’ with Bif during the Power Plant Downsizing“, the company offered an early retirement package for everyone 55 years old and older.  They would give them full benefits to leave.  This meant that our Electrical Supervisor, Leroy Godfrey, as well as the assistant plant manager, Bill Moler and the Plant Manager, Eldon Waugh were all going to retire some time in August 1987.

We had a retirement party for Leroy Godfrey out in the country at Diana Brien’s house.  A bunch of the electricians were there including Mark Meeks, who Leroy knew at the time was the one that was going to be laid off.  Mark commented about that later when he was told that he was losing his job that Leroy had sat there and smiled at him while we were at the party.  Mark knew Leroy didn’t like him, but hadn’t expected to be the one to go since everyone thought it would be Gary Wehunt, since he was the newest member in the shop.

I explained in the post, “The Passing of an Old School Power Plant Man — Leroy Godfrey” what Leroy’s management style was like.  It was very top-down, if you know what I mean.  It was like, “Because I told you so.”  No need to explain anything.  That was the world of Power Plant Management up to that point.

I think Corporate Headquarters realized that this needed to change in order for the company to compete in a world where electric companies could no longer count on the Corporation Commission to guarantee a sustainable electric rate or even a set number of customers.  The world of electric power was changing rapidly and the company needed to move on from the mentality that it could be run like a “good ol’ boys” club.

It is easier to teach young dogs new tricks than older and crankier ones.  It looked to me like this was a logical choice when looking back using hindsight.  I think the company was making a bold move.  I don’t think they really had much of a choice if they wanted to survive.

So, we had the main retirement party at the plant where people stood up and told stories about the old guys that were retiring.  Nothing much happened there except the part where Leroy Godfrey’s daughter stood up and said that we just had to work with him, while she had to live with him… see the post about Leroy above for the full story about that.

Then the following Monday.  I believe it was August 17, 1987, everyone was told to meet in the main break room for a meeting with our new management.  That was when we were introduced to our new plant manager, Ron Kilman.

I remember a certain part of the meeting very well.  Ron said something funny.  It didn’t matter exactly what he said.  I don’t even remember what it was.  Probably something self-deprecating.  I leaned over to Charles Foster, who had been my foreman for a while (on that day, it was officially Andy Tubbs).  I said, “I didn’t know Plant Managers could tell jokes!”

Charles looked back at me and I raised my eyebrows and tilted my head while the corners of my mouth went down. — This was one of the signals I had learned while carpooling with Bud Schoonover when I needed to communicate with Dick Dale without saying anything out loud (see the post:  Carpooling with Bud Schoonover“.  This particular expression meant, “Maybe this won’t be such a bad thing.”

Ron Kilman remained the plant manager at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma for the next 7 years.  The stories that I will post during this next year will all be at least partially from this time period.  During this time, there were some decisions that Ron made that I applauded, and others that even he would admit he wished he hadn’t made.

All in all, I think that Ron has a good heart and that those times when he did make a rash decision, it was evident that he was falling back to his “management training” and not managing from his heart.  Old School management training left a lot to be desired.

During the 7 years from 1987 to 1994, the power plant saw a lot of changes.  Some I have alluded to already.  Such as the move to computerize everything.  The other was a total change in how management works.  Or at least that was the attempt.

People were willing to step out of their regular day-to-day jobs and try new things that they thought would help the plant.  Many of these things were successful.  Some of them failed, but not so miserably as they would have if the earlier management had been around.  The employees felt as if they had more of a say in how the plant ran instead of feeling like they were just a bunch of tools running around fixing things.

I have a quote from Ron Kilman that said it all one day after a catastrophe had occurred.  It summed up his management style as opposed to his assistant manager, Ben Brandt.  I will relay the exact story later, but for now I’ll just say that when Ben Brandt saw what happened, the first thing that he said was, “Who did this?”  When Ron Kilman saw what had happened, the first thing he said was, “How can we prevent this from happening again?”

Ben’s approach was from the old school of thought.  Blame and punish the culprit.  Later when we were drastically changing the way process improvements took place, my favorite quote from Ben Brandt is, “I am the obstacle!  We aren’t going to change because I say so.”  We all had to agree.  He was definitely the obstacle.

Ron’s approach was one more like a leader.  “Let’s get the job done right.”  Sure, he is human, so the decisions weren’t always perfect, but I think in general, he was leading where other people may have been dragging.

Well…  I will say no more for now…  I look forward to writing stories about this time period during this next year.  I’m sure there are a lot of those at the plant just as eager to see how I portray the different events that took place during this time.

Comments from the original post:

  1. The Conservative Hill Billy December 28, 2013:

    HP 25? The only model older is Fred Flintstone’s bird chiseling into rock tablet!

  2. Monty Hansen March 4, 2014:

    One day, a fellow operator and I brought in our old slide rules, just to show. Not the round one like yours, but straight and mine had a leather case. A young engineer came hurrying through the control room and said, “I need a calculator – QUICK!” so I handed him my leather case & he ran out, about 30 seconds later he came back with a puzzled look on his face & said “No, I don’t need to MEASURE something, I need to CALCULATE something” We all had a hearty laugh!

Comments from the last repost:

  1. Ron Kilman December 31, 2014

    I loved the old Heath Kits. I built a 14 watt amplifier and an AM/FM receiver that I used for years (both were the tube type – pre-transistor). It was always satisfying to invest a few hours, save a few dollars, learn some new skills, and enjoy a product you couldn’t buy at a store.

  2. David Emeron January 2, 2015

    I still have my 25. It still works.

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Do Power Plant Men and Corporate Headquarters Mix?

August 6, 1996 in Corporate Headquarters America, jaws began dropping a few minutes before 8 a.m.  At first the security guard just thought some Power Plant Giant had taken a wrong turn and showed up at Corporate Headquarters to ask for directions.  When another one showed up, this time carrying his Playmate lunch box, hard hat on his head, and lip quivering looking for a handy spittoon, the men in their suits and women in their fine dresses began running for cover.  That was the day eight Power Plant Men took over the floor in the building where the Corporate Engineers usually lived.

If you want to understand the shock that emanated throughout the building, just picture the following bunch showing up on your doorstep:

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy acting like Power Plant Men!

We had come from the four corners of the Oklahoma Electric Company  Power Plant Kingdom and we were there in Oklahoma City because Corporate America needed our help!  Two Power Plant Men from each of the main Power Plants were picked to help the company transition from the old Mainframe computer system to a new computer application called SAP.  SAP was going to combine all of our computer needs into one big application that runs on the new computer network.

SAP Logo

SAP Logo

Ernst and Young was the consulting company that was helping us install and implement SAP at our company.   The company began the implementation some time in March, and the big bang go live date was going to be January 1, 1997.  According to Ernst and Young, this was a physical impossibility.  There was no way we could convert all of our requirements into SAP realities in such a short time.

The Maintenance Module for SAP hadn’t even been fully developed.  We were actually working with SAP to design the module.  Our company had demonstrated how a Best In Class Maintenance process worked, and SAP was designing their module around our needs.  Everyone insisted that our aggressive timeline was too unreasonable and would never be met.

The Electric Company in Central Oklahoma had one Ace up their sleeve (well, maybe more than one)… That was “Power Plant Men!”  As I mentioned in last week’s post (See the post “Destruction of a Power Plant God“), I was told on Monday, August 5, to show up for work the following day in Oklahoma City to work for 10 weeks on an SAP project.

Mike Gibbs, a mechanic from our plant was going with me.  Our task was to convert all the Power Plant parts in the Inventory system in searchable strings that had a limited number of characters.  Mike Gibbs used to work in the warehouse, so he was a  good candidate for knowing what odd parts actually were.

Mike Gibbs

Mike Gibbs

We were a cross-section of mechanics and electricians, and warehouse people.  To give you an idea of how big our job was, we had over 100,000 different parts in the system.  75,000 of those parts were in the warehouse at the power plant where I worked.  There were over 5,000 different types of Nuts and Bolts… just to give you an idea of the task ahead of us.

Ernst and Young said the task would take the eight regular employees four months to complete the task.  The Electric Company said, “Power Plant Men can do it in 10 weeks.

We were able to use the office space used by all of the engineers because they all happened to be at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma where I normally worked because of the big explosion that destroyed part of the Turbine Generator room early Monday morning.  While they packed up to begin the work of reconstruction, Mike and I packed up and headed to Oklahoma City.

Most of the “out-of-town” Power Plant Men stayed in hotels for the next 2 1/2 months, but Mike Gibbs and I decided that we couldn’t be away from our families that long, so we decided that we would drive back and forth to work each day from Stillwater, Oklahoma.  This was about an hour drive with going to work traffic.  We would meet in the parking lot of a Mexican Restaurant at the edge of town and take turns each day driving to Oklahoma City.

Normally, in an instance like this, we would get paid a mileage that was farther than if we drove to the plant and maybe even driving time to and from work each day, but when our Plant Manager Bill Green found out we were driving back and forth, he refused to pay us anything.  He told us that it was far enough away that he would only pay for us to stay in a Hotel (which would have cost more than the mileage), he wouldn’t pay us mileage or even a per diem (which is a daily amount for expenses).

Bill Green knew that we were family men that wouldn’t want to be away from our families during the week if it was only an hour drive, so he played his card and said that we had to stay in a hotel, and he would pay the expense for that or he would pay nothing and we could drive back and forth all we wanted at our own expense, already knowing that we would rather wear our cars out and pay the extra gas each day to be with our families.  I just thought this was pay back for me being so rotten all the time.

The first week I was there, I worked on converting the 5,000 different nuts, bolts and screws into cryptic search strings that all began with the three letter search word for bolt:  BLT.  If you wanted to search for a Bolt in the SAP inventory, you would know it begins with a the letters BLT.  This only made me hungry all week, because to me, a BLT was a sandwich.  A mighty good one too, I may add.

Bacon lettuce and Tomato Sandwich

Power Plant Man sized Bacon lettuce and Tomato Sandwich

After the first week, it was decided that having Power Plant Men roaming around between offices asking each other questions about parts was a hazard waiting to happen, so the engineer that was running our project Mark Romano had a special holding pen… um… I mean, cubicle built just for us.  It was decided that we should all be together in what is called a “Bullpen Cube”.  All nine of us.  Bullpen was a good name considering that there was a lot of bull going around for all of us.

There were nine, because a young Corporate executive had been assigned to help us with all things “Corporate”.  His name is Kent Norris.  He was lucky enough to stay behind to work with us, instead of having to go spend the next 2 1/2 months at our plant up north helping to repair the fire damage.

Well.  I say lucky.  Lucky for us, maybe not for him.  After all, he was someone from “corporate” stuck in a cubicle with 8 rascally Power Plant Men that kept themselves motivated by playing practical jokes on whoever was willing to fall for them. Not ever having experienced the likes of us before, Kent was in for 2 1/2 months of relentless practical jokes being played at his expense.

I must say that we had a terrific time teasing poor Kent, but he was such fun and took our jokes so well, that we could only admire his resilience to bounce back and smile after we ran him ragged with one joke after the next.  I will go into more detail about the jokes we played on Kent in a later post.  For now, I am just mentioning our situation, so that you can get a picture of our situation.

Kent helped us with our expense reports each week, and showed us all the good places to eat lunch.  He helped us adapt to corporate life.  He even showed us how to use our temporary badges to badge in and out of the doors when we entered and left the building.

Mike Gibbs discovered a better way.  He just put his badge in his wallet, and since he was tall enough, when he walked up to the badge reader, he just pressed the back pocket of his blue jeans against the badge reader, and voila!  The door would open like magic!  Onlookers were always staring at this strange assortment of men in blue jeans and tee shirts walking through the office building during lunch.

I tried to remember all the people that were there in the cube with us… I remember that I was there, and so was Mike Gibb from the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.

These are the 500 foot smoke stacks

Our Coal Fired Power Plant

Ken Scott, who was the Maintenance Superintendent at the Gas-fired Power Plant by Konawa, and David Roe who worked in the warehouse at that plant.

Seminole Power Plant at night outside of Konawa Oklahoma. This picture was found at: http://www.redbubble.com/people/harrietrn/works/1425122-seminole-power-plant

Seminole Power Plant at night outside of Konawa Oklahoma. This picture was found at: http://www.redbubble.com/people/harrietrn/works/1425122-seminole-power-plant

Doyle Fullen, an Electric Foreman from the coal fired plant in Muskogee, and Robert Christy, a mechanic also from that plant.

Power Plant in Muskogee Oklahoma

Power Plant in Muskogee Oklahoma

I believe Dan Hayer, the warehouse man, was there from the gas-fired plant in Harrah, Oklahoma on a small lake called Horseshoe Lake.  I don’t remember who else was there from that plant.  I remember seeing someone there, but I think he was a more of a quiet type and for some reason, his name has escaped me.

 

Horseshoe Lake Plant as it looked back then

Horseshoe Lake Plant as it looked back then

I was a sort of a computer programmer at this time, so I created small programs that would make our jobs easier.  I created icons on the computers so that people didn’t have to log into the apps, and I created a couple of other small programs that just automated the monotonous manual steps that we would have to do over and over again as we plowed through the 100,000 different part descriptions.

After the first week, we had converted over 15,000 parts, and were on our way to meeting our goal.

So, how did we do?  The Power Plant Men were able to convert all 100,000 parts in the inventory system to SAP in eight weeks!  Two weeks ahead of schedule.  This was typical for Power Plant Men, especially when you tell them it is impossible.  This was another example of doing things that others said couldn’t be done.

We were all scheduled to go back to our home plants two weeks early when Mark Romano, our project manager came to our cube to give us the news… We had performed our job so well, they wanted to expand our scope.  It seems that another department… I won’t mention which one, but their initials are T&D had been working on their measly 60,000 parts for the past 4 months and had only completed about 10,000 of them.  They wanted to know if the Power Plant Men would be willing to give them a hand to convert the 50,000 parts in their inventory system the same way we did for Power Supply.  Otherwise the go-live of January 1, would not be met since we were coming up to the end of September already.

Our Plant Managers had agreed that we could spend the next four weeks converting T&D’s parts as well, so of course, we agreed to stay on.  I’m not sure if Corporate Headquarters was ever the same after that.  Because we were able to stay on for the next four weeks, we were invited to an SAP banquet that we would have otherwise missed.  We stood out like a sore thumb.  I will write more about that banquet in a separate post as well as go into detail with some of the jokes that we played on Kent Norris.

Spending the 12 weeks in Corporate Headquarters was an important turning point in my career as a Power Plant Electrician.  When we were in the bullpen cube, I was sitting in a chair where I could turn my head to the right and look out a window over the parking lot for the building.  During the day I would watch people walking to-and-fro going about their business.

I had worked most of my adult life up to that point at a plant out in the country where when you climbed to the top of the 500 foot smoke stack and looked around, you could see fields and trees for 20 miles in any direction.  Looking out that window at people made a big impression on me.  Here I was sitting in an air conditioned office.  No Coal Dust.  No Fly Ash.  No ear plugs to deafen the sound of steam shooting through the pipes turning the turbines.  No 100 degrees in the summer.  No freezing my fingers off in the winter.  Just Power Plant Men quietly tapping on their computer keyboards, while they played jokes on Corporate Executive Kent.  — This was the life.

I thought… things don’t get better than this.  I was in computer heaven.  Even though it was unconscious at the time, something stirred in me that thought… maybe… just maybe, I’m ready for a change…. I’ll wait and see what God wants me to do…

Power Plant Men Learned Themselves Proper English

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?”

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 never 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 Foster

Charles Foster

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!

The Practical English and the Command of Words Course

The Practical English and the Command of Words Course

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?”

Alan Kramer

Alan Kramer

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 Patch to Dialogue Course

The Patch to Dialogue Course

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!).

This shows ways to kill dialogue and way to improve it

This shows ways to kill dialogue and way to improve it

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:

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

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.

“Take a Note Jan” said the Supervisor of Power Production

Originally Posted August 24, 2012:

I remember the first time Martin Louthan, the supervisor over all the power plants, came to the Power Plant to meet with all the Power Plant Men a couple of months before Unit 1 came on line in 1979. I don’t know what he expected when he arrived, but I don’t think he expected the greeting he received when the meeting began and he asked us what we all wanted to talk about.

There were about 200 Power plant Men all crowded into the break room. Some sitting and a lot standing, as there was no leaning room against the walls. Martin Louthan began the meeting by saying that he wanted to come and meet with all the Power plant men every 6 months without the management in the room so that we could all speak freely. I don’t think that Martin actually thought the Power Plant Men would actually take him up on it. But they did.

Martin Louthan was from the Old School of Power Plant Men. He was what I would call a “Power Broker” Man. You can definitely tell that he had worked his way up through the ranks of Power Plant Politics and was very comfortable in his position as ruler of all the power plants. Martin had started as a Power Plant engineer and had spent time working at almost all of the power plants that had been built up to that time, including the Osage Plant that I had talked about in an earlier blog about the Power Plant Pioneers (Pioneers of Power Plant Fame Finally Find Peace).

Once again I must remind the reader that the Power Plant Manager at the time, Eldon Waugh enjoyed ruling over his power plant kingdom and any time he could find a way to wield his power, he would. He had created many miscellaneous rules at the plant to demonstrate this authority. Most of which were designed to be a nuisance to the average employee under his domain.

When Martin Louthan asked the crowded room if anyone had anything to say while the plant manager and their own foremen were out of the room, the Power Plant Men took the opportunity to let loose a barrage of grievances against the Power Plant Manager and his assistant.

The main topic was the rule that no one could fish on plant grounds. The Power Plant Men had been told that Oklahoma City (Corporate Headquarters) had made a rule that no one could fish in the lake from the plant grounds. This included the discharge where the warm water went into the lake from the condenser, which was not far from the engineer’s shack parking lot where everyone had to park at the time. Martin acted surprised. He said he hadn’t heard of a rule like that.

Not being able to fish on plant grounds meant a long walk (about a mile) across an often muddy field

Sitting next to Martin Louthan was his secretary Janice Baker (Brady). Martin would say, “I’ll look into it. Take A note Jan! I’ll let you know what I find out.” Jan would write something down on her notepad. Then complaint after complaint kept coming, and Martin kept saying “Take a note Jan.” I remember Jan’s expression throughout the meeting. I couldn’t tell if it was one of wonder or a look of someone that was having writer’s cramp.

A notepad like this

A Power Plant notepad Jan may have been using

After a few more visits from Martin, “Take a note Jan” became a phrase at the plant for something that needed to be looked into, but we knew we would never hear about again. It wasn’t long before Martin’s 6 month meetings turned into yearly meetings, and then eventually, he stopped having meetings with the Power Plant Men all together.

The nail in the coffin of Martin Louthan’s meetings happened when I was on Labor Crew. Martin had his yearly meeting some time in the middle of the summer of 1983. I was on the labor crew that summer.

One of the main complaints that year was that the assistant plant manager and the plant manager were constantly lying to us about one thing and then another. Martin asked the Power Plant Men for an example. Well. No one could come up with one on the spot. It was something you knew when you heard it, but if you didn’t write them down, then the next day you were too busy keeping the plant operational to remember the troubles of the day before.

Martin Louthan told the Power Plant Men that if they didn’t have any examples, then he would not be able to take any action. So, Jan didn’t have to take a note about that.

The Labor Crew bore the brunt of the next rule that came down from up above, and we were told that it had come from Oklahoma City (which is where Corporate Headquarters is located). A lot of people on labor crew had been there for a long time. Some had been there for about 2 years and were looking for an opportunity to move into maintenance or become an operator.

The economy had slowed down during those years as we were still recovering from the high unemployment and the downturn in the oil market in Oklahoma. Reaganomics hadn’t kicked in full steam yet, so those people who would have migrated onto other jobs were staying put.

Finally it was announced that a new crew was going to be started at the plant. It would be the Testing crew. An excellent opportunity for some of the people to finally leave the labor crew where they seemed to be held captive during those years.

Unfortunately for most, it was soon made known that the new positions required that the person have a college degree. It didn’t matter in what, as long as they had one. That left Jim Kanelakos and I as the only two power plant men-in-training that were eligible. I had a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology, and Jim had a Masters of Arts in Psychology.

Together we would stand out in the front of the Labor Crew building analyzing the other Power Plant Men using all of our education to help us determine the motivation for each person. Jim might say, “Do you ever notice how Charles Peavler will go off to do coal cleanup and then you don’t see him until lunch when he comes back completely clean, and nothing seems to have been cleaned?” And I would respond by saying, “Yes, I wonder how he manages to keep so clean when he’s obviously doing twice the work, both cleaning up the reclaim and messing it all back up again. What drives a man to be so… um… Productive?” Jim might respond by saying something like, “It is probably because he hates his father and this is his way of seeking revenge on him for all the times he made him clean his bedroom after his brother had messed it up.”

No. We really didn’t say that, but I’m sure we thought about it often enough.

Then came the clincher… It seems that when Eldon Waugh learned that requiring a college degree didn’t automatically disqualify all of the labor crew hands, a new rule came down. “No one already employed by the Electric Company could be considered for the job.” Again we were told, “This had come down from Oklahoma City.”

To compound the issue, a new program had been put in place just that summer called the Employee Application Program which included a new job announcement process that allowed everyone access across the company to apply for job opening anywhere in the company.

Now, this seemed like an obvious example of what Martin Louthan had been looking for. A perfect example of the Power plant men being lied to by the Plant Manager. Our A foreman Marlin McDaniel asked Jim Kanelakos and I to apply for the jobs. He wanted to have actual proof that the applications would not be considered even though we met the minimum qualifications.

We applied, and our applications were turned down. We went through the proper procedures and up the chain of command and asked the Supervisor of Maintenance Ken Scott to have a meeting with us to discuss the situation.

Ken listened to our grievance, and said that he would go talk to the assistant plant manager to find out what he could about the reason why we couldn’t be considered for the new testing jobs. He came back with the answer from Bill Moler, the assistant plant manager, that we could not be considered for the testing jobs because they were new positions, and no one that currently worked for the Electric Company could be considered for newly created positions. “This had come down from Oklahoma City.”

The labor crew as a group said that they wanted to have a meeting with Martin Louthan to talk about this. Ken came back and said that the next time that Martin Louthan was at the plant, he would meet with the labor crew.

Finally one day about a week later, at 4:00 we were told that Martin Louthan was at the plant and that he would be willing to meet with us. The end of our day was at 4:30. We went up to the conference room and sat down with Martin to discuss the issue. Ken Scott sat in the meeting as an advocate stating exactly what he had been told, and what had happened.

As 4:40 rolled around, I was aware that I had three people in the car waiting for me to drive them home, and I reluctantly had to leave the meeting right after Martin Louthan told us that he had never heard of such a rule that if you worked for the company you couldn’t be considered for a job. He asked to have Bill Moler and Eldon Waugh brought into the meeting.

I had to hear what happened the next day because I missed the rest of the meeting. When Bill Moler and Eldon Waugh came into the meeting, Martin Louthan asked Eldon Waugh why he didn’t consider anyone at the plant for the new testing jobs, Eldon (the plant manager) replied by saying, “We did consider people at the plant. (which was a lie)” Then Bill Moler (the assistant plant manager) replied, “No we didn’t.” Martin asked, “Well why not?” (Maybe with a little more flowery language than I am using). Bill Moler said, “Because you told us not to.” Martin then said, “No I didn’t!” Bill Moler responded by shrugging his shoulders and saying, “Then it must have been a misunderstanding.”

That was it. The meeting was over. The misunderstanding was cleared up, but by that time the new testing crew had already been hired, and it was all water under the bridge. The Labor Crew men were still stuck digging ditches and doing coal cleanup. Martin Louthan didn’t have anymore meetings with just the Power Plant Men without the management in the room after that.

Every now and then I wonder what Jan was really writing in her notebook whenever Martin said, “Take a Note Jan.” I do know that after the first meeting, we were allowed to fish at the discharge, but only if we wore our hardhats. Our families and friends however could not. Then after much back-and-forth with Oklahoma City it was decided that not only did we not need to wear our hardhat while fishing at the discharge, but we could even bring our family and friends with us as well.

Martin Louthan retired with the other Power Broker men in the 1987-88 downsizing. The next June during the summer of 1988, Jan Brady became known as Janice Louthan, as she had married Martin Louthan. Martin’s first wife had died in 1981.

Janice Louthan's Facebook picture

Janice Louthan’s Facebook picture

Martin lived 23 years after he retired from the Electric Company where he had worked for 40 years. He died in his home on November 29, 2010. Janice was most likely right there by his side. In my mind with her notepad handy, ready and willing to hear the words, “Take a note Jan” just one more time.

Take a look at Martin Louthan and tell me this guy doesn’t mean business…

Martin Louthan

From Pioneers to Power Plant Managers

Originally posted December 28, 2013:

Times were changing in 1987 when the electric company in Oklahoma decided that they needed to downsize the company in order to change with the new business environment.  I always seemed to think that the executives down at corporate headquarters in Oklahoma City knew that the old pioneers in charge of the Power Plants would be very difficult customers when it came to the new business model.

Like I said…. Times were changing.  The digital era was being introduced to the power industry.  We had already upgraded the precipitator controls to make them computerized.  Other areas of the plant were going to be next.  Especially the employees.  Of course, none of us knew that quite yet, except Bill Rivers, who was a natural visionary, and he was gone.

Side story time:

I had always been interested in computers and programming from the time I was a sophomore in High School when I had just turned 15 years old.  My friend Jesse Cheng had introduced me to one of the first programmable calculators, the HP-25.

Hewlett Packard 25

The HP-25 calculator

This was the most wonderful Christmas present I had ever received.  I literally felt myself fainting when I opened the present and found that I had been given a pair of cowboy boots, only to find an HP-25 calculator inside when I opened it up.  Ralphie had nothing on me that day.

It was much like the Christmas Story with Ralphie.  I had tried every with way to convince my parents that using a slide rule in High School was passe (pronounced “pass A”).  All the other students in my advanced chemistry class were using calculators, and I was still stuck with my dad’s old circular slide rule.  It was a pretty neat one, I’ll grant you that, but it just… well….. I could work things out on paper faster than I could use the slide rule.

The Gilson Atlas circular slide rule I used in High School

The Gilson Atlas circular slide rule I used in High School

I introduced my friend Jesse Cheng in the post “Why Do Power Plant Men Always Lose the Things They Love Most“.  He had an HP-25 calculator and had loaned it to me to take a Chemistry test.  He showed me how it used Reverse Polish Notation, which is different than a normal calculator, but more like a computer.

The calculator could be programmed with 49 steps.  Because it had a stack built right into it, and the reason it used Reversed Polish Notation, we could create all sorts of games with just those 49 steps.  The book that came with the calculator had a moon landing game.  We made more sophisticated games, like one called Battleship.

Anyway.  Because of this early exposure with actually programming something in a logical manner, I was eager to learn more about programming.  During college, my calculator was often sitting on my desk in the dorm room running a long program to help me perfect a random number generator.  Finally in my Junior year in college, my calculator was completely fried.

After I was married at the end of 1985, I began subscribing to a magazine called “Compute”.  It had actual programs in it in Basic.  I would read the programs to learn how it worked, but at that point, I didn’t own a computer, so all I could do was dream about writing programs.

It wasn’t until Thanksgiving 1987 when I went to visit my ol’ friend Jesse Cheng in Columbia, Missouri who was interning as a medical doctor that I felt a sudden need to have a computer of my own.  He had built a computer using a Heath Kit and we used it to play two computer games.  One was called Starflight:

Starflight by Electronic Arts

Starflight by Electronic Arts

The other was called F15 Strike Eagle:

F-15 Strike Eagle by Microprose

F-15 Strike Eagle by Microprose

When I returned home I was pretty eager to buy a computer.  Up until that time, every time my wife and I had gone to the mall, I always had stopped in the computer stores to look at the latest computers.  I never had really considered buying one.  But now, they had 20 megabyte hard drives!  And you could play these terrific games like Starflight and F-15 Strike Eagle.

So, one day after we had left the mall, and my wife could see the look on my face, she finally said…. “Why don’t you go and buy one?”  I asked her, “Are you sure?  Because you know what is going to happen if I get a computer.  I’ll be playing on it all the time.”  She said, “No.  I want you to go buy one.”  So we turned around and went back to the mall.

That was the start of my journey into the world of computers.

End of Side Story.

As I explained in the post “Boppin’ with Bif during the Power Plant Downsizing“, the company offered an early retirement package for everyone 55 years old and older.  They would give them full benefits to leave.  This meant that our Electrical Supervisor, Leroy Godfrey, as well as the assistant plant manager, Bill Moler and the Plant Manager, Eldon Waugh were all going to retire some time in August 1987.

We had a retirement party for Leroy Godfrey out in the country at Diana Brien’s house.  A bunch of the electricians were there including Mark Meeks, who Leroy knew at the time was the one that was going to be laid off.  Mark commented about that later when he was told that he was losing his job that Leroy had sat there and smiled at him while we were at the party.  Mark knew Leroy didn’t like him, but hadn’t expected to be the one to go since everyone thought it would be Gary Wehunt, since he was the newest member in the shop.

I explained in the post, “The Passing of an Old School Power Plant Man — Leroy Godfrey” what Leroy’s management style was like.  It was very top-down, if you know what I mean.  It was like, “Because I told you so.”  No need to explain anything.  That was the world of Power Plant Management up to that point.

I think Corporate Headquarters realized that this needed to change in order for the company to compete in a world where electric companies could no longer count on the Corporation Commission to guarantee a sustainable electric rate or even a set number of customers.  The world of electric power was changing rapidly and the company needed to move on from the mentality that it could be run like a “good ol’ boys” club.

It is easier to teach young dogs new tricks than older and crankier ones.  It looked to me like this was a logical choice when looking back using hindsight.  I think the company was making a bold move.  I don’t think they really had much of a choice if they wanted to survive.

So, we had the main retirement party at the plant where people stood up and told stories about the old guys that were retiring.  Nothing much happened there except the part where Leroy Godfrey’s daughter stood up and said that we just had to work with him, while she had to live with him… see the post about Leroy above for the full story about that.

Then the following Monday.  I believe it was August 17, 1987, everyone was told to meet in the main break room for a meeting with our new management.  That was when we were introduced to our new plant manager, Ron Kilman.

I remember a certain part of the meeting very well.  Ron said something funny.  It didn’t matter exactly what he said.  I don’t even remember what it was.  Probably something self-deprecating.  I leaned over to Charles Foster, who had been my foreman for a while (on that day, it was officially Andy Tubbs).  I said, “I didn’t know Plant Managers could tell jokes!”

Charles looked back at me and I raised my eyebrows and tilted my head while the corners of my mouth went down. — This was one of the signals I had learned while carpooling with Bud Schoonover when I needed to communicate with Dick Dale without saying anything out loud (see the post:  Carpooling with Bud Schoonover“.  This particular expression meant, “Maybe this won’t be such a bad thing.”

Ron Kilman remained the plant manager at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma for the next 7 years.  The stories that I will post during this next year will all be at least partially from this time period.  During this time, there were some decisions that Ron made that I applauded, and others that even he would admit he wished he hadn’t made.

All in all, I think that Ron has a good heart and that those times when he did make a rash decision, it was evident that he was falling back to his “management training” and not managing from his heart.  Old School management training left a lot to be desired.

During the 7 years from 1987 to 1994, the power plant saw a lot of changes.  Some I have alluded to already.  Such as the move to computerize everything.  The other was a total change in how management works.  Or at least that was the attempt.

People were willing to step out of their regular day-to-day jobs and try new things that they thought would help the plant.  Many of these things were successful.  Some of them failed, but not so miserably as they would have if the earlier management had been around.  The employees felt as if they had more of a say in how the plant ran instead of feeling like they were just a bunch of tools running around fixing things.

I have a quote from Ron Kilman that said it all one day after a catastrophe had occurred.  It summed up his management style as opposed to his assistant manager, Ben Brandt.  I will relay the exact story later, but for now I’ll just say that when Ben Brandt saw what happened, the first thing that he said was, “Who did this?”  When Ron Kilman saw what had happened, the first thing he said was, “How can we prevent this from happening again?”

Ben’s approach was from the old school of thought.  Blame and punish the culprit.  Later when we were drastically changing the way process improvements took place, my favorite quote from Ben Brandt is, “I am the obstacle!  We aren’t going to change because I say so.”  We all had to agree.  He was definitely the obstacle.

Ron’s approach was one more like a leader.  “Let’s get the job done right.”  Sure, he is human, so the decisions weren’t always perfect, but I think in general, he was leading where other people may have been dragging.

Well…  I will say no more for now…  I look forward to writing stories about this time period during this next year.  I’m sure there are a lot of those at the plant just as eager to see how I portray the different events that took place during this time.

Comments from the original post:

  1. The Conservative Hill Billy December 28, 2013:

    HP 25? The only model older is Fred Flintstone’s bird chiseling into rock tablet!

  2. Monty Hansen March 4, 2014:

    One day, a fellow operator and I brought in our old slide rules, just to show. Not the round one like yours, but straight and mine had a leather case. A young engineer came hurrying through the control room and said, “I need a calculator – QUICK!” so I handed him my leather case & he ran out, about 30 seconds later he came back with a puzzled look on his face & said “No, I don’t need to MEASURE something, I need to CALCULATE something” We all had a hearty laugh!

Comments from the last repost:

  1. Ron Kilman December 31, 2014

    I loved the old Heath Kits. I built a 14 watt amplifier and an AM/FM receiver that I used for years (both were the tube type – pre-transistor). It was always satisfying to invest a few hours, save a few dollars, learn some new skills, and enjoy a product you couldn’t buy at a store.

  2. David Emeron January 2, 2015

    I still have my 25. It still works.

Do Power Plant Men and Corporate Headquarters Mix?

August 6, 1996 in Corporate Headquarters America, jaws began dropping a few minutes before 8 a.m.  At first the security guard just thought some Power Plant Giant had taken a wrong turn and showed up at Corporate Headquarters to ask for directions.  When another one showed up, this time carrying his Playmate lunch box, hard hat on his head, and lip quivering looking for a handy spittoon, the men in their suits and women in their fine dresses began running for cover.  That was the day eight Power Plant Men took over the floor in the building where the Corporate Engineers usually lived.

If you want to understand the shock that emanated throughout the building, just picture the following bunch showing up on your doorstep:

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy acting like Power Plant Men!

We had come from the four corners of the Oklahoma Electric Company  Power Plant Kingdom and we were there in Oklahoma City because Corporate America needed our help!  Two Power Plant Men from each of the main Power Plants were picked to help the company transition from the old Mainframe computer system to a new computer application called SAP.  SAP was going to combine all of our computer needs into one big application that runs on the new computer network.

SAP Logo

SAP Logo

Ernst and Young was the consulting company that was helping us install and implement SAP at our company.   The company began the implementation some time in March, and the big bang go live date was going to be January 1, 1997.  According to Ernst and Young, this was a physical impossibility.  There was no way we could convert all of our requirements into SAP realities in such a short time.

The Maintenance Module for SAP hadn’t even been fully developed.  We were actually working with SAP to design the module.  Our company had demonstrated how a Best In Class Maintenance process worked, and SAP was designing their module around our needs.  Everyone insisted that our aggressive timeline was too unreasonable and would never be met.

The Electric Company in Central Oklahoma had one Ace up their sleeve (well, maybe more than one)… That was “Power Plant Men!”  As I mentioned in last week’s post (See the post “Destruction of a Power Plant God“), I was told on Monday, August 5, to show up for work the following day in Oklahoma City to work for 10 weeks on an SAP project.

Mike Gibbs, a mechanic from our plant was going with me.  Our task was to convert all the Power Plant parts in the Inventory system in searchable strings that had a limited number of characters.  Mike Gibbs used to work in the warehouse, so he was a  good candidate for knowing what odd parts actually were.

Mike Gibbs

Mike Gibbs

We were a cross-section of mechanics and electricians, and warehouse people.  To give you an idea of how big our job was, we had over 100,000 different parts in the system.  75,000 of those parts were in the warehouse at the power plant where I worked.  There were over 5,000 different types of Nuts and Bolts… just to give you an idea of the task ahead of us.

Ernst and Young said the task would take the eight regular employees four months to complete the task.  The Electric Company said, “Power Plant Men can do it in 10 weeks.

We were able to use the office space used by all of the engineers because they all happened to be at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma where I normally worked because of the big explosion that destroyed part of the Turbine Generator room early Monday morning.  While they packed up to begin the work of reconstruction, Mike and I packed up and headed to Oklahoma City.

Most of the “out-of-town” Power Plant Men stayed in hotels for the next 2 1/2 months, but Mike Gibbs and I decided that we couldn’t be away from our families that long, so we decided that we would drive back and forth to work each day from Stillwater, Oklahoma.  This was about an hour drive with going to work traffic.  We would meet in the parking lot of a Mexican Restaurant at the edge of town and take turns each day driving to Oklahoma City.

Normally, in an instance like this, we would get paid a mileage that was farther than if we drove to the plant and maybe even driving time to and from work each day, but when our Plant Manager Bill Green found out we were driving back and forth, he refused to pay us anything.  He told us that it was far enough away that he would only pay for us to stay in a Hotel (which would have cost more than the mileage), he wouldn’t pay us mileage or even a per diem (which is a daily amount for expenses).

Bill Green knew that we were family men that wouldn’t want to be away from our families during the week if it was only an hour drive, so he played his card and said that we had to stay in a hotel, and he would pay the expense for that or he would pay nothing and we could drive back and forth all we wanted at our own expense, already knowing that we would rather wear our cars out and pay the extra gas each day to be with our families.  I just thought this was pay back for me being so rotten all the time.

The first week I was there, I worked on converting the 5,000 different nuts, bolts and screws into cryptic search strings that all began with the three letter search word for bolt:  BLT.  If you wanted to search for a Bolt in the SAP inventory, you would know it begins with a the letters BLT.  This only made me hungry all week, because to me, a BLT was a sandwich.  A mighty good one too, I may add.

Bacon lettuce and Tomato Sandwich

Power Plant Man sized Bacon lettuce and Tomato Sandwich

After the first week, it was decided that having Power Plant Men roaming around between offices asking each other questions about parts was a hazard waiting to happen, so the engineer that was running our project Mark Romano had a special holding pen… um… I mean, cubicle built just for us.  It was decided that we should all be together in what is called a “Bullpen Cube”.  All nine of us.  Bullpen was a good name considering that there was a lot of bull going around for all of us.

There were nine, because a young Corporate executive had been assigned to help us with all things “Corporate”.  His name is Kent Norris.  He was lucky enough to stay behind to work with us, instead of having to go spend the next 2 1/2 months at our plant up north helping to repair the fire damage.

Well.  I say lucky.  Lucky for us, maybe not for him.  After all, he was someone from “corporate” stuck in a cubicle with 8 rascally Power Plant Men that kept themselves motivated by playing practical jokes on whoever was willing to fall for them. Not ever having experienced the likes of us before, Kent was in for 2 1/2 months of relentless practical jokes being played at his expense.

I must say that we had a terrific time teasing poor Kent, but he was such fun and took our jokes so well, that we could only admire his resilience to bounce back and smile after we ran him ragged with one joke after the next.  I will go into more detail about the jokes we played on Kent in a later post.  For now, I am just mentioning our situation, so that you can get a picture of our situation.

Kent helped us with our expense reports each week, and showed us all the good places to eat lunch.  He helped us adapt to corporate life.  He even showed us how to use our temporary badges to badge in and out of the doors when we entered and left the building.

Mike Gibbs discovered a better way.  He just put his badge in his wallet, and since he was tall enough, when he walked up to the badge reader, he just pressed the back pocket of his blue jeans against the badge reader, and voila!  The door would open like magic!  Onlookers were always staring at this strange assortment of men in blue jeans and tee shirts walking through the office building during lunch.

I tried to remember all the people that were there in the cube with us… I remember that I was there, and so was Mike Gibb from the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.

These are the 500 foot smoke stacks

Our Coal Fired Power Plant

Ken Scott, who was the Maintenance Superintendent at the Gas-fired Power Plant by Konawa, and David Roe who worked in the warehouse at that plant.

Seminole Power Plant at night outside of Konawa Oklahoma. This picture was found at: http://www.redbubble.com/people/harrietrn/works/1425122-seminole-power-plant

Seminole Power Plant at night outside of Konawa Oklahoma. This picture was found at: http://www.redbubble.com/people/harrietrn/works/1425122-seminole-power-plant

Doyle Fullen, an Electric Foreman from the coal fired plant in Muskogee, and Robert Christy, a mechanic also from that plant.

Power Plant in Muskogee Oklahoma

Power Plant in Muskogee Oklahoma

I believe Dan Hayer, the warehouse man, was there from the gas-fired plant in Harrah, Oklahoma on a small lake called Horseshoe Lake.  I don’t remember who else was there from that plant.  I remember seeing someone there, but I think he was a more of a quiet type and for some reason, his name has escaped me.

 

Horseshoe Lake Plant as it looked back then

Horseshoe Lake Plant as it looked back then

I was a sort of a computer programmer at this time, so I created small programs that would make our jobs easier.  I created icons on the computers so that people didn’t have to log into the apps, and I created a couple of other small programs that just automated the monotonous manual steps that we would have to do over and over again as we plowed through the 100,000 different part descriptions.

After the first week, we had converted over 15,000 parts, and were on our way to meeting our goal.

So, how did we do?  The Power Plant Men were able to convert all 100,000 parts in the inventory system to SAP in eight weeks!  Two weeks ahead of schedule.  This was typical for Power Plant Men, especially when you tell them it is impossible.  This was another example of doing things that others said couldn’t be done.

We were all scheduled to go back to our home plants two weeks early when Mark Romano, our project manager came to our cube to give us the news… We had performed our job so well, they wanted to expand our scope.  It seems that another department… I won’t mention which one, but their initials are T&D had been working on their measly 60,000 parts for the past 4 months and had only completed about 10,000 of them.  They wanted to know if the Power Plant Men would be willing to give them a hand to convert the 50,000 parts in their inventory system the same way we did for Power Supply.  Otherwise the go-live of January 1, would not be met since we were coming up to the end of September already.

Our Plant Managers had agreed that we could spend the next four weeks converting T&D’s parts as well, so of course, we agreed to stay on.  I’m not sure if Corporate Headquarters was ever the same after that.  Because we were able to stay on for the next four weeks, we were invited to an SAP banquet that we would have otherwise missed.  We stood out like a sore thumb.  I will write more about that banquet in a separate post as well as go into detail with some of the jokes that we played on Kent Norris.

Spending the 12 weeks in Corporate Headquarters was an important turning point in my career as a Power Plant Electrician.  When we were in the bullpen cube, I was sitting in a chair where I could turn my head to the right and look out a window over the parking lot for the building.  During the day I would watch people walking to-and-fro going about their business.

I had worked most of my adult life up to that point at a plant out in the country where when you climbed to the top of the 500 foot smoke stack and looked around, you could see fields and trees for 20 miles in any direction.  Looking out that window at people made a big impression on me.  Here I was sitting in an air conditioned office.  No Coal Dust.  No Fly Ash.  No ear plugs to deafen the sound of steam shooting through the pipes turning the turbines.  No 100 degrees in the summer.  No freezing my fingers off in the winter.  Just Power Plant Men quietly tapping on their computer keyboards, while they played jokes on Corporate Executive Kent.  — This was the life.

I thought… things don’t get better than this.  I was in computer heaven.  Even though it was unconscious at the time, something stirred in me that thought… maybe… just maybe, I’m ready for a change…. I’ll wait and see what God wants me to do…

Power Plant Men Learned Themselves Proper English

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?”

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 never 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 I what it really  meant one day, I didn’t believe him.

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 Foster

Charles Foster

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, 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!

The Practical English and the Command of Words Course

The Practical English and the Command of Words Course

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?”

Alan Kramer

Alan Kramer

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 Patch to Dialogue Course

The Patch to Dialogue Course

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!).

This shows ways to kill dialogue and way to improve it

This shows ways to kill dialogue and way to improve it

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:

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

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.

From Pioneers to Power Plant Managers

Originally posted December 28, 2013:

Times were changing in 1987 when the electric company in Oklahoma decided that they needed to downsize the company in order to change with the new business environment.  I always seemed to think that the executives down at corporate headquarters in Oklahoma City knew that the old pioneers in charge of the Power Plants would be very difficult customers when it came to the new business model.

Like I said…. Times were changing.  The digital era was being introduced to the power industry.  We had already upgraded the precipitator controls to make them computerized.  Other areas of the plant were going to be next.  Especially the employees.  Of course, none of us knew that quite yet, except Bill Rivers, who was a natural visionary, and he was gone.

Side story time:

I had always been interested in computers and programming from the time I was a sophomore in High School when I had just turned 15 years old.  My friend Jesse Cheng had introduced me to one of the first programmable calculators, the HP-25.

Hewlett Packard 25

The HP-25 calculator

This was the most wonderful Christmas present I had ever received.  I literally felt myself fainting when I opened the present and found that I had been given a pair of cowboy boots, only to find an HP-25 calculator inside when I opened it up.  Ralphie had nothing on me that day.

It was much like the Christmas Story with Ralphie.  I had tried every with way to convince my parents that using a slide rule in High School was passe (pronounced “pass A”).  All the other students in my advanced chemistry class were using calculators, and I was still stuck with my dad’s old circular slide rule.  It was a pretty neat one, I’ll grant you that, but it just… well….. I could work things out on paper faster than I could use the slide rule.

The Gilson Atlas circular slide rule I used in High School

The Gilson Atlas circular slide rule I used in High School

I introduced my friend Jesse Cheng in the post “Why Do Power Plant Men Always Lose the Things They Love Most“.  He had an HP-25 calculator and had loaned it to me to take a Chemistry test.  He showed me how it used Reverse Polish Notation, which is different than a normal calculator, but more like a computer.

The calculator could be programmed with 49 steps.  Because it had a stack built right into it, and the reason it used Reversed Polish Notation, we could create all sorts of games with just those 49 steps.  The book that came with the calculator had a moon landing game.  We made more sophisticated games, like one called Battleship.

Anyway.  Because of this early exposure with actually programming something in a logical manner, I was eager to learn more about programming.  During college, my calculator was often sitting on my desk in the dorm room running a long program to help me perfect a random number generator.  Finally in my Junior year in college, my calculator was completely fried.

After I was married at the end of 1985, I began subscribing to a magazine called “Compute”.  It had actual programs in it in Basic.  I would read the programs to learn how it worked, but at that point, I didn’t own a computer, so all I could do was dream about writing programs.

It wasn’t until Thanksgiving 1987 when I went to visit my ol’ friend Jesse Cheng in Columbia, Missouri who was interning as a medical doctor that I felt a sudden need to have a computer of my own.  He had built a computer using a Heath Kit and we used it to play two computer games.  One was called Starflight:

Starflight by Electronic Arts

Starflight by Electronic Arts

The other was called F15 Strike Eagle:

F-15 Strike Eagle by Microprose

F-15 Strike Eagle by Microprose

When I returned home I was pretty eager to buy a computer.  Up until that time, every time my wife and I had gone to the mall, I always had stopped in the computer stores to look at the latest computers.  I never had really considered buying one.  But now, they had 20 megabyte hard drives!  And you could play these terrific games like Starflight and F-15 Strike Eagle.

So, one day after we had left the mall, and my wife could see the look on my face, she finally said…. “Why don’t you go and buy one?”  I asked her, “Are you sure?  Because you know what is going to happen if I get a computer.  I’ll be playing on it all the time.”  She said, “No.  I want you to go buy one.”  So we turned around and went back to the mall.

That was the start of my journey into the world of computers.

End of Side Story.

As I explained in the post “Boppin’ with Bif during the Power Plant Downsizing“, the company offered an early retirement package for everyone 55 years old and older.  They would give them full benefits to leave.  This meant that our Electrical Supervisor, Leroy Godfrey, as well as the assistant plant manager, Bill Moler and the Plant Manager, Eldon Waugh were all going to retire some time in August 1987.

We had a retirement party for Leroy Godfrey out in the country at Diana Brien’s house.  A bunch of the electricians were there including Mark Meeks, who Leroy knew at the time was the one that was going to be laid off.  Mark commented about that later when he was told that he was losing his job that Leroy had sat there and smiled at him while we were at the party.  Mark knew Leroy didn’t like him, but hadn’t expected to be the one to go since everyone thought it would be Gary Wehunt, since he was the newest member in the shop.

I explained in the post, “The Passing of an Old School Power Plant Man — Leroy Godfrey” what Leroy’s management style was like.  It was very top-down, if you know what I mean.  It was like, “Because I told you so.”  No need to explain anything.  That was the world of Power Plant Management up to that point.

I think Corporate Headquarters realized that this needed to change in order for the company to compete in a world where electric companies could no longer count on the Corporation Commission to guarantee a sustainable electric rate or even a set number of customers.  The world of electric power was changing rapidly and the company needed to move on from the mentality that it could be run like a “good ol’ boys” club.

It is easier to teach young dogs new tricks than older and crankier ones.  It looked to me like this was a logical choice when looking back using hindsight.  I think the company was making a bold move.  I don’t think they really had much of a choice if they wanted to survive.

So, we had the main retirement party at the plant where people stood up and told stories about the old guys that were retiring.  Nothing much happened there except the part where Leroy Godfrey’s daughter stood up and said that we just had to work with him, while she had to live with him… see the post about Leroy above for the full story about that.

Then the following Monday.  I believe it was August 17, 1987, everyone was told to meet in the main break room for a meeting with our new management.  That was when we were introduced to our new plant manager, Ron Kilman.

I remember a certain part of the meeting very well.  Ron said something funny.  It didn’t matter exactly what he said.  I don’t even remember what it was.  Probably something self-deprecating.  I leaned over to Charles Foster, who had been my foreman for a while (on that day, it was officially Andy Tubbs).  I said, “I didn’t know Plant Managers could tell jokes!”

Charles looked back at me and I raised my eyebrows and tilted my head while the corners of my mouth went down. — This was one of the signals I had learned while carpooling with Bud Schoonover when I needed to communicate with Dick Dale without saying anything out loud (see the post:  Carpooling with Bud Schoonover“.  This particular expression meant, “Maybe this won’t be such a bad thing.”

Ron Kilman remained the plant manager at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma for the next 7 years.  The stories that I will post during this next year will all be at least partially from this time period.  During this time, there were some decisions that Ron made that I applauded, and others that even he would admit he wished he hadn’t made.

All in all, I think that Ron has a good heart and that those times when he did make a rash decision, it was evident that he was falling back to his “management training” and not managing from his heart.  Old School management training left a lot to be desired.

During the 7 years from 1987 to 1994, the power plant saw a lot of changes.  Some I have alluded to already.  Such as the move to computerize everything.  The other was a total change in how management works.  Or at least that was the attempt.

People were willing to step out of their regular day-to-day jobs and try new things that they thought would help the plant.  Many of these things were successful.  Some of them failed, but not so miserably as they would have if the earlier management had been around.  The employees felt as if they had more of a say in how the plant ran instead of feeling like they were just a bunch of tools running around fixing things.

I have a quote from Ron Kilman that said it all one day after a catastrophe had occurred.  It summed up his management style as opposed to his assistant manager, Ben Brandt.  I will relay the exact story later, but for now I’ll just say that when Ben Brandt saw what happened, the first thing that he said was, “Who did this?”  When Ron Kilman saw what had happened, the first thing he said was, “How can we prevent this from happening again?”

Ben’s approach was from the old school of thought.  Blame and punish the culprit.  Later when we were drastically changing the way process improvements took place, my favorite quote from Ben Brandt is, “I am the obstacle!  We aren’t going to change because I say so.”  We all had to agree.  He was definitely the obstacle.

Ron’s approach was one more like a leader.  “Let’s get the job done right.”  Sure, he is human, so the decisions weren’t always perfect, but I think in general, he was leading where other people may have been dragging.

Well…  I will say no more for now…  I look forward to writing stories about this time period during this next year.  I’m sure there are a lot of those at the plant just as eager to see how I portray the different events that took place during this time.

Comments from the original post:

  1. The Conservative Hill Billy December 28, 2013:

    HP 25? The only model older is Fred Flintstone’s bird chiseling into rock tablet!

  2. Monty Hansen March 4, 2014:

    One day, a fellow operator and I brought in our old slide rules, just to show. Not the round one like yours, but straight and mine had a leather case. A young engineer came hurrying through the control room and said, “I need a calculator – QUICK!” so I handed him my leather case & he ran out, about 30 seconds later he came back with a puzzled look on his face & said “No, I don’t need to MEASURE something, I need to CALCULATE something” We all had a hearty laugh!

Comments from the last repost:

  1. Ron Kilman December 31, 2014

    I loved the old Heath Kits. I built a 14 watt amplifier and an AM/FM receiver that I used for years (both were the tube type – pre-transistor). It was always satisfying to invest a few hours, save a few dollars, learn some new skills, and enjoy a product you couldn’t buy at a store.

  2. David Emeron January 2, 2015

    I still have my 25. It still works.

Power Plant Men Learned Themselves Proper English

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?”

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 never 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 I what it really  meant one day, I didn’t believe him.

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 Foster

Charles Foster

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, 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!

The Practical English and the Command of Words Course

The Practical English and the Command of Words Course

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?”

Alan Kramer

Alan Kramer

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 Patch to Dialogue Course

The Patch to Dialogue Course

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!).

This shows ways to kill dialogue and way to improve it

This shows ways to kill dialogue and way to improve it

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:

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

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.

“Take a Note Jan” said the Supervisor of Power Production

Originally Posted August 24, 2012:

I remember the first time Martin Louthan, the supervisor over all the power plants, came to the Power Plant to meet with all the Power Plant Men a couple of months before Unit 1 came on line in 1979. I don’t know what he expected when he arrived, but I don’t think he expected the greeting he received when the meeting began and he asked us what we all wanted to talk about.

There were about 200 Power plant Men all crowded into the break room. Some sitting and a lot standing, as there was no leaning room against the walls. Martin Louthan began the meeting by saying that he wanted to come and meet with all the Power plant men every 6 months without the management in the room so that we could all speak freely. I don’t think that Martin actually thought the Power Plant Men would actually take him up on it. But they did.

Martin Louthan was from the Old School of Power Plant Men. He was what I would call a “Power Broker” Man. You can definitely tell that he had worked his way up through the ranks of Power Plant Politics and was very comfortable in his position as ruler of all the power plants. Martin had started as a Power Plant engineer and had spent time working at almost all of the power plants that had been built up to that time, including the Osage Plant that I had talked about in an earlier blog about the Power Plant Pioneers (Pioneers of Power Plant Fame Finally Find Peace).

Once again I must remind the reader that the Power Plant Manager at the time, Eldon Waugh enjoyed ruling over his power plant kingdom and any time he could find a way to wield his power, he would. He had created many miscellaneous rules at the plant to demonstrate this authority. Most of which were designed to be a nuisance to the average employee under his domain.

When Martin Louthan asked the crowded room if anyone had anything to say while the plant manager and their own foremen were out of the room, the Power Plant Men took the opportunity to let loose a barrage of grievances against the Power Plant Manager and his assistant.

The main topic was the rule that no one could fish on plant grounds. The Power Plant Men had been told that Oklahoma City (Corporate Headquarters) had made a rule that no one could fish in the lake from the plant grounds. This included the discharge where the warm water went into the lake from the condenser, which was not far from the engineer’s shack parking lot where everyone had to park at the time. Martin acted surprised. He said he hadn’t heard of a rule like that.

Not being able to fish on plant grounds meant a long walk (about a mile) across an often muddy field

Sitting next to Martin Louthan was his secretary Janice Baker (Brady). Martin would say, “I’ll look into it. Take A note Jan! I’ll let you know what I find out.” Jan would write something down on her notepad. Then complaint after complaint kept coming, and Martin kept saying “Take a note Jan.” I remember Jan’s expression throughout the meeting. I couldn’t tell if it was one of wonder or a look of someone that was having writer’s cramp.

A notepad like this

A Power Plant notepad Jan may have been using

After a few more visits from Martin, “Take a note Jan” became a phrase at the plant for something that needed to be looked into, but we knew we would never hear about again. It wasn’t long before Martin’s 6 month meetings turned into yearly meetings, and then eventually, he stopped having meetings with the Power Plant Men all together.

The nail in the coffin of Martin Louthan’s meetings happened when I was on Labor Crew. Martin had his yearly meeting some time in the middle of the summer of 1983. I was on the labor crew that summer.

One of the main complaints that year was that the assistant plant manager and the plant manager were constantly lying to us about one thing and then another. Martin asked the Power Plant Men for an example. Well. No one could come up with one on the spot. It was something you knew when you heard it, but if you didn’t write them down, then the next day you were too busy keeping the plant operational to remember the troubles of the day before.

Martin Louthan told the Power Plant Men that if they didn’t have any examples, then he would not be able to take any action. So, Jan didn’t have to take a note about that.

The Labor Crew bore the brunt of the next rule that came down from up above, and we were told that it had come from Oklahoma City (which is where Corporate Headquarters is located). A lot of people on labor crew had been there for a long time. Some had been there for about 2 years and were looking for an opportunity to move into maintenance or become an operator.

The economy had slowed down during those years as we were still recovering from the high unemployment and the downturn in the oil market in Oklahoma. Reaganomics hadn’t kicked in full steam yet, so those people who would have migrated onto other jobs were staying put.

Finally it was announced that a new crew was going to be started at the plant. It would be the Testing crew. An excellent opportunity for some of the people to finally leave the labor crew where they seemed to be held captive during those years.

Unfortunately for most, it was soon made known that the new positions required that the person have a college degree. It didn’t matter in what, as long as they had one. That left Jim Kanelakos and I as the only two power plant men-in-training that were eligible. I had a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology, and Jim had a Masters of Arts in Psychology.

Together we would stand out in the front of the Labor Crew building analyzing the other Power Plant Men using all of our education to help us determine the motivation for each person. Jim might say, “Do you ever notice how Charles Peavler will go off to do coal cleanup and then you don’t see him until lunch when he comes back completely clean, and nothing seems to have been cleaned?” And I would respond by saying, “Yes, I wonder how he manages to keep so clean when he’s obviously doing twice the work, both cleaning up the reclaim and messing it all back up again. What drives a man to be so… um… Productive?” Jim might respond by saying something like, “It is probably because he hates his father and this is his way of seeking revenge on him for all the times he made him clean his bedroom after his brother had messed it up.”

No. We really didn’t say that, but I’m sure we thought about it often enough.

Then came the clincher… It seems that when Eldon Waugh learned that requiring a college degree didn’t automatically disqualify all of the labor crew hands, a new rule came down. “No one already employed by the Electric Company could be considered for the job.” Again we were told, “This had come down from Oklahoma City.”

To compound the issue, a new program had been put in place just that summer called the Employee Assistance Program which included a new job announcement process that allowed everyone access across the company to apply for job opening anywhere in the company.

Now, this seemed like an obvious example of what Martin Louthan had been looking for. A perfect example of the Power plant men being lied to by the Plant Manager. Our A foreman Marlin McDaniel asked Jim Kanelakos and I to apply for the jobs. He wanted to have actual proof that the applications would not be considered even though we met the minimum qualifications.

We applied, and our applications were turned down. We went through the proper procedures and up the chain of command and asked the Supervisor of Maintenance Ken Scott to have a meeting with us to discuss the situation.

Ken listened to our grievance, and said that he would go talk to the assistant plant manager to find out what he could about the reason why we couldn’t be considered for the new testing jobs. He came back with the answer from Bill Moler, the assistant plant manager, that we could not be considered for the testing jobs because they were new positions, and no one that currently worked for the Electric Company could be considered for the jobs. “This had come down from Oklahoma City.”

The labor crew as a group said that they wanted to have a meeting with Martin Louthan to talk about this. Ken came back and said that the next time that Martin Louthan was at the plant, he would meet with the labor crew.

Finally one day, at 4:00 we were told that Martin Louthan was at the plant and that he would be willing to meet with us. The end of our day was at 4:30. We went up to the conference room and sat down with Martin to discuss the issue. Ken Scott sat in the meeting as an advocate stating exactly what he had been told, and what had happened.

As 4:40 rolled around, I was aware that I had three people in the car waiting for me to drive them home, and I reluctantly had to leave the meeting right after Martin Louthan told us that he had never heard of such a rule that if you worked for the company you couldn’t be considered for a job. He asked to have Bill Moler and Eldon Waugh brought into the meeting.

The rest, I had to hear the next day because I missed the rest of the meeting. When Bill Moler and Eldon Waugh came into the meeting, Martin Louthan asked Eldon Waugh why he didn’t consider anyone at the plant for the new testing jobs, Eldon replied by saying, “We did consider people at the plant.” Then Bill Moler replied, “No we didn’t.” Martin asked, “Well why not?” (Maybe with a little more flowery language than I am using). Bill Moler said, “Because you told us not to.” Martin then said, “No I didn’t!” Bill Moler responded by shrugging his shoulders and saying, “Then it must have been a misunderstanding.”

That was it. The meeting was over. The misunderstanding was cleared up, but by that time the new testing crew had already been hired, and it was all water under the bridge. The Labor Crew men were still stuck digging ditches and doing coal cleanup. Martin Louthan didn’t have anymore meetings with just the Power Plant Men without the management in the room after that.

Every now and then I wonder what Jan was really writing in her notebook whenever Martin said, “Take a Note Jan.” I do know that after the first meeting, we were allowed to fish at the discharge, but only if we wore our hardhats. Our families and friends however could not. Then after much back-and-forth with Oklahoma City it was decided that not only did we not need to wear our hardhat while fishing at the discharge, but we could even bring our family and friends with us as well.

Martin Louthan retired with the other Power Broker men in the 1987-88 downsizing. The next June during the summer of 1988, Jan Brady became known as Janice Louthan, as she had married Martin Louthan. Martin’s first wife had died in 1981.

Janice Louthan's Facebook picture

Janice Louthan’s Facebook picture

Martin lived 23 years after he retired from the Electric Company where he had worked for 40 years. He died in his home on November 29, 2010. Janice was most likely right there by his side. In my mind with her notepad handy, ready and willing to hear the words, “Take a note Jan” just one more time.

Take a look at Martin Louthan and tell me this guy doesn’t mean business…

Martin Louthan