Two years before the movie Karate Kid came out at the movies in 1984, I had learned the secret of “Wax On, Wax Off”. One that made a significant difference to my Power Plant Janitorial Powers!
My Janitorial Master was Pat Braden. He is the same age as my father. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Pat Braden reminded me of a rounder version of Red Skelton:
Pat was one of the kindest people you would ever meet. He was the head janitor when I became a janitor at the Coal-Fired Power Plant. I had worked with him off and on during the 4 summers when I had worked as a summer help. So I was glad to actually be on his crew as one of the team.
When we had a big waxing job to do, we would schedule a weekend to come in and do it. That way we could wax an entire area without interruption. We could strip off the old wax with the stripping chemicals, then neutralize it, then add the sealer, and finally end up with waxing the floors with the best wax we could buy. As I mentioned in the post “How Many Power Plant Men Can You Put in a 1982 Honda Civic”, we used Johnson Wax’s best wax: Showplace.
We had been “certified” by Johnson and Johnson to wax floors properly. This included the proper buffing techniques once the wax had been applied and had properly dried. A properly waxed and buffed floor is shiny but not a slippery floor.
We decided to spend one weekend waxing the Engineering shack. It was a tin building like a Metal Butler Building that the inspectors from Corporate Headquarters would use when they had projects at the plant. In 1982, that was pretty well all of the time, as John Blake and Gene Titus were permanent residents of the Engineers Shack.
The floor in this building had a regular tile floor like you would see in an office building in the 1960’s. Just the plain square tiles. It looked like it had never been waxed before, and was probably built on the plant grounds long before the power plant existed. The floor had been worn out by the traffic over the years. This was one building that I was expected to keep swept and mopped as part of my daily janitorial responsibilities.
Our Janitor crew consisted of Pat Braden, Doris Voss, James Kanelakos, Ronnie Banks and Curtis Love (and myself of course). We had decided a couple of days before that for lunch we would eat baked onions. “Ok”, I thought. I knew we didn’t get paid much as janitors and we had to be frugal, but I didn’t really think that we were so bad off that we had to resort to eating onions for lunch. But since no one really asked me for my vote (which would have been to bring in some pizza from Ponca City), we were having baked onions for lunch.
We spent the morning removing all the furniture from the building, and then stripping the floor (even though it looked like it had never been waxed before). Then we mopped it a couple of times. By that time it was lunch time, and we headed up to the plant break room where Doris was just finishing up baking our um…. er….. onions. Yeah.. Baked Onions….
It turned out that these were Purple Onions. The ends had been cut off of them and butter and salt and pepper had been put on each end as they were wrapped up in tinfoil like a baked potato, and then baked in the oven just as if they were a baked potato.
Well. I was never one to complain about food, and I was determined not to show my lack of enthusiasm at the thought of eating an onion for lunch, so I sat down and put on my eager hungry expression as I waited for our feast. — Well. The joke was on me. As I began to eat the baked onion, I realized right away that it didn’t taste like any onion I had ever eaten. It was kind of sweet and…. well…. it was rather tasty! Power Plant Culture never ceases to amaze me.
Anyway, after I had eaten my share of onions, we were ready to go back to work waxing the engineers shack. We spent the rest of the day doing that and when we had decided that the wax had dried enough, we carefully brought the furniture back in and put everything back in order.
So, why am I boring you with all this detail about waxing the floor in a metal building that doesn’t even exist today? Well. I have told you now about the “Wax On” part. Now comes the “Wax Off” part. The second part of my training to becoming a Jedi Janitor (hmm… snuck in a Star Wars reference I see).
Here is what happened the next Monday when I wheeled the buffing machine out of the janitor closet in the Engineer’s shack. Gene Titus (who always reminded me of Jerry Reed):
and John Blake, both were very pleased with their new shiny floor. They looked like they were anxious to show it off to someone… anyone that would come by. I was about to really impress them (I thought) with my fine buffing skills that was really going to make their floor shine. So, they watched closely as I attached the red buffing pad on the bottom of the buffer:
I began at the far end of the room from the doors and began buffing…. The first thing I noticed was that the buffer was literally removing the wax from the floor. Yep. It was taking it right off. Wax On…. Wax Off…..
Normally John Blake was a likable sensible person. But when he saw me removing the wax from the floor he had a very concerned expression, and well, I perceived that a sort of extreme hatred was rising up in his demeanor…. I was glad that John was a quiet mild-mannered sort of person, otherwise, I think he would have walloped me one for ruining the floor that he was so proud of minutes before.
I began thinking to myself what I should do. After all. The floor really did need buffing, and buffing it was removing the wax. So as the buffer moved back and forth erasing the shine and bringing back the dull tiles, I thought as hard as I could muster my brain what I should do next….
I figured I would go ahead and buff the entire main room, as if I knew exactly what I was doing, not looking concerned. I don’t know if the confidence that I exhibited while removing the wax relaxed John just enough so that he could leave the building and continue his job, or if he actually stormed out in distress hoping to drown his sorrows in his morning cup of coffee…
When I finished the room with the red pad… I did what I would have done if the wax had buffed up correctly and had actually still existed on the floor…. I put the white pad on the buffer. I thought in my mind that the floor was probably so infiltrated with dust that we hadn’t done a proper job (if it was even possible) to clean the floor before applying the wax on Saturday.
So I thought I would try something that they hadn’t taught us in waxing class… I took a spray bottle and filled it with wax. Then I started in the same corner where I had begun removing the pride and glory of John Blake’s newly waxed dreams. I sprayed some wax and buffed it into the floor. As I guided the buffer back and forth with one hand, I sprayed the floor with the other. To my surprise, not only did it start to leave a shiny polished floor, but it left a polish that was much more clear than before. One that was almost like a mirror.
As I buffed the room from one end to the next, the entire room became brighter as the lights from the ceiling reflected from the hard polished wax. I was nearly finished with the room when John walked back in. He was immediately stunned by the brightly polished floor.
I could see his uncharacteristic desire to kill me melt away and his pleasure with his new Shangri La abode become immediately evident. John Blake from that moment on viewed me with the respect that most Power Plant janitors normally deserve.
I was so impressed with how well the floor looked when I was done, that I went to the Brown and Root building next door and did the same thing there.
I began to wonder what other uses I could make out of this discovery… Spraying wax on the floor and buffing it right in. It finally occurred to me that the floor cleaning machine that I used to clean the Turbine room floor might benefit by adding some wax to the mixture. It had the same type of red buffer pads on it.
So, after I had scrubbed the Turbine Generator floor using the regular detergent. I cleaned out the scrubber and put just water in there and about 1/2 gallon of wax. Then I went to try out my experiment. Sure enough…. The bright red Turbine Room floor began to glow. The bright lights overhead were clearly reflected off the floor. This was very successful.
So, my next test was to sweep off the turbine-Generators themselves with a red dust mop. Then spray watered down Johnson Wax directly on the dust mop and mop away on the turbine generators:
The Turbine Generators took on the same polished shine.
I distinctly remember one Power Plant Operator that gave me a very nice complement one day for keeping the T-G floor so nicely polished. His name was Michael Hurst. He was a True Power Plant Operator.
As a lowly janitor in a plant of heroes, I found that I was treated with the same respect as everyone else. I would never forget that complement from him because I could see his earnest sincerity.
A few years ago on December 19, 2008 Michael Hurst died in Oklahoma City. What was said about Michael after his death was this: “He had a great sense of humor and a big heart… Many have been blessed with his generosity and his genuine love for people.” I can include myself in this statement. I know that everyone shown in the picture above from Joe Gallahar (on the left) to Doris Voss (in the middle) to Pat Quiring (on the right) would agree with that testament about Michael.
There was another sentence after this one that stands on it’s own. One that is a sign of a True Power Plant Man. It was also said of Michael Hurst: “Above all else, the most important thing to him was his family.” Though I don’t have a picture of Michael’s immediately family. I believe that I have included a picture above of at least some of his extended family.
Three of the four years that I was a summer help working at the Coal-Fired Power Plant, I worked out of the garage. Not only were we responsible for mowing the grass and cleaning up the park areas around the lake, we were also the Automotive Garage. That is, we changed the oil and other fluids, charged dead truck batteries and washed the pickup trucks that were used at the plant and various other truck related jobs. We also Fixed Flat Tires.
Something had happened the first summer when I worked out of the garage that greatly impacted the need for us to fix flats fast and furious. It was a disease that was rapidly killing dogs in Oklahoma during the summer of 1980. It was known as the Canine Parvovirus. We had a puppy at home named Oreo that died that summer from this disease. By the time the dog showed the symptoms of the disease, it was just about too late to save the life of the dog. This leads me to introduce you to Doug House (No, not Dog House. I know you were thinking that because I had just mentioned the Parvovirus killing dogs and you may have thought I misspelled Dog).
It was Doug House that taught me the fine art of “Fixin’ Flats”. Doug House and Preston Jenkins had been hired because of their automotive skills more so than their Power Plant Man Prowess. Doug House was a few years older than my dad and his son was about the age of my younger brother. He was from Louisiana. He didn’t have a Cajun accent or anything like that (or maybe he did and I just didn’t know it). He sounded like an interesting mix between Winnie The Pooh and Frosty The Snowman (if you can imagine that). So, those power plant men that remember Doug, listen to these two voices and think of Doug (and I don’t mean Jimmy Durante who is singing the Frosty the Snowman song. I mean the guy that asks “What’s a lamp post?”):
Watch the Video Here:
Watch the video here:
The Power Plant was still under construction when I started working in the garage (my second summer) and this meant that there were plenty of nails, screws welding rods and other pieces of shrapnel strewn over the roadways, giving ample opportunity for flat tires. We would often come into work in the morning to find one of the operators’ trucks that had developed a flat tire during the night shift parked in front of the garage waiting patiently for the flat to be fixed.
It seemed like the garage was filled with all the latest equipment for automotive maintenance, however, the flat fixing tools were mostly manual. We did have air powered tools so that we could quickly remove the lug nuts from the tire. From there we would add air to the flat tire so that it was pressurized enough to find the leak. Then we would put it in a half barrel trough full of soapy water to see if we could see the air leaking, blowing soap bubbles. Once the leak was found and marked with a yellow paint pen, the wheel was placed on a special stand that was used to remove the tire from the rim called a “Tire Dismounter”.
So, I became a Flat Fixin’ Fool. And during the three summers that I worked repairing flats, I became pretty fast. I loved fixing flat tires. We used patches the first two years instead of plugs, which means that we fixed the flat from the inside of the tire by placing a patch over the hole inside the tire using special patches and rubber cement.
It wasn’t until the third summer working in the garage that I learned about plugs when my dad and I brought my uncle’s wheel to a garage to repair a leak and I was all ready to watch the repairman take the tire off of the wheel and repair it. But instead, as soon as he found the hole, he just reached up to a shelf, pulled this black worm looking gooey thing and splashed some rubber cement on it and jammed it in the hole using some small kind of awl. Then took out his big pocket knife and cut off the part sticking out and handed the tire back to us and said, “No Charge”. I was shocked.
My first thought was that I couldn’t figure out why someone wouldn’t go through all the fun of wrestling with the tire to remove it from the rim, then clamping it down so that you could easily reach the hole inside the tire with a wire brush so you could buff the spot clean, and then applying the patch and rolling over it with another special Tire Patch rolling pin. My second thought was, “Why don’t we have those at the plant?”
So when I arrived for my last summer as summer help a couple of weeks later, I asked Stanley Elmore why we didn’t use Tire Plugs. The next thing I knew, we had them. Trucks could practically line up outside with their flat tires and you could run up to them with an air hose, fill the tire up with air, spray some soapy water on it until you found the hole, pulled out the nail and jammed a plug in it. Take out your pocket knife, cut off the tail sticking out, and then yell “Next!” At least that is what I dreamed about doing. There was a little more work when it actually came down to it.
So, what does all this have to do with Canine Parvovirus? You see, the Jackrabbit population in Oklahoma was being controlled by the ever elusive wily coyote.
The coyotes had caught the parvovirus and were being destroyed almost to the point of distinction by 1980. The Coal-Fired Power Plant ground in north central Oklahoma became a veritable Shangri-la for Jackrabbits. The plant grounds are in the middle of a wildlife preserve created by the Electric Company that not only made the wildlife preserve, but the entire lake where all sorts of animals lived. None were more proliferate than the Jackrabbits.
I learned a lot about wildlife working at this power plant. For instance, This may be a picture of a Jack Rabbit, but Larry Riley could tell at 75 yards whether or not it was a Jack Rabbit or a Jill Rabbit. Yep. That’s what they called the female Jackrabbit. There were Jack and Jill Rabbits. I couldn’t tell the difference, but then half the time while Larry was pointing out a rabbit to me I not only couldn’t tell if it was a male or female, I couldn’t even see the rabbit because it was camouflaged in the dirt and weeds.
So, at this point you are probably wondering, “What does the multiplication of jackrabbits have to do with fixing flat tires?” I was recently reminded by one of the most stellar of Power Plant Men Shift Supervisors, Joe Gallahar (notice how his name is only one letter away from “Gallahad” as in “Sir Galahad”), that the night crew of operators that brave the weather better than any mail carrier ever did, as one of their formidable duties had to perform Jackrabbit Roundup while riding three-wheel All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs).
It was important that the Jackrabbits not become too complacent around humans in this wholesale bliss, so the operators obviously felt it was their duty to see that they received their proper quota of daily (or nightly) exercise by being chased by ATVs. There were enough thorny plants spread around the grassless dirt that inevitably at least one three-wheeler would end up with a flat tire by the end of the night. And that is how the Canine Parvovirus impacted the flat fixin’ focus of the garage crew. Fixing three-wheeler balloon tires was a slightly different animal altogether, plugs didn’t work as well on these tires, but the patches did.
I seem to remember another Power Plant A-Foreman that reads this post that used to take his three-wheeler out by the blowdown water ponds during lunch time and hone his skills maneuvering around the berm surrounding the two ponds. His tires often needed a quick patch job later in the day. We later went to Four-Wheelers as the added stability proved to be a much needed safety improvement.
There was also a clandestine group of Coyote hunters at the Power Plant, though I didn’t know it at the time. Before (and many years after) the Parvovirus took its toll on the Coyotes, a group of Coyote Hunters would patrol the wilderness looking for signs of the highly elusive coyote. I first realized something was up years later when I was a passenger in a company truck on our way to the river pumps when the driver slowed the truck down to a crawl as he looked out the window at something in the middle of the road. He put the truck in park, climbed out and picked something up next to the truck. He showed it to me. It was fecal matter left behind by some creature. Andy Tubbs was sure it was Coyote Dung and he wanted it for some reason.
The True Power Plant Electricians, Andy Tubbs and Ben Davis were the “fearless Coyote Hunters”, who were on a constant vigil for Coyotes. This also gave them a chance to give their Greyhounds an opportunity to stretch their legs and get some exercise as a trapdoor to the large wooden box in the back of the truck was sprung open and the Greyhounds went to work chasing down the coyotes and bringing them back to the truck waiting for them at the next mile section. Stretched Coyote skins were sometimes hung up in front of the cooling fans on the main power transformer to dry.
Here is a motivational video of a man named John Hardzog (Not a Power Plant Man) that hunts Coyotes with Greyhounds:
Anyway. the last I heard about Doug House was that he had moved back to Louisiana and is still there to this day. I don’t really know what he’s doing these days as he would be in his low 80’s. I do know that I enjoyed the sport that he taught me, and that was how to be a “Flat Fixin’ Fool”.
Another Interesting factoid is that by the time I finished writing this blog, it became July 14, 2012. Bill Moler, the Assistant Plant Manager during the time that I was a summer help became 80 years old today.