Tag Archives: Stillwater

Power Plant Control Room Operator and the Life of Pi

Whenever I walked into the Control Room at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma and saw Jim Cave manning the helm, I couldn’t help but smile.  I would do the same thing when Gene Day was standing there, but for a different reason.  Jim just seemed to make everyone feel at ease.  There is something special about his personality that rubs everyone the right way.

Jim worked for the company the first summer in 1979 when I was working as a summer help in the maintenance shop.  I really didn’t know him until he became a control room operator and I was in the electric shop.  He was always one of the brighter bulbs in the box.

When I first met Jim Cave, the first thing that came to mind was that he reminds me of a News reporter.  He looks like someone that you would think would be telling you the daily news on TV.  He has that likeable face that you would trust to tell you the news each day.  Everyone wanted to have their picture taken with Jim because he automatically brightened up the photograph.  Thanks to Jim’s Facebook page, I have some pictures to show you.

Chuck Crabtree, Bill Epperson and Jim Cave (from right to left)

Chuck Crabtree, Bill Epperson and Jim Cave (from left to right)

Actually, I think all of the pictures of operators that I have used in my posts over the years have come from Jim Cave’s Facebook photos.  You can see from the picture above that Jim Cave seems to stand out as someone who might be a reporter on the nightly news.

Before I tell you about how Jim Cave has his own story pertaining to the Life of Pi, let me show you a couple of more photos of Operators who couldn’t resist posing with Jim Cave:

Eddie Hickman and Jim Cave

Eddie Hickman and Jim Cave

Jim Cave and Bill Hoffman

Jim Cave and Bill Hoffman

Yipes. Notice how comfortable Jim is standing between Gene Day and Joe Gallahar

Yipes. Notice how comfortable Jim is standing between Gene Day and Joe Gallahar?  Joe.  Is that a Mandolin?

You can see that no matter the situation, Jim is always smiling.  I can’t think of any time that I saw Jim that he wasn’t smiling a genuine smile.

Now that I have embarrassed Gene Day by showing him wearing short shorts (which was the full intent of this post.  The rest about Jim Cave is just to put it in some sort of context), I will begin the actual story…

A new computer was installed one day that was called a VAX system. Instead of being a large mainframe computer in cabinets, this one sat out in the middle of the floor.

a VAX server

a VAX server

This allowed the control room to monitor readings from most of the power plant systems right there on a computer monitor.  This was a new thing at the time.  A few years after it was installed, a new program was installed on a computer on the counter behind the Control Room operator’s desk.  The software was called PI.

OSIsoft software called PI

OSIsoft software called PI

As a side note:  This software was being used by Koch Industry to control oil pipelines across the country.  I’ll tell you how I know below.

When a program like this is first installed, it isn’t of much use.  The reason is that in order to monitor everything, the screens have to be setup.  You can see by the screenshots above that each graph, icon and connecting line has to be defined and setup in order to show you a full picture of what is happening.

If a lot of effort is put into building the screens, then this application not only becomes a great benefit to the control room operators, it also benefits the entire operation of the plant.

We had the same situation with SAP.  We had installed SAP in 1997 at the Electric Company, but the real benefit comes when an effort is made up front to put in all the expert data to make it useful.  While Ray Eberle and I were working to put the expert data into SAP, this new PI system was installed in the Control Room.  In order to make it useful, screens needed to be built.

Jim Cave with Allen Moore

Jim Cave with Allen Moore standing in the control room

Notice the alarm panels are still there in the picture in 2005.

Some operators weren’t too keen on the computer since they had been staring at these alarm panels all their adult life, and they were just in tune with the power plant as they could be.  Paper recorders, gauges that you might have to tap every now and then to take an accurate reading… colored red, yellow, blue and red lights.  Red Level gauges, Counters, Knobs to turn, Switches to toggle.  Buttons to push.  All of these things gave the operator a physical connection to the power plant system.  Who needs a computer?

Jim Cave saw the benefit right away.  He took the Pi Manual out and began reading it.  He learned how to create new screens and add components.  Then he began the work of giving “Life to Pi”.

Each time Jim added a new system to Pi, the operators saw the benefit of using this tool more and more (like Allen Moore).

In 2000, Jim Cave had built a complete set of screens, releasing the Power of PI upon the Control Room Operators making their jobs easier and giving them much more insight into the operation of the plant that they never would have dreamed 5 years earlier.  (except for Bill Rivers who had predicted this day 17 years earlier when no one would believe him).

Jim Cave’s Shift Supervisor, Gary Wright wanted to recognize Jim Cave for the tremendous effort he put forth to build the PI system into every Power Plant Operator’s dream.  So, he went to Bill Green the Plant Manager and told him that he would like to do something special for Jim to recognize all the effort he put into the Pi system.

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

A young picture of Gary Wright in the front row with Glasses and red hair. Oh, and Gene Day in the Orange Shirt… finally wearing some decent pants.

Bill replied to Gary by asking if Jim did this while he was on the job, or did he come in during his own time to work on it.  Gary replied that Jim had done this while still performing his job of Control Room operator through his own initiative.  It wasn’t part of his regular job.  Bill clarified, “But this work was done while Jim was on the clock?” “Yes”, Gary answered.  “Then Jim was just doing his job”, Bill replied.

Bill Green

Bill Green

At this same time, I was having a conflict of my own that I was trying to work through.  I will go into more detail in a later post, but here it is in a nutshell….

I had been going to the university to get a degree called “Management Information Systems” or MIS from the business college at Oklahoma State University.  I had been applying for jobs in the IT department in our company, but for reasons I will discuss later, I was not allowed to move to the IT department, even when I had only one semester left before graduating with the degree.

My problem was that I was being offered jobs from various companies when I graduated in May.  Boeing in Wichita even gave me a job offer and wanted me to leave school and to work for them on the spot for having a computer and an electrical background to work on military jets, (which sounded real cool).  The electric company had been paying all of my tuition and fees and 75% of the cost of the books.  So, my education had been paid by the company.  I told Boeing that above all, I wanted to finish my degree before I began my career in IT.

I felt as if I owed the electric company my allegiance and that I would stay with them, and that is why I kept applying for jobs within the company.  I felt that way until the day I heard this story about Gary Wright trying to recognize Jim Cave for his extra effort.

When I heard Bill’s response was, “He was just doing his job…”, it suddenly hit me….  The company paying for my tuition was one of my benefits.  I didn’t owe the company anything in return for that.  I had already given them what was due.  I had been their employee and had done my job.  I no longer felt the need to “pay back” the company by staying.  I had already paid them with my service.  I actually remember saying that out loud to Ray Eberle.  “The company paying for my education is my benefit.”

This was a turning point in my job search.  I felt perfectly free after that to accept a job from another company.  Bill’s response to Gary Wright had opened my eyes.  I felt perfectly at ease accepting the job offer from Dell the following month.  It’s too bad that it took snubbing Jim Cave’s extraordinary effort by the plant manager to put my understanding of my situation in the proper light.

During that time, I had a job offer that I had turned down from Koch Industry in Wichita because they didn’t offer me as much pay as some of the other job offers I had received.  A month later they called me back and asked me to go for another interview in a different department.

When I showed up for the interview, it was with the SCADA department.  SCADA stands for Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition.  That is what the electric company called the system that opens and closes breakers remotely.  Koch Industries uses the same type of system to control the pipelines across the country from their one location in Wichita.

After the interview, they showed me around the office.  When we walked into the lab, one person showed me the computer system they were using to control all the pipelines, and lo and behold…. it was the PI system.  The same one that Jim Cave had learned in the control room at our Power Plant.  They offered me a job in that department as well for a little more.

I thought to myself that if I accepted the job with Koch, then I would ask Jim to teach me what he had learned about the Pi software.  This would come in real handy.  It turned out that the offer from Dell was even better than Koch, which was my second choice if I hadn’t accepted the job at Dell.

Things have changed at the plant since the picture in 2005.  I believe it was in 2006 that the alarm panels were removed from the control room and everything was put on the computers.  The control room operators no longer have to stand in front of panels of lights and gauges and knobs and buttons and switches.  It is all viewed on computer screens.

Here is a picture of Jim sitting in front of some of those computer screens…

Jim Cave manning the Control Room Computers

Jim Cave manning the Control Room Computers

I see eleven computer monitors on the counter behind the old control panel and we can’t even see the other half of the counter.  It looks like Jim built so many screens they just kept having to add more and more monitors to show them all. — Oh.  I know that Jim didn’t create all these screens, but he did help acclimate the Control Room operators to using computers so that when the evolution to a completely computerized system did arrive, they were ready for it.

Great work Jim Cave!  Thank you for all you have done for the Electric Company in Oklahoma.  You have made a lasting difference that will carry forward to the next generation of Control Room Operators.  I don’t just mean by giving Life to PI.  Your positive attitude in times of stress to the times of boredom have blessed everyone that ever knew you.

I for one am grateful to have met and worked with a True Power Plant Man such as yourself.

Crack in Power Plant Armor leads to Gaping Hole in Logic

Sometimes when something is written on paper, it becomes carved in stone (I should copyright that phrase — oh.  as soon as I click “Publish” I will).  I saw a flaw in Power Plant logic one day in November 1994.  Corporate Headquarters for the Electric Company in Oklahoma had decided that they needed very clear job descriptions for their Job Announcement program.  We had just completed a downsizing a few months earlier and two electricians were asked to determine what prerequisites someone would need to be able to do their jobs.  My first thought was… “Is that really a smart way to go about this?”  Just think about it….  You are asking someone who just survived a downsizing to determine what it would take to replace that person with someone else…. Can you see the flaw in this logic?

It was decided that in order to be hired as an electrician, you had to have the following prerequisites:   A technical degree in an electrical field.  A minimum of five years experience as an industrial electrician.  Have a technical knowledge of how to walk on water.  Able to swing from tall buildings using a four size 2 conductor cable.  Have extensive experience bending conduit.  Able to work in confined space manholes.  Can bend a one inch diameter stainless steel rod with bare hands.  Black Belt in Six Sigma.  Able to explain the meaning of each color on a resistor.  Not afraid of heights.  Willing to shovel coal. — Yep.  that’s what it requires to do my job.

I knew right away this wasn’t going to be good.  We would never find someone who can both walk on water and was willing to shovel coal.  If we ever had to replace an electrician, it would be darn impossible.  This wasn’t only true for electricians.  Every type of job in the company was given similar treatment.  I had been an electrician for 11 years at that point, and I didn’t even meet the minimum qualifications.  If I had left the company and tried to apply for a job at our plant as an electrician, I would have been turned away at the door.

Whatever minimum requirements were written down did not only apply to outside applicants.  This was required of employees applying through the internal Career Announcement Program (CAP) as well.  In other words, I never would have been able to join the electric shop from the Labor Crew as I did in 1983, with only a scant understanding of what it takes to be an electrician.  It wasn’t until a few years later that this occurred to anyone.  The minimum requirements were relaxed a little.  That was when the training program was put in place to take High  School graduates and above and allow them to train at the plant for a particular skill as I described in the post:  “Power Plant Train Wreck“.  The rest of the company had to live with their own minimum requirements.

The results of asking the employees what the minimum requirements should be for their own jobs, HR had painted themselves into a corner.  I knew why they did this.  It was because they had lawsuits in the past where someone was hired over someone else, and they thought they were more qualified for the job.  So, specific requirements for each job needed to be created…. Actually…. I think this is the opposite of what should have been done.

If I had my druthers, I would have approached this from the opposite direction… let me continue with my story and you will see why.

I started getting my degree in Management Information Systems (MIS) in 1997 at Oklahoma State University.  I was going to graduate from the business school in May 2001.  In the fall of 2000, I had only 6 credit hours (or two more classes) left.  I had started in 1999 applying for IT jobs in our company.  Many times I was asked by people in the IT department to apply for specific job openings.  I had worked with a lot of them, and they would have liked for me to work for them.

Unfortunately, at that time, here was the minimum requirements for a Software Developer:  You had to have one or more of the following:  A Bachelor Degree in Computer Science… OR Bachelor Degree in MIS with at least 9 hours of computer languages (I had the 9 hours of computer languages)… OR Bachelor Degree in a business or technically related field with 18 hours of computer science courses including 9 hours of computer languages…. OR Associate Degree in Computer Science with 9 hours of computer languages and 2 years of software development experience….. OR 8 years of directly related experience such as development in C, C++, ABAP, Visual Basic or Cobol.

Software Developer Career Announcement

Software Developer Career Announcement — Yeah.  I kept a copy….  Actually  I have a stack of about 20 job announcements where I applied.

It was that last requirement that I thought I could use.  Especially since I was well on my way to earning the degree.  I had many years writing code in Visual Basic and C.  I had taken a Cobol class already, and studied ABAP (which is used in SAP) on my own.  So, along with almost having my degree and working with IT for more than 8 years, I applied for these jobs.  Every time I did, HR would kick the application back to me and explain that I didn’t meet the minimum requirements so I was not able to be considered for the position.  Not until I had my degree in my hands.  The HR Director said that all the work I had done with IT didn’t count because I was doing it as an electrician.  She said her hands were tied.

In November 2000 the University had a career fair for students applying for IT or business careers.  So, I attended it.  It was in a large room where each of the companies had setup a booth and you walked around to each booth as the various companies explained why it would be nice to go work for their company.  They explained their benefits, and when they were done, they asked you for your resume (prounounced “rez U May” in case you’re wondering) if you were interested.

Before the career fair, I had gone to lectures on how to go through the interview process, and I had read books about how to create a good resume.  I had bought books on these subjects and read them.  Here are three books that came in useful in my job hunt:

Books to help find jobs by Marin Yates

Books to help find jobs by Martin Yate.  I attended his lecture about how to go through the interview process

So, here I was at a job fair dressed in a nice suit I had bought in Oklahoma City at a high end Suit store.  I had studied what color shoes, belt and tie to wear.  I had a stack of my carefully designed resumes in hand.  My wife Kelly had given me a professional haircut the night before, and I had even washed behind my ears.

I had quickly changed into my suit in the bathroom in the office area at the Power Plant.  I quickly took the elevator down to the ground floor and stole out to the parking lot to drive the 30 miles to the Job Fair.  No one saw me leave, except Denise Anson, the receptionist.

I made my way around each aisle of booths, carefully considering each company.  I was not really interested in working as a consultant where I had to do a lot of travelling.  After all, I had a family.  I gave my resume to many companies that day, and later I had interviews with many of them.  It felt very strange as a 40 year old acting as a kid in school handing resumes to companies.  I really just wanted to stay at the Electric Company where I had worked for the past 19 years.

Then I spied the booth I was really curious to visit.  It was the Electric Companies booth.  The company where I worked.  I saw a group of students walk up to the booth and the young man from HR began his speech about why it would be great to work for the Electric Company.  I stood toward the back of the small crowd and listened.  It was weird hearing him tell us about the benefits of working for the company.

The Director of HR was standing next to him.  She was the person that kept rejecting all of my job applications through the internal job announcement program.  I waited patiently thinking… I could come up with better reasons for working for the best Electric Company in the world.  He never mentioned once that the best employees you would ever find in the entire world worked just 30 miles north on Hwy 177 at the big Power Plant on the hill.  That would have been the first thing I would have mentioned.

I waited until the young man completed his speech and then asked the students if they would like to give him their resumes.  I stood there, not moving, but smiling at the young man from HR.  After everyone else left, the man turned to me and asked me if I would like to give him my resume.  I replied as I handed him my resume by saying, “I’ll give you my resume, but I don’t think you can hire me.”

He replied, “Sure we can.” as he glanced down at my resume.  I continued, “See… I already work for the company.”  The young man brightened up and said, “I thought I recognized you!  You work at the Power Plant just north of here!”  I said, “Yeah.  You were the leader at my table during the Money Matters class.”  “Yeah!  I remember that!” He replied.

“Sure, we can hire you!” He replied.  I said, “No.  I don’t think you can.  You see.  I don’t meet the minimum requirements.”  Then I turned my gaze to the Director of HR who was now staring off into space…  The gaping hole in logic had suddenly become very apparent.  She replied very slowly…. “No… I don’t think we can hire you.”  The young man (I think his name is Ben), looked confused, so I explained….

“You see Ben… you can take resumes from all of these college students and offer them a job for when they graduate, but since I already work for the company, I have to have my degree already in my hand before I meet the requirements.  I can go to any other booth in this room and have an interview and be offered a job, but I can’t find an IT job in the company where I work because I don’t meet the minimum requirements.  Seems kind of odd.  Doesn’t it?”

I continued…. “Not only that, but the Electric Company has paid for all my classes to get my degree and 75% of my books.  I have only 6 more hours after December, and I can’t find a job with my own company.  I will probably have to go to another company that is guaranteeing a job when I graduate.  Does that make sense?”

Application to be reimbursed for summer courses in 1999

Application to be reimbursed for summer courses I took in 1999 — notice how cheap school was back then.  Also notice that I crammed 10 hours into one session of summer school.

The HR Director was still staring off into space.  She knew as soon as I opened my mouth who I was.  She had personally signed each rejection letter to me.

So, what had happened?  It had happened a few years earlier when the employees were asked what the minimum requirements should be for someone to be hired for their jobs.  That led them down a path of closed doors instead of opening up opportunities.

Here is what I would have done instead… I would have done what other companies do… Minimum Requirements:  “Team Player.  Able to work well with others.  Demonstrated an ability to learn new skills.”  — Who wouldn’t want an employee like that?  Sure.  Add some “Desired attributes” on the end like: Able to bend conduit.  Able Walk on Water, etc.

I had spent about an hour at the career fair handing my resume to potential employers before I left.  I drove back to the plant.  On the way back to the plant I was having this sinking feeling that I was not going to be able to stay with the Electric Company.  I can’t describe how sad I was at this thought.

I couldn’t just stick around at the plant hoping that once I had a degree in my hands that I would be able to move into the IT department.  For all I knew, our own plant manager could have been telling HR that I couldn’t leave the plant because I was the only person that worked inside the precipitator.  I had been flown around the country to interview with different companies who were now offering me jobs.  Those offers wouldn’t still be there if I waited until I graduated, so I had to make a decision soon.

I knew that the Plant Manager Bill Green kept asking the Supervisor over Maintenance about my degree because Jim Arnold would ask me from time-to-time, “What’s that degree you’re getting again?”  I would say, “Management Information Systems” in the Business College.  Jim would go back to Bill and say, “Oh.  You don’t have to worry about Kevin leaving.  No one wants someone with that degree” (Yeah.  Heard that from someone that heard it first hand).

When I arrived back at the plant, I walked in the entrance and hurried to the elevator.  I waved at Denise as I quickly walked by the receptionist window and quickly went into the men’s room to change back into my jeans and tee-shirt and work boots.  No one else saw me.  I returned to work with Ray Eberle in the Print Room to work on SAP.  Ray asked me how it went…

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

I told Ray about my adventure and my encounter at the Electric Company booth.  Ray came to the same realization that I had on the way back to the plant… I wasn’t going to be able to stay with the company.  I was going to have to move on…

Power Plant Millennium Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Cave with Allen Moore

Jim Cave with Allen Moore

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

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

Power Plant at sunset

Power Plant at sunset across the lake

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

This is an actual picture of my tool bucket

This is an actual picture of my tool bucket

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

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

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

The Heart of a Power Plant

I was considered the one that “got away”.  Power Plant Men don’t normally leave the Power Plant to go work somewhere else unless they are retiring, being laid off, or for some other compelling reason.  I freely walked away of my own accord August 16, 2001.  I left a job where I could have worked until the day I retired to step out into the unknown.  But… that was the way I had arrived on May 7, 1979, 22 years earlier.

Just as I had driven onto the plant grounds those many years ago, unsure what I was going to encounter, I was now leaving the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma to change my career and become an IT programmer for Dell Computers in Round Rock Texas.  When I arrived my first day at the plant, I had no idea what I was stepping into…  The day I left I was in the exact same boat.

The Intake is just to the right of this picture across the canal

The Intake is just to the right of this picture across the canal

So far, I have gone through my life accepting whatever happens as something that happens for a reason.  With that in mind, I have the belief that whatever the future holds, I just need to hang in there and everything will work out for the best, even though it may not seem like it at the time.  Let me tell you about this experience….

I had accepted the job offer from Dell early in January.  My start date had been set for June 4, 2001.  They were giving me $3,000 for moving expenses to move down to Round Rock when I finished college in May.  I was being hired as an undergraduate college hire.  I would be starting at a slightly smaller salary than my base salary as an electrician.

Dell-Logo

I was taking a considerable cut in salary when you consider the overtime that an Power Plant electrician racked up in a year.  I figured I was starting at the bottom of the ladder in my new job, where I was pretty well topped out at the plant with no opportunity to advance in sight.  Maybe in a few years my salary would catch up and surpass what I made as an electrician.

For about 10 weeks, we drove down to the Austin area and look for a house on the weekends.  It became apparent soon after our house hunting began that the cost of houses was somewhat higher than they were in Stillwater Oklahoma.  We finally had a contract on a house in Round Rock, just 10 minutes away from the main Dell campus.

While we were looking for a house in the Round Rock area, we kept hearing on the radio that Dell was laying off thousands of employees.  The Internet bubble had burst and the drop in sales of computers was taking a toll on the company.  Every time I called the recruiter, I would find that they had been laid off and I had been assigned a different recruiter.  This was disheartening to say the least.

Here I was in a perfectly secure job as an electrician at the Power Plant and I was leaving it to go work for a company that was in the middle of laying off employees.  My wife Kelly and I had been saying one Novena after the other that we make the correct decision about what we should do, and we had chosen Dell Computer.  It just seemed like the right place to go.  So, we decided to just go along with it.

We prayed the Infant Of Prague Novena every day that we made the right choice.

The Infant of Prague is a statue of Jesus as a Boy in a Church in Prague in the Czech Republic

The Infant of Prague is a wax statue of Jesus as a Boy in a Church in Prague, Czech Republic

I gave the plant a 3 month notice that I would be leaving in June.  We had timed the purchase of the house in Round Rock for Friday, June 1.  I would start work the following Monday.  Dell was going to send me my moving expenses on May 4th, one month before my job would begin.

On the morning of Thursday, May 3rd, our realtor in Stillwater called and said she had a contract to sell our home in Stillwater and was going to head out to our house for us to sign.  I had stayed home that morning for that reason.  We were expecting her to arrive at 9:00 am.

At 8:30 I received a call from Dell computers that went something like this….. “Kevin, I am calling to inform you that your offer for employment has changed.  Your first day will no longer be June 4, but will be August 20 (2-1/2 months later).  The good news is that you still have a job with Dell, it just doesn’t start until August.”

Since I was expecting the moving expenses the following day on May 4, I asked the recruiter about that.  He said that since my start date was moved to August, I wouldn’t receive the moving expenses until July.  I told him that I was in the middle of buying a house in Round Rock and that I was counting on that money.  He said he would see what he could do about that.

I hung up the phone and looked at Kelly who was standing there watching my face go from a normal tan to a red glow, then an ashen color all in the matter of 20 seconds.  I explained to her that Dell said I still had a job, but it wouldn’t start until August.

The Realtor was going to be arriving in about 20 minutes for us to sign to sell our house.  Everything was in motion.  It took Kelly and I about 5 minutes to discuss our options before we decided that since we had been praying to make the right choice, we were going to go with this new development.

I called Louise Kalicki, our HR supervisor at the plant and told her that Dell had moved my start date from June 4 to August 20, and I wondered if I could stay on the extra two and a half months.  I was surprised that she had an answer for me so quickly, but here is what she said, “We can keep you on until August 17, but after that date, we will no longer have a job for you.”  I thanked her, and hung up the phone.

Our realtor arrived with the contract for us to sign to sell our house with five acres.  When she walked in the kitchen, I told her what had just happened 1/2 hour earlier.  I could see the sick look on her face after she had worked so hard for so many months to find a buyer for our house.  Here I was telling her that Dell was postponing my hire date.

When I came to the part about where we decided to go ahead with our plans and sell the house and move to Round Rock, I could see all the tension that had been building up behind her ever increasing bulging eyes suddenly ease off.  We signed the papers and our house was set to be sold on June 29.  I had to swing a loan for the month where I bought the house in Round Rock and I sold my house in Stillwater (and hoped that the house was actually sold on time).

A few hours later I received a call from the Dell recruiter saying that he had pulled a few strings and I was going to receive my moving expenses the following day.  The following week after that, the recruiter that had helped me had been laid off as well.

When my final day had arrived on August 16 (I was working 4 -10s, and my last work day that week was Thursday), I was given a going away party (see the post “Power Plant Final Presentation“).  The party was over around 1:30 and I was free to leave.

I said my goodbye’s to my friends in the office area and went down to the electric shop to gather up the rest of my things and leave.  Scott Hubbard asked me if he could trade his Multimeter with me since I had a fancy True RMS Multimeter and he was still using an older version.  So, I traded him, and picked up my tool bucket and headed for the parking lot.

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

As I approached my car, I could see that Diana Brien was out there waiting for me to leave.  She gave me a Chocolate Chip Cookie the size of a pizza and said she wanted to say goodbye to me and tell me that she had enjoyed being my bucket buddy all those years.  I told her I was going to miss her and everyone else in the shop.

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

With that I climbed in my car and drove away.

When I was selling my house outside Stillwater, I thought that the thing I was going to miss the most was the wide open spaces where we lived.  Our house was on a hill in the country overlooking the city of Stillwater.  We had an Atrium in the living room where you could sit and look at the city lights at night and watch thunderstorms as they blasted transformers around the town.

I was moving into a neighborhood where the house next to ours was no more than 15 feet away.  I thought I’m really going to miss this house….  I thought that until the moment I drove out of the parking lot at the Power Plant.

Then it suddenly hit me….  What about my family?  What about all those people I have just left behind?  When am I ever going to see them?  The thought of missing my house never entered my mind from that moment on.  It was replaced by the great pain one feels when they pack up and walk away from their family not knowing if you will ever see them again.

My heart was still back there with the Power Plant Men and Women I left behind.

The seven hour drive from the plant to Round Rock Texas was a blur.  I knew that I had just closed one door and stepped into an entirely new world.  I didn’t even know if I would like being a programmer when it came down to it.  I had always just been a hacker and I knew I had a lot of holes in my knowledge.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to be any good at my job.

To make that long story short, I have never regretted my move to Round Rock Texas.  I have just gone with the flow knowing that whatever happens, it happens for a reason.  After 12 1/2 years working at Dell, I changed jobs again to work for General Motors in their IT department where I am currently working with the Onstar team.

My friends at Dell asked me the past few years… “Are you going to write about us like you do with the Power Plant Men?”  My reply to that question was “I don’t know… Maybe I will.  I haven’t thought about it.”

That was the same thing I told Sonny Karcher the first day I arrived at the Power Plant and he asked me what I wanted to do when I graduated college.  I told him. “I don’t know.  I was thinking about becoming a writer.”  His next question was, “Are you going to write about us?”  I replied, “Maybe I will.  I haven’t thought about it.”

Power Plant Christmas Party Party Pooper

Originally posted December 29, 2012:

Each year at a Power Plant there are two times when the Power Plant Men are invited to a banquet. There is the Service Award Banquet and the Christmas Party. The Christmas Party was a chance to meet the spouses and children of the other Power Plant Men and Women. Unlike the Service Award Banquet where you could only bring one other person, the Christmas Party allowed you to bring your entire family. Interestingly, this became a point of conflict for those few at the top when I was a new full time power plant worker.

The first year I was able to attend the Power Plant Christmas Party was after I had become a Janitor in 1982. I had graduated from college with a degree in Psychology (which made me a much better janitor) and at the end of my fourth summer as a summer help, I was able to hire on full time to begin the rest of the 19 remaining years with the company. I received my free turkey for Thanksgiving and another one for Christmas.

Power Plant Turkey

Power Plant Turkey

The farmers that worked at the plant had baled the hay on their own time from the fields surrounding the lake and we used that money to buy the turkeys. That was, until Corporate Headquarters (or maybe it was just the evil plant manager), found out about it and decided that this money belonged to the entire company, and so, in future years, instead of making a profit, the company had to hire people to cut the grass, paying tens of thousands of dollars each year with only an expense instead of a profit to show for it… and no Turkeys. See the post: Belt Buckle Mania and Turkeys During Power Plant Man Downtime for a more complete description of this example of Corporate Efficiency gone awry.

Since I was making a total of $5.15 per hour, I was still living at home with my parents. So, when they asked me how many guests I would be bringing to the Christmas Party, I told them 2 guests and myself. On the night of the Power Plant Christmas Party I showed up at the Oklahoma State University Student Union Banquet room in Stillwater Oklahoma with my Mother and Father. As we walked into the banquet room, I noticed a strange expression on both Jack Ballard’s and Linda Dallas’s faces (The two heads of HR at the plant). It was one of surprise and yet at the same time, slightly indignant.

I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It was as if they were smiling while greeting the guests as they came in, but when looking at my parents, they both seemed as if they had just swallowed something distasteful and were trying to pretend that they hadn’t. I thought for the moment that they were just in awe of my parents. After all, my dad was an important Veterinary Professor at the University, and my mom, well… She had the slight resemblence of Queen Victoria, and probably a lot of her disposition. Though she was on her good behavior that night.

My Mother is an Italian version of Queen Victoria

My Mother is an Italian version of Queen Victoria

Actually, Queen Victoria’s face almost looks like Marlin McDaniels in drag. I’m sure those Power Plant men that remember Marlin can see the resemblence. If you just look at only the face. I’ll bet Marlin is related to the Queen.

The Christmas party generally had one of the Power Plant Men dressed up as Santa Claus. This was usually Glen Morgan from the Instrument and Controls department (known as the “Results” department at the time). He best fit the suit.

Glenn Morgan looked similar to this only younger

Glenn Morgan looked similar to this, only younger

He would hand out gifts to the Children. I remember that every now and then when they were trying to plan the Christmas event, the topic of gifts for the children would come up. Some believed that it wasn’t really fair to give gifts to the children since not everyone had children, and some were not married at all. Usually the gifts for the children won over the dissenters. Someone would point out that Christmas was really all about the Children in the first place, and when they would take a vote, the children would receive their gifts.

I found out what Jack’s and Linda’s expressions were for the following year. I was in the electric shop when they asked how many people I would be brining to the Christmas party and I told them that I was going to bring 3 guests and myself. My girlfriend had moved from Seattle, Washington to Norman, Oklahoma to work toward a degree in Nursing at Oklahoma University. I was going to bring her along with my parents to the Christmas party that year.

A couple of days later I was asked to go up to the front office. Jack Ballard wanted to talk to me about something. When I arrived in his office, he explained to me that I was not able to bring my parents to the Christmas Party. I asked why that was and he explained that I could only bring a date or my immediate family. I told him I was still living at home and that my parents are my immediate family. He went on to explain that if they let me take my parents, then other people might want to bring their parents as well. This would open up a whole can of worms.

Power Plant Can of Worms

Power Plant Can of Worms

Yeah, well, a can of worms… no, we wouldn’t want to do that. Finally Jack said that I could bring my parents, or I could bring a date, but I couldn’t bring both. Ok. I was somewhat upset since I had already told my parents the date of the party and my dad was really looking forward to meeting with the Power Plant Men as he did the year earlier. He had a lot of fun talking with real people instead of the pretentious professors he usually met with. There wasn’t any way I was not going to bring my girlfriend. I wanted everyone to meet her. More importantly. I wanted Kelly to meet everyone I was always talking about.

There was another reason why I thought that the “front office” didn’t want my parents to go to the Christmas Party. It had to do with the relationship the Assistant Plant Manager had with my father. Bill Moler liked to keep his role at work and his role away from the plant completely separate (for good reason). I felt that this was the same reason he was disturbed when he came back from summer vacation to find me already hired as a janitor. This was only a thought and a feeling. I never had any real reason to believe this was what was behind Jack’s concern over my parents going to the Christmas party. Either way it was a Party Pooper.

So in 1983, my parents stayed home, and I went to the Christmas Party with my girlfriend Kelly. I think she was so impressed with the Power Plant People that two years later, almost to the day, we were married.

We sat with Arthur Hammond and his wife and children. Arthur was a new electrician. He had become a plant electrician on the same day that I did. I will talk more about him in future posts. We had a fun time. You couldn’t really help but have a fun conversation with Arthur Hammond. Espeically if you are part Italian like myself. Arthur liked to argue. That is one reason we got along so well.

Fast forward 10 years. The Christmas Party in 1993 was held in Ponca City. My daugther Elizabeth was 3 years old. Bud Schoonover, at the age of 58, was chosen to be Santa Claus that year. Now…. Not only is Bud Schoonover the best size to fit the Santa Claus suit, but he also was so shy when the children came up to sit on his lap for him to hand the presents to them that it gave him a hidden sort of dignity that the children perceived as being very “Santa” like. My daughter was convinced that this Santa Claus was not like the Mall Santas. This was the real Santa Claus. For years Elizabeth was convinced that Bud Schoonover was the real Santa.

This doesn't exactly look like Bud Schoonover, but his cheeks were about this red

This doesn’t exactly look like Bud Schoonover, but his cheeks were about this red

Because Bud was so shy, his cheeks had turned cherry red. He couldn’t do anything but smile and look with wonder at the children as they came up to him and he handed them their gifts. My daughter had picked up on the genuine look of wonder that Bud expressed as she sat on his lap looking into his eyes.

Bud Schoonover really had transformed himself into the Genuine Santa Claus for that one half hour. I could confidently tell Elizabeth when she asked me on the way home if that was the real Santa Claus that I thought that he really was. Bud confided in me when he told me that he was literally scared to death the entire time.

Six months later, Bud Schoonover retired from the Power Plant during the “early retirement” stage of a downsizing. He was truly missed by everyone that knew him. I have written about Bud before, and I will write about him again. You can learn more about his personality by reading: Carpooling With Bud Schoonover

The Heart of a Power Plant

I was considered the one that “got away”.  Power Plant Men don’t normally leave the Power Plant to go work somewhere else unless they are retiring, being laid off, or for some other compelling reason.  I freely walked away of my own accord August 16, 2001.  I left a job where I could have worked until the day I retired to step out into the unknown.  But… that was the way I had arrived on May 7, 1979, 22 years earlier.

Just as I had driven onto the plant grounds those many years ago, unsure what I was going to encounter, I was now leaving the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma to change my career and become an IT programmer for Dell Computers in Round Rock Texas.  When I arrived my first day at the plant, I had no idea what I was stepping into…  The day I left I was in the exact same boat.

The Intake is just to the right of this picture across the canal

The Intake is just to the right of this picture across the canal

So far, I have gone through my life accepting whatever happens as something that happens for a reason.  With that in mind, I have the belief that whatever the future holds, I just need to hang in there and everything will work out for the best, even though it may not seem like it at the time.  Let me tell you about this experience….

I had accepted the job offer from Dell early in January.  My start date had been set for June 4, 2001.  They were giving me $3,000 for moving expenses to move down to Round Rock when I finished college in May.  I was being hired as an undergraduate college hire.  I would be starting at a slightly smaller salary than my base salary as an electrician.

Dell-Logo

I was taking a considerable cut in salary when you consider the overtime that an Power Plant electrician racked up in a year.  I figured I was starting at the bottom of the ladder in my new job, where I was pretty well topped out at the plant with no opportunity to advance in sight.  Maybe in a few years my salary would catch up and surpass what I made as an electrician.

For about 10 weeks, we drove down to the Austin area and look for a house on the weekends.  It became apparent soon after our house hunting began that the cost of houses was somewhat higher than they were in Stillwater Oklahoma.  We finally had a contract on a house in Round Rock, just 10 minutes away from the main Dell campus.

While we were looking for a house in the Round Rock area, we kept hearing on the radio that Dell was laying off thousands of employees.  The Internet bubble had burst and the drop in sales of computers was taking a toll on the company.  Every time I called the recruiter, I would find that they had been laid off and I had been assigned a different recruiter.  This was disheartening to say the least.

Here I was in a perfectly secure job as an electrician at the Power Plant and I was leaving it to go work for a company that was in the middle of laying off employees.  My wife Kelly and I had been saying one Novena after the other that we make the correct decision about what we should do, and we had chosen Dell Computer.  It just seemed like the right place to go.  So, we decided to just go along with it.

We prayed the Infant Of Prague Novena every day that we made the right choice.

The Infant of Prague is a statue of Jesus as a Boy in a Church in Prague in the Czech Republic

The Infant of Prague is a wax statue of Jesus as a Boy in a Church in Prague, Czech Republic

I gave the plant a 3 month notice that I would be leaving in June.  We had timed the purchase of the house in Round Rock for Friday, June 1.  I would start work the following Monday.  Dell was going to send me my moving expenses on May 4th, one month before my job would begin.

On the morning of Thursday, May 3rd, our realtor in Stillwater called and said she had a contract to sell our home in Stillwater and was going to head out to our house for us to sign.  I had stayed home that morning for that reason.  We were expecting her to arrive at 9:00 am.

At 8:30 I received a call from Dell computers that went something like this….. “Kevin, I am calling to inform you that your offer for employment has changed.  Your first day will no longer be June 4, but will be August 20 (2-1/2 months later).  The good news is that you still have a job with Dell, it just doesn’t start until August.”

Since I was expecting the moving expenses the following day on May 4, I asked the recruiter about that.  He said that since my start date was moved to August, I wouldn’t receive the moving expenses until July.  I told him that I was in the middle of buying a house in Round Rock and that I was counting on that money.  He said he would see what he could do about that.

I hung up the phone and looked at Kelly who was standing there watching my face go from a normal tan to a red glow, then an ashen color all in the matter of 20 seconds.  I explained to her that Dell said I still had a job, but it wouldn’t start until August.

The Realtor was going to be arriving in about 20 minutes for us to sign to sell our house.  Everything was in motion.  It took Kelly and I about 5 minutes to discuss our options before we decided that since we had been praying to make the right choice, we were going to go with this new development.

I called Louise Kalicki, our HR supervisor at the plant and told her that Dell had moved my start date from June 4 to August 20, and I wondered if I could stay on the extra two and a half months.  I was surprised that she had an answer for me so quickly, but here is what she said, “We can keep you on until August 17, but after that date, we will no longer have a job for you.”  I thanked her, and hung up the phone.

Our realtor arrived with the contract for us to sign to sell our house with five acres.  When she walked in the kitchen, I told her what had just happened 1/2 hour earlier.  I could see the sick look on her face after she had worked so hard for so many months to find a buyer for our house.  Here I was telling her that Dell was postponing my hire date.

When I came to the part about where we decided to go ahead with our plans and sell the house and move to Round Rock, I could see all the tension that had been building up behind her ever increasing bulging eyes suddenly ease off.  We signed the papers and our house was set to be sold on June 29.  I had to swing a loan for the month where I bought the house in Round Rock and I sold my house in Stillwater (and hoped that the house was actually sold on time).

A few hours later I received a call from the Dell recruiter saying that he had pulled a few strings and I was going to receive my moving expenses the following day.  The following week after that, the recruiter that had helped me had been laid off as well.

When my final day had arrived on August 16 (I was working 4 -10s, and my last work day that week was Thursday), I was given a going away party (see the post “Power Plant Final Presentation“).  The party was over around 1:30 and I was free to leave.

I said my goodbye’s to my friends in the office area and went down to the electric shop to gather up the rest of my things and leave.  Scott Hubbard asked me if he could trade his Multimeter with me since I had a fancy True RMS Multimeter and he was still using an older version.  So, I traded him, and picked up my tool bucket and headed for the parking lot.

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

As I approached my car, I could see that Diana Brien was out there waiting for me to leave.  She gave me a Chocolate Chip Cookie the size of a pizza and said she wanted to say goodbye to me and tell me that she had enjoyed being my bucket buddy all those years.  I told her I was going to miss her and everyone else in the shop.

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

With that I climbed in my car and drove away.

When I was selling my house outside Stillwater, I thought that the thing I was going to miss the most was the wide open spaces where we lived.  Our house was on a hill in the country overlooking the city of Stillwater.  We had an Atrium in the living room where you could sit and look at the city lights at night and watch thunderstorms as they blasted transformers around the town.

I was moving into a neighborhood where the house next to ours was no more than 15 feet away.  I thought I’m really going to miss this house….  I thought that until the moment I drove out of the parking lot at the Power Plant.

Then it suddenly hit me….  What about my family?  What about all those people I have just left behind?  When am I ever going to see them?  The thought of missing my house never entered my mind from that moment on.  It was replaced by the great pain one feels when they pack up and walk away from their family not knowing if you will ever see them again.

My heart was still back there with the Power Plant Men and Women I left behind.

The seven hour drive from the plant to Round Rock Texas was a blur.  I knew that I had just closed one door and stepped into an entirely new world.  I didn’t even know if I would like being a programmer when it came down to it.  I had always just been a hacker and I knew I had a lot of holes in my knowledge.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to be any good at my job.

To make that long story short, I have never regretted my move to Round Rock Texas.  I have just gone with the flow knowing that whatever happens, it happens for a reason.  After 12 1/2 years working at Dell, I changed jobs again to work for General Motors in their IT department where I am currently working with the Onstar team.

My friends at Dell asked me the past few years… “Are you going to write about us like you do with the Power Plant Men?”  My reply to that question was “I don’t know… Maybe I will.  I haven’t thought about it.”

That was the same thing I told Sonny Karcher the first day I arrived at the Power Plant and he asked me what I wanted to do when I graduated college.  I told him. “I don’t know.  I was thinking about becoming a writer.”  His next question was, “Are you going to write about us?”  I replied, “Maybe I will.  I haven’t thought about it.”

Harmonizing with Dick Dale on Power Plant Christmas Harmonicas

Originally posted December 20, 2013.  Added additional news about Richard at the bottom of the post:

I think it was while we were sitting in the lunch room eating lunch while I was still a janitor when the subject of harmonicas came up.  Dick Dale must have asked me if I played a musical instrument, because that was my usual reply,  “I play the harmonica… and the Jew’s Harp.”  Just about everyone knows what a Harmonica looks like.  I suppose most people in Oklahoma knows what a Jew’s Harp is.  It’s that instrument you put in your mouth and you flip the little lever and it makes a vibrating twanging sound.

A Jew's Harp

A Jew’s Harp

Dick Dale, worked in the warehouse, and we had been friends since my second year as a summer help.  He told me that he always wanted to learn to play the harmonica.  I told him I learned by just playing around on it.  I never took lessons or used a harmonica book or anything.

When I was growing up, my dad knew how to play the harmonica, so we had one laying around the house all the time.  So, one day I as a kid, I picked it up and started playing with it.  It took about five minutes before my older sister ran to my mom and complained about me making a racket.  My mom told me to take it outside.  So, I not only learned the harmonica by playing around with it.  I was usually sitting alone in the woods while I was learning it.  I have found that under these conditions, there is usually some basic part of the skill that is left out.  So, I knew that my harmonica playing was never really up to snuff.

In the spring of 1983, I joined the labor crew, and I no longer ate lunch in the break room.  I kept it in mind that Dick Dale wanted to learn to play the harmonica, so some time during the summer, I purchased a Hohner Marine Band Harmonica for him, and I began creating a song book with the songs that I knew how to play.  I made up my own notation.  The holes in the harmonica were numbered, so I wrote the numbers of the holes I would blow in, and put an arrow above the number pointing up or down to indicate whether I was blowing in the hole, or sucking the air through the hole.

A Hohner Marine Band Harmonica

A Hohner Marine Band Harmonica

During the summer I talked to Dick Dale a few times, and he was having trouble with his family.  He was getting a divorce from his wife of fifteen years.  He was pretty upset about that, because all along he thought he was happily married.  This turned out not to be the case.  In the process, Dick moved from Stillwater, Oklahoma to Ponca City.  I was living in Stillwater at the time.

When winter came around, my friend Tim Flowers, who was a summer help for two summers at the plant, including the summer I was on the labor crew, came to visit me in Stillwater.  I had bought a harmonica for him for Christmas, and I told him I wanted to go visit Dick Dale in Ponca City and take him his Harmonica for Christmas, along with the booklet I had handwritten (as we didn’t have computers back in those days….).

So, I called up Dick to make sure it would be all right if we dropped by for a little while.  He was at home in his new house, and said he would be delighted if we came by.  Dick knew Tim Flowers from the time he had been a summer help.  While Tim and I were carpooling, Dick would be carpooling with Mike Gibbs, and sometimes on the way home, we would play car tag going down the highway.

One day after a Men’s Club dinner at the plant, while we were leaving, I was in the front of the line of cars heading for the main gate.  In those days, there weren’t two separate gates (one for entering, and one for exiting).  So, the one gate had to open almost all the way up before the person exiting could go through the gate.

When I pulled up to the gate, I pulled up on the entrance side, and Dick and Mike pulled up on the exit side.  We had been racing with each other up to the main gate….  Dick was revving up the engine of his pickup truck which could easily outrun my little blue 1982 Honda Civic.  I had to be more cunning to stay in front of Richard (yeah.  I liked to call him Richard).

As the gate opened, I was on the side where I could go through the gate first.  The way it worked was that as soon as I crossed the threshold of the gate, the gate would stop opening.  then, as I went through it, I drove over to the exit side and ran over the closed loop of the gate, so that the gate closed again leaving Richard and Mike waiting behind the closed gate as we made our escape.

Of course, as soon as we were out on the main highway, it didn’t take long for Richard to make up the mile lead I had gained while he had to wait for the gate to close and re-open.  So, the only way I could prevent him from passing me was by weaving over in the passing lane when he attempted to pass me, and then back again, when he returned to the right lane.

Eventually he was able to go around me, but from that day forward, whenever we were travelling home at the end of the day, and we were following each other, we would both meander back and forth across the highway on the way home…. when it was safe of course.  Since we were out in the country, on a seldom traveled rode, that was usually not a problem.  This came to an end when Richard moved to Ponca City.

When Tim Flowers and I arrived at Richard’s house in Ponca City that Christmas holiday, we surprised him when we handed him his very own harmonica with the booklet that I had written.  He invited us inside and we sat for a while as I explained to him  how the booklet worked.  He said he appreciated it, and that he would work on learning how to play his harmonica so that we could play together.

We sat around and made terrible music together for a while.  Then, because I didn’t want to impose on Richard too much, we left to go back to Stillwater.  A couple of weeks later after the holiday, Richard said he had been practicing on the harmonica and he really appreciated the Christmas present.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but two and a half years later, I moved to Ponca City after I was married, and my wife graduated from nursing school.  That was when Dick Dale, Jim Heflin, Bud Schoonover and I began carpooling together (See the post:  Carpooling with Bud Schoonover).  At the time Dick said that he had hoped to get over the tragedy of his marriage by the end of the year.  He had heard that it took a year to get over 5 years.  Since he had been married for 15 years, he figured by the end of 3 years he should be feeling like he was over it.

The only other person at the plant that I can remember that ever heard me playing the harmonica was Arthur Hammond.  He asked me one day in 1986 if I would bring my harmonica to work so that he could hear me play it.  So, I did, and while we were driving down to the Arkansas River to check batteries, I played some “harmonica blues” for him.  It was just stuff I was making up.

I had seen this movie called “Crossroads” with Ralph Macchio.  In the movie Ralph’s character is trying to learn how to play the Blues guitar from an old and once famous blues musician.  There are two things you learn as the movie unfolds.  The first is that in order to really know how to play the blues, you had to have experienced a real “Blue” time in your life.  So you had to play with the feeling that you had experienced.  The second thing was that Ralph had to play his guitar against a contract guitar player chosen by the devil in order to save the old man’s soul.

Crossroads (1986)

Crossroads (1986)

So, what was I supposed to do?  I had been blessed most of my life.  I hadn’t really experienced any “real” blues.  As Art was driving the pickup truck down to the river, I tried to dream up the bluest thoughts I could.  I thought…. what if the world ran out of chocolate…..  That would ruin everybody’s mood.  I piped out a few sorrowful sounding notes on the harmonica to try and portray my disappointment living without chocolate….. that sounded kind of lame.

Then I thought, wasn’t I upset that one time when I was a summer help and I stayed over to help feed the foremen that were having a dinner in the break room and Pat Braden and I fed the foremen, and no one offered me any food, so I had to go hungry for a couple of hours before I could go home and eat some leftovers at home.  I think I felt kind of blue that day…..  so I cupped my hand over the harmonica, tilted my head to the side and tried to remember that painful time as I shook my hand up and down so that the harmonica would make the sad “whaaa whaa” sound.

I drummed up a few more sad thoughts, and I thought I was really floundering as my debut as a blues harmonica player, so I paused for a few minutes to try and make myself feel bad about doing such a poor job playing the harmonica hoping that it would help.  Then Art said, “Hey.  You are pretty good!”  “What?”  I thought, “Oh… That’s Art, trying to be polite.”  “Thank you,” I said.  Boy.  How pitiful is that?  Surely I should feel bad enough now to play some blues at least a little better….

Anyway, a mile or two later, I decided to give it up.  I put the harmonica back in my pocket and told Art that was all I could do for now.  Finally.  We had some peace and quiet the rest of the way to the river.  I remembered that my sister would always run screaming to my mom when I was younger and blew a few notes on the harmonica, and here Art patiently listened and even complimented my playing.  Gee.  What a true friend he was.

Later, Dick Dale remarried, and as far as I could tell, he was a much happier person a few years after that.  I did what I could to help him.  Though, I think at times I confused him a little.  I will relay a story about that in a few weeks.

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

Richard Dale died at the age of 64 on Christmas Day, 2008.  He can now be heard in concert in Heaven playing the mouth organ.  Since I don’t play the regular harp, I hope one day to stand alongside him playing the Jew’s Harp.  Richard’s Mother Maurine Dale joined him in Heaven last month (November, 2015) at the age of 98.

Power Plant Gulf War Syndrome

Originally posted December 13, 2014.

It seemed like it was getting dark already when Scott Hubbard and I were driving home from the plant in Scott’s pickup on January 16, 1991. We were listening to NPR on the radio, as we did most days. Just as we were entering Stillwater on Hwy 177, NPR suddenly stopped their regular broadcast to announce that there were reports of bombs dropping in Baghdad.

Up to this point, we had all hoped that Saddam Hussein, seeing the massive buildup of the U.S. and other countries at his border would pull his forces out of Kuwait and go home. At 5 pm Central Standard Time (2 am Baghdad time), the week long air assault on Saddam Hussein’s troops began. Scott dropped me off at the church where he had picked me up 9 1/2 hours earlier and I drove straight home. Glued to the radio for any new update.

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

When I arrived home, my wife Kelly met me by the door to tell me the news. By the expression on my face, she could tell I had already heard. I was not able to speak. I just gave her a hug and broke out in tears. As much as we knew that this was necessary, and even though we had watched the buildup over the previous three months, I was not prepared for the actual assault to begin.

For the next five hours we watched as Peter Arnett and his camera man reporting from their hotel room in the middle of Baghdad showed actual footage of anti-aircraft fire continuously firing into the night sky. We could see our bombs hitting carefully determined targets. The battle was taking place right in our living room.

 

Peter Arnett

Peter Arnett

My brother Gregory T. Breazile was (and still is) a U.S. Marine officer in Saudi Arabia preparing for the ground assault. We had been able to talk to him a few days earlier when AT&T setup a bank of phones in the desert so that the soldiers could phone home. – On a side note… my mom was not too happy when she received a very large bill from AT&T for the phone calls to her house. She called AT&T and complained. I think they gave her a refund.

I went to sleep that night after the sun had come up in Baghdad, and even though the bombings were continuing, the initial impact of what was happening had finally been processed in my brain.

The next day at work the radios around the Power Plant were all tuned to stations that were keeping everyone updated on the progress of the Gulf War (Desert Storm, they were calling it). I had a job for the next week or so organizing the old Brown and Root electrical parts warehouse. This was a long tedious job that consisted of going through boxes of all sorts of electric parts and organizing them into meaningful piles of good junk.

I drove one of the pickups over to the warehouse and positioned it so that the passenger side door was lined up with the door to the warehouse. Then I turned the volume on the radio all the way up so that I could hear it in the warehouse. It was an AM radio that didn’t have receptions inside the warehouse. I didn’t want to miss any new information about what was going on in Iraq. The radio in the truck didn’t have reception when it was in the warehouse, so I would carry (or drag) the boxes toward the front of the warehouse so that I could be close enough to hear the radio.

After one week of constant bombing and after the U.S. along with our allies which consisted mostly of Britain, France and Saudi Arabia along with another 30 countries around the globe had flown over 100,000 bombing missions and dropped over 88,000 tons of bombs on Iraq’s army, the U.S. was finally ready for the ground assault.

Soon after the ground assault began, it became apparent that Iraq’s troops were no match for the U.S.. Their Soviet tanks, artillery and anti-aircraft found it difficult to inflict a dent on the side of one of our tanks. It was apparent that the United States had won the arms race and the demise of the Soviet Union was right around the corner (exactly 11 months later on December 26, 1991). All they could do was blindly send some SCUD missiles toward us hoping to hit a target…. any target. The most casualties that occurred on the allies was when a SCUD missile hit a barrack in the middle of the desert killing 28 soldiers.

My brother Greg was attached to the first Marine Division and was part of the group that attacked the Iraqi Republican Guard at the Kuwait Airport. He later described the battle something like this…. “Rockets were being fired in both directions. Bombs exploding all over the place. The entire scene seemed like chaos. Even though it looked like it was a fierce battle, it was as if we were being protected somehow. Throughout the entire siege, we didn’t experience so much as one broken fingernail as we cleared the enemy from the airport.”

Colonel Gregory T. Breazile

Colonel Gregory T. Breazile

The ground assault lasted exactly 100 hours. In that time Kuwait was liberated, and the Republican Guard was decimated.

The Power Plant Men and Women did what they could to show their support for our troops. A great many of the Power Plant Men had served in the Vietnam War and they were proud patriots. There might have been a few that felt like we had no business there in the first place, but those that I remember weren’t the real Power Plant Men.

The critics of the first Gulf War said that freeing Kuwait from their Iraqi invaders was all about oil. That was pretty evident when Saddam Hussein set over 700 oil wells on fire as his troops were being driven out of Kuwait. Kuwait’s main product is oil. That’s hardly debatable.

Iraqi Oil Wells on set on fire by Iraqi soldiers

Iraqi Oil Wells on set on fire by Iraqi soldiers

The coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma knew the importance of energy to our country, and a fight over oil is just about as serious as it gets. Those people who criticize our protection of the oil fields in Kuwait by saying that this was just a fight over oil lack the same perspective as Power Plant Men. A steady flow of energy in our lives is essential to our way of life.

A response to that may be that maybe (… “may be that maybe”…. interesting way of saying that… I’m sure my English Teacher would have had something to say about that one) our way of life needs to be changed. I would agree with that, but I would argue that it needs to be changed for the better. Let me try to explain what Power Plant Men across our country know each morning when they awaken.

From the alarm clock that rings in the morning that wakes the Power Plant Man, to the light in the bathroom where they take their shower with hot water, energy is being supplied to their house either through electricity or some sort of natural gas or oil. The act of eating breakfast, whether it is eating a bowl of cereal with milk that has been cooled in the refrigerator or frying some eggs, all this takes energy.

All the Power Plant Men had to drive to the Power Plant located out in the country 20 miles from the nearest towns (except for Red Rock or Marland where few people lived). It would be hard to produce the electricity at the plant if the Power Plant Men and Women didn’t have gasoline to drive their cars to work each and every day. Even if they had an electric car, they would have to charge it with electricity that comes from a power plant that is either powered from coal or natural gas for the most part.

Sure we have a dream of a world where all cars are electric all charged with electricity that is generated without fossil fuels. That is a noble dream and the struggle to reach that point some day is one worth having, but today it doesn’t exist. We can’t transition to that world overnight. In the meantime, the free flow of oil is and should be one of our greatest priorities.

Power Plant Men live with this priority every day. The free flow of electricity to our nation is just as vital. Look at the disasters that happen when a region of the United States suddenly goes dark. Each Power Plant Man and Woman plays their part in ensuring that never happens.

Each Electric Company employee has a picture in the back of their mind of someone laying on an operating table and as the surgeon is in the middle of the operation, the lights suddenly go out. Or an elevator full of people travelling up around the 20th floor of a building when all of the sudden it stops and they are trapped in the dark. What then? No Power Plant Man wants that to happen.

So, how do you thank someone who has freely risked their life serving our country? Someone who is willing to die for our country? How can you? Who am I that others should be willing to die for me? All I can think of doing is to pray “God Bless Them”.

Some Power Plant veterans may have wished they could have been there fighting with their brothers in arms in the Gulf War. The truth is, those men were needed right where they were. The best way to thank our troops during the Gulf War was by showing that we supported what they were doing and by continuing to perform our daily tasks of keeping the lights on at home by producing a steady flow of electricity. Day in and day out without fail.

The reason we take electricity for granted is because the Power Plant Men and Women in this country has been performing their job nearly flawlessly. it is almost like the words my brother used to describe the battle at the Kuwaiti Airport, “it was as if we were being protected somehow”. There are so many things that can go wrong that could bring down the electric grid in the United States, it is amazing that we are able to depend on electricity being there when we turn on the TV.

So, how do you thank the Power Plant Men and Women that work each day to bring us that reliable source of energy? How can we? Certainly the service they provide is far more than the salary and benefits provided by the Electric Company. We can show our appreciation by letting them know that we support them.

When you see an Electric Company truck driving down the road, smile at them and wave. When you run across a Power Plant Man eating lunch at Braum’s, buy him a cup of coffee.

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

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

Power Plant Men generally spend the majority of their waking hours in isolation at a Power Plant where they don’t directly see the benefit of their labor. All they experience is their paycheck every couple of weeks and their benefits. They don’t often willingly leave their job to go work somewhere else. They spend their entire working life laboring to produce electricity for others.

If there is a Power Plant Man in your neighborhood, maybe you could give them some small Christmas present this holiday to show your appreciation for the service they have been providing you and your family this year.

If there is a soldier living nearby, do the same. Find any opportunity to show them you appreciate their service to our country. A Braum’s Gift Card perhaps!

Power Plant Harbinger of D-Day on the Horizon

During the major overhaul on Unit 1 during the spring of 1994 in retrospect, there were signs that something similar to the downsizing at the Oklahoma Electric company that had happened in 1988 was coming around again. The reason the company had to downsize was a little hard to swallow, but they were real. We had painted ourselves into a corner. The punishment was a downsizing (D-Day). The reason was that we had been very successful. The outcome was ironic.

I will save the details of the 1994 downsizing for a post in a few weeks. In this post, I want to talk about the Power Plant Men, and how we all played an important part in bringing the demise of 50% of our own workforce. I will also mention some of the True Power Plant Men that were let go because of the tremendous accomplishments achieved by those very same men.

Let me give you the rundown on the downsizing first before I list those Power Plant Men and Women who were “let go”.

At some point during the major overhaul we were led into the main break room and it was explained to us that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission had decided to lower the electric rates for our customers. At that time, we were selling electricity just about as cheap as anyone in the mid-west. It was explained to us that the Corporation Commission had studied our operation costs (using outdated data) and had decided that we no longer required the 5 cents per kilowatthour we were charging our customers and we would only be able to charge 4 cents from now on (I’m rounding I think). This was a 20 percent reduction in our revenue.

The majority of our costs were fuel and taxes. We couldn’t really reduce these costs (except for the obvious reduction in taxes that result from a lower revenue). The only place we really could cut costs was in personnel. It was a drop in the bucket compared to our other costs, but in order to produce electricity, we couldn’t really do without things like fuel, and transmission costs, etc. and the government wasn’t going to lower our taxes.

An early retirement package was presented to anyone 50 years old and older by a certain date. They could leave with full retirement benefits. The rest? Well, we had to wait our fate which was to take place on August 1, 1994 (or more precisely, the previous Friday, July 29).

This was the major overhaul where the man had been engulfed in ash in the precipitator hopper (see the post: “Tragedy Occurs During Power Plant Safety Meeting“) and I had to meet with the man from OSHA (see the post: “The OSHA Man Cometh“). The meeting in the break room took place about two weeks after our meeting with the Department of Labor in Oklahoma City (see the post: “Power Plant Men Summoned by Department of Labor“).

So, why do you think that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission thought that we were able to reduce our cost so drastically all of the sudden? We were guaranteed by law a 10% profit as we could not set the cost for our own electricity. This was controlled by the government. We just presented to them our operating costs and they figured out the rest. So, why did they think we could suddenly produce electricity cheaper than any other electric company in the country? Were we really that good?

I could point out that there was an election coming up for one of the members on the Corporation Commission, and this would be something under his belt that he could use to win re-election, but that would only be speculation. The truth was, we couldn’t maintain a 10% profit for our shareholders if we could only charge our customers 4 cents per kilowatthour.

Just as an example, in 1993, the electric company had made $2.72 per share for the shareholders, while by May 1994, we had only made $2.60 Though revenue had gone up by $29 million. This was only a 7% profit based on the revenue. The quarter after the first rate reduction (yeah, there were two) lowered the shareholder return to $2.12.

A year before the downsizing was announced the company had attempted to change their culture so that we could compete in a world where we didn’t have protected areas where we were guaranteed customers. We had instituted the “Quality Process”. I explained this in the post: “A Change for Power Plant Men to Show Their Quality“. One of the major goals for this change in “attitude” was to make us more competitive with other electric companies. Well, even though we didn’t really like that the cost reduction was coming before we were ready, one way or the other, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission was going to hold us to that goal.

When describing some of the events that took place during this time, and discuss some of those Power Plant Men that were lost from our view, I feel like I should have some appropriate music playing in the background to express some sorrow for our own loss. So, take a few minutes and listen to this song before proceeding, because, it sets the mood for what I am about to say:

For those who can’t view the youtube link, here is a direct link: “Always On My Mind

As could be expected, all the Power Plant Men were on edge since we were getting ready for another downsizing. We didn’t know how far down we were downsizing at the time, so we thought that by early retiring everyone 50 years and older, that this would take care of our plant. After all, we had a lot of old fogies wandering around. In the electric shop alone we had four who took the early retirement package (Mike Rose, Bill Ennis, Ted Riddle and O.D. McGaha). Bill Bennett, our A foreman and Tom Gibson our Electric Supervisor were also retiring. So, we were already losing 6 of the 16 people in our department. I’m sure each group was doing their own calculations.

As I mentioned above, I will not dwell so much on the actual downsizing here other than to mention that it became clear that every attempt to help the company out by reducing cost through the quality process was not going to be applied to our bottom line. It was going straight into the customer’s pocket, and maybe it should. This did lower the incentive to be efficient if our company didn’t see a direct Return On Investment, but at this point, it was a matter of surviving.

I wasn’t so concerned about my friends that were taking the early retirement package. Even though their long term plans were suddenly changed, they still were not left empty handed. It was those Power Plant Men that were let go that were too young to retire that I missed the most. I will list some here. I regret that I don’t have their pictures, because, well, this was just at the start of the World Wide Web, and people didn’t take digital pictures back then.

Some of the welders that I missed the most were Duane Gray, Opal Ward (previously Brien), Jim Grant, J.D. Elwood and Donnie Wood. Mike Crisp was the one Machinist that I missed the most. I don’t remember if Jerry Dale was old enough to take the retirement package.

Jerry Dale always seemed to have a positive attitude. One of the phrases I remember when thinking of Jerry was when he was driving me home when I was a summer help. Sonny Kendrick was in the truck with us. We had come upon a car that was travelling rather slow in Hwy 177. Jerry grabbed the handle to shift into a different gear and asked me if he should put it into overdrive and just drive over the car. For some reason, the look of total satisfaction when he said that has always stuck in my mind (or as Willie Nelson says, “You were always on my mind”).

Wayne Griffith was a dear friend that was on the Labor Crew (see the post: “Wayne Griffith and the Power Plant Computer Club“). He was let go along with Gail Mudgett.

We lost both janitors, John Fry (a friend to everyone. I recently wrote a post about John, “Power Plant Janitor John Fry Standing Guard as Floors Dry“) and Deanna Frank. Charlotte Smith from the warehouse found a job at Corporate Headquarters in Oklahoma City.

The mechanics lost the most, because there were more of them, A few of these were able to transfer to other areas in the company but most of them were let go. Here is the list of mechanics that were gone after August 1, 1994: Two Toms, Tom Flanagan and Tom Rieman, I think they both found jobs in other areas, as did Preston Jenkins and Ken Conrad (who used to call me “Sweet Pea”) See the post “Ken Conrad Dances with a Wild Bobcat“. Mike Grayson was let go. I still remember the first day Mike arrived when I was a summer help. He was there when we were fighting the dragon (See the post: “Where Do Knights of the Past Go to Fight Dragons Today“).

Two other mechanics who were greatly missed were Martin Prigmore (because without him, we didn’t have a certified P&H crane operator… kind of overlooked that one), and Tony Talbott who was the kindest Power Plant Man from Perry, Oklahoma. Martin Prigmore was later shot to death in Morrison Oklahoma in an encounter with his wife’s former husband.

The Instrument and Controls department lost Bill Gregory and Glen Morgan.

A side story about Glen Morgan (or was it Nick Gleason? Someone can correct me). One day, someone at the plant was listening to a Tulsa Radio Station when the news came on and said that the police were looking for Glen Morgan because he had just robbed a bank in Tulsa. They said that he was from Stillwater, Oklahoma, and they described his car. Whoever heard the radio told Glen that he was wanted for robbing a bank in his red car. So, he called home and asked his wife to look in the garage to see if his car was still there. It was. So, he quickly called the Tulsa police department and let them know that they had the wrong man.

Gary Wehunt was the one electrician that was let go. He had thought he was going to be picked 7 years earlier at the first downsizing. The one accomplishment that he was most proud of when he left was that he didn’t have any sick leave left over. He always made sure to take it as soon as he had accumulated a day.

I won’t list the operators that were downsized because I couldn’t tell which ones were old enough to retire or not and who was actually let go, if any. Maybe Dave Tarver can add that as a comment below (I will discuss Gerald Ferguson’s crew in an upcoming post). — Thanks Dave (see Dave’s comment below). Jim Kanelakos (which I remembered vividly) and Jack Delaney.

I do know that this was the second downsizing that Gene Day was old enough to retire, but he never took the package. Everyone knew he was as old as dirt, but for the obvious reason that everyone wanted to have him around for comic relief, no one ever considered the Power Plant could function without him. So, he stayed around for many years.

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

Gene Day is the one standing on the right with the Orange shirt. Sure. He looks young here, but when this picture was taken, he was probably 85 years old. That’s Dave Tarver in the middle in the back row standing next to Darrell Low and Jim Mullin with the blue checkered shirt.

One thing about working in the Power Plant was that people were rarely fired. When it did happen, alcohol was usually involved. Sometimes a disability, such as was the case with Yvonne Taylor and Don Hardin.

About a year and a half before the downsizing one of the welders, Randy Schultz was let go because he repeatedly showed up to work intoxicated. I don’t remember the details, but it did seem that he spent a lot of time sleeping in one of the old Brown and Root warehouses in order to sober up. The company had to special order a hardhat for Randy because his head was too big for a standard hardhat. Randy was later wounded by a gun shot in Stillwater Oklahoma during a fight in the middle of the night.

Doug Link showed up one night a couple of months before the downsizing for a “Condenser Party” (when one of the condensers is open while the unit is still online, and it is cleaned out). Doug was ordering the workers to go into the condenser before all the safety precautions had been taken. He had been drinking. This was the night that I took Ray Eberle out to the Substation to light up the fluorescent bulbs (“See the post: “Switching in the Power Plant Substation Switchyard“).

I knew at the time that Doug was going through some hard times at home. I was sorry to see him go. He was one of the few engineers that took the time to listen to my incessant ramblings on just about any topic. I was glad to learn that after a very difficult time, Doug picked himself back up and regained his integrity.

Doug Link

Doug Link

Whether a person is laid off or fired, the results can be devastating. A person’s self-worth is suddenly shaken which throws the family into turmoil. The Power Plant Men and Women that were left at the plant after the downsizing knew this, and we were forever changed by the loss of such a large number of friends that we considered family all at once. It took us a couple of years to deal with the emotional impact. Even to this day, I do my best to keep them on “always on my mind”.

Comments from the original post:

    1. Ron Kilman December 6, 2014

      Yep, it was painful. At my exit meeting (where you signed all the paperwork) I asked Bill Green (in-coming Plant Manager) if I could come back to the plant to just visit with the remaining employees from time to time. Bill said “Only if you have official business”. Needless to say, I never returned.

 

    1. Dave Tarver December 8, 2014

      Most of the operators retired the two and one of the best operators that was let go was Jack Delaney during Jack’s tenure and said at his funeral this year, in his time at OG&E he never used one day of sick leave, he was let go for being reliable and dependable and for working overtime. Jim Kanelakos was also let go, Jim had come up clear from Janitor to be a very good operator he served as a startup operator at Conoco-Cogen facility as well. The Coal Yard was hit hard I cannot remember all their names but one whole crew Fergusons and Jack and Jim were on Vonzell Lynns crew that was the parallel crew to fergusons down in the plant. Yes sir a very difficult thing.

      Before I left in 2012 – it was believed they wanted all those who were there in 94 to leave, as that is all that the new management heard and were tried of hearing it. I mean watching your friends escorted out by off duty law enforcement armed, their lives forever shaken to the core its a horrible thing! We were family before that fateful day!  Once the trust was violated you will never be able to return to that setting ever. Buffett loves a family style business, buys everyone he can find! our leaders threw it out the window and under the bus gut em like Jack Welch unreal.

A Power Plant Backstabbing Experience

Originally posted December 7, 2013:

Usually when I write a Power Plant Man post, the story is about the Power Plant Men and Women I worked with during the 20 years I spent at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma. Today’s post, however, is more about a particular experience I had during this time period. Some Power Plant Men at the plant were witnesses to the events, but for the most part, this was personal.

This story begins early in the morning on New Years Day 1987. Some time around 3:00 am. I woke up suddenly in the middle of the night from the bed where I was sleeping at my parents house in Stillwater, Oklahoma where my wife and I were visiting on New Year’s Eve. It felt as if someone had crept into my room and stabbed me in the back with a knife!

I jumped out of bed, flailing to fight back, only to find that Kelly and I were alone in the room. A quick search of my back with my right hand told me that I didn’t have any external injury, even though the pain indicated that a knife of some sort was still piercing my lower back as if someone was working the knife around trying to increase the pain.

Not wanting to wake my wife, I left the room and went into the hallway. I figured I must be having a kidney stone. I seemed to recall a similar pain many years earlier when I was a boy. At that time the pain didn’t last too long, and I figured that I would just drink some water and hope that it would work itself out quickly.

Some of you who have experienced this pain probably guessed this from the start that I was having a kidney stone. there isn’t much that is more painful than having a kidney stone, especially if the kidney stone is of any size and spiky.

I did finally wake up my wife and tell her that I thought I was having a kidney stone. She is an RN, and I figured she would know what to do if I passed out from the pain. Besides, I didn’t want her to think the house was haunted if she woke up and heard some moaning and groaning out in the hallway.

Luckily for me, the kidney stone was small and without spikes. I was able to pass the stone through the painful stage in less than hour. It felt as if I had dropped a pebble right into my bladder. A quick trip to the bathroom, and I emerged with a little stone the size of a piece of sand.

The next morning (still New Year’s Day), we drove back to Ponca City where we lived at the time. We were only about 3 miles north of Stillwater when all of the sudden, I was hit with another stabbing pain. This time coming from the lower left side. It was that same experience as a few hours earlier.

I was able to pull the car into the gas station at Bill’s Corner. I climbed quickly out of the car, paced back and forth for a minute or two, and then climbed into the passenger seat as Kelly drove the rest of the way home. At some point on the way home. I think it was about the time we passed the power plant, the stone had worked its way down into the bladder and the pain was over.

We scheduled an appointment with a Urologist the following week, and when I arrived at the doctor’s office, I gave him the two kidney stones and he had them analyzed. They were the typical kidney stone made of Calcium Oxalate. The doctor’s advice? Cut down on my calcium intake. Ok. So, I stopped drinking a glass of milk each morning before I left for work.

The result was that every 3 months I churned out another kidney stone. For the next 10 and a half year, every 3 months I had a kidney stone. Sometimes they were easy. Other times they were difficult. It depended on the size and shape of the stones.

Notice the irregular shape of these kidney stones

Notice the irregular shape of these kidney stones

I began saving them in one of those cases that people use for their contact lenses. The ones that have a side for the left contact, and one for the right contact.

A contact lens case with an L and an R for the Left and Right eye.

A contact lens case with an L and an R for the Left and Right eye.

I would put the kidney stones from my left kidney in the Left side, and the right Kidney in the R section. How did I know which was which? It was easy. Was I being stabbed in the back on the left or the right.

So, what does this have to do with Power Plant Men? Well, at times the Power Plant men had to deal with me while I was in the middle of having a Kidney stone. Most of the times it was just as a bystander sharing in my misery as they watched me pace back and forth as pale as a zombie. Other times it was riding shotgun in peril of their lives as I struggled to bring my car safely to a stop while writhing in pain.

Here are some instances I remember. One day when Scott Hubbard and either Toby O’Brien or Fred Turner were in my car as we were driving to work, I was suddenly hit with a bat across my lower back. I vaguely remember saying, “Oh No!” I asked Scott Hubbard, who was sitting in front with me to dump the contents of my lunchbox out on the floor of the car.

You see, when a kidney stone is in full swing and the feeling of intense pain begins to build up, there is a plexus of nerves around the kidneys that send a message to the stomach that it would be best if the stomach is empty. Meaning that any recently eaten breakfast should be evacuated as quickly as possible.

I struggled to remain conscious and sane and to keep the car on the road. We were only about a mile from Bill’s Corner (where I had stopped during my second kidney stone on New Years Eve (many years earlier). So, I headed for there as a place to jump out of the car. Only this was a much worse kidney stone that during the last time I pulled into the gas station to switch sides with my wife. I was going to have to turn around and go home. I wasn’t going to be passing this one any time soon.

When I climbed out of the car, I made it to the back of the car just in time to eject the contents of my stomach onto the pavement. When you are sick and you vomit, it usually makes you feel better because that it over. When you have a kidney stone, vomiting is only about as much relief as taking a breathe.

Luckily some other Power Plant Men had stopped at the gas station to fill up their vehicle and they had enough room to take Scott and Toby, (or was it Fred… Fred? You read these posts…. was it you?). I asked Scott to tell our foreman that I wasn’t going to be in for work today.

I climbed back into my Honda and pointed the car toward home. With my Little Playmate Lunchbox open at my side, I drove home. When I walked in the door at home, my wife immediately knew what was happening. She comforted me by saying, “Poor Beast.” While I began the ritual of drinking water and pacing around the house.

One exactly like this

A lunchbox exactly like this

You see…. At this time I no longer went to the doctor or the hospital when attacked with a kidney stone. I had learned my lesson many years earlier.

Early on, in Ponca City, when I had a kidney stone, I went to the hospital bent over in pain and having visions of my life passing before my eyes as if I was already in the middle of judgement day. When I would arrive in the emergency room, they would give me a shot of morphine to ease the pain.

The problem with morphine was that I was already using all my mental faculties to suppress the pain, and as soon as the morphine would begin taking effect, it took away my ability to block the mentally blocked pain. I would end up, for about 20 minutes while the morphine was taking its full effect on my senses, climbing the walls in really intense pain. Then eventually they would send me home where I would be sick from the morphine for about a week even though I may have passed the kidney stone in a day or two.

During the worst kidney stone I encountered while I was living in Ponca City, (during the first 3 years that we were married), it took about 5 day to pass this one stone. It was especially rough. Usually the only relief I had from this particular stone was to pass out from the pain. Pacing didn’t seem to work. Drinking water didn’t seem to work. It seemed like this particular stone was stuck right at the bottom of the Ureters. That is, the urinary tract just before the bladder. I knew that if it would only fall into the bladder, the intense pain would be over.

I remember how this passed very clearly. I was kneeling on the side of the bed saying a Rosary (the Sorrowful Mysteries of course). One of the Sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary is to meditate on the Scourging at the Pillar. That was what I felt I was going through at the time, so I had been saying the sorrowful mysteries all week.

A rosary

A rosary

I finally prayed to God something I usually refrained from doing…. I said to Him. “Father…. this is enough. This is all I can take. Please take this away from me.” Almost immediately the kidney stone dropped into my bladder. Oh my gosh! I climbed up into the bed and fell asleep. The pain had finally ended after 5 hard days.

I was awoken 5 hours later. My Father was calling me from Florida where he was working at a Veterinary Clinic training the employees of the clinic for continuous education. (See the post “I Think I Can, I Think I Can and Other Power Plant Man Chants” to learn more about my Father and Tom Houghton who owned the Veterinary Clinic). He told me that about 5 hours earlier he was struck with kidney stone.

My father, though he had one kidney stone when I was a boy, was not prone to kidney stones like I was. It seemed as if the moment that I was relieved of my pain, my Father had picked up the torch and carried on the pain. I apologized to him, because I had prayed that the pain I was feeling would go away and it seems as if he had to experience whatever pain I was meant to finish bearing. The coincidence was too much to belief. He had just passed the stone and wanted to call me to tell me, since he knew that I was regularly experiencing kidney stones at the time. I resolved from that time on, to go ahead and suffer through whatever pain was being sent my way, because it appeared as if it was for a reason of some sort. I never prayed to have the pain leave again. Only that I was able to endure it.

Back to the Power Plant. One day Diana Brien and I were doing some work in the Coalyard Maintenance building, where the Labor Crew called home. We had driven the electric cart to the coalyard to work on whatever we were working on. The moment we sat in the cart to head back to the electric shop. Wham. I was hit with a kidney stone.

I didn’t want to mention it to Dee. There was no need in worrying her, or embarrassing me, so I just remained silent. I just held onto the side rail on the cart and closed my eyes. As we banged over the railroad tracks and down the gravel road on the hill, I just held on and thought…. “don’t throw up…. don’t throw up….” I concentrated real hard to try and ease the pain.

A yellow electric Cushman cart like this

A yellow electric Cushman cart like this

When we reached the shop, without a word, I walked into the shop and straight into the bathroom, where I began peeling back clothing. That is, I undid my belt, and unsnapped my pants. I paced a few minutes… then feeling the kidney stone hit the bladder, I relieved myself and walked back out into the shop. I figure all the jostling about on the bumpy road in a card with no suspension system helped move the stone down quickly.

Dee and Scott Hubbard knew right away what had happened to me. There was no hiding the pale face and the sweat that was running down my face. I went in the office to rest a while. After a while I was ready to go back to work.

So, for all you kidney stone sufferers, here is a few words of advice. Today I have passed more than 55 kidney stones. I have never had one of them removed by any other means than passing them myself. I have passed very large kidney stones. Some so big you could crush them in your fingers.

My largest kidney stone was almost as large as this one.

My largest kidney stone was almost as large as this one.

First of all. Don’t panic. Kidney stones won’t kill you (at least not right away). The first thing that happens is that the muscles in your back tighten up. This is not a good thing. You need the muscles in your back to relax. Concentrate on relaxing those muscles. I used to use a handheld massager to try to relax the muscles. Now I just concentrate on relaxing the back. Today when I have a kidney stone, even a large one, I am usually able to pass it within hours.

A handheld massager like this

A handheld massager like this

Pace a lot. Drink a lot of water. You will only move the kidney stone down into the bladder by drinking water and pacing (or a massager maybe). I walk back and forth in the house. I have a path that I take. I walk back and forth, then I sip water each time. Don’t worry about throwing up. It’s just part of the reaction to the pain.

I only have about one kidney stone of any size once each year these day. I found that taking a good dose of CitriCal each day (yes. Extra calcium, has reduced the number of kidney stones considerably).

If you are Catholic… then offer the pain up for souls in Purgatory. It is our belief that the painful time that a person suffers in purgatory can be shortened by someone else offering up their pain for someone in purgatory. Note the difference between suffering and pain. Pain is the sensation you receive. Suffering is what you do with it. When you accept the pain and you “embrace” it, then you suffer it. If you moan and groan a lot, you basically pass it on to others. You tell them…. “I am in Pain.” Then they empathize with you and in a sense “feel your pain.” If this helps comfort you, ok. If you want to offer it to someone in Purgatory, then accept your pain in silence (I realize this makes no sense for those who do not accept the idea of Purgatory).

For those Christians that are not Catholic, let me offer you another way to suffer the pain from a kidney stone when it is too intense to bear. St. Paul said the following: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24). With this in mind, the pain felt during a kidney stone has great meaning. It literally unites you with Christ during his Passion.

I realize this has been an odd break from the usual Power Plant Man Post. The power plant man posts for the remainder of the year will be those posts that include stories from the time that the plant was ruled under the “evil plant manager” Eldon Waugh. Beginning in January, for the next year, the post will be stories during the reign of the plant manager, Ron Kilman (1987 to 1994). During the year 2015, the stories will be during the reign of Bill Green until I left the electric company (1994 to 2001).

Comments from the original post:

  1. Ron December 7, 2013

    Kidney stones are evil. I’ve had some, but none since 2009. The one change I made was to drink lots of water. I try to drink at least a half a gallon every day. The clearer your urine the better.

  2. Fred December 9, 2013

    Yes Kev I was there and remember it well. Not that you moaned and groaned but when you set up straight in your seat and had a look on your face like. . .something was terribly wrong.
    I offered to drive you home but you assured me you would be ok driving home. I did bum a ride with someone at Bill’s corner to work.

  3. Jack Curtis December 15, 2013

    Ouch…
    Wise advice for dealing with pain or anything negatively stressful. Not sure all are equally equipped to follow it, though. One of these days, maybe they’ll find a means for rebalancing the chemistry for you…

  4. Monty Hansen February 20, 2014

    This is incredible! I was just talking tonight to another operator at work about passing kidney stones, I have only had two, one was when I was rolling up Valmy 1 steam turbine as a Control Room Operator, I had just started rolling and felt that familiar unmistakable pain, I turned the unit over to my assistant, went & peed out a potato shaped kidney stone about 1/2 the size of a pea & then finished putting the unit online! (Actually the concentration of bringing the unit on, mercifully helped give me something else to think about besides my pain)

    Anyway Kevin, this is how I got rid of them. I started taking MAGNESIUM, a small dosage every day, it binds with the calcium & you urinate it out before it can form into a stone, works for me, I haven’t had one in twenty years now. If I feel that familiar pain in my back I know it’s because I’ve neglected taking my magnesium, so I double up for 2 or 3 days & problem solved.

    I recommend stopping the calcium & taking the lowest dose magnesium you can get at the vitamin shop & see if the stones don’t stop for good. Take it from a fellow power plant man, kidney stone sufferer, and friend of Jesus 🙂

    P.S. I don’t get a chance to read these every day you send them out, the best I can do is save them up & read them at work when I have the time, so I am usually far FAR behind your most recent posts, but I really enjoy them.

    1. neversaydi237 December 10, 2014

      Wow. You’re very brave! My first thought was, like one of the last commenters-drink about a half gallon + a day, but I’d suggest distilled. Most of the ‘water stores’ where you fill your 5 gallon jugs will offer RO (reverse osmosis ) which still has some minerals, and straight up distilled water.
      I drink the distilled like that, (it does taste a little flat, but you get used to it) because according to the ‘experts’ the lack of minerals makes your kidneys work far less hard as the water passes through (no accumulation of minerals possible from it) plus your body really benefits from all the direct and useable hydration….
      Wonder if the electrical fields contributed to your condition as well?
      Be well, my friend! Thinking of you, for sure!