Originally posted September 20, 2014.
I remember the moment when it dawned on me that I may be witnessing an incredible Coal-fired Power Plant Conspiracy! I had just walked into the Control Room one morning in 1990 at the plant in North Central Oklahoma and saw the Shift Supervisor Jack Maloy and Merl Wright in a state of high concentration.
I always knew something was up when Jack Maloy was standing behind the large blue monitors near the Unit 1 Main Electric Board watching the big picture while the Control Room Operator Merl Wright was at the Main Control Panel turning knobs, tapping indicators to make sure they had the correct readings, twisting switches, holding them until red lights turned green…
Where had I seen this before? Something was telling me that everything wasn’t as it seemed. Sure… there was an emergency going on. There was no doubt about that. I knew that between Jack Maloy and Merl Wright, the current problem of the main boiler drum losing water was quickly going to be solved. I knew that Oklahoma City wasn’t going to experience any blackouts that day. This was a Cracker Jack team! But I couldn’t help thinking I had seen this somewhere before, and it was gnawing at my common sense.
Here is a picture of Jack Maloy’s team at the time:
I backed off in a corner to observe the situation while a crowd of operators began to grow to watch the master Shift Supervisor and his faithful Control Room Operator divert a disaster. Merl picked up the walkie talkie from the desk and called Larry Tapp ( Larry is the man in the light blue shirt in the front row in the middle. He’s the only one in the front row that is actually standing, while the rest are down on their knees while the picture is being taken).
Larry was on the boiler opening and closing valves. John Belusko, the Unit Supervisor was out there with him. I can’t tell you what magic they were performing, since I think that’s top secret. I figured that, because the operators seemed to be talking in code. Merl would key the microphone on the walkie talkie and say something like, “Larry, 45”. Larry would reply with something like “Quarter Turn”. “Position?”, “18 as far as I can tell”.
I translated the coded words to say: “….crawling under the path of the boom, whipped hold of a rope, secured one end to the bulwarks and then flinging the other like a lasso, caught it around the boom as it swept over his head, and at the next jerk, the spar was that way trapped and all was safe.” (Something I had read in Moby Dick, by Herman Melville).
Jack paced back and forth behind the counter with the monitors. Then he stopped and read the paper that was streaming out of the alarm printer as it continued humming as the paper piled up on the floor in front of him. Jack was a heavy smoker, and I could tell that right then he would rather be standing out on the T-G floor having a smoke at that moment. Before cigarettes were banned in the control room, Jack would have been pointing at that board with the cigarette.
When the water level began rising in the Boiler Drum, I could see the relieve on everyone’s face. I supposed it meant that a major catastrophe had been avoided due to the intricate knowledge that each operator possessed and their ability to quickly respond to any situation. This made the uneasy feeling I was having even worse. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had seen this before. Just like Deja Vu.
It wasn’t till about a week later when my mom asked me if I knew someone at work named Jack Maloy. She had been talking to a friend of hers from Church named Louise and she mentioned that her husband worked at the Power Plant north of town. I replied by saying that I knew Jack Maloy well. He is a Shift Supervisor. She said that his wife Louise told her that Jack was a real nice person, but she wished that he would go to Church more. She hoped he would come around to that some day.
Then my mom mentioned something that brought back that feeling of uneasiness again. She said that the Maloys had moved to Oklahoma in 1979 from California. I thought that was odd that Jack had only arrived in Oklahoma in 1979, as he was a Shift Supervisor for as long as I could remember. Maybe even as far back as 1979 when I first worked at the plant as a summer help.
In that case, he would have been hired as a Shift Supervisor straight from California. — That seemed odd, since the majority of Shift Supervisors had worked their way up from Auxiliary Operator to Control Room Operator to Unit Supervisor, then finally to Shift Supervisor. Why would Jack be hired fresh from California? And how did Jack know so much about being a Shift Supervisor at our plant so quickly?
Then it dawned on me. You see…. It all went back to a lunch break about a year earlier when Charles Foster, an Electric Foreman and I were eating lunch in the Electric Shop office. When we didn’t know what to talk about, our favorite past time was to talk about movies and TV shows we had watched. We would describe the movie in detail to each other. On this particular day, Charles was doing the talking, and he was telling me about a movie that had to do with a Power Plant in California (yeah. California).
As Charles described the story, he told me that there was this Shift Supervisor named Jack (yeah… like our Shift Supervisor… Jack Maloy), and he was such a good Shift Supervisor that he could tell that there was something wrong with the Boiler Feed Pumps just by the way the coffee in his coffee cup would vibrate. Yeah. He was that good.
Charles went on to tell me about how at one part of the movie the water level was dropping in a tank and it was imperative that they raise the water level or some big disaster was going to happen. — Now you see where I’m going with this? Yeah. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? At that time, the incident in the Control Room hadn’t happened yet with Jack Maloy.
The movie sounded interesting so, when I had the opportunity, we rented the VHS tape from the video store and I watched it. Sure enough. This is what I saw….
Here is Jack Maloy and Merl Wright from the team picture above:
Very similar don’t you think? Two Shift Supervisors named Jack from California with the exact same hairstyle. Two Control Room Operators that look like Wilford Brimley. Coincidence?
Even Wilford Brimley’s hairline is the same as Merl Wright’s hairline!
For those of you who don’t know yet. The name of the movie is: The China Syndrome. It is about a nuclear Power Plant that has a near meltdown:
Need more? Ok. — hey this is fun….. So…. This movie came out in 1979. The same year that Jack Maloy shows up in Oklahoma from California. Obviously an experienced Power Plant Shift Supervisor. Merl Wright went to work 10 months earlier in 1978 at an older power plant just down the road (The old Osage plant), and then shortly after, was transferred to the same plant with Jack Maloy, only to end up working for Jack.
Need more? The China Syndrome Movie came out on March 16, 1979. Jack Maloy began working at the Coal-Fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma February 26, 1979, just two and a half weeks earlier.
I mentioned this coincidence to Charles Foster one day, but as far as I know, I never mentioned it again to anyone else… Maybe Scott Hubbard, since he was my best friend as well…
So, here are my thoughts about this….
What if Jack Maloy was the Shift Supervisor being portrayed in the movie “The China Syndrome”? He needed to move out of California just before the movie came out just in case someone found out his true identity. Being a Shift Supervisor at a Nuclear Power Plant, he would surely be in high demand at any Electric Company. Our particular Power Plant was in an out-of-the-way location. Sort of like a “witness protection program”.
I don’t know Merl’s earlier background, so I can still think that he moved to Oklahoma from California and began working for the Electric Company on April 24, 1978 just two weeks before I moved to Oklahoma from Columbia, Missouri. Since I don’t know any better, I can continue thinking this. It makes it more fun that way. — Of course, Merl, who may on occasion read this blog, may correct me in the comment section below…
So, what was it that I was experiencing that morning when I walked in the control room? I mean… What was I “really” experiencing? If, suppose, Jack and Merl really are the two that were in the control room when the “China Syndrome” almost occurred? Was it just an innocent crisis where the water level somehow decided to drop to a dangerously low level all by itself because of a faulty valve that was supposed to be closed, but was really open?
Was Jack and Merl trying to relive the excitement they had felt years earlier when they worked in a nuclear plant and they almost melted a hole all the way from there to China? Was this what experienced bored Power Plant Heroes do during downtime? I suppose it’s possible. It could have been a drill drummed up to test the acuity of the operators. To keep them on their toes. All “Shipshape and Bristol Fashion” just like on the Pequod in Moby Dick.
Something to think about.
Today Merl still lives in Ponca City, Oklahoma. Jack Maloy has moved to Cape Carol, Florida with his wife Louise. I suppose now that he has more time on his hand, hopefully he has given up smoking and is now making his wife happy by attending Church regularly. We can only hope he is at peace, on the opposite side of the United States from California so he doesn’t accidentally run into his old cohorts.
We are all glad that on his way to Florida from California that Jack decided to stop for 25 or so years in Oklahoma to Supervise the Coal-fired Power Plant out in the middle of the countryside…. As Charles Champlin from the Los Angeles Times said of the movie “The China Syndrome” — “Stunning and Skillfully Executed!” — Yeah. That describes Merl and Jack. Either way… Conspiracy or not. These two men are my heroes!
I wish Merl and Jack the best rest of their lives!
Comments from the original post: (one of my most commented posts)
Originally posted October 11, 2014.
I’m not exactly sure why, but after having written 144 Power Plant Stories about the Coal-Fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, I have yet to really tell you about one of the most important Power Plant Men during my 20 year stay at the Power Plant Palace. I have mentioned many times that he was my carpooling buddy. I have called him my Power Plant Brother. I have explained many of his characteristics in other posts, but I have never really formally introduced you to the only person that would answer the Walkie Talkie radio and the gray phone with “Hubbard Here!”
There are a couple of reasons why I have waited until now I suppose. One of the reasons is that I have two very terrific stories about Scott and I that I will be telling next year, as they took place after the 1994 downsizing, which I will be covering next year. The other reason is that I wasn’t sure exactly how to tell you that at one point in my extraordinary career at the Power Plant Palace, I really didn’t have the warm-and-fuzzies for Scott Hubbard at all. In fact, the thought of Scott Hubbard to me early in my career as an electrician was rather a sour one.
Let me explain…. I wrote a post August, 2012 that explained that while I was on the labor crew the Power Plant started up a new crew called “Testing” (See the post: “Take a Note Jan” said the Supervisor of Power Plant Production). A rule (from somewhere…. we were told Corporate Headquarters) had been made that you had to have a college degree in order to even apply for the job. Two of us on Labor Crew had college degrees, and our A foremen asked us to apply for the jobs. When we did, we were told that there was a new rule. No one that already worked for the Electric Company could be considered for the new jobs. The above post explains this and what followed, so I won’t go into anymore detail about that.
When the team was formed, new employees were seen following around their new foreman, Keith Hodges (who is currently the Plant Manager of the same plant).
Ok. While I’m on the subject of family pictures of the 1983 testing team’s new foreman, here is a more recent picture:
When we were on the labor crew and we would be driving down to the plant from our coal yard home to go do coal cleanup in the conveyor system, we would watch a group of about 10 people following Keith like quail following the mother hen around the yard learning all about their new home at the Power Plant. — I’ll have to admit that we were jealous. We knew all about the plant already, but we thought we had been judged, “Not Good Enough” to be on the testing team.
One of those guys on the new testing team was Scott Hubbard. Along with him were other long time Power Plant men like, Greg Davidson, Tony Mena, Richard Allen, Doug Black and Rich Litzer. Those old testers reading this post will have to remind me of others.
I joined the electric shop in 1983 a few months after the testing team had been formed, and I really would have rather been an electrician than on the testing team anyway, it was just the principle of the thing that had upset us, so I was still carrying that feeling around with me. So much so, that when the first downsizing in the company’s history hit us in 1988, and we learned that Scott Hubbard was going to come to the Electric Shop during the reorganization to fill Arthur Hammond’s place, who had taken the incentive package to leave (See the post “Power Plant Arguments with Arthur Hammond“), my first reaction was “Oh No!”
Diane Brien, my coworker (otherwise known as “my bucket buddy”) had told me that she had heard that Scott Hubbard was going to join our team to take Art’s place. When I looked disappointed, she asked me what was the problem.
After thinking about it for a moment, I said, “I don’t know. There’s just something that bugs me about Scott Hubbard”. — I knew what it was. I had just been angry about the whole thing that happened 5 years earlier, and I was still carrying that feeling around with me. I guess I hadn’t realized it until then. I also thought at the time that no one could really replace my dear friend Arthur Hammond who had abandoned the illustrious Power Plant Life to go try something else.
Anyway, Scott Hubbard came to our crew in 1988 and right away he was working with Ben Davis, so I didn’t see to much of him for a while as they were working a lot at a new Co-Gen plant at the Conoco (Continental) oil refinery in Ponca City. So, my bucket buddy, Dee and I carried on as if nothing had changed. That was until about 9 months later…. When I moved from Ponca City to Stillwater.
I had been living in Ponca City since a few months after I had been married until the spring of 1989. Then we moved to Stillwater. I had to move us on a Friday night out of the little run down house we were living in on 2nd Street in Ponca City to a much better house on 6th Avenue in Stillwater.
I felt like the Jeffersons when I moved from a Street to an Avenue!
I am mentioning the Friday night on May 5, 1989 because that was the day that I moved all our possessions out of the little junky house in Ponca City to Stillwater. My wife was out of town visiting her sister in Saint Louis, and I was not able to move all of our belongings in my 1982 Honda Civic, as the glove compartment was too small for the mattress:
I figured I was going to rent a U-Haul truck, load it up with all our possessions and drive the 45 miles to Stillwater. My only problem was figuring out how I was going to transport my car. While trying to figure it out, Terry Blevins and Dick Dale offered to not only help me with that, but they would help me move everything. Terry had an open trailer that he brought over and Dick Dale loaded his SUV with the rest of the stuff. With the one trailer, the SUV and my 1982 Honda Civic, all our possessions were able to be moved in one trip. — I didn’t own a lot of furniture. It consisted of one sofa, one 27 inch TV, One Kitchen Table a bed and a washer and dryer and boxes full of a bunch of junk like clothes, odds and ends and papers. — Oh. And I had a computer.
Once I was safely moved to Stillwater that night by my two friends, (who, had to drive back to Ponca City around 2:00 am after working all that Friday), my wife and I began our second three years of marriage living in a house on the busiest street in the bustling town of Stillwater, 6th Avenue. Otherwise known as Hwy 51. The best part of this move was that we lived across the street from a Braum’s. They make the best Ice Cream and Hamburgers in the state of Oklahoma!
I keep mentioning that I’m mentioning this because of this reason or that, but it all boils down to how Scott Hubbard and I really became very good friends. You see…. Scott lived just south of Stillwater, and so, he had a pretty good drive to work each day. Now that I lived in Stillwater, and we were on the same crew in the electric shop, it only made sense that we should start carpooling with each other. So, we did.
Throughout the years that we carpooled, we also carpooled with Toby O’Brien and Fred Turner. I have talked some about Toby in previous posts, but I don’t believe I’m mentioned Fred very often. He worked in the Instrument and Controls department, and is an avid hunter just like Scott. Scott and Fred had been friends long before I entered the scene and they would spend a lot of time talking about their preparations for the hunting season, then once the hunting season began, I would hear play-by-play accounts about sitting in dear stands waiting quietly, and listening to the sounds of approaching deer. I would hear about shots being fired, targets missed, prey successfully bagged, dressed and butchered. I would even be given samples of Deer Jerky.
I myself was not a hunter, but I think I could write a rudimentary “Hunter’s Survival Guide” just by absorbing all that knowledge on the way to work in the morning and again on the way home.
The thing I liked most about Scott Hubbard was that he really enjoyed life. There are those people that go around finding things to grumble about all the time, and then there are people like Scott Hubbard. He generally found the good in just about anything that we encountered. It rubbed off on the rest of the crew and it made us all better in the long run. I don’t think anyone could work around Scott Hubbard for very long and remain a cynical old coot no matter how hard they tried.
Scott Hubbard and I eventually started working together more and more until we were like two peas in a pod. Especially during outages and call outs in the middle of the night. I think the operators were so used to seeing us working together so much that in the middle of the night when they needed to call out one of us, they just automatically called us both. So, we would meet at our usual carpooling spot and head out to the plant.
As I mentioned at the top of this post, I have two very good stories about Scott and myself. One of those has to do with a time when we were called out in the middle of the night to perform a special task. I won’t describe it now, so, I’ll tell a short story about one Saturday when we were called out on a Saturday to be on standby to do some switching in the Substation.
I believe one of the units was being brought back online, and Scott and I were at the plant waiting for the boiler and the Turbine to come up to speed. Things were progressing slower than anticipated, so we had to wait around for a while. This was about the time that the Soviet Union fell in 1991. We had been following this closely as new things were being learned each day about how life in Russia really was. I had a copy of a the Wall Street Journal with me and as we sat in a pickup truck slowly driving around the wildlife preserve known as “The Power Plant”, I read an article about Life in the former Soviet Union.
The article was telling a story about how the U.S. had sent a bunch of food aid to Russia to help them out with their transition from slavery to freedom. The United States had sent Can Goods to Russia not realizing that they had yet to invent the can opener. What a paradigm shift. Thinking about how backward the “Other Super Power” was made life at our “Super” Power plant seem a lot sweeter. We even had military vets who still carried around their can openers on their key chains. I think they called them “P 38’s”
The conditions in Russia at the time reminded me of the beginning sentence of the classic novel “A Tale of Two Cities”, “Call me Ismael”….. Oh wait. That’s “Moby Dick”. No. I meant to say, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times!” — It’s funny how you remember certain moments in Power Plant history just like it was yesterday, and other memories are much more foggy. For instance, I don’t even remember the time when we… um…. oh well…..
The first thing that comes to the mind of any of the Power Plant Men at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Centeral Oklahoma when you mention Scott Hubbards name, is how Scott answers the radio when he is paged. He always replied with a cheerful “Hubbard Here!” After doing this for so long, that just about became his nickname. “Hubbard Here!” The latest picture I have of Scott Hubbard was during Alan Kramer’s retirement party at the plant a few years ago. I’m sure you can spot him. He’s the one with the “Hubbard Here smile!
I will leave you with the official Power Plant Picture. Here is a picture of Scott Hubbard in a rare moment of looking serious:
Originally posted October 18, 2014.
Does anyone know where the phrase, “Step on a Crack, Break Your Mother’s Back” came from? I’m sure there is a story behind that one. Maybe even a lot of different origins. I can distinctly remember a day in the Power Plant when a Power Plant Man stepped on a crack and broke his own back.
I remember looking out of the seventh floor window of my friends dorm room when I was a freshman in college watching students returning from classes about 6 months before the Power Plant Man broke his back. I was watching closely to see if any of them were purposely missing the cracks as they walked down the sidewalk toward the entrance. Out of about 20 people two of them purposely stepped over every crack in the sidewalk.
In the post “Power Plant Safety is Job Number One” I told the story about four of us were carrying a very long extension ladder through the maintenance shop at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma one summer morning in 1979 when Tom Dean stepped on a crack (well, it was a cracked piece of plywood that had been placed over a floor drain because the floor grate was missing), and when as he stepped on it, he lost his balance enough to twist himself around. By the time he stopped twirling, he was in immense pain as he had destroyed any chance for comfort for the next 6 months.
So, I could understand the dangers of stepping on cracks even when they appear to be insignificant. What that has to do with my mom I’m not sure. However, one day when my sister was walking with my mom on the campus of Oklahoma State University, my sister may have stepped on a crack at that time, as well as my mom, which sent her plummeting the five feet to the ground resulting in a broken hip.
This makes me wonder that since the times have changed, it may be time to change the saying to something else. Maybe something like “Smoke some crack, break your parent’s piggy bank” would be more appropriate for these times. Oh well, I’ve never been much of a poet.
Anyway, back to the subject of back pain.
The number one favorite topic during Safety Meetings at the Power Plant was Back Safety. We were told (and rightly so) that accidents where the back is injured cost the company and the employee more than any other injury. Once you really hurt your back, you can expect to have back pain the rest of your life. It only takes one time. — Times may have changed since 1979, so that now you can have some excellent back surgeries to help correct your back injuries. Even with these, you will never be completely free from back pain.
In the Power Plant Post, “When Power Plant Competition Turns Terribly Safe” I told a story about how our team came up with hundreds of safety slogans in an attempt to win the coveted Power Plant Safety Award Pizza at the end of the year. A Pizza that continued to allude us for 2 and a half years. During our meetings to invent the most catchy safety slogans, Andy Tubbs (or was it Ben Davis) came up with a slogan that said, “Lift with your legs, not your back. Or you may hear a lumbar crack”. — See. I wish I could come up with doozies like that! This takes the idea of a crack and a back and turns it around, if you think about it. Now instead of a crack hurting your back, its about a strain on your back creating a crack. — I know… probably just a coincidence….
One morning Sonny Kendrick, our electric specialist at the time, while sitting in the electric lab during break, let out a whopper of a sneeze. When he did, he suddenly knew what it felt like to experience tremendous back pain. One sneeze and he was out of commission for many weeks.
One day, when Charles Foster, my very close friend, and electric foreman, were talking about back pain, I realized that a good portion of Power Plant Men suffered with back pain. — At the risk of sounding like Randy Dailey teaching our Safety Class, I’m going to repeat myself, “You only have to hurt your back one time to have a lifetime of back pain.”
The company would focus a lot of their safety training around the importance of proper lifting techniques in order to prevent back accidents (not to be confused with backing accidents which is when you back out of a parking space — which is also a common accident — though usually less severe — unless you happen to be a Ford Truck). We would learn how to lift with our legs and not with our back.
You see, it wasn’t just that one sneeze that caused Sonny’s plunge into Back Pain Hell, and it wasn’t just stepping on the cracked plywood floor drain cover that broke Tom’s back (I know “Broke Back” is a misnomer since the back isn’t exactly broke). The problem is more systemic than that. This is just the final result of maybe years of neglecting your back through various unsafe activities.
The two important points I remember from watching the safety videos during our monthly safety meetings was that when you slouch while sitting, you put a needless strain on your lower back. So, by sitting with good posture, you help prevent a future of pain. The second point I remember is that you need to keep your stomach muscles strong. Strong stomach muscles take the weight off of your back when you’re just doing your regular job.
The big problem that finally causes the disc in your lumbar region of your spine to break after neglecting it through these other means is to lift a heavy object by bending over to pick it up instead of lifting the load with your legs. So, the phrase that we always heard was “Lift with your Legs. Not your Back”. You do this by bending your knees instead of just your hips.
Ok. I know you are all thinking the same thing I am thinking (right? Yeah. You are). Bending both your knees and hips saves your back. Isn’t there another word for when you bend your knees and hips at the same time? — Yeah. Yet, I don’t remember hearing it during any of our Safety Videos. — Oh. It was implied, they just never came out and said it…. What they really mean to say is, “Squat”. Yeah. “Squat”. When you bend your knees and hips, isn’t that “Squatting?”
Times have changed…. I mean….. Doesn’t everyone today have a “Squatty Potty”?
Don’t we all have “I ‘heart’ 2 Squat” tee-shirts?
To learn more, you can watch this video:
This doesn’t just work with the Squatty Potty to help you drop your loads, it also works when lifting heavy loads. So, remember the next time you are going to bend over to pick something up…. Squat instead.
Other lifting tips include keeping the load close to your body and not holding your breath but tightening your stomach muscles, and don’t lift something too bulky by yourself. Don’t twist your body when picking something up, face the load directly. A weightlifter once told me that when you lift, feel the weight on the heel of your feet, not on the balls of your feet.
Randy Dailey, the Safety Guru of our Power Plant, and an expert machinist invented a pen that you could put in your pocket protector in your shirt pocket that would alert you by beeping if you leaned over too far. It was an ingenious device to remind you to lift with your legs instead of your back.
In one of the safety videos we watched about back safety, there was a short stalky scientist that explained the dynamics of lifting and how easy it was to put a tremendous strain on your back by leaning over and picking something up. He said that “People choose the more simple way to pick something up. Not the easiest way.”
Doesn’t that sound like the same thing? Isn’t the simplest way the easiest way? Well. You would think so, but it isn’t always the case. This Doctor of Back-ology went on to explain his statement. He explained that the simplest way to pick up an object on the floor is to bend at the hip. It is one movement. Bend at the hip. — However…. The easiest way to pick up the object is to bend both your knees and your hips to pick up the object. Since you keep your back straight and you lift with your leg muscles that are the most powerful muscles in your body. He avoided using the word, “Squat”, but that’s what he meant.
In order to reduce back injuries at the plant, the company made back belts available at the plant.
Note that this picture not only shows a Power Plant Man wearing a Back Support Belt, but he also is wearing the right kind of Tee-Shirt. It has a vest pocket where you can put a Pocket Protector for your little screwdriver and your Back Alert Pen created by Randy Dailey.
The use of back belts was new around the late 1980’s. Even though we had them available through the tool room when we wanted them, few people wore them. The warehouse team wore them a lot. I suppose that is because they were lifting and moving things all day long.
In the warehouse Bob Ringwall, Darlene Mitchell and Dick Dale used to have back belts on when I would visit the warehouse to pick up a part, or to visit my friends. I don’t remember if Bud Schoonover would wear a back belt. How’s this for a slogan…. “Be a Safety Black Belt…. When Lifting, wear your Back Belt.” I know. I should stop when I’m ahead, only I’m so far behind now I may never catch up.
There was a question about whether wearing a back belt was really a good idea. It was thought that people might tend to substitute using their stomach muscles while lifting with the back belt, resulting in weaker stomach muscles. So we were cautioned not to go around wearing back belts all day long. Only when we were going to be doing a job where we had to do a lot of lifting. I suppose now, after years of research, there is a lot more data to tell us one way or the other. I haven’t heard what the latest jury has said on this subject.
Even though I titled this post “…Plain Ol’ Power Plant Back Pain”, there is nothing plain about back pain. I just thought it sounded like a catchy title.
I was lucky enough that during the 20 years I spent working at the Power Plant, I never really hurt my back. To this day, I have been able to avoid living with perpetual pain in my back. — I have been accused of causing pain in other people’s necks. Also, I don’t think the many times that people told me I was a pain in their back side, they were referring to the Lumbar region. I think they meant an area just below the tailbone. I hope that by bringing to their attention the benefits of the Squatty Potty that I have been able to relieve (or prevent) a little of that lower lumbar pain.
Now when someone says, “You don’t know Squat”, you can correct them!
Comments from the original post:
Originally posted November 15, 2014. I added an addendum at the bottom of the original post:
John Fry had a peculiar way of standing in front of the bathroom door in the electric shop after he had mopped the bathroom floor as he waited for the floor to dry. It was as if he was a sentry on duty in front of the Buckingham Palace in London because he would stand so still. I would amuse myself by picturing him dressed in the red Beefeater uniform standing at attention at the bathroom door at a coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.
Only John wasn’t carrying a rifle, he was holding his broom handle. He would hold the handle of the broom so that it was parked just behind his right ear. His head would be slightly bent forward and the expression on his face was one of deep thought. John didn’t speak much. I wondered if he had ever been a guard or a soldier. It would have had to been during the Vietnam War if he had given his age. He was born in 1947.
I always admired John who was doing the job I used to do when I was a janitor at the plant when I had first become a full time employee after four years of working as a summer help. Like the tourists in London, I would do subtle things to try to distract John from his stalwart sentinel position without actually talking to him. I didn’t think it would be fair to actually use words, because John, being the polite person that he was would break out of his guardian stance to say “Hello” or answer a question if I had posed one.
One day while John was standing watch over the wet bathroom floor, I silently came up alongside him with my own broom and I put the handle behind my ear just like him and tried to stand with the same interesting posture John used. I stood there for a few minutes waiting to see if John would respond to me. There was something peaceful about standing next to John meditating on the water evaporating from the tiles behind us. The wooden handle placed behind the ear, pressed up against the side of the head added a sort of stability.
He just continued standing watch. He may have had a slight smile, I’m not sure. When John smiled, it was usually very subtle. It was more in the eyes than on the mouth and since I was only looking out of the corner of my eye, I couldn’t really tell. I didn’t wait until the floor completely dried before I left. I still had to be an electrician, and I only had a few minutes to spare before I had to continue on my way.
The other interesting feature about John was that he didn’t turn his head. It was as if he was wearing an invisible neck brace. So, when he walked by, if you said “Hi John”, he might put up one hand as a slight wave, and mutter “Hi” back, but he wouldn’t turn his head toward you, unless he happened to be coming straight in your direction. He was generally looking at the floor a few feet in front of him when he walked. He would walk sort of hunched over as if he was looking for a small lost item on the ground.
I took this to mean that John had some sort of surgery on the vertebrae in his neck that fused them together so that they were immobile preventing him from looking this way or that. He was built like a boxer and looked the part, so I would imagine that in his earlier days, John was in a boxing ring exchanging blows with someone until he had to stop because of the injuries to his spine that could only be mended by fusing his neck into a permanent position of a Buckingham Palace Guard.
It was a pastime of mine to imagine what the Power Plant Men did before they ended up spending their days creating electricity for half the state of Oklahoma. That was until I had the opportunity to ask them and find out what they really did. As I mentioned, I pictured John Fry as a boxer before he became the bathroom Beefeater.
I pictured Johnny Keys as being someone who lived in the Arkansas Ozarks making Mountain Dew from a still up in the hills before he became a machinist.
You would understand that image better if you had seen him before they disallowed the wearing of beards on the plant ground. When Johnny had a beard he looked more like this:
I don’t even want to mention the number of Power Plant Men I pictured as used car salesmen before I knew them better. Ok. All right. I won’t tell you their names, but one of them has the initials: “Gene Day”.
There were a number of Power Plant Men that looked like they were Sergeants in the Army or Navy. Some that come to mind are
and Jim Arnold:
Then there is the group of Mad Scientists. You know the type… They look so normal, but you can tell that in their spare time they are playing with chemicals, or coming up with new Physics equations in order to puzzle those fortunate enough to take a college Physics course….
Before I knew what this group actually did for a living before they arrived at the plant, I immediately thought…. Mad Scientist:
and lastly Merl Wright:
Then there was the group of people that looked like they were in a Hard Rock Band. They were easy to categorize since they all wore dark glasses…. Or maybe they did that because they worked in the welding shop…
There’s Larry Riley:
and Junior Meeks:
Ok. Maybe in their spare time, they also doubled as a biker gang.
Then there was the more simple jobs… For instance, Danny Cain probably worked in a donut shop (which coincidentally… I did):
And also Coincidentally, Danny always liked Donuts.
Then there was the all around nice looking guys who would serve you in a restaurant or bag your groceries like Mike Gibbs:
or Brent Kautzman that reminded me of one of those guys that modeled fancy shirts in a J.C. Penny’s Catalog:
Ok…. I think you get my point…. Sort of like the songs I would hear whenever I was around these guys like I had discussed in the post “Power Plant Music To My Ears” I also categorized the Power Plant Men into various previous jobs… Larry Riley used to say that it was a good idea for me to not be idle because when I was, I would come up with the goofiest (my word, not his) things to do. I suppose he was right.
Anyway, I want to get back to John Fry. You see… my thought about John being an ex-boxer that could no longer box because of a neck injury gave me a sad feeling when I looked at John. I never really knew if he was married, though I didn’t think so. I knew he had a younger brother that lived in Stillwater, while John lived in Ponca City. Besides that, John’s life was a mystery to me.
So, today when I decided to write about John, I looked him up online to see what I could find. I found that he had died at the age of 58 years old on May 10, 2006 while working as a Warehouse Inventory Clerk. I couldn’t find an obituary. It seems that the Trout Funeral Home that handled his funeral either didn’t keep records that far back, or they just didn’t have anything to say about it.
I learned that the Sunset Baptist Church had a service for John but I couldn’t find anything about his funeral there either. Actually, I couldn’t even find the cemetery where he was buried. There is one John Fry in the IOOF cemetery in Ponca City, but I am not able to tell if that is him or not. It seems to me that John, whose brother had died 4 years earlier may have been alone.
I wish I knew more. Maybe someone at the plant can fill me in. Maybe I have the wrong John Fry and John is still around.
As a terrific Power Plant Man Janitor who held his post each day while the floor was drying, I want him to receive the honor that he deserves. I want him to know that there is a group of men that honored his service and respected his life. If I had his picture, I would display it here. The only picture I have is the one I carry in my memory.
About two weeks after I wrote this post last year, John Fry’s daughter Amy ran across this post and left a comment. I have included that below:
Comments from the original post:
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 Chance 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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!
At a Power Plant, three things are certain: Death, Taxes and Quittin’ Time. Nothing can stand in the way of any of these three activities. The only time Quittin’ time might change is on a Friday afternoon just before it is time to go home and you hear the Shift Supervisor paging one of the foremen or the Maintenance Supervisor. Then you know that Quittin’ time is likely to change at the spur of the moment. Not eliminated, but only delayed. I suppose we try doing that with Death as well. I have never tried delaying Taxes before.
After the downsizing at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma in 1994, a lot of things had changed. As an electrician, I was now working on a cross-functional team with Charles Foster as my electrical bucket buddy.
The rest of my team had different skills. Some were Instrument and Controls, others were Welders, Machinists, Mechanics and then there was Alan Kramer, our foreman.
The new way we received work orders (we called them Maintenance Orders or MOs) was from our new Planners. There were two people responsible for figuring out our work for the week. That was Ben Davis and Tony Mena. I don’t have a photo of Tony, but here is Ben.
I have talked about Ben Davis in a number of past posts, as he was my mentor when I first became an electrician. I always looked up to him as a big brother. And, well, he treated me as a younger brother… but always with more respect than I deserved. Tony on the other hand was originally hired to be on the Testing Team when I was on the Labor Crew.
I still remember Monday, July 18, 1983 watching Tony Mena and the rest of the new Testers walking around the plant following Keith Hodges around like baby quail following their mother (at least that was the way Ron Luckey described them as we watched them from the back seat of the crew cab as we drove past them).
The men and woman on Labor Crew had felt passed over when the new testing team had been formed because no one on the labor crew had been considered for the new jobs even when we met the minimum requirements (which was to have any kind of college degree). So, even though it wasn’t fair to the new testing team, we had an immediate animosity toward them.
After the first downsizing in 1988, Scott Hubbard had moved to the electric shop and I quickly learned that not all testers were rotten, job stealing chumps. Actually, none of them were. They never had anything to do with who was chosen for the Testing team. That came from above. If you are interested, you can read the post: “‘Take a Note Jan’ Said the Supervisor of Power Production“. Scott and I became like brothers when he joined our team.
After the first downsizing, the testing team was reduced down to three people, Tony Mena, Richard Allen and Doug Black. I don’t have a picture of the first two, but I do have one of Doug:
After the second downsizing, the Testing team was eliminated. Scott had become an electrician seven year earlier, Doug Black moved into the Engineering Department. Richard Allen became an Instrument and Controls person and Tony Mena became a Planner along with Ben Davis. We had two other planners Glenn Rowland and Mark Fielder (who later traded with Mike Vogle to become a foreman). Glenn and Mark spent their time planning major outages, where Tony and Ben did more of the day-to-day stuff.
Tony Mena no longer had anyone to carpool with, so he asked me if he could carpool with Scott and I. So, we agreed. We told Tony that it was important to be on time, because we didn’t want to be late arriving at the plant, and we definitely didn’t want to be late going home (which was much more important). Tony agreed that he would be on time.
Quittin’ Time at the plant is a very important and orchestrated event. It begins a half hour earlier when everyone returns to the shop and cleans up and puts their tools away. Then they go into the foremen’s office and fills out their timecards for the day. This includes adding each of the maintenance orders we have worked on during the day and how many hours on each.
The next step is to grab your lunch box and go stand by the door to wait until the exact second that it is time to leave. When that happens, a steady stream of Power Plant Men pour into the parking lot, into their pickup trucks (and other vehicles) and head either north or south down Highway 177 toward their homes. Some stopping along the way for a beverage at the corner convenience store.
The Power Plant Men have Quittin’ Time down to a honed art form. Each stroke of the brush is carefully orchestrated. Scott and I went to perform our part of the ballet where the vehicles all backed out of their parking spaces in chaotic unison and quickly perform the three lines out the end of the single lane on the south side of the parking lot.
However, when we arrived in our car, Tony was no where to be found. As we received concerned looks from Randy Dailey and Jerry Day, as they pirouetted around us, wondering why we weren’t taking our turn in the Parking Lot Tango, all we could do was shrug our shoulders and watch as the dance went on without us.
Finally about 10 minutes past Quittin’ Time, Tony came walking out of the shop apologizing for being late. We told him that was all right as long as he didn’t make a habit out of it. We were pretty peeved that day because this meant that we had 10 less minutes that day to spend with our families.
We were even more peeved when the same thing happened the next day. We didn’t wait 10 minutes. After 5 minutes we went into the maintenance foremen’s office and found Tony still working away on his computer trying to finish up his work. We told him he had to leave right now! He said he hadn’t realized it was time to go.
Nothing is worse than a delayed Quittin’ Time when it isn’t for a legitimate reason. Tony didn’t have a wife and children at home so he didn’t feel the urgency that Scott and I felt. So, I figured I was going to have to do something about this. We weren’t going to tell Tony that he could no longer ride with us, because we knew he needed the company as much as we did, so I came up with a different plan.
The next day at lunch I wrote a program on the computer called “Quittin’ Time!” Here is how it worked:
It would load up on Tony’s computer when he booted it up, so he didn’t have a choice whether it ran or not. It showed up in the Task Bar at the bottom. It said: “Quittin’ Time in: 7:45:35” for example and it would count down each second. Then it would count down all day until Quittin’ Time. There was no visible way to turn it off (Power Plant Men had yet to learn about the Task Manager as this was Windows 3.1).
You could click on Quittin Time in the Task Bar and it would open up a small box in the middle of your computer with the time ticking down, but there was no red X in the corner to shut it down. There was only a minimize underscore that would put it back in the task bar.
I had added a small feature in the dialog window. In the lower right corner, there was a little slash sort of hidden in the corner. If you clicked on that, it opened another dialog box that let you set the actual time of day for “Quittin’ Time”. So, if you had to leave early, or later, you could adjust your Quittin’ Time.
Here was the clincher with the Quittin’ Time program. It was not enough to just show Tony that it was Quittin’ Time. This program had to force Tony to shut down and go home. So, when it was 15 minutes before Quittin’ Time, a Big Yellow Window would open up on top of any other work and would flash on and off that it was “15 minutes before Quittin’ Time! Time to Finish your Work!” Tony could close this window.
Then when it was 5 minutes to Quittin’ Time, another big yellow window would open up flashing 5 minutes before Quittin’ Time! Finish your work now!” and it would beep at you 5 times. Tony could close this window.
At one minute until Quittin’ Time, all heck broke loose on the computer. A big red window would open up and the computer would start beeping continually. The flashing Window could not be closed. It would say: “Less than One Minute To Quittin’ Time! Save all your Work!” The words would continually flash as well at the red background while counting down the seconds and it could not be stopped.
At “Quittin’ Time” The Red Box would say “QUITTIN’ TIME!” and the computer would lock up beeping continuously as loud as that little beeper(the internal speaker) could beep (this was a 386 PC). At that point, the only thing you could do was hit the power button and shut your computer off. I wish I had some screen shots to show you. Maybe I’ll find my old code and recreate it and take some and add them to this post later.
Needless to say, the first day I added this program to Tony’s computer, he didn’t heed the warnings. When the computer went crazy, he tried saving his work, but ended up losing a little of it before the computer completely locked up on him. He came out to the parking lot on time, however, he wasn’t in the greatest mood. We were. Scott and I were smiling. We were going to be home on time, and best yet, that day, we were included in the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” being performed by the pickup trucks that day in the Parking Lot.
The best part of the Quittin’ Time program came later. After about a week, Tony (who now left work on time every day) asked me if I could add something to the Quittin’ Time program. He wanted to know if I could make it so that he would remember to eat lunch. He would get so involved in work that he would miss his lunch entirely. So, I added a “Lunch Time” Feature to the program as well. He could adjust his lunch time using the same option window that opened when you clicked on the little slash in the lower corner of the Quittin’ Time window.
When I added the Lunch Time feature, I also added an Internet Feature that would go out to Yahoo Stock Quotes and get the Daily Stock Quotes for all of our 401k Mutual Funds and our company stock and at 3:40pm CST would pop up a window with the day’s stocks, so you could see how the Mutual funds in your 401k did that day. — Nothing better than watching your retirement plan grow each day. Yahoo posted the Mutual Fund updates for the day around 3:30pm, so Tony would be the first person each day to get the latest Stock news for our Mutual Funds.
Tony Mena was known as Planner 4 later when we moved to SAP because that was the username he used. Ray Eberle used to say to me, “We always want to keep Planner 4 happy!” Later this year, I will go into various ways we kept Tony happy, or confused… or well… on his toes anyway.
If you have been following my posts for very long, you may have the idea that I just like to write posts about spiders. After writing two posts about Spider Wars (see posts: “Power Plant Spider Wars and Bugs in the Basement” and “Power Plant Spider Wars II – The Phantom Menace“), another post about spiders just seems like a bit much. Even though there is a spider in this story, another appropriate title could be something like “Another night in the Life of a Power Plant Electrician”. Without further ado, here is the story.
Ninety nine times out of a hundred, when the phone rang in the middle of the night, it was the Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma calling. I don’t remember a time when the Shift Supervisor on the other end of the phone wasn’t very polite. They knew they were waking someone from their sleep to ask them to drive 30 miles out to the plant in the wee hours of the morning.
The Shift Supervisor, whether it was Joe Gallahar, Jim Padgett, Jack Maloy, or Gary Wright, they would all start out with something like, “Hey, sorry to wake you buddy…”. After such an apologetic introduction, how could you be upset that your sleep had just been interrupted? Then they would proceed to tell you why they needed your assistance. For me, it was usually because the coal dumper had stopped working while a train was dumping their coal. This meant that 110 cars tied to three or four engines was sitting idle unable to move.
Each car on the train would be dumped one at a time as it was pulled through the rotary dumper. The process was automated so that the operator in the control room watching out of the window only had to push one switch to dump each car.
The train would move forward to the next car automatically as a large arm on a machine called a Positioner would come down on the coupling between the cars and pull the entire train forward to the next car.
There were so many moving parts involved in positioning the car in place and rolling it over to dump the coal, that it was common for something to go wrong. When that happened the entire process would come to a halt and the train would just have to sit there until someone came to fix it. That was usually an electrician since the dumper and the positioner was all controlled by relays much like the elevator controls, only more complicated.
This particular night, Joe Gallahar had called me. It seemed that there was an intermittent problem with the dumper that didn’t seem to make much sense and they couldn’t figure out why it was acting so strange. One of the train cars had actually been damaged as the positioner arm would start coming up from the coupling to the point where the holding arm on the other end of the dumper had come up, then the positioner arm began going back down, causing the train to move on it’s own only to have the arm on the positioner scrape the side of the train car as it rolled backward uncontrolled.
Though it was less frequent, it was not so strange to have a train damaged by erratic dumper controls. I have seen the side of a train car smashed in by the positioner arm when it decided to inappropriately come down. This night, the problem was acting like that. So, instead of damaging the train further, they decided to call me out to have a look at it.
I always had the philosophy when being called out in the middle of the night to be just as polite back to the Shift Supervisor when I answered the phone. I had a Marketing professor at Oklahoma State University named Dr. Lee Manzer, who explained this one day.
Here is a short side story about Dr. Manzer —
Dr. Manzer told a story in class one day about how he was travelling home one day from a long and difficult trip where everything had gone wrong. It was very late at night when he arrived at his house (which, incidentally was just down the street from my parent’s house), he was really beat. He went into his bedroom and began preparing for bed.
About the time he was taking off his tie, his wife rolled over in bed and welcomed him home. Then she said, “Oh, by the way. I forgot to buy milk (or maybe it was ice cream). Do you think you could run down to the store and buy some?”
Dr. Manzer explained his decision making process at that point like this: “I could either go on a rant and tell my wife what a long and tiring day I had just had and now you are asking me to go buy milk? , and then I would go get the milk. Or I could say, ‘Of course Dear. I would be glad to go buy some milk.’ Either way, I was going to go buy the milk. So, I could do it one of two ways. I could complain about it or I could be positive. I could either score points or lose them…. hmm…. Let’s see…. what did I do? I said, ‘Of course Dear.'”
— End of the side story about Dr. Lee Manzer who by the way was a terrific Marketing Professor. I understand he still teaches to this day.
So, when Joe Gallahar called me that night, and explained that the dumper was acting all erratic, Instead of saying “Yes Dear.” as that wouldn’t have been appropriate, I told him, “No problem. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” My wife Kelly knew who was on the other end of the phone when she heard my answer. She had heard it many times before. I usually only had to say one word after hanging up the phone, “Dumper”, and she knew what that meant.
A Power Plant Electrician’s spouse knows that this is part of the job. As I pulled on the jeans that I had laid out before I went to bed, Kelly would usually say something in her sleep like, “Be careful”. I would give her a hug and tell her I’ll be back in a while, even though, sometimes I would be gone for two days working on the precipitator during a start up or some major catastrophe. Usually, it was just a couple of hours before I came crawling back in bed.
This particular night I drove to work in silence with the window open so that the cool air would keep me awake. Normally I had the radio on some rock station so that I would be singing along (in my terribly off-key singing voice) in order to stay awake. Sometimes I would just take the 25 minutes of silence to just think.
My thought that night was that it was nice to be wanted. There is some comfort in knowing that the Shift Supervisor could call me with enough confidence to know that I would be able to come out on my own and fix a problem that was costing the company a large amount of money each hour the dumper was offline. Some might think that I would be annoyed to be wakened in the middle of the night to go fix something at the plant. That night, as most nights I was feeling honored.
That wasn’t always the case, and I’ll soon write a post about another call out in the middle of the night where Scott Hubbard and I wondered exactly why they called us… but that’s another story.
When I arrived at the plant, I rolled my car up to the speaker at the front gate and said, “Hello” with an arrogant English accent. I don’t know why, but I always liked doing that. I think it was Billy Epperson who answered back. I told him I was here to work on the dumper. He thanked me and opened the gate and I drove the 1/2 mile down the hill to the plant parking lot. As I went over hill, in the moonlight I could see the train up at the coal yard looking like a long silver snake.
I walked into the maintenance shop and grabbed a truck key off of the hook and drove around to the electric shop to pick up my hard hat and tool bucket.
I took the long way around to the coal yard since the train blocked the shortest route. We had a tunnel on the west end of the coal yard that went under the tracks for just this occasion.
When I arrived at the dumper, Stanley Robbins explained that he had tried troubleshooting this problem himself, but he couldn’t find anything that would explain the strange behavior. Since the last downsizing, we were all able to sort of mix our skills so that an operator could do simple electric tasks if they felt comfortable with it. Stanley knew enough to fix your normal minor dumper issues. This one was a little different.
Since I had been an electrician for the past 15 years at this point, I felt pretty confident that I would quickly find the problem and be heading back home soon. So, I walked into the dumper switchgear where the dumper controls are found. I asked Stanley to go turn on the power to the dumper so that I could watch the relays. When the power was on, I began tracing the circuits looking for the point of failure.
The problem was intermittent, and when Stanley started the dumper back up, everything seemed to be working just fine. Stanley explained that this was why they couldn’t use the dumper because they couldn’t be sure when it was going to malfunction. They had even uncoupled the train and pulled it apart right where the positioner arm was so that I could see what was happening.
Using radios (walkie talkies), I asked Stanley to move the positioner arm up and down while I checked it. He lowered it and raised it back up without any problem. When he began lowering it the second time, it suddenly stopped halfway down. Watching the controls, I could see that it indicated that it had come all the way down. It would be this case that would tell the holding arm on the far side of the dumper to go back up, which is what happened when the train rolled back earlier that night.
Then the relays rattled like they were picking up and dropping out rapidly. Then the problem cleared up again. Somehow the positioner arm had thought it had come down on the car clamps when it was still up in the air. That was not likely to happen because when something fails it usually doesn’t see what it’s supposed to see, not the other way around. It doesn’t usually see something that isn’t there.
So, I had Stanley lower the positioner arm down so that it was level with the ground, so that I could check the connections to the electric eye that was on the positioner clamp that detected the train car clamp when it came down. I couldn’t find any lose connections or anything that would explain it.
So I told Stanley that I was going to look up from under the car clamp to look at the electric eye. So, I asked him to kill the power to the positioner so that it wouldn’t move while I was doing that and crush me like a bug. Kneeling on the train track, I took my flashlight and looked up at the electric eye from under the car clamp, and this is what I saw:
This spider had built a spider web in front of the electric eye on the positioner and was sitting right in the middle causing the positioner to think it was down on the car clamp when it wasn’t. Stanley was watching me from the window of the dumper control room when he saw me stand up quickly and look up at him with a big grin on my face. I gave him a thumbs up.
You know the phrase, “Everyone has 10 minutes of fame….” It indicates that some time in most people’s lives they are famous for a brief moment. It may or may not define the rest of their life. Well. This was that spiders claim to fame. This one spider had successfully stranded a coal train with 110 cars of coal. A train crew, a coal yard operator, and one lone electrician that had traveled 30 miles to watch it act out it’s drama of catching gnats on it’s web being constantly watched by one large electric eye.
I did not drive home in silence that early morning. I laughed out loud all the way home. I still laugh to myself to this day when I think about this night. Phrases like, “Isn’t life wonderful” comes to my mind. Or “Even Spiders desire attention every now and then.” Could there have been a better malfunction than to have a spider dancing in front of an electric eye out in the plains of Oklahoma saying, “Look at me! Look at me!” and by golly. Someone did! I’m just glad it was me.
I stayed home one Wednesday morning because I was going to be a guinea pig at the Stillwater Medical Center that morning while some nurses were being certified to give PICC lines. That is, when they insert a catheter in a vein in your arm and thread it all the way up to your heart. In order to be certified, you had to actually perform this procedure 2 or 3 times on a live vict…. uh…. subject. My wife Kelly had coaxed me into this position with promises of Chicken Cacciatore.
Anyway. I was able to sleep in that morning. So, I had just risen from bed a few minutes before 9:00am in time to say goodbye to my daughter Elizabeth, who was on her way to Kindergarten. Kelly was taking her. I didn’t have to be ready to go to the hospital until 10:00.
I watched from our front atrium as my wife drove down the gravel driveway to the dirt road and turn right out of sight. As I walked back to our bedroom to take my shower, I heard and felt a rumble. To me it sounded like a semi truck had just pulled into our driveway. This was not too impossible, as our country neighbors would use our drive sometimes if a big truck needed to reach their barn.
I thought I would see what was going on, so I returned to the living room and looked out of the window. There was no truck. Then I thought that the rumble felt more like an earthquake than a truck. I used to live on the main highway through Stillwater (Highway 53, also known as 6th street) before moving out to the country, and I knew the difference between an earthquake and a semi truck.
I returned to bedroom and continued on my way to the shower. When I was finished, I walked into the bedroom and flipped on the TV. I thought I would see if there was any news about the earthquake on the news. Instead, for the next two hours I sat on the edge of the bed glued to the television as tears ran down my face.
At the time that I felt the earthquake, one of the Instrument and Controls Technicians at our Power Plant was talking to someone in our Corporate Headquarters in Oklahoma City. There was the sound of a large explosion and the person on the other end said there had been an explosion and they had to go, and the phone went dead. The Corporate Headquarters building is one block south of the Federal Murrah Building.
This was the morning of April 15, 1995. Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the bombing. I lived about 50 miles as the crow flies from the Federal Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. At 9:02 a.m. the earthquake I had felt was from the Murrah Building Bombing at the time when 168 people were killed by the blast.
As I sat watching the events unfold a yellow 1977 Mercury Marquis was driving north on I-35 toward Kansas. There was one anomaly about this car. The license plate on the back was not properly attached. As the car passed exit 186, the driver could see the Charles Machine Works off to the east manufacturing Ditch Witch trenchers in Perry, Oklahoma.
A Power Plant Security Guard at our plant, who as his second job (because working at a Power Plant would of course be the first and foremost job), was also a member of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol was on duty that day keeping the public safe. As he watched the flow of traffic the crooked license plate on the yellow car caught his attention. As was customary for officer Charlie Hanger, he proceeded to pull the car over.
The man that stepped out of the car was Timothy McVeigh, the person that left a truck bomb in a Ryder truck parked in front of the Murrah Building 90 minutes earlier:
After informing Officer Charlie that he had a weapon in the car, Charlie Hanger arrested him for carrying a concealed weapon. The rest of that part of the story is history.
At the Power Plant, some referred to the Security Guard Charlie Hanger as “Deputy Fife”.
It was said that he was the type of law enforcement officer that would arrest his own mother for jaywalking. What are the odds that Charlie was in the right place at the right time and had decided to pull this one car over?
Charlie Hanger said that the main reason that he pulled over Timothy McVeigh that day was because of Divine Intervention. God had placed him in the right place at the right time. This is a common occurence for those who worked at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma. God had placed them at the right place at the right time.
If you lived anywhere around Central Oklahoma that day, then you know as well as I, that there was a lot more that went on, than Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols setting off a truck bomb. For those who watched the story unfold, we remember perfectly well that other unexploded bombs were found as the rescue effort began. Everyone was pulled off of the site several times while bombs were diffused, and the Whitewater files pertaining to the investigation into Hilary Clinton (which just happened to be stored in the Murrah Building) were quickly removed from the scene never to be seen again.
Oklahomans would tell you that the Conspiracy theory that makes the least sense is that the truck bomb is what brought the Murrah building down. Survivors that worked in the Murrah building had seen men doing things to the pillars in the parking garage below the building days before.
If the truck bomb had destroyed that much of one of the most reinforced building in Oklahoma City, then it was the biggest and strangest truck bomb in history. It was interesting to watch how much effort was put into stopping investigations into the Murrah Building bombing. Even going so far as having a company from the Main Stream Media buy out KFOR TV station and quickly shut down the Murrah Building Bombing investigation by Jayna Davis.
Anyway… if you are interested in what I was watching during those first few hours, before the media rewrote the story, watch this documentary. I encourage you to watch these all the way through:
Here is a video from KFOR News about the Ryder truck bombing:
Here is a video about Jayna Davis’s investigation and Timothy McVeigh’s connection with Al Qaeda:
Another video about the Murrah Building Bombing Conspiracy:
Just about everyone that lived around Oklahoma City at the time of the bombing was affected by the Oklahoma City Bombing. Here are some of my stories:
When Kelly came home, she told me that she had heard what happened on the radio. She called the hospital and some of the nurses had headed to Oklahoma City to help out with any medical needs. The PICC Line certification had been cancelled because the nurses and other medical professionals were all going to go help out. Kelly went to the hospital to fill in, because they were shorthanded. I told her that I would pick up Elizabeth from Kindergarten at noon.
After I picked up Elizabeth, I took her to the police station. We had been planning on going there that day, since I was taking the day off work and she said she would like to see the Police station just to see what it looked like. So, I figured we would go down there and ask for a tour.
When we arrived at the Stillwater Police Station, the front door was locked. I thought this was odd because it was the middle of the day. I could see people inside, so I knocked on the door. Someone came and opened the door and asked what we needed. I told them that I was wondering if it was possible for my daughter to have a tour of the police station. They were glad to show her all around.
Because of the way the person answered the door, I realized right away that they were in “lock down” mode because of the Murrah Building bombing.
My brother, who today is a U.S. Marine Colonel worked as the Executive Officer for the Marine Corps Recruiting office in the Murrah building in 1994. I had visited his office a year earlier. He left the previous June. Greg’s replacement, who was a father of four children, just like my brother was killed that day. The officer who first recruited my brother happened to be visiting that morning from Stillwater, was left blind. My brother felt responsible for the officer’s death because he had encouraged him to take his place when he moved on.
One of the first two friends I had when I went to College was Kirby Davis. He worked as a journalist in the Journal Record building across the way from the Murrah Building. I met him one day by accident in September 1996 when I was working in Oklahoma City for the electric company. He was walking down the street during lunch. I had just visited the memorial fence at the Murrah Building site. I was still choked up by my visit to the fence when I saw him walking from across the street. I told my friend Mike Gibbs that I would see him later, I just saw an old friend of mine, and I wanted to go talk to him.
I was surprised when I asked Kirby how he was doing and he replied that he was devastated. I asked him what had happened and he told me that the day the Murrah Building was bombed, his entire life had been ruined. At that point, I decided that even though my lunch hour was just about over Kirby needed to talk. So, we found a bench in a small park by his office and for the next hour he explained to me what had happened.
Even though the Journal Record building had been damaged in the bombing, that wasn’t what had destroyed Kirby. It was what happened in the aftermath. Here is the short story of what he said to me.
After the bombing occurred, rescue teams came from all over the country to help clear the debris. Kirby’s wife went to work at the Convention Center where they were housing the rescue workers to help serving them. While she was there serving the rescue workers, she became romantically involved with one of the workers. The result of this was that she divorced Kirby and moved away.
I walked with Kirby back to his office at the Journal Record and said goodbye to him and returned to work. I continue to pray for Kirby and his family. I ask that those of you who read my blog and are so inclined, please say a prayer for him as well.
As I mentiioned, tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing. I think we should all take a moment to reflect on how in times of trouble like this, when evil seems to be having its way and tragedy is all around, God sends men like the trooper and Power Plant Guard Charlie Hangar.
The electric company in Oklahoma decided late 1995 that it was about time that the employees in the company learn about the Internet. The company recognized that the vast amount of information on the Internet was very useful and encouraged everyone to start using it. A request form was available to request access to various features the Internet provided and with your Foreman’s approval, all you had to do was take a short course in Internet Etiquette and you were in (well almost). The problem with this effort was that no one bothered to teach Plant Management about the Internet, so the “Quest for the Internet” was about to begin.
As the leading computer geek at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma I had been accessing the Internet for years. I had used CompuServe and Telnet to log into the Internet before Internet Browsers and World Wide Web (WWW) were available.
I thought it was a great idea for everyone to use the Internet, so when Alan Kramer gave us the form it didn’t take long before I filled it out. Sounds pretty simple….. but unfortunately, after a short misstep on my part, a six month battle was about to begin.
The form was simple enough, you just needed to check the boxes for which part of the Internet you needed to access, and after your foreman signed it, you mailed it to Corporate Headquarters, where you would be scheduled to attend a two hour course on how to properly use the Internet in a business setting. The form was written in a curious way that sort of indicated to me that not a lot of thought had been put into it. It was either that, or the person that created the form didn’t understand the Internet very well. Here’s why:
The different parts of the Internet that you could check that you wanted to access were these: WWW, e-mail, Telnet, NewsGroups, FTP. The World Wide Web (WWW) had yet to become popular. The number of Web sites on the Internet was still less than 250,000. Compare that to today where there is almost 1 billion websites.
Well, e-mail…. you know what that is. Telnet was the usual way I had accessed the Internet for years. I would log in through the Oklahoma State University computer using Telnet, and from there I had access to almost all of the University computers in the country as well as a lot of the Government computers. You could actually print out pages and pages of all the computers on the Internet at the time using a simple seek command.
For those of you who don’t know… Before MySpace and Facebook, NewsGroups were used to communicate to people who had similar interests. They were sort of small blog sites.
On a side note:
I was a member of a number of work related NewsGroups. One NewsGroup that I was active in was for Precipitators. There were about 50 people from all over the world in this group and we all were obsessed with working on precipitators. As it turned out, two of us lived in Stillwater Oklahoma. The other guy worked for a company called Nomadics that made bomb sniffing detectors called Fido. They had a tiny precipitator that collected the particles. We were on the opposite sides of the spectrum. We had a 70 foot tall, 200 foot wide and 100 foot long precipitator, where his precipitator was tiny. I thought a few times about applying for a job with them since they were only 4 miles from my house, but, since I wasn’t an engineer I didn’t think I had a chance of being hired. Besides, what is better than working at a Power plant?
End of Side Note.
FTP, the last item on the list stands for File Transport Protocol. This is how you downloaded or uploaded files after you have used Telnet to connect to a site.
I’m sorry I’m boring you with all this, but I’m explaining them for a reason. You see… I’m getting to the part where I made my “misstep”. Maybe it was meant to happen this way, because in the end, everything worked out better than it probably would have if I had just been a little more patient…. Here’s what I did…
After checking each of the boxes, next to WWW, Telnet, NewsGroup, e-mail and FTP, I went to the foremen’s office to have Alan Kramer sign the form so that I could mail it off to Corporate Headquarters. When I arrived, Alan was gone. He had left early that day for some reason, so I walked into Jasper Christensen’s office, our Supervisor of Maintenance and asked him to sign it. Big mistake.
I wrote a post recently about Jasper’s lack of computer knowledge and how I had goaded him for making a dumb computer decision, (see the post “Power Plant Trouble With Angels“). When I handed him the form, he glanced at it, and I could see the blank look on his face indicating that he didn’t understand the different terms such as Telnet, FTP and e-mail or WWW. He might have thought he knew what NewsGroups were, but most likely that would have been incorrect.
So, instead of signing the paper, he said, he would review it and get back to me. Well…. that was unexpected. The company was encouraging us to use the Internet, so I figured it was pretty much a slam dunk. From past experience I knew that Jasper was reluctant to approve anything that he didn’t fully understand, which makes some things difficult.
During the “We’ve Got the Power” Program (See the Post: “Power Plant ‘We’ve Got the Power’ Program“) I tried to elicit an approval from Jasper about a simple example of Thermodynamics that I thought was cut and dry, especially since Jasper was the Engineering Supervisor at the time. Even though I had a sound argument about how heat dissipates in the Air Preheater, he would never say that he would agree. Only that he understood what I was saying. So, when Jasper said that he would “get back to me on this” I knew what that meant. He was going to try to find out what these different things were.
Two weeks later, Alan Kramer told me that Jasper had decided not to approve my request for Internet access. Somewhat peeved, I went into Jasper’s office and asked him why he wouldn’t approve my request. He responded with, “Give me reasons in writing why you need each of these items on this form.” — Oh. I figured that out right away. He had tried to find out what these things meant, but (without the Internet), it was hard to find the answers. So, he was asking me to tell him what these were.
So, I went back to the Electric Shop office and I wrote a full page paper outlining what each item was (WWW, Telnet, NewsGroups, FTP and e-mail). I also explained why I was requesting access to each of these. For Telnet and FTP, one of the reasons I used was that I would Telnet into the OSHA computer and download MSDS’s (Material Safety Data Sheets) for chemicals we had at our plant. The operators had asked me a number of times if I could give them a copy of an MSDS for chemicals. It is a requirement to keep an MSDS for every chemical on the plant site, and I could easily download them from the OSHA.gov computer.
When I gave my explanation to Jasper, he said he would study it and get back to me later. Two weeks later, Jasper called me to his office and said that during a staff meeting they had discussed my request for Internet access and they had decided that I didn’t need access to the Internet to do my job. They had also decided that the only thing on the list that anyone at the plant needed was e-mail and only Jim Arnold (The Supervisor of Operations) and Summer Goebel (The head engineer) needed e-mail. No one else at the plant needed anything else. — You can see why I used phrases like “Another Brilliant Idea” when describing some of Jasper’s Management decisions. Only two people at the plant needed e-mail… . Sounds funny today, huh?
A few months later, in March 1996, I was sent to Oklahoma City to learn how to install the SAP client on desktop computers. The way I was chosen was that someone downtown called each of the Power Plants and other offices and asked the receptionist who the computer geek was at the plant. Denise Anson, our receptionist gave them my name. We were supposed to change our entire financial, inventory, maintenance, and billing system over to SAP at the end of the year from our mainframe computer system. SAP is called an ERP system or Enterprise Resource Planning system. It combines almost all the computer activities in a company into one package where everything is accessible in one application.
I will go into the implementation of SAP in more detail in later posts, but for now, I was just learning about installing the client application on the computers at our plant. There were a number of steps to the installation, and a lot of times it would fail. So, they gave us some troubleshooting tips and asked us to share any tips we came up with while we were doing this task.
When I returned to the plant, I went about installing SAP on each of the computers. I think we had 22 computers all together. Anyway, during this time, I was thinking that after 3 months, I would resubmit my request for the Internet, since after all, now everyone had e-mail since we had installed a computer network at the plant with Novell’s Netware. It was obvious that we were progressing into the computer age with or without the plant staff.
So, I filled out another request form, and even before asking I wrote up another page of reasons why I could use each of the items on the form. One new reason was that the Thomas Register was now online. This was a large set of books that had information about every supplier and vendor in the United States (and beyond). It was used to find phone number, addresses and other fun stuff about vendors. A set of books could cost $5,000.00 each and you had to buy them every couple of years to keep them current.
I didn’t even need to waste my time writing out my reasons. When I gave the form to Alan, he signed it immediately and handed it back to me. I thanked him and mailed it off. A couple of weeks later I received a note through intra-company mail that I was signed up for an Internet class in Oklahoma City. Since I had been in trouble before with going to classes in Oklahoma City, I made sure I didn’t charge any driving time expenses to go to the class.
The lady who was teaching the class knew who I was, because she had worked with me before on computer issues at the plant. It was a simple course on computer ettiquette, how the Internet worked and things we should and should not do on the Internet. At the end of the course, we were told that someone would come by our desk and install the Internet on our computers. — Well, our plant was 75 miles away and I knew that it was rare to have someone from the Computer Department come out to our plant, so I didn’t expect anything soon.
It was now the summer of 1996. I was driving down to the river pumps to clean motor filters with Charles Foster when Denise Anson called me on my radio and said that a guy from the SAP team was calling me. I asked her to patch the call to my Walkie Talkie, and she did.
It was the guy from Corporate Headquarters leading the effort to install all the client applications on the computers. He said they were going to have another meeting because everyone was having so much trouble with the installation. I told him that I had already successfully installed the client on all of the computers at the plant except for one, and that was because it was an old junky one that needed to be re-imaged.
The guy was surprised that we were already finished and said that our site was the first site in the company to complete the installation. Then he said, “If there is ANYTHING I can do for you, just let me know!” I glanced over at Charles who was driving the truck and could hear our conversation over the radio, and smiled.
I said, “There’s one thing. You see. Our plant is out here in the middle of no where. I have completed the Internet training course, but we are so far away that no one ever comes around that would install the Internet on my computer, so if you could send me the files, I’ll install it myself.” He replied, “Sure Thing Buddy! I’ll share a folder where you can go pick up the files.”
After installing the files, I realized that it was just an Internet Explorer browser. We were using Windows 3.2 at this time. After opening the browser and playing around with it for a while, I realized that there wasn’t any control around my username. That is, anyone could come into our office and log on our computer and use the browser. Then we found out that you didn’t even have to log on first. The Internet was wide open. There were no real controls around the use of the Internet. The only control was just the lack of a browser on the computer!
So, here is what I did next. I went to every computer at the plant (except the staff’s computers) and installed the Internet Explorer browser on them. At each computer, I gave the Power Plant Men the same course I had taken downtown. I told them what they should do and what they shouldn’t. I showed them how the browser worked, and how to setup shortcuts, and other things. Before long every Power Plant Man and Woman at the plant was cruising the Internet except the staff…. After all… they had decided that all they needed was e-mail and only for Summer Goebel and Jim Arnold.
A few weeks after I had taught all the Power Plant Men at the plant how to use the Internet, Jasper Christensen’s voice came over the radio…. “Kevin! I want to see you in my office right away!”. Okay. The gig was up. I recognized that tone of voice from Jasper. The showdown was about to begin. I was about to be chewed out for making the Internet available to everyone. Maybe even fired. I didn’t know how upset he was going to be when he found out.
As I walked from the Electric Shop to the far corner of the Maintenance Shop to Jasper’s office, I articulated in my mind what I would say. I had decided that the best defense was to explain that all I did was install the Internet browser on the computers. I didn’t have access to actually grant anyone access to the Internet. If everyone has access to the Internet, it isn’t because I gave them access. — This was true.
I took a deep breath just before entering Jasper’s office. I went in his office with the most straight face I could muster. “Here it comes,” I thought…. the six month battle for the Internet is coming to a head. Jasper said, “I want to ask you a question about the Internet.” Trying not to choke on my words and looking as if I was interested by cocking my head a little, I replied, “Yeah? What is it?” I was conscious of my thumb hanging in my right front pocket.
Then Jasper picked up a magazine sitting on his desk and said, “There is this article in this engineering magazine, and it has this website that you can visit. How would I go to that site?” — Oh my Gosh!!!! I wanted to laugh out loud with joy! I wasn’t about to be chewed out at all. He just wanted the computer geek to show him how to use the Internet browser that had been recently installed on his computer!
Jasper obviously hadn’t taken the Internet course, otherwise he would know where the address bar is at the top…… So, I said, “Let me show you.” I walked over to his computer and walked him through each step of the process. When we were done, he turned to look at me and smiled. He said, “Thank you.” I said, “Anytime. Just let me know if you have any other questions.” I turned and walked out of the office.
As I walked back to the Electric Shop Office, I met Charles Foster who wanted to know how it went, as he had heard Jasper call me on the radio. I told him that the battle for the Internet was now over. Jasper has now become a “user”. Life was good.