Tag Archives: Terry Blevins

Games Power Plant Men Play

When I first became an electrician at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, my foreman Charles Foster and I would sit each day at lunch and talk about movies we had seen.  We would go into detail explaining each scene to each other so that when I actually watched a movie that Charles had described, I felt as if I had seen it already.  In the years that followed, after we had described to each other just about every movie we could remember, we moved on to playing games.

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

Sure, there were those jokes we would play now and then, but I’m not talking about those.  This was something different.  One of the games that we played was Chess.

I brought a computerized chessboard to work one day that had pieces on a board that you pressed down when you wanted to move a piece, then you moved it and pressed down on the square where you placed the piece in order for the board to keep track where all the pieces were on the board.

The actual Computerized Chessboard we used

The actual Computerized Chessboard we used

This chessboard had 8 levels of difficulty when you played against the computer. Charles, Terry Blevins, Scott Hubbard and I were not really the competitive type. We were more of the team player types. So, when we played, we played against the computer as a team.

We would set the level of difficulty to the highest level, then as a team, we would spend a long time analyzing our moves. Sometimes we would discuss making our next move over several days. Actually, at the highest level, the computer would some times take up to 7 hours to decide what move to make. — This was when computers were still relatively slow.

We figured out that at level 8, the chessboard would think of all the possibilities for the next 8 moves. Once we realized that, then we knew that we had to think 9 moves ahead in order to beat it. So, you could see how together we would try several strategies that would put us ahead after we had basically forced the computer to make 9 moves… It wasn’t easy, but by realizing what we were dealing with, we were able to beat the chess computer on the highest level.

The game where we beat the computer on the highest level took us over 3 months to play and 72 turns.  The four of us had teamed up against the computer in order to beat it. I remember that I would wake up in the morning dreaming about that game of chess when we were playing it and I would be anxious to go into the electric shop to try out a move that had popped in my mind when I was in the shower.

Once we were able to beat the chess board we went on to other things.

Diana Brien (my first and only “Bucket Buddy”) and I would buy Crossword puzzle magazines and when we were in a spot where we were waiting for an operator to arrive, or for a pump to finish pumping, etc.

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

We would pull out the crossword puzzle magazine and start working on them.  If we weren’t doing crossword puzzles, we were doing Word Searches, or Cryptograms… more on them in a moment.

Crossword Puzzle Book - mainstay in Power Plant Tool Buckets

Crossword Puzzle Book – mainstay in Power Plant Tool Buckets

This kept our mine sharp, and just as Fat Albert and Cosby Kids used to say, “If you’re not careful, you might learn something before you’re through.”

I had bought some Crossword puzzles that had other types of puzzles in them.  Some were pretty straightforward like Cryptograms.  That is where you have a phrase where each letter of the alphabet has been changed to another letter of the alphabet, and you have to figure out what it says.  So, for instance, an “A” may have been changed to a “D” and a “B” to a “Z” etc.  So, you end up with a sentence or two that looks like gibberish, but it actually means something once you solve the puzzle.

An example of a cryptogram magazine

An example of a cryptogram magazine

The cryptogram magazine I copied for the picture isn’t complete because of the green rectangle is blocking out part of it, but I can see that it says:  Everyone wants to “understand” art.  Why not try to understand the song of a bird?  (Pablo Picasso).

We were becoming expert cryptogram puzzle solvers, when one day we ran into a short cryptogram that didn’t have many words.  We tried solving this cryptogram for almost a week.  Scott Hubbard was getting frustrated with me, because I would never give up and look at the answer in the back of the book.  So, after he became so fed up with me, he finally looked in the back of the book and wrote the answer in the puzzle.  The answer was this:  “Red breasted Robin, Harbinger of Spring”

Now… how is someone supposed to figure out a puzzle like that?  I had figured on the “ing” in Spring and Harbinger but since Harbinger was barely in my vocabulary to begin with, I was never going to solve this one… I’ll have to admit.

Regardless, I was upset with Scott for looking at the answer in the back of the magazine, so I ripped out all the answers from the magazine and threw them in the dumpster so we would never be able to look at them again….. Still…. I would probably be trying to figure out “Red breasted Robin, Harbinger of Spring” to this day if Scott Hubbard hadn’t looked in the back of the book.  I just felt like I wasn’t getting my money’s worth if we looked at the answers…. Yeah.  all $3.95 worth (pretty cheap entertainment).

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

So, I have a side story to go along with working Cryptograms….

In my later life I changed jobs and went to work at Dell in Texas.  (It just so happened that the Puzzle Books we would buy were usually “Dell” puzzle books…. totally unrelated to the Dell Computer company where I worked).  That’s not really the important part of the side story, but I thought I would throw that in for good measure.

Every so often, our department would have an offsite where some team building events were held in order to… well… build teams.

One particular team building event was held in a park in Round Rock Texas where we were assigned to teams and each team was assigned to their own picnic table.  When the game began we were each given a poster board with some phrase on it… and guess what?  It was a cryptogram!

I was the only person on my team that knew how cryptograms worked, though most had seen them in the newspaper below the crossword puzzle, no one on our team had ever tried solving them.  As a team, we were supposed to solve the puzzle.  The quote was fairly long, which made it easy for someone who had been obsessed with cryptograms for years…. — Myself.

I took one look at the puzzle and said…. “That word right there is “that” and I wrote in the word “that”.  Then I began filling in all the letters that had “T”, “H” and “A”.  I quickly found a couple of “The”s which gave me the “E”, then I had one three letter word that began with an “A” and ended with an “E” that could only be the word “Are”.  Which gave me the letter “R”.  I could see that there were a couple of places that ended in “ing”, so I quickly filled those in, and as quickly as we could write all the letters into the puzzle we were done.

My director, Diane Keating, happened to be on my team.  When I first pointed to the word “That” and said, “That is the word ‘that'”, she said, “Wait, how can you tell?”  I said, “Trust me.  I know Cryptograms.”  When we had finished the puzzle within about a minute and a half, we called the person over to check it and she was amazed that we had solved the puzzle so quickly.

That is the end of the side story, except to say that I give credit to the games that Power Plant Men Play for teaching me the fine art of solving Cryptograms.  Our team came in first place…. needless to say after solving three cryptograms in a row.

There were other more complicated but equally fun types of anagram/cryptogram combination puzzles that I worked when we had worked all the cryptogram puzzles in the Dell Variety Magazines.  Eventually Charles Foster and I were looking for something different.  That was when Charles ordered a subscription to a magazine called “GAMES”.

Games Magazines used  by Power Plant Men

Games Magazines used by Power Plant Men

This was a monthly magazine that was full of all sorts of new games.  Today, I understand that this magazine is more about the Video Games that are out than puzzle sort of games.  Each month we would scour the pages of the Game magazine looking for puzzles to conquer.  We worked on those for about a year.

At one point in my days as an electrician, I wrote a Battleship game for my Sharp Calculator that was a two player game.  We each had a battleship in a 100 x 100 grid, which you could move around.  It was sort of like the Battleship game where on the commercial they would say, “You Sunk My Battleship!”  Only, our ships could move and we only had one.

Not the battleship game played by Power Plant Men

Not the battleship game played by Power Plant Men

Each turn when you would plug in the coordinates to shoot at the other person’s ship, it would only tell you how much you missed by.  Then you could plot it on a graph paper and try to figure out where the other person’s ship was.  Even though it could move.  If you were close, then it would damage the other ship, and it would slow down so it couldn’t move as fast.

A Sharp Calculator like I used to program the Battleship game

A Sharp Calculator like I used to program the Battleship game

When the next person took their turn, they could see if their ship had been damaged or sunk, or even had become dead in the water….

The person was randomly assigned a home base at the beginning of the game and they could go there to repair their ship and be given more ammo in case they were running low.  If they did this more than twice, then the other guy would know because the circles they would draw on their graph paper would keep intersecting at that one point.

Anyway…. that was the calculator game I made that I played with Terry Blevins for a while.

Terry Blevins

Terry Blevins

While other Power Plant Men were playing “Rope the Bull” with an Iron rendition of a bull welders had created, some of us in the electric shop were playing different kinds of games.  Puzzles.

I think the reason that electricians like puzzles so much is because a lot of what they do from day-to-day is solve puzzles.  When something isn’t functioning and the electrician has to figure out why, they usually have to follow through a bunch of steps in order to figure out what exactly went wrong.  Solving Circuit problems are a lot like the puzzles we were playing.

Sometimes they are like “Word Searches” where you are looking for needles in the haystacks.  Sometimes they are like Cryptograms where a circuit has been wired incorrectly and you have to figure out which wire is supposed to go where.  Sometimes you get so frustrated that you just wish you could look in the back of the book at the answer page.  In real life, you don’t always have an answer page exactly.

Some of us may think that you can find all you need to know in the Bible, but there are different kinds of “Bibles” for different kinds of jobs.  In the Electric Shop we had the National Electric Code.  We had the Master Blueprints that showed us how things were supposed to be wired up.  Some times we just had to wing it and try putting words in crossword puzzle that we knew might not be the right ones, but they were the best we had at the time.

I’m just glad that I spent that time working puzzles with my friends at the Power Plant.  If solving puzzles together helps build a team, then we had the best darn team around!

Because someone asked me about the game we played against the computer… Here is the play by play (for those who know how to read Chess Playing Geek Language):

Move White Black Move White Black Move White Black
1 P-K4 P-K4 25 P-KN4 K-B1 49 R-R8 K-B5
2 N-KB3 N-QB3 26 P-N5 P-B6 50 P-B5 N-K4
3 P-Q4 PxP 27 QNPxP P-N5 51 R-B8 R-B3ch
4 NxP B-B4 28 P-B4 R-R3 52 K-N7 RxR
5 B-K3 NxN 29 K-N2 P-N6 53 KxR N-Q3
6 BxN BxB 30 BPxP R-N1 54 P-B6 N-N5
7 QxB Q-B3 31 PxP P-B3 55 P-B7 N-Q4
8 P-K5 Q-KN3 32 R-KN1 PxP 56 R-R7 N-N3ch
9 N-R3 N-K2 33 PxP R-R4 57 K-N7 K-K4
10 P-KN3 P-QB4 34 R-B2ch K-K2 58 KxP N-B1
11 Q-Q3 K-KN1csl 35 R-N7ch K-K3 59 K-N8 N-Q3
12 QxQ NxQ 36 N-B2 R-B4 60 R-Q7 K-K2
13 P-KB4 P-N3 37 K-B3 P-Q3 61 R-Q6 KxR
14 B-N2 R-N1 38 K-Q4 RxKP 62 P-B8 K-K4
15 K-QB1csl B-N2 39 N-N5ch RxN 63 P-R4 K-K5
16 KR-N1 KR-Q1 40 RxR NxP 64 P-R5 K-K4
17 N-B4 BxB 41 R-R2 K-B3 65 P-R6 K-B3
18 RxB P-N4 42 N5-R5 N-B4ch 66 P-R7 K-K4
19 N-Q6 P-B5 43 K-Q5 N-K6ch 67 P-R8 K-Q5
20 P-KR4 R-N3 44 KxP R-KB3 68 B8-B4ch K-K4
21 P-R5 N-K2 45 K-B7 N-N5 69 R8-Q5ch K-B3
22 P-R6 PxP 46 R2-R4 K-N3 70 B4-B6ch K-K2
23 R-R2 K-N2 47 RxP R-KB3 71 Q5-Q7ch K-B1
24 Q4-R1 N-N1 48 R-K7 K-N4 72 B6-B8 MATE

Turning the Tables on a Power Plant Telephone Interloper

Originally posted June 13, 2014:

When discussing Telephones at the Coal-Fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, I have to remember that some of my readers have a completely different perspective of telephones than me. My children grew up probably never seeing a real rotary dial phone except in movies or old TV shows. It might be a little hard for them to imagine a telephone being a possible murder weapon. Telephones have come a long way since I grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s.

A Rotary Dial Telephone

A Rotary Dial Telephone

When you turned the dial on a Rotary phone you put your finger int he hole on the number you want to dial and then you swing it around until your finger bumps up against the metal bracket. When you pull you finger out of the hole, the phone sends a rapid succession of pulses to the telephone company telling them what number you just dialed. It was very… well…. tedious and manual…. and not even electronic. It was electric signals and switches. “Mechanical” is the word I think I’m trying to say.

Even the way you received a dial tone was by sending something called a “Ring-to-ground” signal to the telephone company. That would happen when you would lift the receiver off the hook. There are only two wires used to communicate in an old phone and only one of those had voltage on it. when you ground that wire (called the “Ring”) momentarily, the phone company would then send a dial tone to your phone.

You could actually do this on a dead phone line at times when the phone company had shut off your service. On an old pay phone, when the proper coin was inserted in the phone, the coin itself was used to ground the ring wire, thus telling the telephone company to send the dial tone, allowing you to use the phone. In 1983 there was a movie called “Wargames”.

Wargames Starring Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy

Wargames Starring Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy

I had learned about how these telephones worked from Bill Rivers just before going to watch this movie. During the movie Matthew Broderick’s character needed to make a phone call at a pay phone but didn’t have a coin. By taking the mouthpiece off of the transmitter, and using a metal pop top he found on the ground, he was able to ground the “ring” wire to the pay phone, and he received a dial tone. There was a good ol’ boy sitting behind me in the movie theater that said, “You can’t do that!” — Being the newly educated smart (-alec) guy I was, I turned around and said, “Yeah. You really can.”

Anyway. This isn’t a story so much about how old phones work. I just wanted to bring the younger readers back-to-date on phones since now they don’t really call them telephones anymore. It is more like, “Smart Phone” and “Cell Phone”, “Mobile Phone” or just “Phone”. The phone in the house isn’t even referred to as a telephone. We now call them “Home Phone” to distinguish them from the actual phones that we use.

Anyway, when I joined the electric shop in 1983, I learned about the phone system. We didn’t use the older Rotary Dial phones at the plant. We were one step up. We had “Touch Tone” Phones.

A Power Plant Touch Tone Phone

A Power Plant Touch Tone Phone

As I have mentioned in previous posts, we had our own telephone computer at the Power Plant. It was called a ROLM phone system. See the post “A Slap In the Face at a Gas-fired Power Plant“.

A ROLM Phone Computer

A ROLM Phone Computer – I like showing this picture of the Phone computer

To give you an idea of the technology used by this phone system, you connected to it using a “teletype” terminal that you connected to a telephone by clipping the receiver in a cradle. Then you dialed the phone computer. When you connected, it was at 300 Baud. Think of 300 bytes per second, only using audio…. like a fax machine. — It was like connecting using a modem. 300 baud meant that when it typed out the results on the paper that scrolled out the top, you could watch it as it slowly printed out each line. The maximum speed of the terminal was 300 baud.

 

This is the TI Silent 700 Terminal.  We used this exact model of Teletype terminal at the Power Plant

This is the TI Silent 700 Terminal. We used this exact model of Teletype terminal at the Power Plant

In this picture you can see the cradle in the back where the phone receiver would fit in those two rubber cups.

After many years of going to the lab to connect to the telephone computer to make changes and to monitor the telephone traffic, in 1992 I decided to bring my 8088 computer to work and set it on the desk in the electric shop. We didn’t have our own computer yet. At that time the only people that had computers were office workers and the Shift Supervisor. We had started a computer club and having a computer in the shop was a big help. I had just replaced this computer at home with a 486.

This is a Leading Edge computer.  My father had this one.  An earlier version than the 8088 that I was using.

This is a Leading Edge computer. My father had this one. An earlier version than the 8088 that I was using.

I had a modem on my computer, so I tried connecting to the telephone computer, and it worked! So, sometimes during lunch when Charles Foster and I were sitting there talking about movies we had seen eating vegetables from his garden, I would connect to the ROLM computer and just watch the call log. I could see whenever someone was dialing in and out of the plant.

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

We had a special call in number into the plant that allowed you to make “trunk” calls. This is another term you don’t hear much anymore. You see….. for the younger readers (again)…. long distant calls used to cost a lot of money. You would be charged by how many minutes you were on the call. During the day, it could be as high as $3.00 a minute to call across the country. Amazing huh? Because today, most of you with cell phones and even your land lines (which are rarely real land lines anymore) long distant phone calls are now free with your phone plan.

Yeah, if you wanted to call someone in the next town over, you would have to pay a fee for every minute you were on the call…. That was when AT&T had a monopoly on the phone lines in the United States. Sure, you only payed $7.00 each month for your phone, but you could only call people in your immediate area or you would be charged extra.

A Trunk line gave you access to a much wider area. The Electric company had a trunk line that gave them access to most of Oklahoma. You could dial into a local number that would connect you to the company phone system. Then after entering the correct password number, you could dial access numbers that would take you to another office location in the electric company. Once on that phone system, you could dial to get an outside line, and then dial a local number in that area.

Our plant had three access numbers that allowed you to dial out locally to Stillwater, Ponca City and Pawnee. This was useful when a foreman needed to call people out to work. They could dial into the plant, then back out to one of these other towns and then dial the local phone number of the crew member they were trying to reach without incurring a personal charge on their phone line.

So, here I was in 1992 during lunch watching the phone traffic in and out of the plant (not exactly NSA style, but sort of), when I saw something unexpected. A long string of numbers showed up. Someone had dialed in on the Stillwater trunk, then dialed out on the Oklahoma City trunk, from there they placed a long distance call to phone number in the same area code. The prefix on the phone number was familiar to me. It was a Ponca City phone number. I had lived in Ponca City for three years when I had been married, from 1986 to 1989. I knew a Ponca City phone number when I saw one.

I thought this was odd, because it wouldn’t be normal for someone to dial from Stillwater through out plant to Oklahoma City only to call a Ponca City phone number when they could have dialed the local Ponca City access code. Then they wouldn’t have had to make a long distance call which bypassed our trunk call system causing the electric company to be billed for the long distance telephone call.

At the time I was a CompuServe user. This was when the World Wide Web was in it’s infancy. I was still using a DOS computer. When I connected to the Internet, it was either by using my dad’s Internet account from Oklahoma State University where I would use Telnet to access a bunch of mainframe computers all over the country, or I would use the DOS-based version of CompuServe. CompuServe was the king of Internet access before America Online came around and seemingly overnight made CompuServe obsolete.

A screenshot of the CompuServe Program I was using.

A screenshot of the CompuServe Program I was using.

In 1992, CompuServe had a service where you could look up phone numbers and find out whose number it was. Imagine that! Yeah. That was one of the neatest features on CompuServe! That and getting stock quotes. — Like I said…. There was no “www.whitepages.com” online. The only catch to using the reverse phone number feature, was that it was like making a long distance call. It cost money. You were charged by the minute for using the CompuServe reverse telephone number service, with the least amount being a dollar.

So, I bit the bullet and accessed the Phone Number lookup section of CompuServe. I quickly typed in the number. When the name and address of the user popped up, I quickly hit “Print Screen”, and then exited the service. My fee came to $1.00, but at least I knew what number had been dialed in Ponca City.

Charles, Scott Hubbard and I were a little excited by the time Terry Blevins walked into the electric shop office after lunch was over, I told him what I had seen.

Terry Blevins

Terry Blevins

When I told Terry the name of the person that had received the long distance call, he recognized the name right away. When I gave him the address, he was sure he knew who it was. The phone number belonged to the Music Director at the Ponca City High School. His son was attending college in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Well, that sort of cinched it. We had a pretty good idea who had made the call. It was a college student calling home, who had been given the phone number most likely by a fellow student who knew the code to call home in Oklahoma City. So, the only local access code this guy knew was how to dial through our plant to Oklahoma City and back out where he was free to make a long distance call home.

Armed with this knowledge, I headed up to the front office. I went straight to the Plant Manager, Ron Kilman’s office. I told Ron what I had found. I explained in detail how the person had dialed from Stillwater into our plant and then to Oklahoma City and out and then placed a long distance call to Ponca City leaving us with the phone bill. Since it was the middle of the day, the cost of a long distance call was not cheap.

I told Ron that I had used CompuServe to lookup the phone number and found that Terry had said that it belonged to the Music Director at the Ponca City High School and that he had a son in college in Stillwater. I was all ready to pounce on this guy. This was a fraudulent use of the telephone service and there were some pretty strict laws then about stealing long distance from someone else.

Ron, being the more level-headed of the two of us thought about it for a minute and said, “What would be the best way to stop this from happening?” — Oh. Well. I was so intent on catching the culprit, I hadn’t thought about that angle…. “Well….” I said, “We could change the pass code used to log into our phone system. We would just have to tell our supervisors what the new number is.”

Ron asked me what it would take to do that. I told him I could do it in two minutes. We quickly settled on a new 4 digit pass code and I left his office and returned to the electric shop and made the change essentially turning the tables on the Telephone Interloper. I suppose the college student in Stillwater was lucky that our plant manager at the time was the type to forgive and forget.

Three years later the entire electric company phone system was replaced by a new AT&T computer which was managed by AT&T. As you can tell… Technology just keeps moving forward making seemingly really neat new inventions quickly obsolete.

Comments from the original post:

    1. Dave Tarver June 14, 2014

      I still stand in awe at all the talent we had at the plant- never has one place had so many guys of remarkable skill and overall just good people and kind hearted.

        1. Plant Electrician June 14, 2014

          I can’t agree with you more! We had the cream of the crop for sure.

  1. Ron Kilman June 14, 2014

    Your memory still amazes me. I don’t remember that at all.
    I’ll bet most young people today don’t know why we say to “dial” a phone number!

    1. Plant Electrician June 14, 2014

      It was just a moment in your busy day. It was the highlight of my week.

Doing Dew Point Tests and Lowering Expectations

Originally posted May 9, 2014:

There were times when I was working at the Coal-Fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma when I wondered if there was anything that we couldn’t do. Surrounded by True Power Plant Men I found that when we were facing a seemingly impossible task, a Power Plant Man would come up with an extremely creative solution to the problem. One such example was during the “We’ve Got The Power” program. I talked about this program in an early post called “Power Plant We’ve Got the Power Program” so I won’t go into detail here about the program itself. I will just say that we broke out into teams to find creative ways to operate more efficiently, and to cut costs.

I was a team leader of our team, and looking back I must have had two criteria in mind when I picked the team members that would be on my team. The first would have been that they were True Power Plant Men (and woman) with a higher than average intelligence. The second criteria would have been that they were friends of mine. I say this, because everyone on my team fit the bill.

During out team meetings, Terry Blevins would often say some bombastic statement that the average person may be inclined to dismiss immediately as being absurd. I say that because I remember more than once thinking that what Terry had just said wouldn’t amount to much. As it turned out, our biggest money saving ideas were those truly bombastic statements that Terry was making. One such idea had to do with the heaters on the precipitators that kept the hoppers and the insulators on the roof too hot to collect moisture.

The Precipitator is a very large box that takes the ash out of the exhaust before it goes out of the smoke stack (how many times have I made that statement in the last two years?). Anyway, the exhaust from the boiler after the coal has been turned to ash in the fireball in the boiler contains a large amount of moisture. The last thing you want to happen is for the temperature of the flue gas to fall below the dew point. When that happens, moisture collects on the structure in a form of… well… of Acid Rain. Basically eating away the precipitator and the duct work from the inside.

Somewhere along the line, it had been determined that the dewpoint of the flue gas was not higher than 250 degrees. So, as long as the structure was at least 250 degrees, no moisture would be collected. Four heaters were mounted on each of the 84 hoppers (on each of the two precipitators) and heaters were mounted on the roof around each of the insulators that held up the wire racks on both ends.

When Terry walked into the office to attend one of our first “We’ve Got The Power” team meetings, he said, I think we could save a lot of money if we did something about the heaters on the precipitator. — He may remember being greeted with blank stares (at least from me). Um. Ok. Heaters on the precipitator. I knew they were everywhere, but I never gave them much thought.

I think Terry could tell right away that I hadn’t taken his idea seriously. I don’t know. Maybe he was bothered by the sound of my eyeballs rolling around in circles as if someone has conked me on the head. So, he explained his idea further. He pointed out that the roof heaters on just one of the precipitators used about 211 kilowatt-hours and the hopper heaters used about 345 kilowatt-hours. Together it more than half a Megawatt of power. — This definitely caught our attention. That meant that between both of the Precipitators (since we had two boilers at our plant), we could possibly save over a Megawatt of electricity every hour we could shut down the heaters.

The plant has a similar electrostatic precipitator, only it is twice as long

The plant has a similar electrostatic precipitator, only ours is twice as long

After discussing all the aspects of the idea, we decided that in order for the idea to have any merit, we had to know if the dew point really was around 250 degrees, or was it possibly a lot lower. 250 degrees seemed high to begin with since the boiling point of water is 212 degrees. If lower, then we could have a workable idea. Originally, I wanted to tackle the task of finding the dew point. So, I went about it in a Science Experiment sort of way.

I figured that if we were able to lower the temperature of the flue gas to a known temperature below the dewpoint, and by knowing the volume of the gas, and the amount of liquid we could condense out of it, we could determine (possibly) the dew point. So, I brought my Graham Condenser to work, and Scott Hubbard and I went up to the 250 foot landing on the smoke stack with the intent of sucking a known amount of exhaust from the smoke stack while the unit was at full load.

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

We would run it through the condenser while running cool water through it to lower the temperature.

The Exact Graham Condenser used in our experiment Spring 1990

The Exact Graham Condenser used in our experiment Spring 1990 (and that’s my hairy hand in this selfie)

I could measure the output of the vacuum pump by filling up an inverted Erlemeyer flask with water and then letting the flue gas displace the water. — I always loved doing experiments like this in the 9th grade science glass with Mr. Godfrey our Physical Science Teacher (Donna Westhoff, who may sometimes read this blog was in my class and sat right behind me).

An Erlenmeyer Flask (from Google Images, not from my Chemistry Lab)

An Erlenmeyer Flask (from Google Images, not from my Chemistry Lab)

Ok. Side Story, since I mentioned Donna Westhoff from the 9th grade 1974-75 school year.

I knew that Donna’s father was a fire fighter, because one day during a special outing when we were with a group of bicycling Junior High School students and a teacher, we stopped at Donna Westhoff’s house to get a drink of water. On the walls in her house were different types of fire fighting treasures. Donna explained that her father was a fire fighter… That was the Spring of 1975 in Columbia, Missouri

Fast forward 16 years later (1991) at the Power Plant in the middle of nowhere in North Central Oklahoma. Just about a year after the story I’m telling now…. I left the logic room and went to catch the elevator to the Control room. When the doors opened, Tony Mena was in there with a bunch of college age students giving them a tour of the plant. I entered the elevator and turned around to face the door as it closed.

As I was standing there, I suddenly became aware that the person standing next to me was staring right at me. So, I turned to see who it was. Standing next to me was someone that looked very familiar wearing a big grin as if she knew who I was. I recognized her, and while my mind was going through filing cabinets of memories trying to index this particular person, I asked her, “Don’t I know you?” She shook her head and said, “I’m Donna Westhoff!”

A High School picture of Donna Westhoff  who is on the Lower Left

A High School picture of Donna Westhoff who is on the Lower Left

As the elevator door opened and we stepped out, Donna and I began talking about what we were both doing there. She was surprised to find that I had become an electrician at a power plant instead of some kind of scientist in a lab somewhere. Donna was going to school in Stillwater where one of the best Fire Fighting Schools in the country is found. Following in her father’s footsteps, I thought. After a while I could tell that Tony was getting a little perturbed that the wisdom he was imparting about the fire protection system on the Turbine Generator wasn’t being absorbed by Donna, so I cut our conversation short. It turned out that a very good friend of hers lived just two houses from where we lived, and her friend’s mother was my landlord. Peggy Pickens.

Ok. End of the side story, and another example of how I occasionally run into friends from my childhood in the most unexpected places (see the post: “Relay Tests and Radio Quizzes with Ben Davis“).

So. Scott Hubbard and I tried using the Graham Condenser and the Erlenmeyer Flask, but we quickly found out that this wasn’t big enough, to capture a large enough quantity. So, we increased the size of the condenser by winding a garden hose around inside of a water bucket and filling it with ice. Then we captured all the water that condensed in the hose.

A 5 gallon water bucket we used as our condenser with a garden hose and ice

A 5 gallon water bucket we used as our condenser with a garden hose and ice

When it finally came down to it. Even though it was fun trying to do this experiment halfway up the 500 foot smoke stack, I never was able to figure out how to calculate the dew point given the data I had collected.

That’s when we decided to look at dew point sensors in the parts catalogs. If we could stick a probe down into the precipitator and measure the dew point directly in the flue gas, that would be best. After looking at a few in the catalog, Terry Blevins said he thought he could make one. So, he went to work.

Terry Blevins

Terry Blevins

The next day he came in with an inch and a half conduit with hoses hanging out the back and a homemade sensor on the other end. I won’t go into detail how the sensor was built because some day Terry may want to patent this thing because, as it turned out, it was so sensitive that it could detect my breathe from about a foot away. If I breathed out of my mouth toward the sensor, it would detect the moisture in my breath. This was perfect!

We went to work on the roof of the precipitator sticking the probe down into different sections of the precipitator. It not only measured the moisture, it also had thermocouples on it that we used to accurately measure the temperature of the sensor as we varied the temperature by blowing cold air through the conduit using the same ice bucket and hose from before.

I could go into a lot of detail about how we performed our experiments, but it would only excite me and bore you. So, let me just say that we came up with two very important results. First of all, at full load when the humidity outside was at 100% the dew point was around 150 degrees! A full 100 degrees below what the plant had originally assumed. This was very important, because a lot of energy was spent trying to keep the flue gas above 250 degrees, and just by lowering it down to 210 degrees, still a safe amount above the dew point, that extra energy could be used to create electricity.

The second thing that we discovered was that the middle sections of the precipitator was a lot cooler inside than the outer fields. We realized that this was caused by the air preheater coils that rotated between the flue gas and the Primary Air intake duct. This took the last amount of heat safely possible from the exhaust and transferred it to the air going into the boiler so that it was already hot when it was used to burn the coal. Because of the way the air preheater coils rotated, the part of the duct toward the middle of the precipitator was a lot cooler than the air on the outside.

Diagram of a boiler

Diagram of a boiler. See the Air Preheater? Flue Gas on one side and ambient air on the other

Lower temperatures in the precipitator increased the performance, so we decided that if we could mix the air around as it was going into the precipitator so that the outer edges were cooler, then it would increase the overall performance. One suggestion was to put a mobile home in the duct work because in Oklahoma it was a known fact that mobile homes attracted tornadoes and it would probably cause a tornadic reaction that would mix up the flue gases. — We just couldn’t figure out how to convince management to put a mobile home in the duct between the economizer and the precipitator.

Thanks to Terry’s handy dandy Dew Point Sensor, we were able to prove that the hopper and roof heaters could be lowered to where we set the thermostat at 180 degrees. At that setting the heaters that used to always run at 250 degrees would remain off anytime the ambient temperature was above 45 degrees. In Oklahoma, that is most of the year. This turned out to save over $350,000 per year in energy savings at a cost of about 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. Not to mention the unknown savings from being able to lower the flue gas temperature by 40 degrees.

Power Plant “We’ve Got the Power” Program

Originally posted March 14, 2014:

Early January, 1990 the entire maintenance shop at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma was called to the break room which doubled as our main conference room in order to attend an important meeting.  We watched as a new program was explained to us.  It was a program called “We’ve Got the Power”.  It centered around the idea that the best people who knew how to improve the operation of the plant were the people that worked there every day… The employees.  When it was over, we were all given an Igloo Lunch box just for attending the meeting.  We were also promised a lot more prizes in the future for participating in the program.

"We've Got the Power" Igloo Lunch Box

“We’ve Got the Power” Igloo Lunch Box

In order to participate further, we needed to sign up on a team.  Preferably the team would be cross-functional, because, as they explained, a cross-functional team usually could come up with the most creative ideas for improving things at the plant.  Once we signed up for the team each member on the team was given a gray windbreaker.

A windbreaker like this, only gray. The "We've Got the Power" logo was in the same place as this logo

A windbreaker like this, only gray. The “We’ve Got the Power” logo was in the same place as this logo

I don’t have an actual picture of the windbreaker I was given.  I wore it to work for a number of months until we found out that the material was highly flammable and that it was not safe for us to wear it on the job.  We were supposed to wear only flame retardant clothing.  I kept the jacket for 15 years, but the jacket was made with material that disintegrated over time, and one day when I pulled it out of the closet to wear, I found that it was literally falling apart on the hanger.  I had no choice but to throw it away.

There were some interesting reactions to this program.  I thought the program was a great idea and couldn’t wait until it began in order to submit our ideas for improving the plant.  Others decided for some reason that they didn’t want to have any part in the program.  Most of the Power Plant Men were eager to take part.

So, here’s how it worked.  We had about 5 weeks to prepare our first ideas to submit to steering committee, which consisted of our plant manager Ron Kilman, the assistant plant manager Ben Brandt and I believe the Engineering Supervisor Jim Arnold.  I don’t remember for sure if Jim Arnold was on the steering committee.  We could only submit three ideas.  At any given time, we could only have three ideas in the pipeline.  Once a decision had been made about that idea, then we could submit another one.

I was the leader of the team that we assembled.  It consisted of the following electricians besides myself: Scott Hubbard, Charles Foster and Terry Blevins.  One mechanic Jody Morse.  We also had two people from the warehouse on our team:  Dick Dale and Darlene Mitchell.  Here are their pictures:

Terry Blevins

Terry Blevins

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

Jody Morse

Jody Morse

Darlene Mitchell

Darlene Mitchell

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

Richard Dale many years later

I was somehow the luckiest guy in the plant to have some of the best brain power on my team.  I will go into some of our ideas in a later post.  Actually, I think I will have to have at least two more posts to completely cover this topic.  For now, I just want to explain how this program worked and maybe share a thing or two about our team.

If one of the ideas we submitted was approved to be implemented, then we would receive an number of award points that was consistent with the amount of money the idea would save the company in one year.  If it wasn’t a money saving idea or you couldn’t figure out how to calculate the savings, then there was a set amount of points that would be granted to the team.  Each team member would receive the same number of points as everyone else on the team.  Each person would receive the full savings of the idea.

We were given a catalog from a company called Maritz Inc.  This is a company that specializes in employee motivation.  They have been around a long time, and the gifts in the catalog ranged from small items such as a toaster, all the way up to pretty large pieces of furniture and other big items.  I challenge the Power Plant Men who read this blog that were heavily involved in this program to leave a comment with the types of prizes they picked from this catalog.

The rules for the program were very specific, and there was a healthy (and in some cases, not so healthy) competition that ensued during the event.  Once we were able to submit our ideas, we had 13 weeks to turn in all of our ideas.  Keeping in mind that you could only have 3 ideas in the pipeline at a time.  (well… they bent that rule at the last minute.  — I’m sure Ron Kilman was thrilled about that).

I mentioned Ron Kilman, because for the entire 13 weeks and probably beyond, Ron (our plant manager)was sort of sequestered in his office reviewing the hundreds of ideas that were being turned in.  At first some mistakes were made, and then there were attempts to correct those, and you can imagine that it was sort of organized (or disorganized) chaos for a while.

I will go into our ideas in a later post, but I will say that despite the fact that a good deal of our points were incorrectly allocated to other teams, we still came out in second place at our plant, and in sixth place in the company.  Only the top 5 teams were able to go to Hawaii, and we were only a few points behind the fifth place team.  So, all in all, I think our team was happy with our progress.  Especially since we knew that over 200,000 of our points, were mistakenly given away and never corrected.  Which would have made us close to 2nd place.  Our team had no hard feelings when it was over.  We felt that for the effort that we put into it, we were well rewarded.

In the middle of this program, my daughter was born and so a lot of my points went to purchasing things like a play pen, a baby swing, and a large assortment of baby toys.  I had been such a miser in my marriage up to this point so that the majority of the furniture in our house had been purchased in Ponca City garage sales early on Saturday mornings.  I had the idea that for the first few years of our marriage, we would live real cheap, and then work our way up gradually.  That way, we would always feel like we were moving up in the world.  The first house that we rented in Ponca City was a little dumpy old house for $250 per month.

I had been married for 4 years by the time this program rolled around, and when the first few boxes of prizes had just arrived at our house, one Sunday in April, a priest came to the house we were renting on Sixth Street in Stillwater, Oklahoma to bless the house.  When he walked in and saw a large box leaning against the wall in the living room, and not a stitch of furniture, he asked us if we were moving.  I asked him what he meant.  He said, “Well, you don’t have any furniture.”  I said, “Oh.  No.  We’re not moving.  We just have the furniture in the other room” (which was a spare bedroom that we used as the computer room.  That was where our old couch was along with an old coffee table (both of which had been given to me by my friend Tim Flowers).

From this program I was able to furnish my entire living room.  I had a nice sofa (with a fold out bed), a new coffee table with two matching end tables.  All of them good quality.  Through the years, we have replaced the sofa and the coffee table.  I also had two Lazy Boys, which I still own, but we keep in the game room:

Two Lazy-Boys received as an award from the "We've Got the Power" program

Two Lazy-Boys received as an award from the “We’ve Got the Power” program

The biggest prize I purchased from this program was a real nice Thomasville Dining room table and chairs:

Dining Room Table received as an award from the "We've Got The Power" program

Dining Room Table received as an award from the “We’ve Got The Power” program

Two of the chairs are missing because they are across the street in my parents house (on loan).

So, you see, you could get some really nice prizes from this program.  The furniture came along just at the time my family was beginning to grow.

When we were originally forming our team Ron Kilman’s secretary, Linda Shiever had joined our team.  We had signed her up and had even held our first meeting.  Then one day she came to me and told me that she was going to be a part of the steering committee.  She was pretty excited about this because she figured that the steering committee, with all their hard work would be well off when it came to prizes.  So, we wished her well.

Linda Shiever

Linda Shiever

During the program it turned out that the team that had the most work to do was the steering committee.  They worked day and night on this program.  They basically gave up their day job to focus solely on this program for those 13 weeks.  As it turned out, they were the least compensated as far as awards went.  So, it was turning out that Linda had left our team, which was raking in the points, to go to a team that was barely receiving any points.

When the time came to implement the projects that were selected, the foreman that was over the team that was going to implement an idea would receive a percentage of the award points for doing the implementation.  I remember my foreman Andy Tubbs (who was on the winning team at our plant), coming to us and telling us that we were to go implement some ideas and that he was going to be receiving award points while we went to actually do the work.  — It was just one of those interesting rules in this program.

Andy Tubbs, being the true Power Plant Man that he was, said this didn’t set too well with him.  So, what he decided to do was spend the points that he was awarded for implementing ideas on prizes for the employees to use in the electric shop.  I remember that he had purchased various different items that came in handy for us in the shop.  I don’t remember off-hand what they were.  If one of the electricians would leave a comment below to remind me… that would be great.

So.  I was bothered by the idea that Linda Shiever had been coaxed onto her team with visions of grandeur, only to find out (like Ron found out), that all their hard work was not going to be compensated at a reasonable level.  I never blamed Ron Kilman for this, because it made sense that Linda should be on that team anyway, since she spent her day in Ron’s office and he did need someone to help with the enormous amount of paperwork. So, I decided to help her out.

Two of our biggest ideas had been approved to save the company over $315,000 each per year (when we tracked it the following year, it ended up with a savings of $345,000).  In order to implement the idea, I believe the implementer would receive either a half or a third of the points.  So, I thought of a way to have Linda Shiever be the implementer of the idea.

I remember explaining to Ron Kilman that in order to implement this idea, since it mainly consisted of a process change to how the precipitator is powered up during start-up, we just needed someone that could type up the procedures so that we could place them in our precipitator manuals.  I suggested that Linda Shiever would be the best person to type up the procedure.   And that is what happened.  She received the award points for implementing our biggest idea.

When it was all said and done, the company was able to quickly save a lot of money, and in some cases increase revenue.  I think the biggest idea at our plant from the winning team came from Larry Kuennen who figured out a way to change the way the boiler was fired that greatly increased the efficiency.  This one idea probably made the entire program worth the effort that everyone went through.

It’s amazing what happens when you add a little extra motivation.  Great things can happen.

Comments from the Orignal Post:

  1. Ron March 15, 2014

    If I remember correctly, Jasper Christensen was the 3rd member of Sooner’s IAC (Idea Action Committee). I think Jim Arnold got to go to Hawaii with his team. This was the most intense, long-term, difficult (personally and inter-company relationships) program of my entire working career. Whoever decided it was fair competition for the Power Plants to compete with the other corporate departments (like the Regions, Accounting, Customer Service, Human Resources, etc.) with cost reduction as the measurement, really blew it. Power Production is where the largest potential existed for cost reduction by at least an order of magnitude. The Plant Managers took a lot of grief from the other Managers (“rigged”, “not fair”, “you guys cooked the books”, “there’s no way”, etc.).

    Sooner Plant won the over-all competition with the highest idea approval rate of any company location (19 total locations). We had audited net savings of $2.1 million/year. Reduction in “Station Power” alone accounted for a revenue increase of $7 million during 1993. We (the IAC) worked many nights, weekends, and took work home. I was proud of the way Sooner teams really got after it. It was a huge success for OG&E.

    The rewards I remember getting were a tread mill, a small sharpening wheel, and a CD player. My jacket fell apart too.

    1. Plant Electrician March 15, 2014

      Thanks Ron. I clearly remember how much time your team had to put into this effort. It was hardest on your team because you didn’t have a choice where the rest of us did.

  2. Morguie March 17, 2014

    That’s too bad about the 200,000 points…but it sounds like you were very good about that, considering. Nice job getting that sweet furniture. It IS AMAZING what can be done with some teamwork and incentive to make an idea work. So glad to see you all did so well.

  3. Jonathan Caswell March 17, 2014

    FINALLY—An incentive program offering something more substantial than free pizza! 🙂Despite the mix-up in points, you worked for a decent company!!!! 🙂

  4. Tim March 18, 2014

    I remember Dad getting a sleeper sofa, and we all got some nice binoculars and a lot of other items it seems. I don’t know what all Andy got for the electrical shop but I know one was an electric knife that is still there with the logo on it I believe.

Power Plant Men Take the Corporate Mainframe Computer Home

When the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma downsized from 218 employees to 124 employees in 1994, everyone was scrambling to figure out how we were going to complete all the work that needed to be done to keep the plant running.  We had become cross-functional teams which seemed to help right away, but we needed to know what jobs were the higher priority jobs, because it became obvious, at least for the short run, that we were not keeping up with the workload.

That was where the “Planners” came in.  In other industries, we may call these guys, “Project Managers”.  They planned the work, and gave us the Maintenance Orders when it was time to work on them.  At first, this was a daunting task for the four planners at our plant.  The planners were Mike Vogle, Glenn Rowland, Ben Davis and Tony Mena.

This was a new job for all of them.  Glenn Rowland had been an A Foreman for the Instrument and Controls Department.  Tony Mena had been on the Testing team.  Mike Vogle had been a B Foreman over the Labor Crew.  Ben Davis had been an electrician.  Now they were suddenly working on a computer all day long trying to learn how to plan their days so they could plan ours.  I currently don’t have any good pictures of this team, or I would let you see for yourself what great guys they are.

Oh.  Ok.  Here is a later picture of Mike Vogle which I absconded from his Facebook page:

Mike Vogle

Mike Vogle

At this time, though they were using the “state of the art” 286 PCs, they were really working on the Honeywell mainframe computer at Corporate Headquarters in Oklahoma City.  They did this by using a Dumb Terminal emulator named GLink.  See the post: “Working Smarter Power Plant with Dumb Terminals” for a better explanation.

This is GLink today.  Back then it was for Windows 3.1

This is GLink today. Back then it was for Windows 3.1

The Power Plant Men knew that I liked to play around on the computers.  I was always going around helping people improve their computer experience by writing little programs that would do important things.  For instance, Windows back then had a screensaver that would fly the windows logo out from the screen so that it looked like you were flying into  the windows logos and they were passing you by.

Flying Windows Screensaver

Flying Windows Screensaver

In the executable program, if you changed the value of one particular byte, you could change the picture from the windows logo to any other of the 255 Wingding Characters.  This included things like Skull and Crossbones, Hearts, Crosses, Envelopes, Stars, Snowflakes and a lot more.  So, I was able to customize their screensavers using any of the wingding characters.

I wrote simple little programs to change their font size and color when they were using DOS, so they could read their screen easier (for the old timers that had a hard time reading the little letters).

Anyway, I had developed a reputation as not only being a troublemaker, but also of being a computer whiz. I have more stories to tell at a later time, but for now I will stick to the one about bringing the Honeywell mainframe home.

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

Mike Vogle first asked me the question.  He explained to me that he was staying later and later each night at work doing his job.  The earliest he was leaving was after 7pm each day, and he didn’t have time anymore to even see his family by the time he arrived home. So, he asked me if there was some way he could take his home work with him.  What he would ideally like to do would be to take a disk from work with the Maintenance Orders on them where he could complete them.  Then the next morning bring that disk back to work and put it in the computer and load it into the system.

I can see that a lot of you are rolling your eyes wondering why he didn’t just log into the company network and work remotely.  Well, in 1994, the Internet was something new.  We didn’t have the Network infrastructure built yet that would allow something like that.  We were using Windows 3.1 on old 16 bit computers.  Most of the programs we were running on the computers were still Pre-Windows.  The GLink application, even though it had a windows Icon, was really a DOS program emulating a Dumb Terminal.

I told Mike I would look into it to see if there was some way I could emulate the emulator.  That is, write a program that would be able to interact with the GLink program to upload and download data from the mainframe automatically.  I was sitting in the Electric Shop Office with Charles Foster thinking about this over lunch when Terry Blevins came in.

Terry Blevins

Terry Blevins

Terry and I had worked together the last seven years on the precipitators.  During the downsizing Terry was offered a job working on “Special Assignments”, which was a great move up for him.  We were all happy for him.  He had setup shop at the warehouse office where he could work part of the time from our plant instead of having to drive from Ponca City, Oklahoma to Oklahoma City to go to work.

When Terry came in to eat lunch with us, I told him what Mike Vogle had asked me.  Terry said right away that the GLink program had a Macro language that we might be able to use to automate the process.  This was just what I needed to hear.  If I could write a program that would write macros and send them to GLink to run, then that would do it.  I looked up the macro commands for GLink by opening up the Help section and printing out the list.

I used BASIC 7.0 (no.  Not Visual Basic, I hadn’t advanced that far yet).  BASIC 7.0 was the first BASIC that did away with line numbers and advanced a real second generation programming language.  It came out about the same time as MS Windows.  When I first bought the program, it was about $500.00 which was quite a lot for me.  But it allowed me to create actual DOS executables where I could do just about anything I wanted.

BASIC 7.0 Programmer's Guide

BASIC 7.0 Programmer’s Guide

Keep in mind that the language I was using to write the program didn’t know about Text Boxes, or even “Word Wrap” for that matter.  Everything that the user did on the screen, I had to take into account myself.  Just like I was working with a dumb terminal.  It didn’t understand “Word Wrap” either.  When you finished typing at the end of the line, if it jumped down to the next line in the middle of the word, you had to arrow up, and arrow to the right (forget using a mouse), and backspace until you had erased the letters at the end of the line, and then arrow back down to the next line and start typing again.

So, I put in my own logic for word wrapping because the mainframe window had only so many characters per line, and it had no mercy.  Everything had to be in the right box when you clicked on Submit.  When I was finished writing this program, I was so proud of myself for creating something as simple as “Word Wrap”.

Word Wrap, for those of you who don’t understand the phrase is when you get to the end of the line you are typing and instead of splitting the word up when it goes to the next line, it moves the entire word down to the next line.  You see it all the time now, but early on, the person writing a computer program had to take that into account if they wanted something to word wrap.  Windows Text Boxes and Word Processors had Word Wrap built in, so today a programmer doesn’t have to worry about all those little things, because the objects already know how to do that.  Just like this internet page knows how to do it.

Years later when I was interviewing for a Developer job with other companies and they would ask me what was one of my greatest programming accomplishments, I might blurt out “Word Wrap” before I realized how silly that sounds today.

Another problem I had was that strings of characters in the computer code are delimited by Double Quotes, so what happens when someone is filling out their Maintenance order and they use a Double Quote (“).  I didn’t think about this, and the first time I gave the program to Mike Vogle to test it out, it went all crazy and entered a bunch of bad data into a Maintenance Order because there was a Double Quote in it….. Yeah.  I forgot that if you want to say you worked on a four inch pipe, you would write that as 4” pipe.

So, my second great accomplishment when writing this program was to watch each key stroke, and if it was a double quote, then I would concatenate the string to another string around the double quote that was delimited with single quotes.  After doing all that, the program worked pretty good.  I gave it to Mike, and he tested it out and after making a few more tweeks, it was ready.

Mike could then take his disk of Maintenance orders home with him, and complete his work there, and in the morning he would put the disk in the computer, type a simple command, and it would open up GLink and start uploading all the work he did the night before.  Flashing screen after screen as it worked through all the Maintenance Orders.

Over time (not overtime, but Over Time, as in after a number of days or weeks, not like getting paid time and a half), the program became popular with some of the foremen, because it had Word Wrap and the GLink Emulator didn’t because it was emulating the Dumb Terminal which is too dumb to wrap words from one line to the other.  So, this one little feature that I was so proud of figuring out actually turned out to be the selling point for the foremen to use my new program during the day at work.

I had originally written the program so that Mike could take it home and use it to store macros on the disk that would upload the data to the Mainframe in the morning, but now the foremen were using it during the day at work because it was easier to use than the actual program that talked directly to the mainframe.

It was fun writing a program that essentially wrote another program (macros) that would tell another program (GLink) what to do.  To me, it was the first step for me to take over the world (as one of my Managers at Dell used to accuse me of doing).  What I mean is, that if you could write programs that writes other programs, aren’t you essentially creating some sort of “Artificial Intelligence”?

Because of my initial experience with this effort, it has given me the idea to write a program called:  “Old Man”.  Someday, maybe when I retire, I want to write a program that will help old men… like I will be.  Old men that are losing their memory (like I will be… or already am).  And it will learn what the old man does and how he lives, and it will remind him to do simple tasks.  Basically, it will nag him like his wife would do if she was still living.  It will use voice recognition so it will speak and listen to the old man speak back.

The “Old Man” application will remind him to brush his teeth.  Go to the barber, wash the sheets on his bed.  The list can be endless, because it will learn what this person needs from scratch and dynamically build the database and infrastructure in the background to take care of this old man when he can’t remember if he has just taken his medicine already or not.  It will even make a shopping list for him and help him with cooking.  It will be connected to the Internet so that it can pull all sorts of information it needs.

The “Mainframe Emulator Commander” program that I wrote for Mike Vogle really was my first step to becoming a real nuisance at the plant, because after that, I wanted to write more and more programs. So, I was always on the alert as to what I could do next.  I will write about some of the things we came up with throughout this year.

Turning the Tables on a Power Plant Telephone Interloper

When discussing Telephones at the Coal-Fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, I have to remember that some of my readers have a completely different perspective of telephones than me.  My children grew up probably never seeing a real rotary dial phone except in movies or old TV shows.  It might be a little hard for them to imagine a telephone being a possible murder weapon.  Telephones have come a long way since I grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s.

A Rotary Dial Telephone

A Rotary Dial Telephone

When you turned the dial on a Rotary phone you put your finger int he hole on the number you want to dial and then you swing it around until your finger bumps up against the metal bracket.  When you pull you finger out of the hole, the phone sends a rapid succession of pulses to the telephone company telling them what number you just dialed.  It was very… well…. tedious and manual…. and not even electronic.  It was electric signals and switches.  “Mechanical” is the word I think I’m trying to say.

Even the way you received a dial tone was by sending something called a “Ring-to-ground” signal to the telephone company.  That would happen when you would lift the receiver off the hook.  There are only two wires used to communicate in an old phone and only one of those had voltage on it.  when you ground that wire (called the “Ring”) momentarily, the phone company would then send a dial tone to your phone.

You could actually do this on a dead phone line at times when the phone company had shut off your service.  On an old pay phone, when the proper coin was inserted in the phone, the coin itself was used to ground the ring wire, thus telling the telephone company to send the dial tone, allowing you to use the phone.  In 1983 there was a movie called “Wargames”.

Wargames Starring Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy

Wargames Starring Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy

I had learned about how these telephones worked from Bill Rivers just before going to watch this movie.  During the movie Matthew Broderick’s character needed to make a phone call at a pay phone but didn’t have a coin.  By taking the mouthpiece off of the transmitter, and using a metal pop top he found on the ground, he was able to ground the “ring” wire to the pay phone, and he received a dial tone.  There was a good ol’ boy sitting behind me in the movie theater that said, “You can’t do that!”  — Being the newly educated smart (-alec) guy I was, I turned around and said, “Yeah.  You really can.”

Anyway.  This isn’t a story so much about how old phones work.  I just wanted to bring the younger readers back-to-date on phones since now they don’t really call them telephones anymore.  It is more like, “Smart Phone” and “Cell Phone”, “Mobile Phone” or just “Phone”.  The phone in the house isn’t even referred to as a telephone.  We now call them “Home Phone” to distinguish them from the actual phones that we use.

Anyway, when I joined the electric shop in 1983, I learned about the phone system.  We didn’t use the older Rotary Dial phones at the plant.  We were one step up.  We had “Touch Tone” Phones.

A Power Plant Touch Tone Phone

A Power Plant Touch Tone Phone

As I have mentioned in previous posts, we had our own telephone computer at the Power Plant.  It was called a ROLM phone system.  See the post “A Slap In the Face at a Gas-fired Power Plant“.

A ROLM Phone Computer

A ROLM Phone Computer – I like showing this picture of the Phone computer

To give you an idea of the technology used by this phone system, you connected to it using a “teletype” terminal that you connected to a telephone by clipping the receiver in a cradle.  Then you dialed the phone computer.  When you connected, it was at 300 Baud.  Think of 300 bytes per second, only using audio…. like a fax machine. — It was like connecting using a modem.  300 baud meant that when it typed out the results on the paper that scrolled out the top, you could watch it as it slowly printed out each line.  The maximum speed of the terminal was 300 baud.

 

This is the TI Silent 700 Terminal.  We used this exact model of Teletype terminal at the Power Plant

This is the TI Silent 700 Terminal. We used this exact model of Teletype terminal at the Power Plant

In this picture you can see the cradle in the back where the phone receiver would fit in those two rubber cups.

After many years of going to the lab to connect to the telephone computer to make changes and to monitor the telephone traffic, in 1992 I decided to bring my 8088 computer to work and set it on the desk in the electric shop.  We didn’t have our own computer yet.  At that time the only people that had computers were office workers and the Shift Supervisor.  We had started a computer club and having a computer in the shop was a big help.  I had just replaced this computer at home with a 486.

This is a Leading Edge computer.  My father had this one.  An earlier version than the 8088 that I was using.

This is a Leading Edge computer. My father had this one. An earlier version than the 8088 that I was using.

I had a modem on my computer, so I tried connecting to the telephone computer, and it worked!  So, sometimes during lunch when Charles Foster and I were sitting there talking about movies we had seen eating vegetables from his garden, I would connect to the ROLM computer and just watch the call log.  I could see whenever someone was dialing in and out of the plant.

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

We had a special call in number into the plant that allowed you to make “trunk” calls.  This is another term you don’t hear much anymore.  You see….. for the younger readers (again)…. long distant calls used to cost a lot of money.  You would be charged by how many minutes you were on the call.  During the day, it could be as high as $3.00 a minute to call across the country.  Amazing huh?  Because today, most of you with cell phones and even your land lines (which are rarely real land lines anymore) long distant phone calls are now free with your phone plan.

Yeah, if you wanted to call someone in the next town over, you would have to pay a fee for every minute you were on the call…. That was when AT&T had a monopoly on the phone lines in the United States.  Sure, you only payed $7.00 each month for your phone, but you could only call people in your immediate area or you would be charged extra.

A Trunk line gave you access to a much wider area.  The Electric company had a trunk line that gave them access to most of Oklahoma.  You could dial into a local number that would connect you to the company phone system.  Then after entering the correct password number, you could dial access numbers that would take you to another office location in the electric company.  Once on that phone system, you could dial  to get an outside line, and then dial a local number in that area.

Our plant had three access numbers that allowed you to dial out locally to Stillwater, Ponca City and Pawnee.  This was useful when a foreman needed to call people out to work.  They could dial into the plant, then back out to one of these other towns and then dial the local phone number of the crew member they were trying to reach without incurring a personal charge on their phone line.

So, here I was in 1992 during lunch watching the phone traffic in and out of the plant (not exactly NSA style, but sort of), when I saw something unexpected.  A long string of numbers showed up.  Someone had dialed in on the Stillwater trunk, then dialed out on the Oklahoma City trunk, from there they placed a long distance call to phone number in the same area code.  The prefix on the phone number was familiar to me.  It was a Ponca City phone number.   I had lived in Ponca City for three years when I had been married, from 1986 to 1989.  I knew a Ponca City phone number when I saw one.

I thought this was odd, because it wouldn’t be normal for someone to dial from Stillwater through out plant to Oklahoma City only to call a Ponca City phone number when they could have dialed the local Ponca City access code.  Then they wouldn’t have had to make a long distance call which bypassed our trunk call system causing the electric company to be billed for the long distance telephone call.

At the time I was a CompuServe user.  This was when the World Wide Web was in it’s infancy.  I was still using a DOS computer.  When I connected to the Internet, it was either by using my dad’s Internet account from Oklahoma State University where I would use Telnet to access a bunch of mainframe computers all over the country, or I would use the DOS-based version of CompuServe.  CompuServe was the king of Internet access before America Online came around and seemingly overnight made CompuServe obsolete.

A screenshot of the CompuServe Program I was using.

A screenshot of the CompuServe Program I was using.

In 1992, CompuServe had a service where you could look up phone numbers and find out whose number it was.  Imagine that!  Yeah.  That was one of the neatest features on CompuServe!  That and getting stock quotes.  — Like I said…. There was no “www.whitepages.com” online.  The only catch to using the reverse phone number feature, was that it was like making a long distance call.  It cost money.  You were charged by the minute for using the CompuServe reverse telephone number service, with the least amount being a dollar.

So, I bit the bullet and accessed the Phone Number lookup section of CompuServe.  I quickly typed in the number.  When the name and address of the user popped up, I quickly hit “Print Screen”, and then exited the service.  My fee came to $1.00, but at least I knew what number had been dialed in Ponca City.

Charles, Scott Hubbard and I were a little excited by the time Terry Blevins walked into the electric shop office after lunch was over, I told him what I had seen.

Terry Blevins

Terry Blevins

When I told Terry the name of the person that had received the long distance call, he recognized the name right away.  When I gave him the address, he was sure he knew who it was.  The phone number belonged to the Music Director at the Ponca City High School.  His son was attending college in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Well, that sort of cinched it.  We had a pretty good idea who had made the call.  It was a college student calling home, who had been given the phone number most likely by a fellow student who knew the code to call home in Oklahoma City.  So, the only local access code this guy knew was how to dial through our plant to Oklahoma City and back out where he was free to make a long distance call home.

Armed with this knowledge, I headed up to the front office.  I went straight to the Plant Manager, Ron Kilman’s office.  I told Ron what I had found.  I explained in detail how the person had dialed from Stillwater into our plant and then to Oklahoma City and out and then placed a long distance call to Ponca City leaving us with the phone bill.  Since it was the middle of the day, the cost of a long distance call was not cheap.

I told Ron that I had used CompuServe to lookup the phone number and found that Terry had said that it belonged to the Music Director at the Ponca City High School and that he had a son in college in Stillwater.  I was all ready to pounce on this guy.  This was a fraudulent use of the telephone service and there were some pretty strict laws then about stealing long distance from someone else.

Ron, being the more level-headed of the two of us thought about it for a minute and said, “What would be the best way to stop this from happening?”  — Oh.  Well.  I was so intent on catching the culprit, I hadn’t thought about that angle….  “Well….”  I said, “We could change the pass code used to log into our phone system.  We would just have to tell our supervisors what the new number is.”

Ron asked me what it would take to do that.  I told him I could do it in two minutes.  We quickly settled on a new 4 digit pass code and I left his office and returned to the electric shop and made the change essentially turning the tables on the Telephone Interloper.  I suppose the college student in Stillwater was lucky that our plant manager at the time was the type to forgive and forget.

Three years later the entire electric company phone system was replaced by a new AT&T computer which was managed by AT&T.  As you can tell… Technology just keeps moving forward making seemingly really neat new inventions quickly obsolete.

Doing Dew Point Tests and Lowering Expectations

There were times when I was working at the Coal-Fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma when I wondered if there was anything that we couldn’t do.  Surrounded by True Power Plant Men I found that when we were facing a seemingly impossible task, a Power Plant Man would come up with an extremely creative solution to the problem.  One such example was during the “We’ve Got The Power” program.  I talked about this program in an early post called “Power Plant We’ve Got the Power Program” so I won’t go into detail here about the program itself.  I will just say that we broke out into teams to find creative ways to operate more efficiently, and to cut costs.

I was a team leader of our team, and looking back I must have had two criteria in mind when I picked the team members that would be on my team.  The first would have been that they were True Power Plant Men (and woman) with a higher than average intelligence.  The second criteria would have been that they were friends of mine.  I say this, because everyone on my team fit the bill.

During out team meetings, Terry Blevins would often say some bombastic statement that the average person may be inclined to dismiss immediately as being absurd.  I say that because I remember more than once thinking that what Terry had just said wouldn’t amount to much.  As it turned out, our biggest money saving ideas were those truly bombastic statements that Terry was making.  One such idea had to do with the heaters on the precipitators that kept the hoppers and the insulators on the roof too hot to collect moisture.

The Precipitator is a very large box that takes the ash out of the exhaust before it goes out of the smoke stack (how many times have I made that statement in the last two years?).  Anyway, the exhaust from the boiler after the coal has been turned to ash in the fireball in the boiler contains a large amount of moisture.   The last thing you want to happen is for the temperature of the flue gas to fall below the dew point.  When that happens, moisture collects on the structure in a form of… well…  of Acid Rain.  Basically eating away the precipitator and the duct work from the inside.

Somewhere along the line, it had been determined that the dewpoint of the flue gas was not higher than 250 degrees.  So, as long as the structure was at least 250 degrees, no moisture would be collected.    Four heaters were mounted on each of the 84 hoppers (on each of the two precipitators) and heaters were mounted on the roof around each of the insulators that held up the wire racks on both ends.

When Terry walked into the office to attend one of our first “We’ve Got The Power” team meetings, he said, I think we could save a lot of money if we did something about the heaters on the precipitator. —  He may remember being greeted with blank stares (at least from me).  Um.  Ok.  Heaters on the precipitator.  I knew they were everywhere, but I never gave them much thought.

I think Terry could tell right away that I hadn’t taken his idea seriously.  I don’t know.  Maybe he was bothered by the sound of my eyeballs rolling around in circles as if someone has conked me on the head.  So, he explained his idea further.  He pointed out that the roof heaters on just one of the precipitators used about 211 kilowatt-hours and the hopper heaters used about 345 kilowatt-hours.  Together it more than half a Megawatt of power.  — This definitely caught our attention.  That meant that between both of the Precipitators (since we had two boilers at our plant), we could possibly save over a Megawatt of electricity every hour we could shut down the heaters.

The plant has a similar electrostatic precipitator, only it is twice as long

The plant has a similar electrostatic precipitator, only ours is twice as long

After discussing all the aspects of the idea, we decided that in order for the idea to have any merit, we had to know if the dew point really was around 250 degrees, or was it possibly a lot lower.  250 degrees seemed high to begin with since the boiling point of water is 212 degrees.  If lower, then we could have a workable idea.  Originally, I wanted to tackle the task of finding the dew point.  So, I went about it in a Science Experiment sort of way.

I figured that if we were able to lower the temperature of the flue gas to a known temperature below the dewpoint, and by knowing the volume of the gas, and the amount of liquid we could condense out of it, we could determine (possibly) the dew point.  So, I brought my Graham Condenser to work, and Scott Hubbard and I went up to the 250 foot landing on the smoke stack with the intent of sucking a known amount of exhaust from the smoke stack while the unit was at full load.

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

We would run it through the condenser while running cool water through it to lower the temperature.

The Exact Graham Condenser used in our experiment Spring 1990

The Exact Graham Condenser used in our experiment Spring 1990 (and that’s my hairy hand in this selfie)

I could measure the output of the vacuum pump by filling up an inverted Erlemeyer flask with water and then letting the flue gas displace the water.  — I always loved doing experiments like this in the 9th grade science glass with Mr. Godfrey our Physical Science Teacher (Donna Westhoff, who may sometimes read this blog was in my class and sat right behind me).

An Erlenmeyer Flask (from Google Images, not from my Chemistry Lab)

An Erlenmeyer Flask (from Google Images, not from my Chemistry Lab)

Ok.  Side Story, since I mentioned Donna Westhoff from the 9th grade 1974-75 school year.

I knew that Donna’s father was a fire fighter, because one day during a special outing when we were with a group of bicycling Junior High School students and a teacher, we stopped at Donna Westoff’s house to get a drink of water.  On the walls in her house were different types of fire fighting treasures.  Donna explained that her father was a fire fighter…  That was the Spring of 1975 in Columbia, Missouri

Fast forward 16 years later (1991) at the Power Plant in the middle of nowhere in North Central Oklahoma.  Just about a year after the story I’m telling now…. I left the logic room and went to catch the elevator to the Control room.  When the doors opened, Tony Mena was in there with a bunch of college age students giving them a tour of the plant.  I entered the elevator and turned around to face the door as it closed.

As I was standing there, I suddenly became aware that the person standing next to me was staring right at me.  So, I turned to see who it was.  Standing next to me was someone that looked very familiar wearing a big grin as if she knew who I was.  I recognized her, and while my mind was going through filing cabinets of memories trying to index this particular person, I asked her, “Don’t I know you?”  She shook her head and said, “I’m Donna Westhoff!”

A High School picture of Donna Westhoff  who is on the Lower Left

A High School picture of Donna Westhoff who is on the Lower Left

As the elevator door opened and we stepped out, Donna and I began talking about what we were both doing there.  She was surprised to find that I had become an electrician at a power plant instead of some kind of scientist in a lab somewhere.  Donna was going to school in Stillwater where one of the best Fire Fighting Schools in the country is found.  Following in her father’s footsteps, I thought.  After a while I could tell that Tony was getting a little perturbed that the wisdom he was imparting about the fire protection system on the Turbine Generator wasn’t being absorbed by Donna, so I cut our conversation short.  It turned out that a very good friend of hers lived just two houses from where we lived, and her friend’s mother was my landlord.  Peggy Pickens.

Ok.  End of the side story, and another example of how I occasionally run into friends from my childhood in the most unexpected places (see the post:  “Relay Tests and Radio Quizzes with Ben Davis“).

So.  Scott Hubbard and I tried using the Graham Condenser and the Erlenmeyer Flask, but we quickly found out that this wasn’t big enough, to capture a large enough quantity.  So, we increased the size of the condenser by winding a garden hose around inside of a water bucket and filling it with ice.  Then we captured all the water that condensed in the hose.

A 5 gallon water bucket we used as our condenser with a garden hose and ice

A 5 gallon water bucket we used as our condenser with a garden hose and ice

When it finally came down to it.  Even though it was fun trying to do this experiment halfway up the 500 foot smoke stack, I never was able to figure out how to calculate the dew point given the data I had collected.

That’s when we decided to look at dew point sensors in the parts catalogs.  If we could stick a probe down into the precipitator and measure the dew point directly in the flue gas, that would be best.  After looking at a few in the catalog, Terry Blevins said he thought he could make one.  So, he went to work.

Terry Blevins

Terry Blevins

The next day he came in with an inch and a half conduit with hoses hanging out the back and a homemade sensor on the other end.  I won’t go into detail how the sensor was built because some day Terry may want to patent this thing because, as it turned out, it was so sensitive that it could detect my breathe from about a foot away.  If I breathed out of my mouth toward the sensor, it would detect the moisture in my breath.  This was perfect!

We went to work on the roof of the precipitator sticking the probe down into different sections of the precipitator.  It not only measured the moisture, it also had thermocouples on it that we used to accurately measure the temperature of the sensor as we varied the temperature by blowing cold air through the conduit using the same ice bucket and hose from before.

I could go into a lot of detail about how we performed our experiments, but it would only excite me and bore you.  So, let me just say that we came up with two very important results.  First of all, at full load when the humidity outside was at 100% the dew point was around 150 degrees!  A full 100 degrees below what the plant had originally assumed.  This was very important, because a lot of energy was spent trying to keep the flue gas above 250 degrees, and just by lowering it down to 210 degrees, still a safe amount above the dew point, that extra energy could be used to create electricity.

The second thing that we discovered was that the middle sections of the precipitator was a lot cooler inside than the outer fields.  We realized that this was caused by the air preheater coils that rotated between the flue gas and the Primary Air intake duct.  This took the last amount of heat safely possible from the exhaust and transferred it to the air going into the boiler so that it was already hot when it was used to burn the coal.  Because of the way the air preheater coils rotated, the part of the duct toward the middle of the precipitator was a lot cooler than the air on the outside.

Diagram of a boiler

Diagram of a boiler.  See the Air Preheater?  Flue Gas on one side and ambient air on the other

Lower temperatures in the precipitator increased the performance, so we decided that if we could mix the air around as it was going into the precipitator so that the outer edges were cooler, then it would increase the overall performance.  One suggestion was to put a mobile home in the duct work because in Oklahoma it was a known fact that mobile homes attracted tornadoes and it would probably cause a tornadic reaction that would mix up the flue gases.  — We just couldn’t figure out how to convince management to put a mobile home in the duct between the economizer and the precipitator.

Thanks to Terry’s handy dandy Dew Point Sensor, we were able to prove that the hopper and roof heaters could be lowered to where we set the thermostat at 180 degrees.  At that setting the heaters that used to always run at 250 degrees would remain off anytime the ambient temperature was above 45 degrees.  In Oklahoma, that is  most of the year.  This turned out to save over $350,000 per year in energy savings at a cost of about 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.  Not to mention the unknown savings from being able to lower the flue gas temperature by 40 degrees.

Power Plant “We’ve Got the Power” Program

Early January, 1990 the entire maintenance shop at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma was called to the break room which doubled as our main conference room in order to attend an important meeting.  We watched as a new program was explained to us.  It was a program called “We’ve Got the Power”.  It centered around the idea that the best people who knew how to improve the operation of the plant were the people that worked there every day… The employees.  When it was over, we were all given an Igloo Lunch box just for attending the meeting.  We were also promised a lot more prizes in the future for participating in the program.

"We've Got the Power" Igloo Lunch Box

“We’ve Got the Power” Igloo Lunch Box

In order to participate further, we needed to sign up on a team.  Preferably the team would be cross-functional, because, as they explained, a cross-functional team usually could come up with the most creative ideas for improving things at the plant.  Once we signed up for the team each member on the team was given a gray windbreaker.

A windbreaker like this, only gray. The "We've Got the Power" logo was in the same place as this logo

A windbreaker like this, only gray. The “We’ve Got the Power” logo was in the same place as this logo

I don’t have an actual picture of the windbreaker I was given.  I wore it to work for a number of months until we found out that the material was highly flammable and that it was not safe for us to wear it on the job.  We were supposed to wear only flame retardant clothing.  I kept the jacket for 15 years, but the jacket was made with material that disintegrated over time, and one day when I pulled it out of the closet to wear, I found that it was literally falling apart on the hanger.  I had no choice but to throw it away.

There were some interesting reactions to this program.  I thought the program was a great idea and couldn’t wait until it began in order to submit our ideas for improving the plant.  Others decided for some reason that they didn’t want to have any part in the program.  Most of the Power Plant Men were eager to take part.

So, here’s how it worked.  We had about 5 weeks to prepare our first ideas to submit to steering committee, which consisted of our plant manager Ron Kilman, the assistant plant manager Ben Brandt and I believe the Engineering Supervisor Jim Arnold.  I don’t remember for sure if Jim Arnold was on the steering committee.  We could only submit three ideas.  At any given time, we could only have three ideas in the pipeline.  Once a decision had been made about that idea, then we could submit another one.

I was the leader of the team that we assembled.  It consisted of the following electricians besides myself: Scott Hubbard, Charles Foster and Terry Blevins.  One mechanic Jody Morse.  We also had two people from the warehouse on our team:  Dick Dale and Darlene Mitchell.  Here are their pictures:

Terry Blevins

Terry Blevins

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

Jody Morse

Jody Morse

Darlene Mitchell

Darlene Mitchell

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

Richard Dale many years later

I was somehow the luckiest guy in the plant to have some of the best brain power on my team.  I will go into some of our ideas in a later post.  Actually, I think I will have to have at least two more posts to completely cover this topic.  For now, I just want to explain how this program worked and maybe share a thing or two about our team.

If one of the ideas we submitted was approved to be implemented, then we would receive an number of award points that was consistent with the amount of money the idea would save the company in one year.  If it wasn’t a money saving idea or you couldn’t figure out how to calculate the savings, then there was a set amount of points that would be granted to the team.  Each team member would receive the same number of points as everyone else on the team.  Each person would receive the full savings of the idea.

We were given a catalog from a company called Maritz Inc.  This is a company that specializes in employee motivation.  They have been around a long time, and the gifts in the catalog ranged from small items such as a toaster, all the way up to pretty large pieces of furniture and other big items.  I challenge the Power Plant Men who read this blog that were heavily involved in this program to leave a comment with the types of prizes they picked from this catalog.

The rules for the program were very specific, and there was a healthy (and in some cases, not so healthy) competition that ensued during the event.  Once we were able to submit our ideas, we had 13 weeks to turn in all of our ideas.  Keeping in mind that you could only have 3 ideas in the pipeline at a time.  (well… they bent that rule at the last minute.  — I’m sure Ron Kilman was thrilled about that).

I mentioned Ron Kilman, because for the entire 13 weeks and probably beyond, Ron (our plant manager)was sort of sequestered in his office reviewing the hundreds of ideas that were being turned in.  At first some mistakes were made, and then there were attempts to correct those, and you can imagine that it was sort of organized (or disorganized) chaos for a while.

I will go into our ideas in a later post, but I will say that despite the fact that a good deal of our points were incorrectly allocated to other teams, we still came out in second place at our plant, and in sixth place in the company.  Only the top 5 teams were able to go to Hawaii, and we were only a few points behind the fifth place team.  So, all in all, I think our team was happy with our progress.  Especially since we knew that over 200,000 of our points, were mistakenly given away and never corrected.  Which would have made us close to 2nd place.  Our team had no hard feelings when it was over.  We felt that for the effort that we put into it, we were well rewarded.

In the middle of this program, my daughter was born and so a lot of my points went to purchasing things like a play pen, a baby swing, and a large assortment of baby toys.  I had been such a miser in my marriage up to this point so that the majority of the furniture in our house had been purchased in Ponca City garage sales early on Saturday mornings.  I had the idea that for the first few years of our marriage, we would live real cheap, and then work our way up gradually.  That way, we would always feel like we were moving up in the world.  The first house that we rented in Ponca City was a little dumpy old house for $250 per month.

I had been married for 4 years by the time this program rolled around, and when the first few boxes of prizes had just arrived at our house, one Sunday in April, a priest came to the house we were renting on Sixth Street in Stillwater, Oklahoma to bless the house.  When he walked in and saw a large box leaning against the wall in the living room, and not a stitch of furniture, he asked us if we were moving.  I asked him what he meant.  He said, “Well, you don’t have any furniture.”  I said, “Oh.  No.  We’re not moving.  We just have the furniture in the other room” (which was a spare bedroom that we used as the computer room.  That was where our old couch was along with an old coffee table (both of which had been given to me by my friend Tim Flowers).

From this program I was able to furnish my entire living room.  I had a nice sofa (with a fold out bed), a new coffee table with two matching end tables.  All of them good quality.  Through the years, we have replaced the sofa and the coffee table.  I also had two Lazy Boys, which I still own, but we keep in the game room:

Two Lazy-Boys received as an award from the "We've Got the Power" program

Two Lazy-Boys received as an award from the “We’ve Got the Power” program

The biggest prize I purchased from this program was a real nice Thomasville Dining room table and chairs:

Dining Room Table received as an award from the "We've Got The Power" program

Dining Room Table received as an award from the “We’ve Got The Power” program

Two of the chairs are missing because they are across the street in my parents house (on loan).

So, you see, you could get some really nice prizes from this program.  The furniture came along just at the time my family was beginning to grow.

When we were originally forming our team Ron Kilman’s secretary, Linda Shiever had joined our team.  We had signed her up and had even held our first meeting.  Then one day she came to me and told me that she was going to be a part of the steering committee.  She was pretty excited about this because she figured that the steering committee, with all their hard work would be well off when it came to prizes.  So, we wished her well.

Linda Shiever

Linda Shiever

During the program it turned out that the team that had the most work to do was the steering committee.  They worked day and night on this program.  They basically gave up their day job to focus solely on this program for those 13 weeks.  As it turned out, they were the least compensated as far as awards went.  So, it was turning out that Linda had left our team, which was raking in the points, to go to a team that was barely receiving any points.

When the time came to implement the projects that were selected, the foreman that was over the team that was going to implement an idea would receive a percentage of the award points for doing the implementation.  I remember my foreman Andy Tubbs (who was on the winning team at our plant), coming to us and telling us that we were to go implement some ideas and that he was going to be receiving award points while we went to actually do the work.  — It was just one of those interesting rules in this program.

Andy Tubbs, being the true Power Plant Man that he was, said this didn’t set too well with him.  So, what he decided to do was spend the points that he was awarded for implementing ideas on prizes for the employees to use in the electric shop.  I remember that he had purchased various different items that came in handy for us in the shop.  I don’t remember off-hand what they were.  If one of the electricians would leave a comment below to remind me… that would be great.

So.  I was bothered by the idea that Linda Shiever had been coaxed onto her team with visions of grandeur, only to find out (like Ron found out), that all their hard work was not going to be compensated at a reasonable level.  I never blamed Ron Kilman for this, because it made sense that Linda should be on that team anyway, since she spent her day in Ron’s office and he did need someone to help with the enormous amount of paperwork. So, I decided to help her out.

Two of our biggest ideas had been approved to save the company over $315,000 each per year (when we tracked it the following year, it ended up with a savings of $345,000).  In order to implement the idea, I believe the implementer would receive either a half or a third of the points.  So, I thought of a way to have Linda Shiever be the implementer of the idea.

I remember explaining to Ron Kilman that in order to implement this idea, since it mainly consisted of a process change to how the precipitator is powered up during start-up, we just needed someone that could type up the procedures so that we could place them in our precipitator manuals.  I suggested that Linda Shiever would be the best person to type up the procedure.   And that is what happened.  She received the award points for implementing our biggest idea.

When it was all said and done, the company was able to quickly save a lot of money, and in some cases increase revenue.  I think the biggest idea at our plant from the winning team came from Larry Kuennen who figured out a way to change the way the boiler was fired that greatly increased the efficiency.  This one idea probably made the entire program worth the effort that everyone went through.

It’s amazing what happens when you add a little extra motivation.  Great things can happen.