Tag Archives: Tool Room

Dick Dale and the Power Plant Printer Romance

Originally posted January 17, 2014.  I added more to the story:

When I first moved to Ponca City in 1986 I carpooled each day to the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma with Dick Dale, Jim Heflin and Bud Schoonover (See the post:  “Carpooling Adventures with Bud Schoonover“).  Dick Dale had moved to Ponca City a couple of years earlier after his divorce.  He didn’t want to continue living in Stillwater where he felt as if everyone knew about his tragic situation.  We had been friends from the first day we met (which is often the case with Power Plant Men) when I was a summer help working out of the garage and he worked in the tool room and warehouse.

I wrote about Dick Dale this past Christmas, when I talked about his situation (See the post:  “Harmonizing with Dick Dale on Power Plant Christmas Harmonicas“).  I knew that even though it was a few years later, Richard was still feeling the impact from this emotional trauma.  One day I found the opportunity to play a “Power Plant” joke on him that I thought might help lift his spirits.

I recently wrote another post about how I had installed dumb terminals around the plant so that regular workers would be able to access the mainframe computer downtown in Corporate Headquarters in order to see their work orders, or look up parts in the warehouse, etc. (See the post:  “Working Smarter with Power Plant Dumb Terminals“).  In most places where I installed terminals, I also installed large IBM printers that printed using continuous feed paper.

IBM Dot Matrix Network Printer

IBM Dot Matrix Network Printer

For those of you who remember, at first most dot matrix printers would feed paper from a box underneath them.  they had holes down both sides of the paper where the sprockets would rotate and paper would come rolling out the top of the printer.

Dot Matrix paper with holes so the printer can feed the paper through. The holes sections with the holes were perforated so you could tear them off easily.

Dot Matrix paper with holes so the printer can feed the paper through. The holes sections with the holes were perforated so you could tear them off easily.

Ok.  Here is a quick one paragraph side story…

One day when my son was 5 years old, we had to wait a while in an airport.  We were sitting in a row of seats at the gate waiting.  My son kept popping up slowly, jerking as he rose, from behind the row of seats and would lay over the seat back and end up head down on the chair.  After doing this a few times, my wife Kelly who was becoming slightly annoyed asked him what he was doing.  He said, “I’m paper coming out of the printer”.  Of course, this cracked us all up.

Anyway, back to the story.  By the time I had to add the dumb terminals and printers to the Garage and Warehouse, I had already been playing around on the mainframe learning all sorts of ways to get into trouble. — Well, what else was I going to do during lunch while Charles Foster and I talked about movies and stuff?  I had a personal user account on the mainframe that basically gave me “God Access”.  They didn’t really have anything like “Network Security” back then.  — This was 1988.

Back then, we also didn’t have anything called “Email” either.  It wasn’t until 1989 that CompuServe first offered real Internet e-mail to its users.  When we wanted to send something to someone in the company, we either printed it out and put in an intra-company envelope and sent it by “snail” mail, or we could find out what printer they used and get the ID for the printer and send it to them.  It was a code like:  P1234.

Well.  I had been playing with this text editor on the Honeywell mainframe called FRED.  This stood for FRiendly EDitor.  For those of you who know UNIX, this was pretty much the same as the VI Editor found on UNIX mainframes.  The commands were the same.  Today, users of Microsoft Word would be horrified to find out what you had to go through to create a document back then.

I had been practicing using this editor, and found that by using the special escape codes for the printer, I could create documents that would come out looking pretty neat.  So, I had created some templates that would make it look like I was printing a Memo from some mainframe program.  That was about the time that I installed the printer in the garage.

So, I created a big long document that would print out on the garage printer as soon as I connected the printer to the network.  It went on and on about how the printer wasn’t happy about being placed in such a dusty environment and how it refused to be cooperative until it was moved to a cleaner place.  It would spit out a bunch of sheets of paper, printing protest after protest.

Then it ended up by saying that if it wasn’t moved right away, it was going to shut down in 10 minutes and it started counting down by 30 second intervals.  Then at the last minute, it counted down by 15 seconds until it counted down the last 10 seconds by feeding a sheet of paper for each second while it was counting… then it paused at the last second.  Finally, it printed out at the end a concession that since it was obviously not going to be moved to someplace cleaner, it might as well give up and be cooperative.

When I installed the printer in the office in the automotive garage, I knew it would take about 30 seconds to connect the first time, and by that time, I was outside making my way back to the electric shop.  By the time I arrived back in the electric shop Charles Patten, the foreman in the garage was calling me on the gray phone.  The gray phone is the plant PA system:

Gaitronics Gray Phone

Gaitronics Gray Phone

Of course, I knew why.  I answered the phone and Charles told me that something was wrong with the printer.  It kept shooting paper out of it and wouldn’t stop.  He had even turned it off, but when he turned it back on, it still kept feeding paper out.  I told him that sounded pretty strange to me and I would be right over to see what was going on.  I took my time returning to the garage giving the printer time to throw it’s tantrum.

By the time I returned, the printer had stopped ranting about being installed in a dirty environment and had given up it’s protest.  Charles said that it finally stopped.  I walked over to the printer and took the pile of hundred or so pages that it had printed out, and tore them off the printer and walked out with them.  I don’t even know if Charles had paid any attention to what the printer was saying.

I think I was the only person that knew that I had just “attempted” to play a joke on Charles.  After all, as the paper was feeding out it was carefully collecting into a nice stack in front of the printer on the floor, and unless someone picked up the stack and looked at it, they wouldn’t know that anything was even printed on it.  So, in this case, the joke may have been on me.  But then again, Power Plant Men are like that.  If they figure a joke is being played on them, then they figure out how to turn it around so that the joker is the one that has the joke played on them.  Maybe that was the case here.  Charles Patten was probably one of the most intelligent foremen at the plant, so it was possible.

Charles Patton

Anyway, back to Dick Dale.  I installed the printer in the warehouse and Dick Dale, Darlene Mitchell, Mike Gibbs and Bud Schoonover were happy to be connected to the Inventory program on the mainframe…..  um… yeah. sure they were…… especially Bud.

Bud Schoonover was the person that when it was his turn to run the tool room would not give you something if it was the last one.  So, if I needed a flashlight and it was the last one, and I asked Bud for a flashlight, he would say that he couldn’t give it to me.  Why?  You might ask.  Well, he would explain that if he gave the last one away, he would have to order some more.  Bud didn’t like ordering things on the computer.  So, in order to keep from having to order anything he simply didn’t give away the last one of any item.

Anyway.  I decided one Monday during my regular lunch time computer educational moments to send a letter over to the warehouse printer addressed to Dick Dale.  It was from an anonymous woman.  The letter sounded like it was from someone that really had a thing for Richard and remembered how they used to work together.  It also mentioned other people, like Mike Gibbs and Pat Braden and about how they used to hang around each other.

Since this was a fictitious character, I could say anything I wanted, but I wanted to put it in a time period back when I was still a summer help.  Well…  It wasn’t long before Dick Dale called me on the gray phone (no.  I won’t post another picture of the gray phone here.   I think you get the idea).  He asked me to come over to the warehouse.

When I arrived, Richard showed me the letter.  He was excited about it.  He was trying to figure out who it could be.  He thought about the people that had moved from the plant to Corporate Headquarters and wondered if it was one of them.  I thought for a little while, and I couldn’t come up with who it might be (obviously), since it was me.

The next day at lunch I sent another letter to his printer.  I mentioned more about the “old days” working at the plant.  On the way home Richard showed it to me.  I could tell that he was really excited about this.  I held back my smile, but inside it felt real good to see that Richard had finally come back to life.  For the past couple of years, he had been so down.  Now some woman was paying attention to him, and actually was telling him that she had always liked him.

Darlene Mitchell sent a letter to the printer ID I had sent in the letter to Richard, saying the following:

Dear Ghost Writer,

This has been the most exciting thing that’s happened in the warehouse in a long time.  We await your messages.  Dick is really trying hard to figure this out, and if you don’t give him a little hint, his little old brains are going to get fried.

He also requests that you send his messages to his printer only, that way I won’t be able to send my message back.  He takes all the fun out of everything.  P)24 is his number, and if you can’t get a response out of him, I’ll be glad to put my two cents in.

I’m sure Dick would like to see you too.  Maybe we can get him headed in your direction, if you tell me where that is.

So, long, see you in the funny papers.

<end of message>

Darlene-Mitchell

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

On Thursday Richard called me and asked me to come over to the warehouse.  He showed me the letter he had received that day.  He said he was too excited.  He just had to find out who it was that was sending him these letters.  He said that since I knew everything there was to know about computers (a slight exaggeration), he asked me to see if I could find out where the letters were coming from.

I told him I would do what I could to see if I could track down who was sending the letters.  On the way home that day, he asked me if I had any luck.  I told him I was still looking into it.  I told him I thought there might be a way to find a log somewhere that would tell me.

So, after lunch on Friday I walked over to the warehouse.  When I entered, I signaled to Richard that I wanted to talk to him.  — Remember.  Richard and I had developed facial signals while carpooling with Bud Schoonover so that all we had to do was glance at each other and we instantly knew what each other was saying…

Richard and I stepped outside of the warehouse where we could be alone.  He asked me if I had found the person sending him the letters.  I told him I had (I knew I had to do this right or I would lose a good friend, so I said), “Yes.  I have.”

I could see the look of excitement in his face.  So I looked straight at him and I said, “I have been sending these letters to you.”  He was stunned.  He said, “What?”  I said, “Richard.  I have been sending them to you.”

I could see that he was very disappointed.  After all.  No two people could read each other’s expressions better than me and Richard.  We practiced them every day.  The corners of his mouth went down.  The middle went up.  Edges of the eyes went down.  Eyes began to water.  Yep.  He was disappointed to say the least.

I told him I was sorry to get his hopes up.  I put on the saddest look I could muster.  Inside I wasn’t so sad.  Actually I was pretty happy.  I knew this was a tough moment for Richard, but he had spent an entire week flying high.  For the first time in a long time, Richard had hope.  A  couple of hours of disappointment was well worth this past week.

I patted him on the back and he turned to walk back into the warehouse despondent.  I went back to the electric shop.

As for my part, I continued sending Dick Dale printed messages from time to time.  Just goofy messages like the following:

Dear Richard,

Sometimes when I type letters I find that the words I use are not always the typical type that I would use if I wrote a letter.  The letters that I make when I write a letter aren’t the type of letters that I use when I type a letter.  When I write a letter, the letters in the words are sometimes hard to distinguish, but the letters I type when i’m typing a letter are the type of letters that stand out clearly and uniformly.  I can’t really say that when I type I’m right, or when I write I’m right, because I usually type a different type of letter than I write when I’m writing a letter.  I typically use a different type of words when I’m typing than I use when I’m writing, so I really can’t say that writing is right when a typical typed letter is just as right as writing.  That is just the type of person I am.

Typical Typist

After a few more days, Darlene Mitchell and Dick Dale began sending me letters indicating that the warehouse workers had been taken hostage, and they had a list of hostage demands.  I would write back to them.  The hostage letters and my replies would make up an entire blog post just by themselves.

So, what followed this episode?  Well.  Within a few weeks  Dick Dale had attended an event at the Presbyterian Church in Ponca City where he met a very nice woman, Jill Cowan.  He began dating her, and within the year they were married on November 13, 1988.

I like to think that I had given him the kick in the pants that he needed at the time that he needed it.  For that one week where he had hope, he believed that someone else really cared for him (which I really did, just not in the way he was thinking).  If he could believe that, then maybe it could really be true, even if in this case it turned out to only be one of his best friends.

I know that Dick Dale lived happily ever after.  As I mentioned earlier, I wrote a post about Dick Dale about a time when I gave a Christmas present to Dick Dale, Christmas 1983.  Well. as it turned out, my friend Richard was presented to Saint Peter at the gates of Heaven 25 years later on Christmas Day, 2008, 20 happy years after his marriage to Jill.  I don’t really miss him.  He is always with me in my heart to this day.

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

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Elvin Power Plant Tool Room Adventures With Bud

Originally posted September 27, 2014, added a picture of Bud

When I say that Bud Schoonover is known as “Elvin”, I don’t mean to imply that he was Elvin in nature.  What I mean to say is that he did not necessarily possess the qualities of an elf.  Well, except for his smile, which is somewhat Elvish-like.  Bud’s smile was usually more like a look of warning for those who didn’t know him well.  I have always said that he reminded me of a six foot, 5 inch tall, white Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son, and about 75 to 100 pounds heavier.

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son smiling like Bud Schoonover

What I mean by saying that Bud is known as “Elvin” is that is what his Mother called him when he was born.  Though somewhere along the line he became known as Bud;  Not from his middle name… because I think that was Floyd.  Bud was my good friend and carpooling buddy (See the post “Carpooling with Bud Schoonover“).  Maybe that was why people called him Bud.  Because he was everyone’s “buddy”.

I don’t mean to make it sound like Bud has passed away, because as far as I know, he is still an active Republican voter living on South Palm Street in Ponca City.  I also don’t want you to think that I was only friends with Bud Schoonover because he was a good carpooling buddy.  No.  Bud had all sorts of talents.  He gave great weather reports each morning when we would gather to take our trek to the Power Plant some 20 miles away, as I mentioned in the other post about Bud (since first writing this post, Bud has passed away.  See the post:  Dynamic Power Plant Trio – And Then There was One).

I don’t think that there was anyone at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma that didn’t like Bud.  There was just something naturally likable about him.  Bud worked in the tool room and the warehouse ever since the day I first arrived at the plant in 1979. — Well, the warehouse wasn’t much of a warehouse back then.  It just had stuffed piled up against the walls.  No shelves, No storage racks.  No drawers and bins full of parts.

Bud is four years and 26 days younger than my own father, and four years and 18 days younger than Elvis Presley.

The King

The King

He will be 76 years old this January.  Needless to say, Bud retired from the Power Plant in 1994 after having just turned 55.  At his going away party, some guys at the plant fixed up a Wal-Mart shopping cart with a bunch of accessories attached to it so that he would be properly equipped when he went to work at Wal-Mart as a Greeter. — For those of you who don’t know…. Wal-Mart used to hire elderly people to greet people when you walked into the store.  They might pull a cart out of the stack of carts and give it to you if you looked like you were in need of a cart.

Wal-Mart Shopping Cart

Wal-Mart Shopping Cart

Bud was extra careful when working in the warehouse.  He wanted to make sure that he was getting everything right, so he would check, and double check, and then check again…. just to make sure everything matched.  One good example of this was when he was tasked with ordering a half set of coal burner nozzles and tips for the boiler.

There were 24 of these Coal burner nozzle and tips in the boiler.  The nozzles costing about $13,000 and the tips ran somewhere around $4,000 each.

Coal Burner Nozzle Tips

Coal Burner Nozzle

There was another assembly that attached to the end with the hole on the side that allowed the nozzle to change the pitch it was called the Tip.

So, Bud wanted to make sure he created the order correctly.  So, when Bud placed the order with the supplier, he not only included the Supplier’s part number, but he also included the manufacturer’s part number.  Just to make sure they knew they were sending the correct part, he even sent them the old manufacturing part number that they used a few years before they changed their part numbering system.  — So, when he sent the order, it had all three part number for the 12 nozzles.  He did the same thing with the smaller piece for the end of the nozzle.

To Bud’s surprise, one bright sunny morning in December, 1989 (well, it may not have been that sunny that day), guess what showed up at the loading dock?  12 nozzles with the suppliers part number, 12 nozzles with the manufacturer’s part number, and 12 more nozzles with the manufacturer’s old part number!  Yeah…. Didn’t count on that one.

I think I know how Bud must have felt when that happened.  Probably the same way I felt the morning I was summoned to the front office to pick up my mail, only to find a stack of a couple hundred envelopes from all over the company after printing something out on all the printers in the company (See “Power Plant Customer Service Team Gone Wild“).  I think Bud took these things in more in stride than most people might.  His reaction to finding out that the order he had created for $156,000 had suddenly turned into $468,000 was probably something like…. “Oh Geez.  I sure don’t want to do that again!”

During the “We’ve Got the Power” program (see the post “Power Plant We’ve Got the Power“), the HR and Warehouse director, Linda Dallas asked us if we would put in a proposal to scrap the extra nozzles since these nozzles were very big.  She didn’t think it would look good if her own team created the proposal since she was already responsible for the warehouse.  We had two people from the warehouse on our We’ve Got the Power team, Dick Dale and Darlene Mitchell, so she thought we could do something out the conundrum.  Two nozzles fit on a pallet, taking up space all over the warehouse.

The nozzles with the Tips attached

The nozzles with the Tips attached

We could save money just by scrapping it because we wouldn’t have to pay taxes on the parts.  It cost too much to return them to the supplier because the restocking fee was too high. — And E-Bay didn’t exist back then.

Instead of accepting our proposal, it was decided that instead of just changing out half of the nozzles during the next outage, they would just replace all of the nozzles.  This reduced the number of nozzles left in the warehouse to a more manageable number.  So, Bud’s Faux Pas, may have just helped increase the efficiency of the boiler significantly with the replacement of the nozzles which may have translated into savings of unknown millions of dollars, of which Bud received no credit… But that’s okay.  Bud wasn’t one to seek credit for his ingenious accidental idea of triple ordering boiler Nozzles.

One of the favorite stories I would tell my children as they were growing up when they would ask me to tell them a Bud Schoonover story was the story about the last tool in the tool room.  — This is Bud’s own special way of handling the restocking of the tool room.  It goes like this….  For instance….

If you went to the tool room to ask for a yellow flashlight and it happened to be the last yellow flashlight in the tool room, and it was Bud Schoonover’s week to man the tool room, then you would hear something like this:

Yellow Flashlight similar to the one I carried

Yellow Flashlight similar to the one I carried

“I can’t give you a yellow flashlight, because I only have one left.”  — You may want to respond with something like, “But Bud, if there’s one left, then why can’t I have it?”  Bud’s reply would be, “Because if I give you the last one, then I’d have to order more.”

At this point, you may want to start over asking if you can have a yellow flashlight, with the hope that Bud may have forgotten that he was down to his last yellow flashlight….  You might even phrase it a little differently… You might say something like, “Well… Can I just borrow a yellow flashlight for a few hours?  At least for as long as I have to do some work in the dark?” — I have seen this approach almost work.  He would stop and think about it like Andy Griffith in “No Time For Sergeants” trying to answer questions being asked by the Psychiatrist:

Andy Griffith talking to the Psychiatrist

Andy Griffith talking to the Psychiatrist in No Time for Sergeants

Then the next question you may ask (I know, since I asked it more than once) is: “So, Bud, how about ordering some more yellow flashlights.”  Bud would reply with something like, “No.  I don’t really want to order anything this week.”, as he nods in the direction of the computer monitor sitting on the desk just to his left…  — Oh…. computer shy…. that’s why.  Not comfortable ordering stuff on the computer (especially after ordering all those coal burner nozzles).

I can understand that.  He is the same age as my own father, and my dad at that time would literally call me at least one time every single day to ask me a computer question.  Like…. “How do I move a paragraph from one part of a document to another part?”  — “Um… Yeah Dad, (for the hundredth time), you do it like this….”

There’s something about every one of my friends and family that were born between December 30, 1934 and January 27th 1939.  They all had the same problem with computers.  Must be that particular generation born within that four year period.  I’m sure Elvis, who was born right in the middle of that time frame (on January 8, 1935), would have had the same trouble with the PC if he had lived long enough.  — I know… I know…  I just saw him the other day myself.

Only he had gained some weight

Only he had gained some weight

Anyway, there was one sure fire way to get that tool that I needed from the tool room while Bud Schoonover was manning the front gate, and that was to volunteer to go to the warehouse and pick up a box of the parts yourself and carry them back and hand them to Bud, while taking one out for yourself.  — And the time I needed a flashlight, I did just that.

One time I went to the tool room in the middle of the winter when we had water pipes that were frozen and I needed a propane torch to heat the pipe to melt the ice.  Bud told me that he couldn’t give me a propane torch because he only had one left.  I looked up two racks over from the gate and could see at least two boxes of propane bottles on the top shelf.

I told Bud that I wouldn’t be taking his last bottle of propane, because there was at least two bottles right up there on that shelf.  Bud insisted that he only had one bottle of propane left and he couldn’t give it to me.  So, while smiling at Bud and explaining that I could see the two bottles right up there on the top of the shelf,… with one hand on his shoulder (which was about a whole foot taller than my head), and the other hand unlocking the gate, I told him I would show him.

So, I stepped into the tool room, and said, “It’s ok Bud, I won’t take your last bottle of Propane, but I do have to take this bottle here, because we have a water pipe that is frozen solid, and I need to use the propane torch to warm it up.  Here… I”ll just take this one, and you can keep this other one here….”

Power Plant Propane torch

Power Plant Propane Torch

As I walked back out the tool room smiling all the time at Bud, who was just staring at me with a worried look finally lowered his shoulders which had been creeping up closer to his ears as I had sidestepped him to get to the propane bottle.

The funny thing was that by the end of the week, there would be a whole list of parts and tools that only had one left in the tool room.  Bud would consider it a successful week if he could make it through the week without having to get on the computer and order some more parts.  He knew that next Monday, when Dick Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

or Darlene Mitchell

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

arrived, they would restock the shelves, and he would be in the warehouse filling the orders and bringing them over on a two wheeler to the tool room.  And the world would be right once again.

As I mentioned above, since originally posting this post, Bud Schoonover had joined Dick Dale in the warehouse of Paradise.  Here is the latest picture of Bud:

Bud Schoonover

Bud Schoonover

Comments from the Original post:

  1. Ron Kilman September 27, 2014

    Great story on Bud. He was a might tight. Thanks for the photos of Dick and Darlene. Great memories.

  2. Citizen Tom September 28, 2014

    That a funny story. Bud must have been fun to work with.

    When we have an bad experience, we often learn the wrong lesson. Lots lots people learn to distrust computers, but they are just machines. Like any machine, we have to learn to use a computer properly.

    Apparently, Bud just filled out a form incorrectly. Did it really make any difference whether the form was on a computer? Would he have filled in a paper form correctly?

    What I find weird is that someone could place $468,000 order, and no one on the other end would look at the order carefully enough to wonder why Bud had used three different numbers to order the same part. Was it advantageous to the folks receiving the order to overlook the obvious? Why didn’t they call and confirm the order?

Luxuries and Amenities of a Power Plant Labor Crew

Originally Posted on August 11, 2012.  Added a picture of Larry Riley:

When I was a janitor at the Power Plant there were times when we were christened by being allowed to work with the Labor Crew on jobs that needed to be done in a hurry.  Larry Riley was the foreman of the Labor Crew.  I had worked with Larry Riley during the summers when I was a summer help, and I always held him in high esteem.

I think he knew that, and he said he was glad to have me working for him whenever they were in a pinch to complete a job in a hurry.  I have described Larry as reminding me of the Marlboro Man, as he had a moustache that looked like his.

Yep. That’s the Marlboro Man

I finally found a picture of Larry taken a couple of decades later… Here he is:

Larry Riley 20 years after I first met him. He has a much newer hardhat in this picture

Larry Riley 20 years after I first met him. He has a much newer hardhat in this picture

The wonderful thing about working in a Power Plant is that when you drive through the gate in the morning, you never know what you might be doing that day.   Even after 20 years at the plant, I was still amazed by the diversity of jobs a person could do there.  Anyone who spent those 20 years actually working instead of doing a desk job, would know a lot about all kinds of equipment and instruments, and temperatures.

When I was young I was able to go to Minnesota to visit my cousins in a place called “Phelp’s Mill”.  Named after an old mill along a river that was a “self service” museum.  Across the road and on the hill loomed a big foreboding house where my cousins lived during the summers.  We would play hide-and-seek in that mill, which was mainly made out of wood.  It was 4 stories high if you include the basement and had a lot of places to hide.

Phelps Mill, MN where we played as a boy.  You can see the house on the hill in the background

This is a picture of the inside of Phelps Mill by Shawn Turner: http://www.flickr.com/photos/32364049@N04/7174048516/

When I began working in the Power Plant, I realized one day that this was like that old mill only on a much bigger scale.  You could spend half of a life time wandering around that plant before you actually knew where everything was.  Each day brought something new.  My first years as a summer help, most of the “emergencies” that I would take part in had to do with cleaning up coal.  When I was able to work with the Labor Crew, things became a lot more interesting.

One day in the spring of 1983 when I arrived at work ready to mop the floor and sweep and dust the Turbine Generators, I was told that I needed to get with Chuck Ross an A foreman over the Labor Crew at the time, because I was going to work with the Labor Crew that day.  I was told to bring my respirator… Which usually had meant it was time to shovel coal.  This day was different.

Chuck brought me to the Tool room and asked Bif Johnson to give me a new Rubber Mallet.

New Rubber Mallet just like this

I went with the labor crew up on #1 Boiler just above the Air Preheater Baskets that I didn’t know existed at the time…  The Boiler had been shutdown over night because there was a problem with the airflow through the boiler and we had to go in the duct and clean the Slag Screen.

Diagram of a boiler

Diagram of a boiler

Below the Economizer and above the air preheater in the diagram above.

“Slag Screen,” I thought… That sounds like a fancy word for something that was  probably just some kind of filter or something….  I knew that Power Plant Engineers liked to give fancy words to make the Plant sound more like a Palace.

As I mentioned before… there are places like:  The Tripper Gallery.  Hopper Nozzle Booster Pump. Generator Bathtub.  The Gravimetric Feeder Deck — I liked that one, it sounded like you were on a ship.  Travelling Water Screens.  There were long names for some, like “Force Draft Fan Inboard Bearing Emergency Lube Oil Pump” (try saying that with a lisp).  Anyway, I could go on and on.

Larry Riley explained to us that we needed to work as fast as we could to clean the slag screen because they wanted to bring this unit back online in the evening.  We couldn’t wait for the unit to cool down much, so we were only allowed to go in the hot air duct for 10 minutes at a time because of the heat.

So, in I went.  The first thing I noticed as I stuck my head in the door was that there wasn’t any immediate place to stand.  There was only a hole below me that went down into the darkness.  So I looked around for something to grab onto to pull myself in.  Once my body was in the door I was able to walk along a beam next to this big screen.  It looked similar to a screen on a window at home only the wires were about 1/2 inch apart.  Something like this:

A picture of a similar slag screen

Oh, and there was one more thing that I noticed…. It was incredibly HOT.  I was wearing leather gloves so I could grab onto the structure to hold myself up, but if I leaned against the screen with my arm, it would burn it.  I was just wearing a tee shirt.  I don’t know the exact temperature, but I have worked in similar heat at other times, and I would say that it was around 160 degrees.  I was not wearing my  hard hat because there was a strong wind blowing to try and cool the boiler down.

The problem is that we were on the tail end of the air flowing out of the boiler, and it was carrying all that heat right onto us.  At 160 degrees your hard hat will become soft so that you can squish it like a ball cap.  I was wearing Goggles as well, and that helped keep my eyes from drying out since everything else went dry the moment I stuck my head in there.

Anyway, I threw the lanyard for my safety belt around a pipe that ran diagonal across my path, and held onto it with one hand while with my other hand I began pounding on the screen with the rubber mallet.  I had to breathe very shallow because the air was so hot.  Breathing slowly gave the air time to cool off a bit before it went down into my throat.

This was a new adventure for me.  There are some Brave Power Plant Men that work on the “Bowl Mill” crew that have worked in these conditions for weeks at a time.  I suppose you grow used to it after a while.  Kind of like when you eat something with Habenero Sauce.  The first time it just very painful.  Then a few weeks later, you’re piling it on your tortilla chips.

After my first 10 minutes were over, someone at the door, (which was hard to see) hollered for me, so I made my way back to the door and emerged into the cool air of the morning.  I noticed that Larry Riley gave me a slightly worried look and I wondered what it meant.  I realized what it was moments later when I went to remove the respirator off of my face.  I only had one filter cartridge in the respirator.

Half-face respirator

The other one was missing.  I thought that was silly of me to go in there with only one filter.  No wonder it seemed like I was breathing a lot of dust.  Then I thought…. No.  I know I had both filters when I went in the duct.  I must have lost one while I was in there.  Maybe with all that banging I knocked it off.

Anyway, 10 minutes later it was time for me to go back in there, and this time I made sure my filters were securely screwed onto the respirator.  I worried in the back of my mind that I may have ruined my lungs for life by breathing all that silicon-based fly ash because I was feeling a little out of breathe (for the next 10 years).

Anyway, halfway through my 10 minutes in the duct I reached up with my hand to make sure my filters were still tightly screwed in place, and to my astonishment, they weren’t tight.  I tried tightening them, but I couldn’t screw them tight.  The respirator itself had become soft in the heat and the plastic was no longer stiff enough to keep the filter tight.  It made sense then why I had lost my filter the first time.  It must have fallen down into the abyss of darkness that was right behind me while I was banging on that slag screen.

After working on the screen for an hour or so, we took a break.  When we returned the temperature in the boiler had dropped considerably, and I was able to stay in the duct the rest of the day without having to climb in and out all the time.

Larry had an air powered needle gun brought up there and someone used that for a while cleaning the screen.  It is what it sounds like.  It has rods sticking out the end of a gun looking tool that vibrate wildly when you pull the trigger.  I don’t know what the real name is for it, but it cleaned slag screens a lot faster than my beating the screen with the rubber mallet all day.

Needle Gun

I did beat that screen all day.  When it was time to leave I brought the mallet back to the tool room, and it looked like this:

Rubber Mallet after banging on a slag screen all day

I had worn the rubber off of the  mallet.  When I brought the mallet back to the tool room, Bif said, “What is this?”  I said I was just returning the mallet that I had borrowed that morning.  He said something about how I must be some kind of a he-man or crazy.   I was too worried about my lungs to think about how much my wrists were aching from taking that pounding all day.

A couple of months later I was promoted to the Labor Crew.  Chuck Ross had kept saying that he couldn’t wait for me to go to the Labor Crew because he wanted me to work for him.  The very day that I started on the Labor Crew, the plant had a going-away party for Chuck Ross.  He was leaving our plant to go work at another one in Muskogee.

During the party Chuck presented me with the rubber mallet that I had used that day cleaning the slag screen.  He said he had never seen anything like that before.  He was sorry he was going to leave without having the opportunity to have me working for him.

I felt the same way about Chuck.  I have always kept that rubber mallet laying around the house since 1983 when I received it.  My wife sometimes picks it up when she is cleaning somewhere and says, “Do you still want this?” With a hopeful look, like someday I may say that it is all right if she throws it away.

Of course I want to keep it.  It reminds me of the days when I was able to work with True Power Plant Men in their natural environment.  The slag screen was later deemed unnecessary and was removed from the boiler.

It also reminds me of other things.  Like how quickly something can happen that changes your life forever.

Questions from that day have always remained with me.

How much ash did I breathe in?  I couldn’t see much more than a few feet in front of me as I banged on that screen knocking ash down all over me.  What did it do to my lungs?

What if I had taken a step back or slipped off of that beam before I had walked to the other end to secure my safety lanyard?  I know now what was below me then.  I would have fallen about 20 feet down to some fins, and then down another 20 feet onto the air preheater baskets.  It would have taken a while to retrieve me, once someone figured out that I was missing.

What does that much heat do to your body… or your brain?

I know these are things that go through the minds of True Power Plant Men.  I worked with them for years improving the safety of the power plant.  All-in-all, no one ever died when I was there, though some came close.  The Slogan over the Shift Supervisor’s Office said, “Safety is job #1”.  That wasn’t there to try to convince us that Safety was important.  It was there as a testimony to everyone who had already made that decision.

Comments from the previous repost:

  1. Jonathan Caswell August 12, 2014

    GLAD that you made it….even if the mallet didn’t!!!

    I can dig it. When I was hired for Security at one post…I really looked forward to working with and for that particular Supervisor who’d hired me. No such luck–she was gone in a month or two. THAT hurt! 🙂

  2. Ron Kilman August 13, 2014

    If the environment is too hot for a respirator to function properly in, it’s too hot for people to work in (if safety is actually job #1). I saw too many examples of “Get the Unit Back On is Job #1″.

 

Dick Dale and the Power Plant Printer Romance

Originally posted January 17, 2014.  I added more to the story:

When I first moved to Ponca City in 1986 I carpooled each day to the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma with Dick Dale, Jim Heflin and Bud Schoonover (See the post:  “Carpooling Adventures with Bud Schoonover“).  Dick Dale had moved to Ponca City a couple of years earlier after his divorce.  He didn’t want to continue living in Stillwater where he felt as if everyone knew about his tragic situation.  We had been friends from the first day we met (which is often the case with Power Plant Men) when I was a summer help working out of the garage and he worked in the tool room and warehouse.

I wrote about Dick Dale this past Christmas, when I talked about his situation (See the post:  “Harmonizing with Dick Dale on Power Plant Christmas Harmonicas“).  I knew that even though it was a few years later, Richard was still feeling the impact from this emotional trauma.  One day I found the opportunity to play a “Power Plant” joke on him that I thought might help lift his spirits.

I recently wrote another post about how I had installed dumb terminals around the plant so that regular workers would be able to access the mainframe computer downtown in Corporate Headquarters in order to see their work orders, or look up parts in the warehouse, etc. (See the post:  “Working Smarter with Power Plant Dumb Terminals“).  In most places where I installed terminals, I also installed large IBM printers that printed using continuous feed paper.

IBM Dot Matrix Network Printer

IBM Dot Matrix Network Printer

For those of you who remember, at first most dot matrix printers would feed paper from a box underneath them.  they had holes down both sides of the paper where the sprockets would rotate and paper would come rolling out the top of the printer.

Dot Matrix paper with holes so the printer can feed the paper through.  The holes sections with the holes were perforated so you could tear them off easily.

Dot Matrix paper with holes so the printer can feed the paper through. The holes sections with the holes were perforated so you could tear them off easily.

Ok.  Here is a quick one paragraph side story…

One day when my son was 5 years old, we had to wait a while in an airport.  We were sitting in a row of seats at the gate waiting.  My son kept popping up slowly, jerking as he rose, from behind the row of seats and would lay over the seat back and end up head down on the chair.  After doing this a few times, my wife Kelly who was becoming slightly annoyed asked him what he was doing.  He said, “I’m paper coming out of the printer”.  Of course, this cracked us all up.

Anyway, back to the story.  By the time I had to add the dumb terminals and printers to the Garage and Warehouse, I had already been playing around on the mainframe learning all sorts of ways to get into trouble. — Well, what else was I going to do during lunch while Charles Foster and I talked about movies and stuff?  I had a personal user account on the mainframe that basically gave me “God Access”.  They didn’t really have anything like “Network Security” back then.  — This was 1988.

Back then, we also didn’t have anything called “Email” either.  It wasn’t until 1989 that CompuServe first offered real Internet e-mail to its users.  When we wanted to send something to someone in the company, we either printed it out and put in an intra-company envelope and sent it by “snail” mail, or we could find out what printer they used and get the ID for the printer and send it to them.  It was a code like:  P1234.

Well.  I had been playing with this text editor on the Honeywell mainframe called FRED.  This stood for FRiendly EDitor.  For those of you who know UNIX, this was pretty much the same as the VI Editor found on UNIX mainframes.  The commands were the same.  Today, users of Microsoft Word would be horrified to find out what you had to go through to create a document back then.

I had been practicing using this editor, and found that by using the special escape codes for the printer, I could create documents that would come out looking pretty neat.  So, I had created some templates that would make it look like I was printing a Memo from some mainframe program.  That was about the time that I installed the printer in the garage.

So, I created a big long document that would print out on the garage printer as soon as I connected the printer to the network.  It went on and on about how the printer wasn’t happy about being placed in such a dusty environment and how it refused to be cooperative until it was moved to a cleaner place.  It would spit out a bunch of sheets of paper, printing protest after protest.

Then it ended up by saying that if it wasn’t moved right away, it was going to shut down in 10 minutes and it started counting down by 30 second intervals.  Then at the last minute, it counted down by 15 seconds until it counted down the last 10 seconds by feeding a sheet of paper for each second while it was counting… then it paused at the last second.  Finally, it printed out at the end a concession that since it was obviously not going to be moved to someplace cleaner, it might as well give up and be cooperative.

When I installed the printer in the office in the automotive garage, I knew it would take about 30 seconds to connect the first time, and by that time, I was outside making my way back to the electric shop.  By the time I arrived back in the electric shop Charles Patten, the foreman in the garage was calling me on the gray phone.  The gray phone is the plant PA system:

Gaitronics Gray Phone

Gaitronics Gray Phone

Of course, I knew why.  I answered the phone and Charles told me that something was wrong with the printer.  It kept shooting paper out of it and wouldn’t stop.  He had even turned it off, but when he turned it back on, it still kept feeding paper out.  I told him that sounded pretty strange to me and I would be right over to see what was going on.  I took my time returning to the garage giving the printer time to throw it’s tantrum.

By the time I returned, the printer had stopped ranting about being installed in a dirty environment and had given up it’s protest.  Charles said that it finally stopped.  I walked over to the printer and took the pile of hundred or so pages that it had printed out, and tore them off the printer and walked out with them.  I don’t even know if Charles had paid any attention to what the printer was saying.

I think I was the only person that knew that I had just “attempted” to play a joke on Charles.  After all, as the paper was feeding out it was carefully collecting into a nice stack in front of the printer on the floor, and unless someone picked up the stack and looked at it, they wouldn’t know that anything was even printed on it.  So, in this case, the joke may have been on me.  But then again, Power Plant Men are like that.  If they figure a joke is being played on them, then they figure out how to turn it around so that the joker is the one that has the joke played on them.  Maybe that was the case here.  Charles Patten was probably one of the most intelligent foremen at the plant, so it was possible.

Anyway, back to Dick Dale.  I installed the printer in the warehouse and Dick Dale, Darlene Mitchell, Mike Gibbs and Bud Schoonover were happy to be connected to the Inventory program on the mainframe…..  um… yeah. sure they were…… especially Bud.

Bud Schoonover was the person that when it was his turn to run the tool room would not give you something if it was the last one.  So, if I needed a flashlight and it was the last one, and I asked Bud for a flashlight, he would say that he couldn’t give it to me.  Why?  You might ask.  Well, he would explain that if he gave the last one away, he would have to order some more.  Bud didn’t like ordering things on the computer.  So, in order to keep from having to order anything he simply didn’t give away the last one of any item.

Anyway.  I decided one Monday during my regular lunch time computer educational moments to send a letter over to the warehouse printer addressed to Dick Dale.  It was from an anonymous woman.  The letter sounded like it was from someone that really had a thing for Richard and remembered how they used to work together.  It also mentioned other people, like Mike Gibbs and Pat Braden and about how they used to hang around each other.

Since this was a fictitious character, I could say anything I wanted, but I wanted to put it in a time period back when I was still a summer help.  Well…  It wasn’t long before Dick Dale called me on the gray phone (no.  I won’t post another picture of the gray phone here.   I think you get the idea).  He asked me to come over to the warehouse.

When I arrived, Richard showed me the letter.  He was excited about it.  He was trying to figure out who it could be.  He thought about the people that had moved from the plant to Corporate Headquarters and wondered if it was one of them.  I thought for a little while, and I couldn’t come up with who it might be (obviously), since it was me.

The next day at lunch I sent another letter to his printer.  I mentioned more about the “old days” working at the plant.  On the way home Richard showed it to me.  I could tell that he was really excited about this.  I held back my smile, but inside it felt real good to see that Richard had finally come back to life.  For the past couple of years, he had been so down.  Now some woman was paying attention to him, and actually was telling him that she had always liked him.

Darlene Mitchell sent a letter to the printer ID I had sent in the letter to Richard, saying the following:

Dear Ghost Writer,

This has been the most exciting thing that’s happened in the warehouse in a long time.  We await your messages.  Dick is really trying hard to figure this out, and if you don’t give him a little hint, his little old brains are going to get fried.

He also requests that you send his messages to his printer only, that way I won’t be able to send my message back.  He takes all the fun out of everything.  P)24 is his number, and if you can’t get a response out of him, I’ll be glad to put my two cents in.

I’m sure Dick would like to see you too.  Maybe we can get him headed in your direction, if you tell me where that is.

So, long, see you in the funny papers.

<end of message>

Darlene-Mitchell

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

On Thursday Richard called me and asked me to come over to the warehouse.  He showed me the letter he had received that day.  He said he was too excited.  He just had to find out who it was that was sending him these letters.  He said that since I knew everything there was to know about computers (a slight exaggeration), he asked me to see if I could find out where the letters were coming from.

I told him I would do what I could to see if I could track down who was sending the letters.  On the way home that day, he asked me if I had any luck.  I told him I was still looking into it.  I told him I thought there might be a way to find a log somewhere that would tell me.

So, after lunch on Friday I walked over to the warehouse.  When I entered, I signaled to Richard that I wanted to talk to him.  — Remember.  Richard and I had developed facial signals while carpooling with Bud Schoonover so that all we had to do was glance at each other and we instantly knew what each other was saying…

Richard and I stepped outside of the warehouse where we could be alone.  He asked me if I had found the person sending him the letters.  I told him I had (I knew I had to do this right or I would lose a good friend, so I said), “Yes.  I have.”

I could see the look of excitement in his face.  So I looked straight at him and I said, “I have been sending these letters to you.”  He was stunned.  He said, “What?”  I said, “Richard.  I have been sending them to you.”

I could see that he was very disappointed.  After all.  No two people could read each other’s expressions better than me and Richard.  We practiced them every day.  The corners of his mouth went down.  The middle went up.  Edges of the eyes went down.  Eyes began to water.  Yep.  He was disappointed to say the least.

I told him I was sorry to get his hopes up.  I put on the saddest look I could muster.  Inside I wasn’t so sad.  Actually I was pretty happy.  I knew this was a tough moment for Richard, but he had spent an entire week flying high.  For the first time in a long time, Richard had hope.  A  couple of hours of disappointment was well worth this past week.

I patted him on the back and he turned to walk back into the warehouse despondent.  I went back to the electric shop.

As for my part, I continued sending Dick Dale printed messages from time to time.  Just goofy messages like the following:

Dear Richard,

Sometimes when I type letters I find that the words I use are not always the typical type that I would use if I wrote a letter.  The letters that I make when I write a letter aren’t the type of letters that I use when I type a letter.  When I write a letter, the letters in the words are sometimes hard to distinguish, but the letters I type when i’m typing a letter are the type of letters that stand out clearly and uniformly.  I can’t really say that when I type I’m right, or when I write I’m right, because I usually type a different type of letter than I write when I’m writing a letter.  I typically use a different type of words when I’m typing than I use when I’m writing, so I really can’t say that writing is right when a typical typed letter is just as right as writing.  That is just the type of person I am.

Typical Typist

After a few more days, Darlene Mitchell and Dick Dale began sending me letters indicating that the warehouse workers had been taken hostage, and they had a list of hostage demands.  I would write back to them.  The hostage letters and my replies would make up an entire blog post just by themselves.

So, what followed this episode?  Well.  Within a few weeks  Dick Dale had attended an event at the Presbyterian Church in Ponca City where he met a very nice woman, Jill Cowan.  He began dating her, and within the year they were married on November 13, 1988.

I like to think that I had given him the kick in the pants that he needed at the time that he needed it.  For that one week where he had hope, he believed that someone else really cared for him (which I really did, just not in the way he was thinking).  If he could believe that, then maybe it could really be true, even if in this case it turned out to only be one of his best friends.

I know that Dick Dale lived happily ever after.  As I mentioned earlier, I wrote a post about Dick Dale about a time when I gave a Christmas present to Dick Dale, Christmas 1983.  Well. as it turned out, my friend Richard was presented to Saint Peter at the gates of Heaven 25 years later on Christmas Day, 2008, 20 happy years after his marriage to Jill.  I don’t really miss him.  He is always with me in my heart to this day.

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

Elvin Power Plant Tool Room Adventures With Bud

Originally posted September 27, 2014, added a picture of Bud

When I say that Bud Schoonover is known as “Elvin”, I don’t mean to imply that he was Elvin in nature.  What I mean to say is that he did not necessarily possess the qualities of an elf.  Well, except for his smile, which is somewhat Elvish-like.  Bud’s smile was usually more like a look of warning for those who didn’t know him well.  I have always said that he reminded me of a six foot, 5 inch tall, white Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son, and about 75 to 100 pounds heavier.

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son smiling like Bud Schoonover

What I mean by saying that Bud is known as “Elvin” is that is what his Mother called him when he was born.  Though somewhere along the line he became known as Bud;  Not from his middle name… because I think that was Floyd.  Bud was my good friend and carpooling buddy (See the post “Carpooling with Bud Schoonover“).  Maybe that was why people called him Bud.  Because he was everyone’s “buddy”.

I don’t mean to make it sound like Bud has passed away, because as far as I know, he is still an active Republican voter living on South Palm Street in Ponca City.  I also don’t want you to think that I was only friends with Bud Schoonover because he was a good carpooling buddy.  No.  Bud had all sorts of talents.  He gave great weather reports each morning when we would gather to take our trek to the Power Plant some 20 miles away, as I mentioned in the other post about Bud.

I don’t think that there was anyone at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma that didn’t like Bud.  There was just something naturally likable about him.  Bud worked in the tool room and the warehouse ever since the day I first arrived at the plant in 1979. — Well, the warehouse wasn’t much of a warehouse back then.  It just had stuffed piled up against the walls.  No shelves, No storage racks.  No drawers and bins full of parts.

Bud is four years and 26 days younger than my own father, and four years and 18 days younger than Elvis Presley.

The King

The King

He will be 76 years old this January.  Needless to say, Bud retired from the Power Plant in 1994 after having just turned 55.  At his going away party, some guys at the plant fixed up a Wal-Mart shopping cart with a bunch of accessories attached to it so that he would be properly equipped when he went to work at Wal-Mart as a Greeter. — For those of you who don’t know…. Wal-Mart used to hire elderly people to greet people when you walked into the store.  They might pull a cart out of the stack of carts and give it to you if you looked like you were in need of a cart.

Wal-Mart Shopping Cart

Wal-Mart Shopping Cart

Bud was extra careful when working in the warehouse.  He wanted to make sure that he was getting everything right, so he would check, and double check, and then check again…. just to make sure everything matched.  One good example of this was when he was tasked with ordering a half set of coal burner nozzles and tips for the boiler.

There were 24 of these Coal burner nozzle and tips in the boiler.  the nozzles costing about $13,000 and the tips ran somewhere around $4,000 each.

Coal Burner Nozzle Tips

Coal Burner Nozzle

There was another assembly that attached to the end with the hole on the side that allowed the nozzle to change the pitch it was called the Tip.

So, Bud wanted to make sure the created the order correctly.  So, when Bud placed the order with the supplier, he not only included the Supplier’s part number, but he also included the manufacturer’s part number.  Just to make sure they knew they were sending the correct part, he even sent them the old manufacturing part number that they used a few years before they changed their part numbering system.  — So, when he sent the order, it had all three part number for the 12 nozzles.  He did the same thing with the smaller piece for the end of the nozzle.

To Bud’s surprise, one bright sunny morning in December, 1989 (well, it may not have been that sunny that day), guess what showed up at the loading dock?  12 nozzles with the suppliers part number, 12 nozzles with the manufacturer’s part number, and 12 more nozzles with the manufacturer’s old part number!  Yeah…. Didn’t count on that one.

I think I know how Bud must have felt when that happened.  Probably the same way I felt the morning I was summoned to the front office to pick up my mail, only to find a stack of a couple hundred envelopes from all over the company after printing something out on all the printers in the company (See “Power Plant Customer Service Team Gone Wild“).  I think Bud took these things in more in stride than most people might.  His reaction to finding out that the order he had created for $156,000 had suddenly turned into $468,000 was probably something like…. “Oh Geez.  I sure don’t want to do that again!”

During the “We’ve Got the Power” program (see the post “Power Plant We’ve Got the Power“), the HR and Warehouse director, Linda Dallas asked us if we would put in a proposal to scrap the extra nozzles since these nozzles were very big.  She didn’t think it would look good if her own team created the proposal since she was already responsible for the warehouse.  We had two people from the warehouse on our We’ve Got the Power team, Dick Dale and Darlene Mitchell, so she thought we could do something out the conundrum.  Two nozzles fit on a pallet, taking up space all over the warehouse.

The nozzles with the Tips attached

The nozzles with the Tips attached

We could save money just by scrapping it because we wouldn’t have to pay taxes on the parts.  It cost too much to return them to the supplier because the restocking fee was too high. — And E-Bay didn’t exist back then.

Instead of accepting our proposal, it was decided that instead of just changing out half of the nozzles during the next outage, they would just replace all of the nozzles.  This reduced the number of nozzles left in the warehouse to a more manageable number.  So, Bud’s Faux Pas, may have just helped increase the efficiency of the boiler significantly with the replacement of the nozzles which may have translated into savings of unknown millions of dollars, of which Bud received no credit… But that’s okay.  Bud wasn’t one to seek credit for his ingenious accidental idea of triple ordering boiler Nozzles.

One of the favorite stories I would tell my children as they were growing up when they would ask me to tell them a Bud Schoonover story was the story about the last tool in the tool room.  — This is Bud’s own special way of handling the restocking of the tool room.  It goes like this….  For instance….

If you went to the tool room to ask for a yellow flashlight and it happened to be the last yellow flashlight in the tool room, and it was Bud Schoonover’s week to man the tool room, then you would hear something like this:

Yellow Flashlight similar to the one I carried

Yellow Flashlight similar to the one I carried

“I can’t give you a yellow flashlight, because I only have one left.”  — You may want to respond with something like, “But Bud, if there’s one left, then why can’t I have it?”  Bud’s reply would be, “Because if I give you the last one, then I’d have to order more.”

At this point, you may want to start over asking if you can have a yellow flashlight, with the hope that Bud may have forgotten that he was down to his last yellow flashlight….  You might even phrase it a little differently… You might say something like, “Well… Can I just borrow a yellow flashlight for a few hours?  At least for as long as I have to do some work in the dark?” — I have seen this approach almost work.  He would stop and think about it like Andy Griffith in “No Time For Sergeants” trying to answer questions being asked by the Psychiatrist:

Andy Griffith talking to the Psychiatrist

Andy Griffith talking to the Psychiatrist in No Time for Sergeants

Then the next question you may ask (I know, since I asked it more than once) is: “So, Bud, how about ordering some more yellow flashlights.”  Bud would reply with something like, “No.  I don’t really want to order anything this week.”, as he nods in the direction of the computer monitor sitting on the desk just to his left…  — Oh…. computer shy…. that’s why.  Not comfortable ordering stuff on the computer (especially after ordering all those coal burner nozzles).

I can understand that.  He is the same age as my own father, and my dad at that time would literally call me at least one time every single day to ask me a computer question.  Like…. “How do I move a paragraph from one part of a document to another part?”  — “Um… Yeah Dad, (for the hundredth time), you do it like this….”

There’s something about every one of my friends and family that were born between December 30, 1934 and January 27th 1939.  They all had the same problem with computers.  Must be that particular generation born within thatfour year period.  I’m sure Elvis, who was born right in the middle of that time frame (on January 8, 1935), would have had the same trouble with the PC if he had lived long enough.  — I know… I know…  I just saw him the other day myself.

Only he had gained some weight

Only he had gained some weight

Anyway, there was one sure fire way to get that tool that I needed from the tool room while Bud Schoonover was manning the front gate, and that was to volunteer to go to the warehouse and pick up a box of the parts yourself and carry them back and hand them to Bud, while taking one out for yourself.  — And the time I needed a flashlight, I did just that.

One time I went to the tool room in the middle of the winter when we had water pipes that were frozen and I needed a propane torch to heat the pipe to melt the ice.  Bud told me that he couldn’t give me a propane torch because he only had one left.  I looked up two racks over from the gate and could see at least two boxes of propane bottles on the top shelf.

I told Bud that I wouldn’t be taking his last bottle of propane, because there was at least two bottles right up there on that shelf.  Bud insisted that he only had one bottle of propane left and he couldn’t give it to me.  So, while smiling at Bud and explaining that I could see the two bottles right up there on the top of the shelf,… with one hand on his shoulder (which was about a whole foot taller than my head), and the other hand unlocking the gate, I told him I would show him.

So, I stepped into the tool room, and said, “It’s ok Bud, I won’t take your last bottle of Propane, but I do have to take this bottle here, because we have a water pipe that is frozen solid, and I need to use the propane torch to warm it up.  Here… I”ll just take this one, and you can keep this other one here….”

Power Plant Propane torch

Power Plant Propane Torch

As I walked back out the tool room smiling all the time at Bud, who was just staring at me with a worried look finally lowered his shoulders which had been creeping up closer to his ears as I had sidestepped him to get to the propane bottle.

The funny thing was that by the end of the week, there would be a whole list of parts and tools that only had one left in the tool room.  Bud would consider it a successful week if he could make it through the week without having to get on the computer and order some more parts.  He knew that next Monday, when Dick Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

or Darlene Mitchell

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

arrived, they would restock the shelves, and he would be in the warehouse filling the orders and bringing them over on a two wheeler to the tool room.  And the world would be right once again.

Since originally posting this post, Bud Schoonover had joined Dick Dale in the warehouse of Paradise.  See the post:  “Dynamic Power Plant Trio – And Then There Was One“.  Here is the latest picture of Bud:

Bud Schoonover

Bud Schoonover

Comments from the Original post:

  1. Ron Kilman September 27, 2014

    Great story on Bud. He was a might tight. Thanks for the photos of Dick and Darlene. Great memories.

  2. Citizen Tom September 28, 2014

    That a funny story. Bud must have been fun to work with.

    When we have an bad experience, we often learn the wrong lesson. Lots lots people learn to distrust computers, but they are just machines. Like any machine, we have to learn to use a computer properly.

    Apparently, Bud just filled out a form incorrectly. Did it really make any difference whether the form was on a computer? Would he have filled in a paper form correctly?

    What I find weird is that someone could place $468,000 order, and no one on the other end would look at the order carefully enough to wonder why Bud had used three different numbers to order the same part. Was it advantageous to the folks receiving the order to overlook the obvious? Why didn’t they call and confirm the order?

Elvin Power Plant Tool Room Adventures With Bud

Originally posted September 27, 2014, added a picture of Bud

When I say that Bud Schoonover is known as “Elvin”, I don’t mean to imply that he was Elvin in nature.  What I mean to say is that he did not necessarily possess the qualities of an elf.  Well, except for his smile, which is somewhat Elvish-like.  Bud’s smile was usually more like a look of warning for those who didn’t know him well.  I have always said that he reminded me of a six foot, 5 inch tall, white Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son, and about 75 to 100 pounds heavier.

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son smiling like Bud Schoonover

What I mean by saying that Bud is known as “Elvin” is that is what his Mother called him when he was born.  Though somewhere along the line he became known as Bud;  Not from his middle name… because I think that was Floyd.  Bud was my good friend and carpooling buddy (See the post “Carpooling with Bud Schoonover“).  Maybe that was why people called him Bud.  Because he was everyone’s “buddy”.

I don’t mean to make it sound like Bud has passed away, because as far as I know, he is still an active Republican voter living on South Palm Street in Ponca City.  I also don’t want you to think that I was only friends with Bud Schoonover because he was a good carpooling buddy.  No.  Bud had all sorts of talents.  He gave great weather reports each morning when we would gather to take our trek to the Power Plant some 20 miles away, as I mentioned in the other post about Bud.

I don’t think that there was anyone at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma that didn’t like Bud.  There was just something naturally likable about him.  Bud worked in the tool room and the warehouse ever since the day I first arrived at the plant in 1979. — Well, the warehouse wasn’t much of a warehouse back then.  It just had stuffed piled up against the walls.  No shelves, No storage racks.  No drawers and bins full of parts.

Bud is four years and 26 days younger than my own father, and four years and 18 days younger than Elvis Presley.

The King

The King

He will be 76 years old this January.  Needless to say, Bud retired from the Power Plant in 1994 after having just turned 55.  At his going away party, some guys at the plant fixed up a Wal-Mart shopping cart with a bunch of accessories attached to it so that he would be properly equipped when he went to work at Wal-Mart as a Greeter. — For those of you who don’t know…. Wal-Mart used to hire elderly people to greet people when you walked into the store.  They might pull a cart out of the stack of carts and give it to you if you looked like you were in need of a cart.

Wal-Mart Shopping Cart

Wal-Mart Shopping Cart

Bud was extra careful when working in the warehouse.  He wanted to make sure that he was getting everything right, so he would check, and double check, and then check again…. just to make sure everything matched.  One good example of this was when he was tasked with ordering a half set of coal burner nozzles and tips for the boiler.

There were 24 of these Coal burner nozzle and tips in the boiler.  the nozzles costing about $13,000 and the tips ran somewhere around $4,000 each.

Coal Burner Nozzle Tips

Coal Burner Nozzle

There was another assembly that attached to the end with the hole on the side that allowed the nozzle to change the pitch it was called the Tip.

So, Bud wanted to make sure the created the order correctly.  So, when Bud placed the order with the supplier, he not only included the Supplier’s part number, but he also included the manufacturer’s part number.  Just to make sure they knew they were sending the correct part, he even sent them the old manufacturing part number that they used a few years before they changed their part numbering system.  — So, when he sent the order, it had all three part number for the 12 nozzles.  He did the same thing with the smaller piece for the end of the nozzle.

To Bud’s surprise, one bright sunny morning in December, 1989 (well, it may not have been that sunny that day), guess what showed up at the loading dock?  12 nozzles with the suppliers part number, 12 nozzles with the manufacturer’s part number, and 12 more nozzles with the manufacturer’s old part number!  Yeah…. Didn’t count on that one.

I think I know how Bud must have felt when that happened.  Probably the same way I felt the morning I was summoned to the front office to pick up my mail, only to find a stack of a couple hundred envelopes from all over the company after printing something out on all the printers in the company (See “Power Plant Customer Service Team Gone Wild“).  I think Bud took these things in more in stride than most people might.  His reaction to finding out that the order he had created for $156,000 had suddenly turned into $468,000 was probably something like…. “Oh Geez.  I sure don’t want to do that again!”

During the “We’ve Got the Power” program (see the post “Power Plant We’ve Got the Power“), the HR and Warehouse director, Linda Dallas asked us if we would put in a proposal to scrap the extra nozzles since these nozzles were very big.  She didn’t think it would look good if her own team created the proposal since she was already responsible for the warehouse.  We had two people from the warehouse on our We’ve Got the Power team, Dick Dale and Darlene Mitchell, so she thought we could do something out the conundrum.  Two nozzles fit on a pallet, taking up space all over the warehouse.

The nozzles with the Tips attached

The nozzles with the Tips attached

We could save money just by scrapping it because we wouldn’t have to pay taxes on the parts.  It cost too much to return them to the supplier because the restocking fee was too high. — And E-Bay didn’t exist back then.

Instead of accepting our proposal, it was decided that instead of just changing out half of the nozzles during the next outage, they would just replace all of the nozzles.  This reduced the number of nozzles left in the warehouse to a more manageable number.  So, Bud’s Faux Pas, may have just helped increase the efficiency of the boiler significantly with the replacement of the nozzles which may have translated into savings of unknown millions of dollars, of which Bud received no credit… But that’s okay.  Bud wasn’t one to seek credit for his ingenious accidental idea of triple ordering boiler Nozzles.

One of the favorite stories I would tell my children as they were growing up when they would ask me to tell them a Bud Schoonover story was the story about the last tool in the tool room.  — This is Bud’s own special way of handling the restocking of the tool room.  It goes like this….  For instance….

If you went to the tool room to ask for a yellow flashlight and it happened to be the last yellow flashlight in the tool room, and it was Bud Schoonover’s week to man the tool room, then you would hear something like this:

Yellow Flashlight similar to the one I carried

Yellow Flashlight similar to the one I carried

“I can’t give you a yellow flashlight, because I only have one left.”  — You may want to respond with something like, “But Bud, if there’s one left, then why can’t I have it?”  Bud’s reply would be, “Because if I give you the last one, then I’d have to order more.”

At this point, you may want to start over asking if you can have a yellow flashlight, with the hope that Bud may have forgotten that he was down to his last yellow flashlight….  You might even phrase it a little differently… You might say something like, “Well… Can I just borrow a yellow flashlight for a few hours?  At least for as long as I have to do some work in the dark?” — I have seen this approach almost work.  He would stop and think about it like Andy Griffith in “No Time For Sergeants” trying to answer questions being asked by the Psychiatrist:

Andy Griffith talking to the Psychiatrist

Andy Griffith talking to the Psychiatrist in No Time for Sergeants

Then the next question you may ask (I know, since I asked it more than once) is: “So, Bud, how about ordering some more yellow flashlights.”  Bud would reply with something like, “No.  I don’t really want to order anything this week.”, as he nods in the direction of the computer monitor sitting on the desk just to his left…  — Oh…. computer shy…. that’s why.  Not comfortable ordering stuff on the computer (especially after ordering all those coal burner nozzles).

I can understand that.  He is the same age as my own father, and my dad at that time would literally call me at least one time every single day to ask me a computer question.  Like…. “How do I move a paragraph from one part of a document to another part?”  — “Um… Yeah Dad, (for the hundredth time), you do it like this….”

There’s something about every one of my friends and family that were born between December 30, 1934 and January 27th 1939.  They all had the same problem with computers.  Must be that particular generation born within thatfour year period.  I’m sure Elvis, who was born right in the middle of that time frame (on January 8, 1935), would have had the same trouble with the PC if he had lived long enough.  — I know… I know…  I just saw him the other day myself.

Only he had gained some weight

Only he had gained some weight

Anyway, there was one sure fire way to get that tool that I needed from the tool room while Bud Schoonover was manning the front gate, and that was to volunteer to go to the warehouse and pick up a box of the parts yourself and carry them back and hand them to Bud, while taking one out for yourself.  — And the time I needed a flashlight, I did just that.

One time I went to the tool room in the middle of the winter when we had water pipes that were frozen and I needed a propane torch to heat the pipe to melt the ice.  Bud told me that he couldn’t give me a propane torch because he only had one left.  I looked up two racks over from the gate and could see at least two boxes of propane bottles on the top shelf.

I told Bud that I wouldn’t be taking his last bottle of propane, because there was at least two bottles right up there on that shelf.  Bud insisted that he only had one bottle of propane left and he couldn’t give it to me.  So, while smiling at Bud and explaining that I could see the two bottles right up there on the top of the shelf,… with one hand on his shoulder (which was about a whole foot taller than my head), and the other hand unlocking the gate, I told him I would show him.

So, I stepped into the tool room, and said, “It’s ok Bud, I won’t take your last bottle of Propane, but I do have to take this bottle here, because we have a water pipe that is frozen solid, and I need to use the propane torch to warm it up.  Here… I”ll just take this one, and you can keep this other one here….”

Power Plant Propane torch

Power Plant Propane Torch

As I walked back out the tool room smiling all the time at Bud, who was just staring at me with a worried look finally lowered his shoulders which had been creeping up closer to his ears as I had sidestepped him to get to the propane bottle.

The funny thing was that by the end of the week, there would be a whole list of parts and tools that only had one left in the tool room.  Bud would consider it a successful week if he could make it through the week without having to get on the computer and order some more parts.  He knew that next Monday, when Dick Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

or Darlene Mitchell

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

arrived, they would restock the shelves, and he would be in the warehouse filling the orders and bringing them over on a two wheeler to the tool room.  And the world would be right once again.

Since originally posting this post, Bud Schoonover had joined Dick Dale in the warehouse of Paradise.  See the post:  “Dynamic Power Plant Trio – And Then There Was One“.  Here is the latest picture of Bud:

Bud Schoonover

Bud Schoonover

Comments from the Original post:

  1. Ron Kilman September 27, 2014

    Great story on Bud. He was a might tight. Thanks for the photos of Dick and Darlene. Great memories.

  2. Citizen Tom September 28, 2014

    That a funny story. Bud must have been fun to work with.

    When we have an bad experience, we often learn the wrong lesson. Lots lots people learn to distrust computers, but they are just machines. Like any machine, we have to learn to use a computer properly.

    Apparently, Bud just filled out a form incorrectly. Did it really make any difference whether the form was on a computer? Would he have filled in a paper form correctly?

    What I find weird is that someone could place $468,000 order, and no one on the other end would look at the order carefully enough to wonder why Bud had used three different numbers to order the same part. Was it advantageous to the folks receiving the order to overlook the obvious? Why didn’t they call and confirm the order?

Luxuries and Amenities of a Power Plant Labor Crew

Originally Posted on August 11, 2012.  Added a picture of Larry Riley:

When I was a janitor at the Power Plant there were times when we were christened by being allowed to work with the Labor Crew on jobs that needed to be done in a hurry.  Larry Riley was the foreman of the Labor Crew.  I had worked with Larry Riley during the summers when I was a summer help, and I always held him in high esteem.

I think he knew that, and he said he was glad to have me working for him whenever they were in a pinch to complete a job in a hurry.  I have described Larry as reminding me of the Marlboro Man, as he had a moustache that looked like his.

Yep. That’s the Marlboro Man

I finally found a picture of Larry taken a couple of decades later… Here he is:

Larry Riley 20 years after I first met him.  He has a much newer hardhat in this picture

Larry Riley 20 years after I first met him. He has a much newer hardhat in this picture

The wonderful thing about working in a Power Plant is that when you drive through the gate in the morning, you never know what you might be doing that day.   Even after 20 years at the plant, I was still amazed by the diversity of jobs a person could do there.  Anyone who spent those 20 years actually working instead of doing a desk job, would know a lot about all kinds of equipment and instruments, and temperatures.

When I was young I was able to go to Minnesota to visit my cousins in a place called “Phelp’s Mill”.  Named after an old mill along a river that was a “self service” museum.  Across the road and on the hill loomed a big foreboding house where my cousins lived during the summers.  We would play hide-and-seek in that mill, which was mainly made out of wood.  It was 4 stories high if you include the basement and had a lot of places to hide.

Phelps Mill, MN where we played as a boy.  You can see the house on the hill in the background

This is a picture of the inside of Phelps Mill by Shawn Turner: http://www.flickr.com/photos/32364049@N04/7174048516/

When I began working in the Power Plant, I realized one day that this was like that old mill only on a much bigger scale.  You could spend half of a life time wandering around that plant before you actually knew where everything was.  Each day brought something new.  My first years as a summer help, most of the “emergencies” that I would take part in had to do with cleaning up coal.  When I was able to work with the Labor Crew, things became a lot more interesting.

One day in the spring of 1983 when I arrived at work ready to mop the floor and sweep and dust the Turbine Generators, I was told that I needed to get with Chuck Ross an A foreman over the Labor Crew at the time, because I was going to work with the Labor Crew that day.  I was told to bring my respirator… Which usually had meant it was time to shovel coal.  This day was different.

Chuck brought me to the Tool room and asked Bif Johnson to give me a new Rubber Mallet.

New Rubber Mallet just like this

I went with the labor crew up on #1 Boiler just above the Air Preheater Baskets that I didn’t know existed at the time…  The Boiler had been shutdown over night because there was a problem with the airflow through the boiler and we had to go in the duct and clean the Slag Screen.

Diagram of a boiler

Diagram of a boiler

Below the Economizer and above the air preheater in the diagram above.

“Slag Screen,” I thought… That sounds like a fancy word for something that was  probably just some kind of filter or something….  I knew that Power Plant Engineers liked to give fancy words to make the Plant sound more like a Palace.

As I mentioned before… there are places like:  The Tripper Gallery.  Hopper Nozzle Booster Pump. Generator Bathtub.  The Gravimetric Feeder Deck — I liked that one, it sounded like you were on a ship.  Travelling Water Screens.  There were long names for some, like “Force Draft Fan Inboard Bearing Lube Oil Pump” (try saying that with a lisp).  Anyway, I could go on and on.

Larry Riley explained to us that we needed to work as fast as we could to clean the slag screen because they wanted to bring this unit back online in the evening.  We couldn’t wait for the unit to cool down much, so we were only allowed to go in the hot air duct for 10 minutes at a time because of the heat.

So, in I went.  The first thing I noticed as I stuck my head in the door was that there wasn’t any immediate place to stand.  There was only a hole below me that went down into the darkness.  So I looked around for something to grab onto to pull myself in.  Once my body was in the door I was able to walk along a beam next to this big screen.  It looked similar to a screen on a window at home only the wires were about 1/2 inch apart.  Something like this:

A picture of a similar slag screen

Oh, and there was one more thing that I noticed…. It was incredibly HOT.  I was wearing leather gloves so I could grab onto the structure to hold myself up, but if I leaned against the screen with my arm, it would burn it.  I was just wearing a tee shirt.  I don’t know the exact temperature, but I have worked in similar heat at other times, and I would say that it was around 150 degrees.  I was not wearing my  hard hat because there was a strong wind blowing to try and cool the boiler down.

The problem is that we were on the tail end of the air flowing out of the boiler, and it was carrying all that heat right onto us.  At 160 degrees your hard hat will become soft so that you can squish it like a ball cap.  I was wearing Goggles as well, and that helped keep my eyes from drying out since everything else went dry the moment I stuck my head in there.

Anyway, I threw the lanyard for my safety belt around a pipe that ran diagonal across my path, and held onto it with one hand while with my other hand I began pounding on the screen with the rubber mallet.  I had to breathe very shallow because the air was so hot.  Breathing slowly gave the air time to cool off a bit before it went down into my throat.

This was a new adventure for me.  There are some Brave Power Plant Men that work on the “Bowl Mill” crew that have worked in these conditions for weeks at a time.  I suppose you grow used to it after a while.  Kind of like when you eat something with Habenero Sauce.  The first time it just very painful.  Then a few weeks later, you’re piling it on your tortilla chips.

After my first 10 minutes were over, someone at the door, (which was hard to see) hollered for me, so I made my way back to the door and emerged into the cool air of the morning.  I noticed that Larry Riley gave me a slightly worried look and I wondered what it meant.  I realized what it was moments later when I went to remove the respirator off of my face.  I only had one filter cartridge in the respirator.

Half-face respirator

The other one was missing.  I thought that was silly of me to go in there with only one filter.  No wonder it seemed like I was breathing a lot of dust.  Then I thought…. No.  I know I had both filters when I went in the duct.  I must have lost one while I was in there.  Maybe with all that banging I knocked it off.

Anyway, 10 minutes later it was time for me to go back in there, and this time I made sure my filters were securely screwed onto the respirator.  I worried in the back of my mind that I may have ruined my lungs for life by breathing all that silicon-based fly ash because I was feeling a little out of breathe (for the next 10 years).

Anyway, halfway through my 10 minutes in the duct I reached up with my hand to make sure my filters were still tightly screwed in place, and to my astonishment, they weren’t tight.  I tried tightening them, but I couldn’t screw them tight.  The respirator itself had become soft in the heat and the plastic was no longer stiff enough to keep the filter tight.  It made sense then why I had lost my filter the first time.  It must have fallen down into the abyss of darkness that was right behind me while I was banging on that slag screen.

After working on the screen for an hour or so, we took a break.  When we returned the temperature in the boiler had dropped considerably, and I was able to stay in the duct the rest of the day without having to climb in and out all the time.

Larry had an air powered needle gun brought up there and someone used that for a while cleaning the screen.  It is what it sounds like.  It has rods sticking out the end of a gun looking tool that vibrate wildly when you pull the trigger.  I don’t know what the real name is for it, but it cleaned slag screens a lot faster than my beating the screen with the rubber mallet all day.

Needle Gun

I did beat that screen all day.  When it was time to leave I brought the mallet back to the tool room, and it looked like this:

Rubber Mallet after banging on a slag screen all day

I had worn the rubber off of the  mallet.  When I brought the mallet back to the tool room, Bif said, “What is this?”  I said I was just returning the mallet that I had borrowed that morning.  He said something about how I must be some kind of a he-man or crazy.   I was too worried about my lungs to think about how much my wrists were aching from taking that pounding all day.

A couple of months later I was promoted to the Labor Crew.  Chuck Ross had kept saying that he couldn’t wait for me to go to the Labor Crew because he wanted me to work for him.  The very day that I started on the Labor Crew, the plant had a going-away party for Chuck Ross.  He was leaving our plant to go work at another one in Muskogee.

During the party Chuck presented me with the rubber mallet that I had used that day cleaning the slag screen.  He said he had never seen anything like that before.  He was sorry he was going to leave without having the opportunity to have me working for him.

I felt the same way about Chuck.  I have always kept that rubber mallet laying around the house since 1983 when I received it.  My wife sometimes picks it up when she is cleaning somewhere and says, “Do you still want this?” With a hopeful look, like someday I may say that it is all right if she throws it away.

Of course I want to keep it.  It reminds me of the days when I was able to work with True Power Plant Men in their natural environment.  The slag screen was later deemed unnecessary and was removed from the boiler.

It also reminds me of other things.  Like how quickly something can happen that changes your life forever.

Questions from that day have always remained with me.

How much ash did I breathe in?  I couldn’t see much more than a few feet in front of me as I banged on that screen knocking ash down all over me.  What did it do to my lungs?

What if I had taken a step back or slipped off of that beam before I had walked to the other end to secure my safety lanyard?  I know now what was below me then.  I would have fallen about 20 feet down to some fins, and then down another 20 feet onto the air preheater baskets.  It would have taken a while to retrieve me, once someone figured out that I was missing.

What does that much heat do to your body… or your brain?

I know these are things that go through the minds of True Power Plant Men.  I worked with them for years improving the safety of the power plant.  All-in-all, no one ever died when I was there, though some came close.  The Slogan over the Shift Supervisor’s Office said, “Safety is job #1”.  That wasn’t there to try to convince us that Safety was important.  It was there as a testimony to everyone who had already made that decision.

Comments from the previous repost:

  1. Jonathan Caswell August 12, 2014

    GLAD that you made it….even if the mallet didn’t!!!

    I can dig it. When I was hired for Security at one post…I really looked forward to working with and for that particular Supervisor who’d hired me. No such luck–she was gone in a month or two. THAT hurt! 🙂

  2. Ron Kilman August 13, 2014

    If the environment is too hot for a respirator to function properly in, it’s too hot for people to work in (if safety is actually job #1). I saw too many examples of “Get the Unit Back On is Job #1″.

 

Dick Dale and the Power Plant Printer Romance

Originally posted January 17, 2014.  I added more to the story:

When I first moved to Ponca City I carpooled each day to the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma with Dick Dale, Jim Heflin and Bud Schoonover (See the post:  “Carpooling Adventures with Bud Schoonover“).  Dick Dale had moved to Ponca City a couple of years earlier after his divorce.  He didn’t want to continue living in Stillwater where he felt as if everyone knew about his tragic situation.  We had been friends from the first day we met when I was a summer help working out of the garage and he worked in the tool room and warehouse.

I wrote about Dick Dale this past Christmas, when I talked about his situation (See the post:  “Harmonizing with Dick Dale on Power Plant Christmas Harmonicas“).  I knew that even though it was a few years later, Richard was still feeling the impact from this emotional trauma.  One day I found the opportunity to play a “Power Plant” joke on him that I thought might help lift his spirits.

I recently wrote another post about how I had installed dumb terminals around the plant so that regular workers would be able to access the mainframe computer downtown in Corporate Headquarters in order to see their work orders, or look up parts in the warehouse, etc. (See the post:  “Working Smarter with Power Plant Dumb Terminals“).  In most places where I installed terminals, I also installed large IBM printers that printed using continuous feed paper.

IBM Dot Matrix Network Printer

IBM Dot Matrix Network Printer

For those of you who remember, at first most dot matrix printers would feed paper from a box underneath them.  they had holes down both sides of the paper where the sprockets would rotate and paper would come rolling out the top of the printer.

Dot Matrix paper with holes so the printer can feed the paper through.  The holes sections with the holes were perforated so you could tear them off easily.

Dot Matrix paper with holes so the printer can feed the paper through. The holes sections with the holes were perforated so you could tear them off easily.

Ok.  Here is a quick one paragraph side story…

One day when my son was about 6 years old, we had to wait a while in an airport.  We were sitting in a row of seats at the gate waiting.  My son kept popping up slowly, jerking as he rose, from behind the row of seats and would lay over the seat back and end up head down on the chair.  After doing this a few times, my wife Kelly asked him what he was doing.  He said, “I’m paper coming out of the printer”.  Of course, this cracked us all up.

Anyway, back to the story.  By the time I had to add the dumb terminals and printers to the Garage and Warehouse, I had already been playing around on the mainframe learning all sorts of ways to get into trouble. — Well, what else was I going to do during lunch while Charles Foster and I talked about movies and stuff?  I had a personal user account on the mainframe that basically gave me “God Access”.  They didn’t really have anything like “Network Security” back then.  — This was 1988.

Back then, we also didn’t have anything called “Email” either.  It wasn’t until 1989 that CompuServe first offered real Internet e-mail to its users.  When we wanted to send something to someone in the company, we either printed it out and put in an intra-company envelope and sent it by “snail” mail, or we could find out what printer they used and get the ID for the printer and send it to them.  It was a code like:  P1234.

Well.  I had been playing with this text editor on the Honeywell mainframe called FRED.  This stood for FRiendly EDitor.  For those of you who know UNIX, this was pretty much the same as the VI Editor found on UNIX mainframes.  The commands were the same.  Today, users of Microsoft Word would be horrified to find out what you had to go through to create a document back then.

I had been practicing using this editor, and found that by using the special escape codes for the printer, I could create documents that would come out looking pretty neat.  So, I had created some templates that would make it look like I was printing a Memo from some mainframe program.  That was about the time that I installed the printer in the garage.

So, I created a big long document that would print out on the garage printer as soon as I connected the printer to the network.  It went on and on about how the printer wasn’t happy about being placed in such a dusty environment and how it refused to be cooperative until it was moved to a cleaner place.  It would spit out a bunch of sheets of paper, printing protest after protest.

Then it ended up by saying that if it wasn’t moved right away, it was going to shut down in 10 minutes and it started counting down by 30 second intervals.  Then at the last minute, it counted down by 15 seconds until it counted down the last 10 seconds by feeding a sheet of paper for each second while it was counting… then it paused at the last second.  Finally, it printed out at the end a concession that since it was obviously not going to be moved to someplace cleaner, it might as well give up and be cooperative.

When I installed the printer in the office in the automotive garage, I knew it would take about 30 seconds to connect the first time, and by that time, I was outside making my way back to the electric shop.  By the time I made it back to the electric shop Charles Patten was calling me on the gray phone.  The gray phone is the plant PA system:

Gaitronics Gray Phone

Gaitronics Gray Phone

Of course, I knew why.  I answered the phone and Charles told me that something was wrong with the printer.  It kept shooting paper out of it and wouldn’t stop.  He had even turned it off, but when he turned it back on, it still kept feeding paper out.  I told him that sounded pretty strange to me and I would be right over to see what was going on.  I took my time returning to the garage giving the printer time to throw it’s tantrum.

By the time I returned, the printer had stopped ranting about being installed in a dirty environment and had given up it’s protest.  Charles said that it finally stopped.  I walked over to the printer and took the pile of hundred or so pages that it had printed out, and tore them off the printer and walked out with them.  I don’t even know if Charles had paid any attention to what the printer was saying.

I think I was the only person that knew that I had just “attempted” to play a joke on Charles.  After all, as the paper was feeding out.  It was carefully collecting into a nice stack in front of the printer on the floor, and unless someone picked up the stack and looked at it, they wouldn’t know that anything was even printed on it.  So, in this case, the joke may have been on me.  But then again, Power Plant Men are like that.  If they figure a joke is being played on them, then they figure out how to turn it around so that the joker is the one that has the joke played on them.  Maybe that was the case here.  Charles Patten was probably one of the most intelligent foremen at the plant, so it was possible.

Anyway, back to Dick Dale.  I installed the printer in the warehouse and Dick Dale, Darlene Mitchell, Mike Gibbs and Bud Schoonover were happy to be connected to the Inventory program on the mainframe…..  um… yeah. sure they were…… especially Bud.

Bud Schoonover was the person that when it was his turn to run the tool room would not give you something if it was the last one.  So, if I needed a flashlight and it was the last one, and I asked Bud for a flashlight, he would say that he couldn’t give it to me.  Why?  You might ask.  Well, he would explain that if he gave the last one away, he would have to order some more.  Bud didn’t like ordering things on the computer.  So, in order to keep from having to order anything he simply didn’t give away the last one of any item.

Anyway.  I decided one Monday during my regular lunch time computer educational moments to send a letter over to the warehouse printer addressed to Dick Dale.  It was from an anonymous woman.  The letter sounded like it was from someone that really had a thing for Richard and remembered how they used to work together.  It also mentioned other people, like Mike Gibbs and Pat Braden and about how they used to hang around each other.

Since this was a fictitious character, I could say anything I wanted, but I wanted to put it in a time period back when I was still a summer help.  Well…  It wasn’t long before Dick Dale called me on the gray phone (no.  I won’t post another picture of the gray phone here.   I think you get the idea).  He asked me to come over to the warehouse.

When I arrived, Richard showed me the letter.  He was excited about it.  He was trying to figure out who it could be.  He thought about the people that had moved from the plant to Corporate Headquarters and wondered if it was one of them.  I thought for a little while, and I couldn’t come up with who it might be (obviously), since it was me.

The next day at lunch I sent another letter to his printer.  I mentioned more about the “old days” working at the plant.  On the way home Richard showed it to me.  I could tell that he was really excited about this.  I held back my smile, but inside it felt real good to see that Richard had finally come back to life.  For the past couple of years, he had been so down.  Now some woman was paying attention to him, and actually was telling him that she had always liked him.

Darlene Mitchell sent a letter to the printer ID I had sent in the letter to Richard, saying the following:

Dear Ghost Writer,

This has been the most exciting thing that’s happened in the warehouse in a long time.  We await your messages.  Dick is really trying hard to figure this out, and if you don’t give him a little hint, his little old brains are going to get fried.

He also requests that you send his messages to his printer only, that way I won’t be able to send my message back.  He takes all the fun out of everything.  P)24 is his number, and if you can’t get a response out of him, I’ll be glad to put my two cents in.

I’m sure Dick would like to see you too.  Maybe we can get him headed in your direction, if you tell me where that is.

So, long, see you in the funny papers.

<end of message>

On Thursday Richard called me and asked me to come over to the warehouse.  He showed me the letter he had received that day.  He said he was too excited.  He just had to find out who it was that was sending him these letters.  He said that since I knew everything there was to know about computers (a slight exaggeration), he asked me to see if I could find out where the letters were coming from.

I told him I would do what I could to see if I could track down who was sending the letters.  On the way home that day, he asked me if I had any luck.  I told him I was still looking into it.  I told him I thought there might be a way to find a log somewhere that would tell me.

So, after lunch on Friday I walked over to the warehouse.  When I entered, I signaled to Richard that I wanted to talk to him.  — Remember.  Richard and I had developed facial signals while carpooling with Bud Schoonover so that all we had to do was glance at each other and we instantly knew what each other was saying…

Richard and I stepped outside of the warehouse where we could be alone.  He asked me if I had found the person sending him the letters.  I told him I had (I knew I had to do this right or I would lose a good friend, so I said), “Yes.  I have.”

I could see the look of excitement in his face.  So I looked straight at him and I said, “I have been sending these letters to you.”  He was stunned.  He said, “What?”  I said, “Richard.  I have been sending them to you.”

I could see that he was very disappointed.  After all.  No two people could read each other’s expressions better than me and Richard.  We practiced them every day.  The corners of his mouth went down.  The middle went up.  Edges of the eyes went down.  Eyes began to water.  Yep.  He as disappointed to say the least.

I told him I was sorry to get his hopes up.  I put on the saddest look I could muster.  Inside I wasn’t so sad.  Actually I was pretty happy.  I knew this was a tough moment for Richard, but he had spent an entire week flying high.  For the first time in a long time, Richard had hope.  A  couple of hours of disappointment was well worth this past week.

I patted him on the back and he turned to walk back into the warehouse despondent.  I went back to the electric shop.

As for my part, I continued sending Dick Dale printed messages from time to time.  Just goofy messages like the following:

Dear Richard,

Sometimes when I type letters I find that the words I use are not always the typical type that I would use if I wrote a letter.  The letters that I make when I write a letter aren’t the type of letters that I use when I type a letter.  When I write a letter, the letters in the words are sometimes hard to distinguish, but the letters I type when i’m typing a letter are the type of letters that stand out clearly and uniformly.  I can’t really say that when I type I’m right, or when I write I’m right, because I usually type a different type of letter than I write when I’m writing a letter.  I typically use a different type of words when I’m typing than I use when I’m writing, so I really can’t say that writing is right when a typical typed letter is just as right as writing.  That is just the type of person I am.

Typical Typist

After a few more days, Darlene Mitchell and Dick Dale began sending me letters indicating that the warehouse workers had been taken hostage, and they had a list of hostage demands.  I would write back to them.  The hostage letters and my replies would make up an entire blog post just by themselves.

So, what followed this episode?  Well.  Within a few weeks  Dick Dale had attended an event at the Presbyterian Church in Ponca City where he met a very nice woman, Jill Cowan.  He began dating her, and within the year they were married on November 13, 1988.

I like to think that I had given him the kick in the pants that he needed at the time that he needed it.  For that one week where he had hope, he believed that someone else really cared for him.  If he could believe that, then maybe it could really be true, even if in this case it turned out to only be one of his best friends.

I know that Dick Dale lived happily ever after.  As I mentioned earlier, I wrote a post about Dick Dale about a time when I gave a Christmas present to Dick Dale, Christmas 1983.  Well. as it turned out, my friend Richard was presented to Saint Peter at the gates of Heaven 25 years later on Christmas Day, 2008, 20 happy years after his marriage to Jill.  I don’t really miss him.  He is always with me in my heart to this day.

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

Elvin Power Plant Tool Room Adventures With Bud

When I say that Bud Schoonover is known as “Elvin”, I don’t mean to imply that he was Elvin in nature.  What I mean to say is that he did not necessarily possess the qualities of an elf.  Well, except for his smile, which is somewhat Elvish-like.  Bud’s smile was usually more like a look of warning for those who didn’t know him well.  I have always said that he reminded me of a six foot, 5 inch tall, white Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son, and about 75 to 100 pounds heavier.

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son

Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son smiling like Bud Schoonover

What I mean by saying that Bud is known as “Elvin” is that is what his Mother called him when he was born.  Though somewhere along the line he became known as Bud;  Not from his middle name… because I think that was Floyd.  Bud was my good friend and carpooling buddy (See the post “Carpooling with Bud Schoonover“).  Maybe that was why people called him Bud.  Because he was everyone’s “buddy”.

I don’t mean to make it sound like Bud has passed away, because as far as I know, he is still an active Republican voter living on South Palm Street in Ponca City.  I also don’t want you to think that I was only friends with Bud Schoonover because he was a good carpooling buddy.  No.  Bud had all sorts of talents.  He gave great weather reports each morning when we would gather to take our trek to the Power Plant some 20 miles away, as I mentioned in the other post about Bud.

I don’t think that there was anyone at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma that didn’t like Bud.  There was just something naturally likable about him.  Bud worked in the tool room and the warehouse ever since the day I first arrived at the plant in 1979. — Well, the warehouse wasn’t much of a warehouse back then.  It just had stuffed piled up against the walls.  No shelves, No storage racks.  No drawers and bins full of parts.

Bud is for years and 26 days younger than my own father, and four years and 18 days younger than Elvis Presley.

The King

The King

He will be 76 years old this January.  Needless to say, Bud retired from the Power Plant in 1994 after having just turned 55.  At his going away party, some guys at the plant fixed up a Wal-Mart shopping cart with a bunch of accessories attached to it so that he would be properly equipped when he went to work at Wal-Mart as a Greeter. — For those of you who don’t know…. Wal-Mart used to hire elderly people to greet people when you walked into the store.  They might pull a cart out of the stack of carts and give it to you if you looked like you were in need of a cart.

Wal-Mart Shopping Cart

Wal-Mart Shopping Cart

Bud was extra careful when working in the warehouse.  He wanted to make sure that he was getting everything right, so he would check, and double check, and then check again…. just to make sure everything matched.  One good example of this was when he was tasked with ordering a half set of coal burner nozzles and tips for the boiler.

There were 24 of these Coal burner nozzle and tips in the boiler.  the nozzles costing about $13,000 and the tips ran somewhere around $4,000 each.

Coal Burner Nozzle Tips

Coal Burner Nozzle

There was another assembly that attached to the end with the hole on the side that allowed the nozzle to change the pitch it was called the Tip.

So, Bud wanted to make sure the created the order correctly.  So, when Bud placed the order with the supplier, he not only included the Supplier’s part number, but he also included the manufacturer’s part number.  Just to make sure they knew they were sending the correct part, he even sent them the old manufacturing part number that they used a few years before they changed their part numbering system.  — So, when he sent the order, it had all three part number for the 12 nozzles.  He did the same thing with the smaller piece for the end of the nozzle.

To Bud’s surprise, one bright sunny morning in December, 1989 (well, it may not have been that sunny that day), guess what showed up at the loading dock?  12 nozzles with the suppliers part number, 12 nozzles with the manufacturer’s part number, and 12 more nozzles with the manufacturer’s old part number!  Yeah…. Didn’t count on that one.

I think I know how Bud must have felt when that happened.  Probably the same way I felt the morning I was summoned to the front office to pick up my mail, only to find a stack of a couple hundred envelopes from all over the company after printing something out on all the printers in the company (See “Power Plant Customer Service Team Gone Wild“).  I think Bud took these things in more in stride than most people might.  His reaction to finding out that the order he had created for $156,000 had suddenly turned into $468,000 was probably something like…. “Oh Geez.  I sure don’t want to do that again!”

During the “We’ve Got the Power” program (see the post “Power Plant We’ve Got the Power“), the HR and Warehouse director, Linda Dallas asked us if we would put in a proposal to scrap the extra nozzles since these nozzles were very big.  She didn’t think it would look good if her own team created the proposal since she was already responsible for the warehouse.  We had two people from the warehouse on our We’ve Got the Power team, Dick Dale and Darlene Mitchell, so she thought we could do something out the conundrum.  Two nozzles fit on a pallet, taking up space all over the warehouse.

The nozzles with the Tips attached

The nozzles with the Tips attached

We could save money just by scrapping it because we wouldn’t have to pay taxes on the parts.  It cost too much to return them to the supplier because the restocking fee was too high. — And E-Bay didn’t exist back then.

Instead of accepting our proposal, it was decided that instead of just changing out half of the nozzles during the next outage, they would just replace all of the nozzles.  This reduced the number of nozzles left in the warehouse to a more manageable number.  So, Bud’s Faux Pas, may have just helped increase the efficiency of the boiler significantly with the replacement of the nozzles which may have translated into savings of unknown millions of dollars, of which Bud received no credit… But that’s okay.  Bud wasn’t one to seek credit for his ingenious accidental idea of triple ordering boiler Nozzles.

One of the favorite stories I would tell my children as they were growing up when they would ask me to tell them a Bud Schoonover story was the story about the last tool in the tool room.  — This is Bud’s own special way of handling the restocking of the tool room.  It goes like this….  For instance….

If you went to the tool room to ask for a yellow flashlight and it happened to be the last yellow flashlight in the tool room, and it was Bud Schoonover’s week to man the tool room, then you would hear something like this:

Yellow Flashlight similar to the one I carried

Yellow Flashlight similar to the one I carried

“I can’t give you a yellow flashlight, because I only have one left.”  — You may want to respond with something like, “But Bud, if there’s one left, then why can’t I have it?”  Bud’s reply would be, “Because if I give you the last one, then I’d have to order more.”

At this point, you may want to start over asking if you can have a yellow flashlight, with the hope that Bud may have forgotten that he was down to his last yellow flashlight….  You might even phrase it a little differently… You might say something like, “Well… Can I just borrow a yellow flashlight for a few hours?  At least for as long as I have to do some work in the dark?” — I have seen this approach almost work.  He would stop and think about it like Andy Griffith in “No Time For Sergeants” trying to answer questions being asked by the Psychiatrist:

Andy Griffith talking to the Psychiatrist

Andy Griffith talking to the Psychiatrist in No Time for Sergeants

Then the next question you may ask (I know, since I asked it more than once) is: “So, Bud, how about ordering some more yellow flashlights.”  Bud would reply with something like, “No.  I don’t really want to order anything this week.”, as he nods in the direction of the computer monitor sitting on the desk just to his left…  — Oh…. computer shy…. that’s why.  Not comfortable ordering stuff on the computer (especially after ordering all those coal burner nozzles).

I can understand that.  He is the same age as my own father, and my dad at that time would literally call me at least one time every single day to ask me a computer question.  Like…. “How do I move a paragraph from one part of a document to another part?”  — “Um… Yeah Dad, (for the hundredth time), you do it like this….”

There’s something about every one of my friends and family that were born between December 30, 1934 and January 27th 1939.  They all had the same problem with computers.  Must be that particular generation born within thatfour year period.  I’m sure Elvis, who was born right in the middle of that time frame (on January 8, 1935), would have had the same trouble with the PC if he had lived long enough.  — I know… I know…  I just saw him the other day myself.

Only he had gained some weight

Only he had gained some weight

Anyway, there was one sure fire way to get that tool that I needed from the tool room while Bud Schoonover was manning the front gate, and that was to volunteer to go to the warehouse and pick up a box of the parts yourself and carry them back and hand them to Bud, while taking one out for yourself.  — And the time I needed a flashlight, I did just that.

One time I went to the tool room in the middle of the winter when we had water pipes that were frozen and I needed a propane torch to heat the pipe to melt the ice.  Bud told me that he couldn’t give me a propane torch because he only had one left.  I looked up two racks over from the gate and could see at least two boxes of propane bottles on the top shelf.

I told Bud that I wouldn’t be taking his last bottle of propane, because there was at least two bottles right up there on that shelf.  Bud insisted that he only had one bottle of propane left and he couldn’t give it to me.  So, while smiling at Bud and explaining that I could see the tool bottles right up there on the top of the shelf,… with one hand on his shoulder (which was about a whole foot taller than my head), and the other hand unlocking the gate, I told him I would show him.

So, I stepped into the tool room, and said, “It’s ok Bud, I won’t take your last bottle of Propane, but I do have to take this bottle here, because we have a water pipe that is frozen solid, and I need to use the propane torch to warm it up.  Here… I”ll just take this one, and you can keep this other one here….”

Power Plant Propane torch

Power Plant Propane Torch

As I walked back out the tool room smiling all the time at Bud, who was just staring at me with a worried look finally lowered his shoulders which had been creeping up closer to his ears as I had sidestepped him to get to the propane bottle.

The funny thing was that by the end of the week, there would be a whole list of parts and tools that only had one left in the tool room.  Bud would consider it a successful week if he could make it through the week without having to get on the computer and order some more parts.  He knew that next Monday, when Dick Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

or Darlene Mitchell

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

Darlene Mitchell another dear friend

arrived, they would restock the shelves, and he would be in the warehouse filling the orders and bringing them over on a two wheeler to the tool room.  And the world would be right once again.

Power Plant Invocations and Imitations of Sonny Karcher — Repost

Originally Posted on June 16, 2012:

I have mentioned before that Sonny Karcher was one of the first Power Plant Men that taught me how to work my way up the ladder of Power Plant Ingenuity (In the post titled, In Memory of Sonny Karcher A True Power Plant Man).  I used to come home from work after Steve Higginbotham dropped me off at the duplex where we were living at the time, and my family couldn’t wait to hear what Sonny Karcher had said or done that day.

Soon after I had arrived at the plant Sonny had just dropped me off at the front of the Maintenance shop where I was going to the tool room to get some tools for something we were going to work on.  Sonny was going to drive around behind the tool room in a yellow Cushman cart to pick up some larger equipment, and I was going to meet him there.  As he was backing out of the shop he suddenly made a motion with his left hand.  To me it looked like he was making the movement that someone would make if they were taking the lid off of a jar.  I thought this meant that he wanted me to do something, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.

Various things went through my head, such as, I should get something to help remove lids from barrels.  Or I needed to look inside of a jar to find one of the parts I was going to pick up.  Nothing made much sense to me, so I waved for him to come back.  When he did, I asked him what he wanted me to do.  He asked me what I meant.  I told him that when he made that motion to open a jar, I couldn’t figure out what he wanted.  So he told me.   “I was just waving goodbye.”  He gave me a big smile and backed out of the shop again.  Each time Sonny Karcher waved goodbye, he used a different motion with his hand.  Sometimes he would look like he was twirling something on his finger.  Sometimes it seemed like he was trying to get something sticky off of his fingers.  Sometimes he just drew circles in the air with a couple of fingers.  Other times he looked like he was giving an awkward kind of salute.  Sonny made an art out of simple things like a wave goodbye.

That first summer it seemed like everyone was always munching on Sunflower seeds.  There were bags of sunflower seeds everywhere you looked.  Sonny already looked somewhat like a chipmunk with puffy round cheeks that formed from years of wearing a grin on his face.  They were extra prominent when his cheeks were full of sunflower seeds.  These were seeds still in their shells.

Power Plant Sunflower Seeds

Power Plant Sunflower Seeds

So, it was normal to see someone take a step back while standing around talking, turn their head and drop a few sunflower seed shells from their mouth into the floor drains that were spaced evenly across the maintenance shop floor.  There came a time when those drains had to be cleaned out because it seemed that every drain was packed solid full of sunflower seed shells.

Sunflowers weren’t the only items found in the drains, since chewing (or dipping) tobacco (such as Skoal) was used by a lot of the men in the Power Plant.

Just a pinch between your cheek and gums.... Never tried it myself.

Just a pinch between your cheek and gums…. Never tried it myself.

Cleaning out a drain full of sunflower seeds, dipping tobacco and spit was a job that might cause a lot of people to gag, and I know I had to fight it back at the time.  Most of the time I felt like I was having too much fun to get paid for working at the plant, but when it came time for cleaning out those drains, I felt like I was really working very hard for the $3.89 an hour that I was getting paid my first summer (1979) as a summer help.

But anyway, back to Sonny.  I remember one evening when I came home after working with Sonny during the day, and we were sitting around the dinner table eating supper when my dad said something surprising.  I don’t remember exactly what he said, but I remember what my response was.  It came out before I thought what I was saying, and I said it with the same surprised smile Sonny would have.  I replied,  “Well S–t the bed!”  With a heavy emphasis on each word.  That was a common phrase that Sonny used, and it was his response to anything surprising.  Needless to say, I don’t normally use four letter words that have to be edited out of a post.  It was just the matter of fact way that Sonny would use that phrase that made it seem all right to say at the time.  If I remember correctly, both my mom and my dad stared at me for a second in disbelief, then broke out laughing as they had never heard that particular phrase.  It was kind of like hearing “…Bless his heart” for the first time used following an obvious insult.

In the year 1990 the Power Plant had a program that they called, “We’ve Got the Power”.  I will talk more about this in a later post, so I will just say that it was a program where we broke up into teams and tried to find ways to save the company money.  But long before “We’ve Got the Power”, there was Sonny Karcher.  He was often trying to figure out how we could make electricity cheaper, or even come up with other ways of making a profit.

One day Sonny asked me this, “Kev, your smart because you learn things from all those books at school so tell me this… someone said the other day that diamonds are made out of coal.  Is that true?”  I told him it was.  Then he said, “Well, what if we had one of those big dirt movers full of coal drive over some coal a bunch of times, would we be able to make diamonds?”

Dirt Mover full of coal

I told him that wouldn’t work because it takes a lot more pressure to make a diamond.  So, he asked me if it would work if we put some coal on the railroad track and we let an entire train full of coal run over it.  Would it make a diamond then?  I assured him that even that wouldn’t make a diamond.  He accepted it and just said, “Well, it’s too bad since we have that big pile of coal there, we ought to be able to come up with some way of making them into diamonds.

Another time when we were cleaning out the fish baskets at the intake (a job as smelly as it sounds) next to the 4 big intake pumps.  These are the pumps that pump around 189,000 gallons of water per minute each.  Sonny told me how big those pumps were and how much water they pumped.  Then he said, “You know, that entire boiler is there just to make steam to turn the turbine to make electricity.  It seems to me that we could just take these four pumps and have them pump water through the turbine and have it turn the turbines, then we wouldn’t need those big boilers.  Why don’t we do something like that?”  I assured Sonny that we would never be able to make enough electricity to make up for the electricity it took to turn the pumps that were pumping the water.  He shook his head and said that it just seemed to him that those pumps could turn that turbine pretty fast.

One day I watched as Sonny watched another Power Plant man walk into the shop with a new type of lunch box.  It was an Igloo Little Playmate.

One exactly like this.  These were a new kind of lunch box at the time.

Sonny immediately went out and bought one.  The next week he came to work with his shiny new Little Playmate lunch box.  I admit.  I went and bought one myself a few weeks later.  But this was the beginning of a trend that I noticed with Sonny.  I began to notice that Sonny seemed to pick one item from each of the people he admired, and went and bought one for himself.  Or he would pick up a phrase that someone else would say, and would start using that.  At first I thought it might just be a coincidence, so I started to test my hypothesis.  When I would see something new that Sonny brought to work, I would look around to see who else had one of those, and sure enough.  Someone close by would have one.  Then I would hear Sonny talk a certain way.  His accent would change and he would say something like he was imitating someone else, and usually I could tell right away who talked like that and knew that Sonny had borrowed that phrase from that person.

Some may think that this would be annoying, but I think with Sonny it was an act of endearment.  It was his way of connecting with those people that he admired.  Sonny had a small yellow orange Ford truck and I figured that someone else must have a truck like that, so I started looking all around for one like it.  It took me a couple of weeks, but one morning while we were carpooling are way to the power plant, we came up behind the same kind of truck that Sonny had on its way to the plant.  It was green instead of yellow, but it was undoubtedly the same model of truck.  It was owned by Ken Reece, who was the manager over the tool room and warehouse.

Sonny imitated a voice that had me puzzled for a while.  I had checked out all the Power Plant Men around trying to figure out who Sonny was imitating.  Every once in a while Sonny would change his way of talking when he was making a point where he would let his lower lip come forward and work its way left and right as he talked, and he would close one eye more than another and talk in a strange sort of a southern drawl.  I just knew he was imitating someone because it was so different than just the regular Sonny.

Finally, one day when I was walking through the shop I heard someone in the welding area talking just like Sonny would talk when he used that voice.  There was no mistake.  That had to be the person.  I could hear every inflection in his voice and it had to be the voice that Sonny was imitating because it had been much more honed and refined to give just the right effect.  So, I changed the course I was travelling so that I could make my way around to the welders to see who it was that was talking like that.

There in the middle of the welding shop was a heavier set man standing in the middle of a group of welders telling a story.  Everyone was listening to him quietly just as if it was story time at the library.  So, I stopped and watched.  This man wasn’t wearing an Electric Company hard hat.  He was wearing a Brown and Root hard hat, which indicated that he worked for the construction company that was building the plant.  This guy was undoubtedly a master storyteller.  When it came to the climactic part of the story, the bottom of his mouth would stick out with his lip moving left and right and left again, and one eye was partially closed to show the intensity of the situation and the drawl would intensify.  Finally.  I had found the man that Sonny Karcher had admired enough to take one of his favorite traits and connect it to himself.  I could see why Sonny admired him so much.  He had everyone within listening distance captivated by his story.

This Brown and Root hand soon became an employee of the Electric Company within a couple of weeks after I left at the end of the summer (on September 9, 1979).  This heavier set person was still working at the plant when I first posted this story last year, but has since retired. He was one of this country’s leading Turbine mechanics and he can still tell a story like no one else.  He is no longer as heavy.  He is rather thin in comparison.  He improved his health after realizing that if he really loved his family, he needed to take better care of himself.  I consider this True Power Plant Man, Ray Eberle, to be a dear friend of mine.  I have never met anyone that looked more like my own grandfather than Ray.  Not that he was that much older.  No.  He looked almost exactly like my grandfather looked when he was Ray’s age.  There was no nicer man than my dad’s dad, and there is no nicer Power Plant Man than Ray Eberle.

Comments from the re-post:

  1. Ron Kilman June 19, 2013:

    The Janitors at Seminole showed me how the PPM (Power Plant Men) were spitting their tobacco juice inside I-beam webs, in tight corners, and other hard to clean spots. They asked me to put out a memo asking the spitters to just spit out in the middle of the floor so they could clean it up much easier, which I did. I can’t remember for sure, but it seems like the puddles of stinky gross slime around the Plant tailed off for a while.

    Good story, Kevin. I hadn’t thought about Ray Eberle for a long time. He was a super turbine man I always enjoyed being around. I just remember his competence and his positive attitude.

  2. Monty Hansen August 17, 2013:

    It’s both amusing, and comforting to know the same things happen at powerplants everywhere, we went through a “sunflower seed phase” which plugged the drains & the plant finally came up with a “NO MORE SUNFLOWER SEEDS” rule!