Tag Archives: vacuum

Power Plant Safety As Interpreted by Curtis Love

Original posted on January 28, 2012:

I vividly remember four events while working at the power plant where I was at the brink of death. I’m sure there were many other times, but these four have been etched in my memory almost 30 years later. Of those four memorable events, Curtis Love was by my side (so to speak) to share the wonder of two of those moments. This is a story about one of those times when you are too busy at the time to realize how close you came to catching that ride to the great power plant in the sky, until the middle of that night when you wake up in a cold sweat trying to catch your breath.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, safety is the number one priority at the power plant. But what is safe and what isn’t is relative. If you are the person that has to walk out onto a plank hanging out over the top ledge on the boiler in order to replace a section of boiler tube before the boiler has cooled down below 160 degrees, you might not think it is safe to do that with only an extra long lanyard tied to your waist and a sheer drop of 200 feet to the bottom ash hopper below (which I incidentally didn’t have to do as an electrician, but had to hear about after some other brave he-man had the privilege), you might not think that this is safe. But the Equipment Support Supervisor who has spent too many years as an engineer behind his desk doesn’t see anything wrong with this as long as you don’t fall. So, he tells you to do it, just don’t fall.

Safety is also relative to the date when something occurs. In 1994 OSHA implemented new rules for confined spaces. A confined space is any place that’s hard to enter and exit, or a place where you might be trapped in an enclosure because of converging walls. So, before 1994, there were no safety rules specific to confined spaces.

No rules meant that when I was on labor crew it was perfectly safe to crawl into a confined space and wind and twist your way around obstacles until the small oval door that you entered (18 inches by 12 inches) was only a distant memory as you are lying down in the bottom section of the sand filter tank with about 22 inches from the bottom of the section to the top requiring you to lie flat as you drag yourself around the support rods just less than 2 feet apart. Oh. and wearing a sandblast helmet…

Sand Blast Helmet

Sand Blast Helmet

and holding a sandblaster hose…

Sand Blast Hose

Sand Blast Hose

with a straight through Sandblast Nozzle….

Sand Blast Nozzle

Sand Blast Nozzle

Which means, the person sandblasting has no way of turning off the sand or the air on their own. If you wanted to turn off the sand, you had to bang the nozzle against the side of the tank and hope that the person outside monitoring the sandblaster was able to hear you above the roar of the Sandblaster and the Industrial Vacuum.

Sandblasting machine. Would run about 15 minutes before it would run out of sand.

Sandblasting machine. Would run about 15 minutes before it would run out of sand.

You also had a drop light that left you all tangled in wires and hoses that blew air on your face so that you could breathe and a 4 inch diameter vacuum hose that sucked the blasted sand and rust away, while the sandblaster blasts away the rust from all things metal less than a foot away from your face, because the air is so full of dust, that’s as far as you can see while holding the drop light with the other hand next to the sandblast hose. The air that blows through the sandblaster is hot, so you begin to sweat inside the heavy rain suit that you wear to protect the rest of you from sand that is ricocheting everywhere, but you don’t feel it as long as cool air is blowing on your face.

The week I spent lying flat trying to prop up my head while sandblasting the bottom section of both sand filter tanks gave me time to think about a lot of things…. which leads us to Curtis Love…. Not that it was Curtis Love that I was thinking about, but that he enters the story some time in the middle of this week. When I least expected it.

Similar to these Sand Filters only about twice the size

Similar to these Sand Filters only about twice the size. If you look closely you can see the seam around the bottom. Below that seam is where I was lying while sandblasting

Curtis Love was a janitor at the plant when I first joined the Sanitation Engineering Team after my four summers of training as a “summer help”. Curtis was like my mother in some ways (and in other ways not – obviously). He was always looking for something to worry about.

For instance, one Monday morning while we were sitting in our Monday Morning Janitor safety meeting and Pat Braden had just finished reading the most recent safety pamphlet to us and we were silently pondering the proper way to set the outriggers on a P&H Crane, Jim Kanelakos said, “Hey Curtis. Don’t you have your mortgage at the Federal Bank in Ponca City?” Curtis said, “Yeah, why?” Jim continued, “Well I heard this morning on the news that the bank was foreclosing on all of their home mortgages.”

Curtis said that he hadn’t heard that, but that as soon as it was 9:00 am he would call the bank to find out what he needed to do so that he wouldn’t lose his house. About that time I gave a report on the number of fiddleback spiders I had killed in the main switchgear the previous week. It seemed like no one was listening to my statistics as Doris Voss was still pondering the P&H Crane hand signals, and Curtis was shuffling his feet in worry and Ronnie Banks was staring off into space, as if he was stunned that Monday was already here again, and Jim Kanelakos was snickering under his breath.

When the meeting was over and we were standing up, Jim told Curtis, “Hey Curtis. I was just kidding. The bank really isn’t foreclosing on their mortgages.” Curtis replied, “I don’t know. I better call them to check anyway.” Jim replied, “Curtis, I just made that up! I was playing a joke on you.” Curtis said, “I better check anyway, because it still is possible that they could be foreclosing on their mortgages”. So Jim just gave up trying to explain.

I know you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at me now, but there were only two of us at the plant that were small enough to crawl through the portal into the Sand Filter tanks (Ed Shiever and myself), because not only was it very tight, but the entry was so close to the edge of the building that you had to enter the hole by curving your body around the corner and into the tank.

I have tried to paint of picture of the predicament a person is in when they are laying in this small space about 20 feet from the small portal that you have to crawl through. with their airline for the sandblast helmet, the sandblast hose, the drop light cord and the 4 inch vacuum hose all wound around the support rods that were not quite 2 feet apart in all directions. Because this is where I was when without my giving the signal (by banging the sandblast nozzle on the tank three times), the sand stopped flowing from the nozzle and only air was hissing loudly.

This meant one of two things. The sandblast machine had just run out of sand, or someone was shutting the sandblaster off because it was time for lunch. I figured it was time for lunch, because I didn’t think it had been more than 10 minutes since the sand had been refilled and amid the roaring blasts and the howling sucking vacuum hose, I thought I had caught the sound of a rumbling stomach from time to time.

Industrial Vacuum used to suck out the sand as I was sandblasting

Industrial Vacuum used to suck out the sand as I was sandblasting

The next thing that should happen after the sand has blown out of the sandblast hose, is that the air to the sandblaster should stop blowing. And it did…. but what wasn’t supposed to happen, that did, was that the air blowing through my sandblast hood allowing me to breathe in this sea of rusty dust shut off at the same time! While still pondering what was happening, I suddenly realized that without the air supply to my hood, not only could I not breathe at all, but my sweat-filled rain suit that I was wearing suddenly became unbearably hot and dust began pouring into my hood now that the positive pressure was gone.

I understood from these various signs of discomfort that I needed to head back to the exit as quickly as possible, as I was forced by the thick dust to hold my breath. I pulled my hood off of my head and everything went black. I had moved more than a foot away from the drop light. I knew that the exit was in the direction of my feet on the far side of the tank, so I swung around a row of support rods and dragged myself along by the rods as quickly as I could unable to see or take a breath. Working my way around the cable, the air hose, the sandblast hose and the vacuum hose as I pulled myself along trying to make out where the exit could be. Luckily, I had figured correctly and I found myself at the exit where in one motion I pulled myself out to fresh air and the blinding light of the day gasping for air.

Furious that someone had turned off my air, I ran out of the sand filter building to the sandblast machine where I found Curtis Love of all people. Up to this point, Curtis had never had the privilege to operate the sandblaster and was not aware of the proper sequence to shutting down the machine…. without shutting off the air to my hood. Incidentally, both the sandblaster and the air hose to the sandblast hood were being fed from the same regular plant air supply (which OSHA might have frowned upon back as far as 1983, and which caused you to blow black oily stuff out of your nose for a few days).

Needless to say, about the time that I came bolting out of the sand filter building Curtis had figured out that he had shut off the wrong valve. He was apologizing profusely in one long drawn out sentence….. “Kevin, I’m sorry, I’m really sorry, I’m sorry, I’m really sorry….” I stopped myself short as my hands were flying toward the area where his neck would have been, if Curtis had had a neck.

I looked over toward the crew cab parked nearby. It was full of hungry labor crew “he-men in training” all smiling and chuckling. At that moment I knew that both Curtis and I had been on the receiving end of what could be construed as a “power plant joke” (refer to the post about Gene Day to learn more about those:  “Power Plant Humor and Joking with Gene Day“). So, I spent the next 30 seconds as Curtis and I piled into the crew cab telling Curtis that is was all right, he didn’t have to feel bad about it. Evidently, someone had told Curtis how to shutdown the sandblaster, but failed to tell him exactly which valve to turn off when turning off the air to the sandblaster.

Needless to say. Lunch tasted extra good that day. Possibly the rusty dust added just the right amount of iron to my sandwich.

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Personal Power Plant Hero — Charles Foster

Originally posted March 30, 2013:

When you think about it, you probably spend more time with your best friend than you ever did talking to your own father. That is, unless your father is your best friend. Charles Foster was my “Foster Father”. Though I was grateful for his effort to bring me into the Electric Shop at the Coal-Fired Plant, when I had little to no electrical experience, that wasn’t the reason why we became such good friends.

When I moved into the electric shop from the labor crew, Charles Foster was my B Foreman. He was my foreman for only the first year of the 18 years I spent as an electrician. He was my friend from the first day I met him until… well… until the end of eternity.

I found that most of the electricians were more intelligent than others it seemed. The shop had people that were Heroes in their own right. Andy Tubbs, Craig Jones, Terry Blevins, Diana Lucas and Ben Davis were what I thought of as “Delta Force” Electricians. They were sent to tackle the toughest of jobs because everyone knew that they would pour all they had into their work until the job was done.

Sonny Kendrick and Bill Rivers were the electronics buffs. They would work on calibrating, programming and monitoring different plant systems. These are the people that you went to when a piece of electronic equipment was on the fritz, and they would analyze, test and repair it with their endless drawers of all types of electronic parts.

There were some other electricians, such as Art Hammond, Bill Ennis, Jim Stevenson and Mike Rose that had their own special knowledge that made each of them unique (to be sure). The other two foremen were Howard Chumbley and O.D. McGaha (prounounced: Oh Dee Muh Gay Hay).

Charles Foster didn’t fall in the same category as the others. He wasn’t the type of person to wire up a Boiler Water Circulating Pump, or run conduit up the side of the boiler. Though he would do these tasks when the A-Team wasn’t around to do it. He liked to work alone, or at least alongside one other person. I felt lucky that Charles enjoyed working with me.

When I first joined the electric shop Charles made two things clear to me; don’t call him Charlie and don’t make fun of his spelling. He was sensitive about those two things. I agreed, and I never did…. call him Charlie or make fun of his spelling.

Charles knew he had a problem with spelling, and there didn’t seem to be anything he could do about it. So, I often checked over his work before he sent something. — This was before Personal Computers were available in the office with spell checkers.

During my first electrical year (1984), Charles and I would sit in the Electric Shop Office during lunch and talk about movies we had seen. We took turns relaying entire movies to each other. We would start out by saying, “Have you seen “Karate Kid”? Well you see, there was this boy who was moving to California with his mom from someplace in the east and….”

The Karate Kid

The Karate Kid

We quickly learned that we liked the same kind of movies and shows, and even more, we liked telling each other about them. It seems that we spent years during lunch talking about one movie (or TV show) after the other. I looked forward to just sitting with Charles and talking during lunch.

I noticed in the years that I worked at the Power Plant that, in general, Power Plant Men have the knack of thinking outside of the box. Charles Foster was very good at doing this, and we would have discussions about all sorts of subjects. From God and the Universe to time travel and gardening. The more we talked, the more I came to realize that this man was brilliant.

Not “Newton” brilliant, but “Einstein” brilliant…. If you know what I mean…. Newton had a great mathematical mind and used that ability to become the father of Physics. Einstein on the other hand used his ability to take an observation and mix it with his idea of reality to come up with something that seemed totally unrelated, but made sense nonetheless. This was Charles.

So, what great plans did Charles come up with? What plot to take over the world (as my current manager at Dell, Clay Worley accuses me of weekly)? He became a good father to his son and daughter and a good husband to his wife Margaret. All the things that are really important for the survival of mankind.

One day while Andy Tubbs and I were driving to the River Pump station to check the transformers during substation checks, we stopped along the roadside and I picked a stalk from a Cattail that was about ready to bloom.

A Power Plant Cattail

A Power Plant Cattail

The plan was to put it in Charles’ top right hand desk drawer. The reason is that when handled just right, this brown furry “flower” (if you want to call it that) will literally explode into tens of thousands of tiny floating bits of fur. Sort of like a dandelion does when it turns white, only more furry and much more numerous. A thousand times more numerous.

When we arrived back in the shop, I walked into the office and told Charles that I had a present for him. Holding the stalk in my hand I opened his drawer. As Charles leaped out of his chair to stop me, I dropped the cattail into his drawer full of tools and odds and end parts, and it exploded into a huge ball of fur. Cattail fur went flying around the room.

Charles was genuinely upset. You see… It wasn’t bad enough that our clothes and hair and nose were being speckled with fur… Charles had allergies and this fur wasn’t helping. So Charles hurried into the shop and wheeled the Shop Vac over to the door and unraveled the hose and plugged it in to vacuum out his drawer.

A Shop-Vac like this

A Shop-Vac like this

Charles was trying to vacuum up the mess in his drawer before the office became flooded with the fur. He turned the vacuum on and turned around to put the end of the hose in the drawer. As he turned, Andy quickly disconnected the hose from the intake and attached it to the outtake. Notice the two holes on the front of the Shop-Vac. The bottom one is to vacuum while the top hose connect actually blows out the air.

By the time Charles plunged the end of the hose into the drawer, it was blasting air from the hose which caused just the opposite effect that Charles was hoping for. The entire room became so full of flying fur that any attempt to clean it up became impossible. I couldn’t help it, I was over in the corner laughing at the situation that Charles found himself in….. Of course… I was standing in the middle of what looked like a heavy snowstorm.

After about 5 minutes some of the flying fur had settled on the floor and the entire floor in the office was covered with what seemed like about 2 inches of fur. — Ok. So, I felt guilty about this. I hadn’t thought about Charles’ allergies. For the next 2 months (at least), each morning Charles would remind me that I was still supposed to feel bad about it by opening his drawer when he first came in, and blowing down into the drawer causing fur to stir up and fly around the room. Yeah, it was remarkable that it lasted so long.

During a Major Overhaul, the electricians do alarm checks. During this time, you go down the list of every alarm in the plant and test it to make sure it is still working as designed. There are hundreds of alarms. You take blueprints with you to go to every conceivable alarm on the unit that is down for overhaul. Then while someone is sitting in the control room watching the alarm printout and the alarm monitors, the electrician will place a jumper across the apparatus that brings in the alarm and wait until the person in the control room acknowledges the alarm.

To do this job, you need to read the wire numbers on the print and match them with the wires on the terminal blocks. Then you call the Control room on the radio and ask them if alarm so and so came in. We found out quickly that we didn’t want Charles doing either of these two jobs. Charles had the habit of reading the numbers out of order. Instead of wire number 25496, he might read 24956.

I know that some of you recognize the signs that I have described about Charles. I know that Charles felt a great frustration with his problem spelling and transposing numbers. One night in 1992, I watched a movie on TV called “The Secret” with Kirk Douglas.

The SecretI wouldn’t normally have sat and watched a movie like this because it dragged on for a while and didn’t seem to have much of a plot. What kept me glued to the TV was that the man in the movie played by Kirk Douglas was just like Charles except that he couldn’t read at all. He was very smart and was trying to hide the fact that he just couldn’t read.

When his grandson began having the same problem, he realized he had to do something about it. That was when he found out that he had Dyslexia. There are different forms or degrees of Dyslexia, but I recognized right away that this was a story about Charles Foster. I knew that his son Tim who was in High School at the time was having the same difficulty with spelling.

The next morning when I arrived in the Electric Shop Office I had to tell Charles right away (I couldn’t wait until our normal lunch time movie review) that I knew why he had so much trouble spelling and why he always jumbled his numbers around. It was because he had Dyslexia. I explained the movie to him. As I was telling this to Charles I could see that he was beginning to understand…. everything fit.

I watched as Charles soaked in what I had just told him. A lifetime of feeling like he had failed at the most simple of tasks were drying up before his eyes. He had a condition that was not only common, but was also treatable in the sense that you could learn to improve using the correct techniques. Just knowing why was good enough for Charles. He had spent years coping and working around. Now he knew why. I will never forget that moment when I was sitting in the office smiling at Charles smiling back at me.

Charles Foster - A True Power Plant Hero!

Charles Foster – A True Power Plant Hero!

I mentioned above that Charles reminded me of Albert Einstein. It is an interesting coincidence (or is it?) that the movie “The Secret” earned the Einstein Award from the National Dyslexia Research Foundation in 1992. It seems that Einstein, Charles Foster and Dyslexia go together.

God Bless you Charles and your wonderful family!

Comment from Previous Post:

  1. This was an awesome piece of writing! I liked that you described your ordinary man turned into a hero in your life. I like that using his last name Foster, you made him into your Foster father or friend. It is a great tribute to YOU, though, that this quiet solitary man took you under his wing. Thanks for all the ‘likes’ you push on my posts. I am belated at getting back. Have you ever seen in my comments, that I work at a warehouse so get only about an hour a day at the library and then, scurry on the weekend, visiting grandkids, reading blogs at the library and trying to be able to stay connected? Not an ‘excuse’ more of an “I’m Sorry to you!” Take care, robin

Personal Power Plant Hero — Charles Foster

Originally posted March 30, 2013:

When you think about it, you probably spend more time with your best friend than you ever did talking to your own father. That is, unless your father is your best friend. Charles Foster was my “Foster Father”. Though I was grateful for his effort to bring me into the Electric Shop at the Coal-Fired Plant, when I had little to no electrical experience, that wasn’t the reason why we became such good friends.

When I moved into the electric shop from the labor crew, Charles Foster was my B Foreman. He was my foreman for only the first year of the 18 years I spent as an electrician. He was my friend from the first day I met him until… well… until the end of eternity.

I found that most of the electricians were more intelligent than others it seemed. The shop had people that were Heroes in their own right. Andy Tubbs, Craig Jones, Terry Blevins, Diana Lucas and Ben Davis were what I thought of as “Delta Force” Electricians. They were sent to tackle the toughest of jobs because everyone knew that they would pour all they had into their work until the job was done.

Sonny Kendrick and Bill Rivers were the electronics buffs. They would work on calibrating, programming and monitoring different plant systems. These are the people that you went to when a piece of electronic equipment was on the fritz, and they would analyze, test and repair it with their endless drawers of all types of electronic parts.

There were some other electricians, such as Art Hammond, Bill Ennis, Jim Stevenson and Mike Rose that had their own special knowledge that made each of them unique (to be sure). The other two foremen were Howard Chumbley and O.D. McGaha (prounounced: Oh Dee Muh Gay Hay).

Charles Foster didn’t fall in the same category as the others. He wasn’t the type of person to wire up a Boiler Water Circulating Pump, or run conduit up the side of the boiler. Though he would do these tasks when the A-Team wasn’t around to do it. He liked to work alone, or at least alongside one other person. I felt lucky that Charles enjoyed working with me.

When I first joined the electric shop Charles made two things clear to me; don’t call him Charlie and don’t make fun of his spelling. He was sensitive about those two things. I agreed, and I never did…. call him Charlie or make fun of his spelling.

Charles knew he had a problem with spelling, and there didn’t seem to be anything he could do about it. So, I often checked over his work before he sent something. — This was before Personal Computers were available in the office with spell checkers.

During my first electrical year (1984), Charles and I would sit in the Electric Shop Office during lunch and talk about movies we had seen. We took turns relaying entire movies to each other. We would start out by saying, “Have you seen “Karate Kid”? Well you see, there was this boy who was moving to California with his mom from someplace in the east and….”

The Karate Kid

The Karate Kid

We quickly learned that we liked the same kind of movies and shows, and even more, we liked telling each other about them. It seems that we spent years during lunch talking about one movie (or TV show) after the other. I looked forward to just sitting with Charles and talking during lunch.

I noticed in the years that I worked at the Power Plant that, in general, Power Plant Men have the knack of thinking outside of the box. Charles Foster was very good at doing this, and we would have discussions about all sorts of subjects. From God and the Universe to time travel and gardening. The more we talked, the more I came to realize that this man was brilliant.

Not “Newton” brilliant, but “Einstein” brilliant…. If you know what I mean…. Newton had a great mathematical mind and used that ability to become the father of Physics. Einstein on the other hand used his ability to take an observation and mix it with his idea of reality to come up with something that seemed totally unrelated, but made sense nonetheless. This was Charles.

So, what great plans did Charles come up with? What plot to take over the world (as my current manager at Dell, Clay Worley accuses me of weekly)? He became a good father to his son and daughter and a good husband to his wife Margaret. All the things that are really important for the survival of mankind.

One day while Andy Tubbs and I were driving to the River Pump station to check the transformers during substation checks, we stopped along the roadside and I picked a stalk from a Cattail that was about ready to bloom.

A Power Plant Cattail

A Power Plant Cattail

The plan was to put it in Charles’ top right hand desk drawer. The reason is that when handled just right, this brown furry “flower” (if you want to call it that) will literally explode into tens of thousands of tiny floating bits of fur. Sort of like a dandelion does when it turns white, only more furry and much more numerous. A thousand times more numerous.

When we arrived back in the shop, I walked into the office and told Charles that I had a present for him. Holding the stalk in my hand I opened his drawer. As Charles leaped out of his chair to stop me, I dropped the cattail into his drawer full of tools and odds and end parts, and it exploded into a huge ball of fur. Cattail fur went flying around the room.

Charles was genuinely upset. You see… It wasn’t bad enough that our clothes and hair and nose were being speckled with fur… Charles had allergies and this fur wasn’t helping. So Charles hurried into the shop and wheeled the Shop Vac over to the door and unraveled the hose and plugged it in to vacuum out his drawer.

A Shop-Vac like this

A Shop-Vac like this

Charles was trying to vacuum up the mess in his drawer before the office became flooded with the fur. He turned the vacuum on and turned around to put the end of the hose in the drawer. As he turned, Andy quickly disconnected the hose from the intake and attached it to the outtake. Notice the two holes on the front of the Shop-Vac. The bottom one is to vacuum while the top hose connect actually blows out the air.

By the time Charles plunged the end of the hose into the drawer, it was blasting air from the hose which caused just the opposite effect that Charles was hoping for. The entire room became so full of flying fur that any attempt to clean it up became impossible. I couldn’t help it, I was over in the corner laughing at the situation that Charles found himself in….. Of course… I was standing in the middle of what looked like a heavy snowstorm.

After about 5 minutes some of the flying fur had settled on the floor and the entire floor in the office was covered with what seemed like about 2 inches of fur. — Ok. So, I felt guilty about this. I hadn’t thought about Charles’ allergies. For the next 2 months (at least), each morning Charles would remind me that I was still supposed to feel bad about it by opening his drawer when he first came in, and blowing down into the drawer causing fur to stir up and fly around the room. Yeah, it was remarkable that it lasted so long.

During a Major Overhaul, the electricians do alarm checks. During this time, you go down the list of every alarm in the plant and test it to make sure it is still working as designed. There are hundreds of alarms. You take blueprints with you to go to every conceivable alarm on the unit that is down for overhaul. Then while someone is sitting in the control room watching the alarm printout and the alarm monitors, the electrician will place a jumper across the apparatus that brings in the alarm and wait until the person in the control room acknowledges the alarm.

To do this job, you need to read the wire numbers on the print and match them with the wires on the terminal blocks. Then you call the Control room on the radio and ask them if alarm so and so came in. We found out quickly that we didn’t want Charles doing either of these two jobs. Charles had the habit of reading the numbers out of order. Instead of wire number 25496, he might read 24956.

I know that some of you recognize the signs that I have described about Charles. I know that Charles felt a great frustration with his problem spelling and transposing numbers. One night in 1992, I watched a movie on TV called “The Secret” with Kirk Douglas.

The SecretI wouldn’t normally have sat and watched a movie like this because it dragged on for a while and didn’t seem to have much of a plot. What kept me glued to the TV was that the man in the movie played by Kirk Douglas was just like Charles except that he couldn’t read at all. He was very smart and was trying to hide the fact that he just couldn’t read.

When his grandson began having the same problem, he realized he had to do something about it. That was when he found out that he had Dyslexia. There are different forms or degrees of Dyslexia, but I recognized right away that this was a story about Charles Foster. I knew that his son Tim who was in High School at the time was having the same difficulty with spelling.

The next morning when I arrived in the Electric Shop Office I had to tell Charles right away (I couldn’t wait until our normal lunch time movie review) that I knew why he had so much trouble spelling and why he always jumbled his numbers around. It was because he had Dyslexia. I explained the movie to him. As I was telling this to Charles I could see that he was beginning to understand…. everything fit.

I watched as Charles soaked in what I had just told him. A lifetime of feeling like he had failed at the most simple of tasks were drying up before his eyes. He had a condition that was not only common, but was also treatable in the sense that you could learn to improve using the correct techniques. Just knowing why was good enough for Charles. He had spent years coping and working around. Now he knew why. I will never forget that moment when I was sitting in the office smiling at Charles smiling back at me.

Charles Foster - A True Power Plant Hero!

Charles Foster – A True Power Plant Hero!

I mentioned above tha:t Charles reminded me of Albert Einstein. It is an interesting coincidence (or is it?) that the movie “The Secret” earned the Einstein Award from the National Dyslexia Research Foundation in 1992. It seems that Einstein, Charles Foster and Dyslexia go together.

God Bless you Charles and your wonderful family!

Comment from Previous Post:

  1. This was an awesome piece of writing! I liked that you described your ordinary man turned into a hero in your life. I like that using his last name Foster, you made him into your Foster father or friend. It is a great tribute to YOU, though, that this quiet solitary man took you under his wing. Thanks for all the ‘likes’ you push on my posts. I am belated at getting back. Have you ever seen in my comments, that I work at a warehouse so get only about an hour a day at the library and then, scurry on the weekend, visiting grandkids, reading blogs at the library and trying to be able to stay connected? Not an ‘excuse’ more of an “I’m Sorry to you!” Take care, robin

Power Plant Safety As Interpreted by Curtis Love

Original posted on January 28, 2012:

I vividly remember four events while working at the power plant where I was at the brink of death. I’m sure there were many other times, but these four have been etched in my memory almost 30 years later. Of those four memorable events, Curtis Love was by my side (so to speak) to share the wonder of two of those moments. This is a story about one of those times when you are too busy at the time to realize how close you came to catching that ride to the great power plant in the sky, until the middle of that night when you wake up in a cold sweat trying to catch your breath.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, safety is the number one priority at the power plant. But what is safe and what isn’t is relative. If you are the person that has to walk out onto a plank hanging out over the top ledge on the boiler in order to replace a section of boiler tube before the boiler has cooled down below 160 degrees, you might not think it is safe to do that with only an extra long lanyard tied to your waist and a sheer drop of 200 feet to the bottom ash hopper below (which I incidentally didn’t have to do as an electrician, but had to hear about after some other brave he-man had the privilege), you might not think that this is safe. But the Equipment Support Supervisor who has spent too many years as an engineer behind his desk doesn’t see anything wrong with this as long as you don’t fall. So, he tells you to do it, just don’t fall.

Safety is also relative to the date when something occurs. In 1994 OSHA implemented new rules for confined spaces. A confined space is any place that’s hard to enter and exit, or a place where you might be trapped in an enclosure because of converging walls. So, before 1994, there were no safety rules specific to confined spaces.

No rules meant that when I was on labor crew it was perfectly safe to crawl into a confined space and wind and twist your way around obstacles until the small door that you entered (18 inches by 12 inches) was only a distant memory as you are lying down in the bottom section of the sand filter tank with about 22 inches from the bottom of the section to the top requiring you to lie flat as you drag yourself around the support rods just less than 2 feet apart. Oh. and wearing a sandblast helmet…

Sand Blast Helmet

Sand Blast Helmet

and holding a sandblaster hose…

Sand Blast Hose

Sand Blast Hose

with a straight through Sandblast Nozzle….

Sand Blast Nozzle

Sand Blast Nozzle

Which means, the person sandblasting has no way of turning off the sand or the air on their own. If you wanted to turn off the sand, you had to bang the nozzle against the side of the tank and hope that the person outside monitoring the sandblaster was able to hear you above the roar of the Sandblaster and the Industrial Vacuum.

Sandblasting machine.  Would run about 15 minutes before it would run out of sand.

Sandblasting machine. Would run about 15 minutes before it would run out of sand.

You also had a drop light that left you all tangled in wires and hoses that blew air on your face so that you could breathe and a vacuum hose that sucked the blasted sand and rust away, while the sandblaster blasts away the rust from all things metal less than a foot away from your face, because the air is so full of dust, that’s as far as you can see while holding the drop light with the other hand next to the sandblast hose. The air that blows through the sandblaster is hot, so you begin to sweat inside the heavy rain suit that you wear to protect the rest of you from sand that is ricocheting everywhere, but you don’t feel it as long as cool air is blowing on your face.

The week I spent lying flat trying to prop up my head while sandblasting the bottom section of both sand filter tanks gave me time to think about a lot of things…. which leads us to Curtis Love…. Not that it was Curtis Love that I was thinking about, but that he enters the story some time in the middle of this week. When I least expected it.

Similar to these Sand Filters only about twice the size

Similar to these Sand Filters only about twice the size. If you look closely you can see the seam around the bottom. Below that seam is where I was lying while sandblasting

Curtis Love was a janitor at the plant when I first joined the Sanitation Engineering Team after my four summers of training as a “summer help”. Curtis was like my mother in some ways (and in other ways not – obviously). He was always looking for something to worry about. For instance, one Monday morning while we were sitting in our Monday Morning Janitor safety meeting and Pat Braden had just finished reading the most recent safety pamphlet to us and we were silently pondering the proper way to set the outriggers on a P&H Crane, Jim Kanelakos said, “Hey Curtis. Don’t you have your mortgage at the Federal Bank in Ponca City?” Curtis said, “Yeah, why?” Jim continued, “Well I heard this morning on the news that the bank was foreclosing on all of their home mortgages.”

Curtis said that he hadn’t heard that, but that as soon as it was 9:00 am he would call the bank to find out what he needed to do so that he wouldn’t lose his house. About that time I gave a report on the number of fiddleback spiders I had killed in the main switchgear the previous week. It seemed like no one was listening to my statistics as Doris Voss was still pondering the P&H Crane hand signals, and Curtis was shuffling his feet in worry and Ronnie Banks was staring off into space, as if he was stunned that Monday was already here again, and Jim Kanelakos was snickering under his breath.

When the meeting was over and we were standing up, Jim told Curtis, “Hey Curtis. I was just kidding. The bank really isn’t foreclosing on their mortgages.” Curtis replied, “I don’t know. I better call them to check anyway.” Jim replied, “Curtis, I just made that up! I was playing a joke on you.” Curtis said, “I better check anyway, because it still is possible that they could be foreclosing on their mortgages”. So Jim just gave up trying to explain.

I know you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at me now, but there were only two of us at the plant that were small enough to crawl through the portal into the Sand Filter tanks (Ed Shiever and myself), because not only was it very tight, but the entry was so close to the edge of the building that you had to enter the hole by curving your body around the corner and into the tank.

I have tried to paint of picture of the predicament a person is in when they are laying in this small space about 20 feet from the small portal that you have to crawl through. with their airline for the sandblast helmet, the sandblast hose, the drop light cord and the 4 inch vacuum hose all wound around the support rods that were not quite 2 feet apart in all directions. Because this is where I was when without my giving the signal (by banging the sandblast nozzle on the tank three times), the sand stopped flowing from the nozzle and only air was hissing loudly. This meant one of two things. The sandblast machine had just run out of sand, or someone was shutting the sandblaster off because it was time for lunch. I figured it was time for lunch, because I didn’t think it had been more than 10 minutes since the sand had been refilled and amid the roaring blasts and the howling sucking vacuum hose, I thought I had caught the sound of a rumbling stomach from time to time.

Industrial Vacuum used to suck out the sand as I was sandblasting

Industrial Vacuum used to suck out the sand as I was sandblasting

The next thing that should happen after the sand has blown out of the sandblast hose, is that the air to the sandblaster should stop blowing. And it did…. but what wasn’t supposed to happen, that did, was that the air blowing through my sandblast hood allowing me to breathe in this sea of rusty dust shut off at the same time! While still pondering what was happening, I suddenly realized that without the air supply to my hood, not only could I not breathe at all, but my sweat-filled rain suit that I was wearing suddenly became unbearably hot and dust began pouring into my hood now that the positive pressure was gone.

I understood from these various signs of discomfort that I needed to head back to the exit as quickly as possible, as I was forced by the thick dust to hold my breath. I pulled my hood off of my head and everything went black. I had moved more than a foot away from the drop light. I knew that the exit was in the direction of my feet, so I swung around a row of support rods and dragged myself along by the rods as quickly as I could. Working my way around the cable, the air hose, the sandblast hose and the vacuum hose as I pulled myself along trying to make out where the exit could be. Luckily, I had figured correctly and I found myself at the exit where in one motion I pulled myself out to fresh air and the blinding light of the day gasping for air.

Furious that someone had turned off my air, I ran out of the sand filter building to the sandblast machine where I found Curtis Love of all people. Up to this point, Curtis had never had the privilege to operate the sandblaster and was not aware of the proper sequence to shutting down the machine…. without shutting off the air to my hood. Incidentally, both the sandblaster and the air hose to the sandblast hood were being fed from the same regular plant air supply (which OSHA might have frowned upon back as far as 1983, and which caused you to blow black oily stuff out of your nose for a few days).

Needless to say, about the time that I came bolting out of the sand filter building Curtis had figured out that he had shut off the wrong valve. He was apologizing profusely in one long drawn out sentence….. “Kevin, I’m sorry, I’m really sorry, I’m sorry, I’m really sorry….” I stopped myself short as my hands were flying toward the area where his neck would have been, if Curtis had had a neck. I looked over toward the crew cab parked nearby. It was full of hungry labor crew “he-men in training” all smiling and chuckling. At that moment I knew that both Curtis and I had been on the receiving end of what could be construed as a “power plant joke” (refer to the post about Gene Day to learn more about those:  “Power Plant Humor and Joking with Gene Day“). So, I spent the next 30 seconds as Curtis and I piled into the crew cab telling Curtis that is was all right, he didn’t have to feel bad about it. Evidently, someone had told Curtis how to shutdown the sandblaster, but failed to tell him exactly which valve to turn off when turning off the air to the sandblaster.

Needless to say. Lunch tasted extra good that day. Possibly the rusty dust added just the right amount of iron to my sandwich.

Personal Power Plant Hero — Charles Foster — Repost

Originally posted March 30, 2013:

When you think about it, you probably spend more time with your best friend than you ever did talking to your own father. That is, unless your father is your best friend. Charles Foster was my “Foster Father”. Though I was grateful for his effort to bring me into the Electric Shop at the Coal-Fired Plant, when I had little to no electrical experience, that wasn’t the reason why we became such good friends.

When I moved into the electric shop from the labor crew, Charles Foster was my B Foreman. He was my foreman for only the first year of the 18 years I spent as an electrician. He was my friend from the first day I met him until… well… until the end of eternity. I found that most of the electricians were more intelligent than others it seemed. The shop had people that were Heroes in their own right. Andy Tubbs, Craig Jones, Terry Blevins, Diana Lucas and Ben Davis were what I thought of as “Delta Force” Electricians. They were sent to tackle the toughest of jobs because everyone knew that they would pour all they had into their work until the job was done.

Sonny Kendrick and Bill Rivers were the electronics buffs. They would work on calibrating, programming and monitoring different plant systems. These are the people that you went to when a piece of electronic equipment was on the fritz, and they would analyze, test and repair it with their endless drawers of all types of electronic parts.

There were some other electricians, such as Art Hammond, Bill Ennis, Jim Stevenson and Mike Rose that had their own special knowledge that made each of them unique (to be sure). The other two foremen were Howard Chumbley and O.D. McGaha (prounounced: Oh Dee Muh Gay Hay).

Charles Foster didn’t fall in the same category as the others. He wasn’t the type of person to wire up a Boiler Water Circulating Pump, or run conduit up the side of the boiler. Though he would do these tasks when the A-Team wasn’t around to do it. He liked to work alone, or at least alongside one other person. I felt lucky that Charles enjoyed working with me.

When I first joined the electric shop Charles made two things clear to me; don’t call him Charlie and don’t make fun of his spelling. He was sensitive about those two things. I agreed, and I never did…. call him Charlie or make fun of his spelling. Charles knew he had a problem with spelling, and there didn’t seem to be anything he could do about it. So, I often checked over his work before he sent something. — This was before Personal Computers were available in the office with spell checkers.

During my first electrical year (1984), Charles and I would sit in the Electric Shop Office during lunch and talk about movies we had seen. We took turns relaying entire movies to each other. We would start out by saying, “Have you seen “Karate Kid”? Well you see, there was this boy who was moving to California with his mom from someplace in the east and….”

The Karate Kid

The Karate Kid

We quickly learned that we liked the same kind of movies and shows, and even more, we liked telling each other about them. It seems that we spent years during lunch talking about one movie (or TV show) after the other. I looked forward to just sitting with Charles and talking during lunch.

I noticed in the years that I worked at the Power Plant that, in general, Power Plant Men have the knack of thinking outside of the box. Charles Foster was very good at doing this, and we would have discussions about all sorts of subjects. From God and the Universe to time travel and gardening. The more we talked, the more I came to realize that this man was brilliant.

Not “Newton” brilliant, but “Einstein” brilliant…. If you know what I mean…. Newton had a great mathematical mind and used that ability to become the father of Physics. Einstein on the other hand used his ability to take an observation and mix it with his idea of reality to come up with something that seemed totally unrelated, but made sense nonetheless. This was Charles.

So, what great plans did Charles come up with? What plot to take over the world (as my current manager at Dell, Clay Worley accuses me of weekly)? He became a good father to his son and daughter and a good husband to his wife Margaret. All the things that are really important for the survival of mankind.

One day while Andy Tubbs and I were driving to the River Pump station to check the transformers during substation checks, we stopped along the roadside and I picked a stalk from a Cattail that was about ready to bloom.

A Power Plant Cattail

A Power Plant Cattail

The plan was to put it in Charles’ top right hand desk drawer. The reason is that when handled just right, this brown furry “flower” (if you want to call it that) will literally explode into tens of thousands of tiny floating bits of fur. Sort of like a dandelion does when it turns white, only more furry and much more numerous. A thousand times more numerous.

When we arrived back in the shop, I walked into the office and told Charles that I had a present for him. Holding the stalk in my hand I opened his drawer. As Charles leaped out of his chair to stop me, I dropped the cattail into his drawer full of tools and odds and end parts, and it exploded into a huge ball of fur. Cattail fur went flying around the room.

Charles was genuinely upset. You see… It wasn’t bad enough that our clothes and hair and nose were being speckled with fur… Charles had allergies and this fur wasn’t helping. So Charles hurried into the shop and wheeled the Shop Vac over to the door and unraveled the hose and plugged it in to vacuum out his drawer.

A Shop-Vac like this

A Shop-Vac like this

Charles was trying to vacuum up the mess in his drawer before the office became flooded with the fur. He turned the vacuum on and turned around to put the end of the hose in the drawer. As he turned, Andy quickly disconnected the hose from the intake and attached it to the outtake. Notice the two holes on the front of the Shop-Vac. The bottom one is to vacuum while the top hose connect actually blows out the air.

By the time Charles plunged the end of the hose into the drawer, it was blasting air from the hose which caused just the opposite effect that Charles was hoping for. The entire room became so full of flying fur that any attempt to clean it up became impossible. I couldn’t help it, I was over in the corner laughing at the situation that Charles found himself in….. Of course… I was standing in the middle of what looked like a heavy snowstorm.

After about 5 minutes some of the flying fur had settled on the floor and the entire floor in the office was covered with what seemed like about 2 inches of fur. — Ok. So, I felt guilty about this. I hadn’t thought about Charles’ allergies. For the next 2 months (at least), each morning Charles would remind me that I was still supposed to feel bad about it by opening his drawer when he first came in, and blowing down into the drawer causing fur to stir up and fly around the room. Yeah, it was remarkable that it lasted so long.

During a Major Overhaul, the electricians do alarm checks. During this time, you go down the list of every alarm in the plant and test it to make sure it is still working as designed. There are hundreds of alarms. You take blueprints with you to go to every conceivable alarm on the unit that is down for overhaul. Then while someone is sitting in the control room watching the alarm printout and the alarm monitors, the electrician will place a jumper across the apparatus that brings in the alarm and wait until the person in the control room acknowledges the alarm.

To do this job, you need to read the wire numbers on the print and match them with the wires on the terminal blocks. Then you call the Control room on the radio and ask them if alarm so and so came in. We found out quickly that we didn’t want Charles doing either of these two jobs. Charles had the habit of reading the numbers out of order. Instead of wire number 25496, he might read 24956.

I know that some of you recognize the signs that I have described about Charles. I know that Charles felt a great frustration with his problem spelling and transposing numbers. One night in 1992, I watched a movie on TV called “The Secret” with Kirk Douglas.

The SecretI wouldn’t normally have sat and watched a movie like this because it dragged on for a while and didn’t seem to have much of a plot. What kept me glued to the TV was that the man in the movie played by Kirk Douglas was just like Charles except that he couldn’t read at all. He was very smart and was trying to hide the fact that he just couldn’t read.

When his grandson began having the same problem, he realized he had to do something about it. That was when he found out that he had Dyslexia. There are different forms or degrees of Dyslexia, but I recognized right away that this was a story about Charles Foster. I knew that his son Tim who was in High School at the time was having the same difficulty with spelling.

The next morning when I arrived in the Electric Shop Office I had to tell Charles right away (I couldn’t wait until our normal lunch time movie review) that I knew why he had so much trouble spelling and why he always jumbled his numbers around. It was because he had Dyslexia. I explained the movie to him. As I was telling this to Charles I could see that he was beginning to understand…. everything fit.

I watched as Charles soaked in what I had just told him. A lifetime of feeling like he had failed at the most simple of tasks were drying up before his eyes. He had a condition that was not only common, but was also treatable in the sense that you could learn to improve using the correct techniques. Just knowing why was good enough for Charles. He had spent years coping and working around. Now he knew why. I will never forget that moment when I was sitting in the office smiling at Charles smiling back at me.

Charles Foster - A True Power Plant Hero!

Charles Foster – A True Power Plant Hero!

I mentioned above that Charles reminded me of Albert Einstein. It is an interesting coincidence (or is it?) that the movie “The Secret” earned the Einstein Award from the National Dyslexia Research Foundation in 1992. It seems that Einstein, Charles Foster and Dyslexia go together.

God Bless you Charles and your wonderful family!

Power Plant Safety As Interpreted by Curtis Love — Repost

This is a repost and slightly edited from the original post that was originally posted on January 28, 2012:

I vividly remember four events while working at the power plant where I was at the brink of death. I’m sure there were many other times, but these four have been etched in my memory almost 30 years later. Of those four memorable events, Curtis Love was by my side (so to speak) to share the wonder of two of those moments. This is a story about one of those times when you are too busy at the time to realize how close you came to catching that ride to the great power plant in the sky, until the middle of that night when you wake up in a cold sweat trying to catch your breath.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, safety is the number one priority at the power plant. But what is safe and what isn’t is relative. If you are the person that has to walk out onto a plank hanging out over the top ledge on the boiler in order to replace a section of boiler tube before the boiler has cooled down below 160 degrees, you might not think it is safe to do that with only an extra long lanyard tied to your waist and a sheer drop of 200 feet to the bottom ash hopper below (which I incidentally didn’t have to do as an electrician, but had to hear about after some other brave he-man had the privilege), you might not think that this is safe. But the Equipment Support Supervisor who has spent too many years as an engineer behind his desk doesn’t see anything wrong with this as long as you don’t fall. So, he tells you to do it, just don’t fall.

Safety is also relative to the date when something occurs. In 1994 OSHA implemented new rules for confined spaces. A confined space is any place that’s hard to enter and exit, or a place where you might be trapped in an enclosure because of converging walls. So, before 1994, there were no safety rules specific to confined spaces.

No rules meant that when I was on labor crew it was perfectly safe to crawl into a confined space and wind and twist your way around obstacles until the small door that you entered (18 inches by 12 inches) was only a distant memory as you are lying down in the bottom section of the sand filter tank with about 22 inches from the bottom of the section to the top requiring you to lie flat as you drag yourself around the support rods just less than 2 feet apart. Oh. and wearing a sandblast helmet…

Sand Blast Helmet

Sand Blast Helmet

and holding a sandblaster hose…

Sand Blast Hose

Sand Blast Hose

with a straight through Sandblast Nozzle….

Sand Blast Nozzle

Sand Blast Nozzle

Which means, the person sandblasting has no way of turning off the sand or the air on their own. If you wanted to turn off the sand, you had to bang the nozzle against the side of the tank and hope that the person outside monitoring the sandblaster was able to hear you above the roar of the Sandblaster and the Industrial Vacuum.

Sandblasting machine.  Would run about 15 minutes before it would run out of sand.

Sandblasting machine. Would run about 15 minutes before it would run out of sand.

and a drop light that left you all tangled in wires and hoses that blew air on your face so that you could breathe and a vacuum hose that sucked the blasted sand and rust away, while the sandblaster blasts away the rust from all things metal less than a foot away from your face, because the air is so full of dust, that’s as far as you can see while holding the drop light with the other hand next to the sandblast hose. The air that blows through the sandblaster is hot, so you begin to sweat inside the heavy rain suit that you wear to protect the rest of you from sand that is ricocheting everywhere, but you don’t feel it as long as cool air is blowing on your face.

The week I spent lying flat trying to prop up my head while sandblasting the bottom section of both sand filter tanks gave me time to think about a lot of things…. which leads us to Curtis Love…. Not that it was Curtis Love that I was thinking about, but that he enters the story some time in the middle of this week. When I least expected it.

Similar to these Sand Filters only about twice the size

Similar to these Sand Filters only about twice the size. If you look closely you can see the seam around the bottom. Below that seam is where I was lying while sandblasting

Curtis Love was a janitor at the plant when I first joined the Sanitation Engineering Team after my four summers of training as a “summer help”. Curtis was like my mother in some ways (and in other ways not – obviously). He was always looking for something to worry about. For instance, one Monday morning while we were sitting in our Monday Morning Janitor safety meeting and Pat Braden had just finished reading the most recent safety pamphlet to us and we were silently pondering the proper way to set the outriggers on a P&H Crane, Jim Kanelakos said, “Hey Curtis. Don’t you have your mortgage at the Federal Bank in Ponca City?” Curtis said, “Yeah, why?” Jim continued, “Well I heard this morning on the news that the bank was foreclosing on all of their home mortgages.”

Curtis said that he hadn’t heard that, but that as soon as it was 9:00 he would call the bank to find out what he needed to do so that he wouldn’t lose his house. About that time I gave a report on the number of fiddleback spiders I had killed in the main switchgear the previous week. It seemed like no one was listening to my statistics as Doris Voss was still pondering the P&H Crane hand signals, and Curtis was shuffling his feet in worry and Ronnie Banks was staring off into space, as if he was stunned that Monday was already here again, and Jim Kanelakos was snickering under his breath.

When the meeting was over and we were standing up, Jim told Curtis, “Hey Curtis. I was just kidding. The bank really isn’t foreclosing on their mortgages.” Curtis replied, “I don’t know. I better call them to check anyway.” Jim replied, “Curtis, I just made that up! I was playing a joke on you.” Curtis said, “I better check anyway, because it still is possible that they could be foreclosing on their mortgages”. So Jim just gave up trying to explain.

I know you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at me now, but there were only two of us at the plant that were small enough to crawl through the portal into the Sand Filter tanks (Ed Shiever and myself), because not only was it very tight, but the entry was so close to the edge of the building that you had to enter the hole by curving your body around the corner and into the tank.

I have tried to paint of picture of the predicament a person is in when they are laying in this small space about 20 feet from the small portal that you have to crawl through. with their airline for the sandblast helmet, the sandblast hose, the drop light cord and the 4 inch vacuum hose all wound around the support rods that were not quite 2 feet apart in all directions. Because this is where I was when without my giving the signal (by banging the sandblast nozzle on the tank three times), the sand stopped flowing from the nozzle and only air was hissing loudly. This meant one of two things. The sandblast machine had just run out of sand, or someone was shutting the sandblaster off because it was time for lunch. I figured it was time for lunch, because I didn’t think it had been more than 10 minutes since the sand had been refilled and amid the roaring blasts and the howling sucking vacuum hose, I thought I had caught the sound of a rumbling stomach from time to time.

Industrial Vacuum used to suck out the sand as I was sandblasting

Industrial Vacuum used to suck out the sand as I was sandblasting

The next thing that should happen after the sand has blown out of the sandblast hose, is that the air to the sandblaster should stop blowing. And it did…. but what wasn’t supposed to happen, that did, was that the air blowing through my sandblast hood allowing me to breathe in this sea of rusty dust shut off at the same time! While still pondering what was happening, I suddenly realized that without the air supply to my hood, not only could I not breathe at all, but my sweat-filled rain suit that I was wearing suddenly became unbearably hot and dust began pouring into my hood now that the positive pressure was gone.

I understood from these various signs of discomfort that I needed to head back to the exit as quickly as possible, as I was forced by the thick dust to hold my breath. I pulled my hood off of my head and everything went black. I had moved more than a foot away from the drop light. I knew that the exit was in the direction of my feet, so I swung around a row of support rods and dragged myself along by the rods as quickly as I could. Working my way around the cable, the air hose, the sandblast hose and the vacuum hose as I pulled myself along trying to make out where the exit could be. Luckily, I had figured correctly and I found myself at the exit where in one motion I pulled myself out to fresh air and the blinding light of the day.

Furious that someone had turned off my air, I ran out of the sand filter building to the sandblast machine where I found Curtis Love of all people. Up to this point, Curtis had never had the privilege to operate the sandblaster and was not aware of the proper sequence to shutting down the machine…. without shutting off the air to my hood. Incidentally, both the sandblaster and the air hose to the sandblast hood were being fed from the same regular plant air supply (which OSHA might have frowned upon back as far as 1983, and which caused you to blow black oily stuff out of your nose for a few days).

Needless to say, about the time that I came bolting out of the sand filter building Curtis had figured out that he had shut off the wrong valve. He was apologizing profusely in one long drawn out sentence….. “Kevin, I’m sorry, I’m really sorry, I’m sorry, I’m really sorry….” I stopped myself short as my hands were flying toward the area where his neck would have been, if Curtis had had a neck. I looked over toward the crew cab parked nearby. It was full of hungry labor crew “he-men in training” all smiling and chuckling. At that moment I knew that both Curtis and I had been on the receiving end of what could be construed as a “power plant joke” (refer to the post about Gene Day to learn more about those). So, I spent the next 30 seconds as Curtis and I piled into the crew cab telling Curtis that is was all right, he didn’t have to feel bad about it. Evidently, someone had told Curtis how to shutdown the sandblaster, but failed to tell him exactly which valve to turn off when turning off the air to the sandblaster.

Needless to say. Lunch tasted extra good that day. Possibly the rusty dust added just the right amount of iron to my sandwich.

Personal Power Plant Hero — Charles Foster

When you think about it, you probably spend more time with your best friend than you ever did talking to your own father.  That is, unless your father is your best friend.  Charles Foster was my “Foster Father”.  Though I was grateful for his effort to bring me into the Electric Shop at the Coal-Fired Plant, when I had little to no electrical experience, that wasn’t the reason why we became such good friends.

When I moved into the electric shop from the labor crew, Charles Foster was my B Foreman.  He was my foreman for only the first year of the 18 years I spent as an electrician.  He was my friend from the first day I met him until… well… until the end of eternity.  I found that most of the electricians were more intelligent than others it seemed.  The shop had people that were Heroes in their own right.  Andy Tubbs, Craig Jones, Terry Blevins, Diana Lucas and Ben Davis were what I thought of as “Delta Force” Electricians.  They were sent to tackle the toughest of jobs because everyone knew that they would pour all they had into their work until the job was done.

Sonny Kendrick and Bill Rivers were the electronics buffs.  They would work on calibrating, programming and monitoring different plant systems.  These are the people that you went to when a piece of electronic equipment was on the fritz, and they would analyze, test and repair it with their endless drawers of all types of electronic parts.

There were some other electricians, such as Art Hammond, Bill Ennis, Jim Stevenson and Mike Rose that had their own special knowledge that made each of them unique (to be sure).  The other two foremen were Howard Chumbley and O.D. McGaha (prounounced:  Oh Dee Muh Gay Hay).

Charles Foster didn’t fall in the same category as the others.  He wasn’t the type of person to wire up a Boiler Water Circulating Pump, or run conduit up the side of the boiler.  Though he would do these tasks when the A-Team wasn’t around to do it.  He liked to work alone, or at least alongside one other person.  I felt lucky that Charles enjoyed working with me.

When I first joined the electric shop Charles made two things clear to me;  don’t call him Charlie and don’t make fun of his spelling.  He was sensitive about those two things.  I agreed, and I never did…. call him Charlie or make fun of his spelling.  Charles knew he had a problem with spelling, and there didn’t seem to be anything he could do about it.  So, I often checked over his work before he sent something.  — This was before Personal Computers were available in the office with spell checkers.

During my first electrical year (1984), Charles and I would sit in the Electric Shop Office during lunch and talk about movies we had seen.  We took turns relaying entire movies to each other.  We would start out by saying, “Have you seen “Karate Kid”?  Well you see, there was this boy who was moving to California with his mom from someplace in the east and….”

The Karate Kid

The Karate Kid

We quickly learned that we liked the same kind of movies and shows, and even more, we liked telling each other about them.  It seems that we spent years during lunch talking about one movie (or TV show) after the other.  I looked forward to just sitting with Charles and talking during lunch.

I noticed in the years that I worked at the Power Plant that, in general, Power Plant Men have the knack of thinking outside of the box.  Charles Foster was very good at doing this, and we would have discussions about all sorts of subjects.  From God and the Universe to time travel and gardening.  The more we talked, the more I came to realize that this man was brilliant.

Not “Newton” brilliant, but “Einstein” brilliant…. If you know what I mean….  Newton had a great mathematical mind and used that ability to become the father of Physics.  Einstein on the other hand used his ability to take an observation and mix it with his idea of reality to come up with something that seemed totally unrelated, but made sense nonetheless.  This was Charles.

So, what great plans did Charles come up with?  What plot to take over the world (as my current manager at Dell, Clay Worley accuses me of weekly)?  He became a good father to his son and daughter and a good husband to his wife Margaret.  All the things that are really important for the survival of mankind.

One day while Andy Tubbs and I were driving to the River Pump station to check the transformers during substation checks, we stopped along the roadside and I picked a stalk from a Cattail that was about ready to bloom.

A Power Plant Cattail

A Power Plant Cattail

The plan was to put it in Charles’ top right hand desk drawer.  The reason is that when handled just right, this brown furry “flower” (if you want to call it that) will literally explode into tens of thousands of tiny floating bits of fur.  Sort of like a dandelion does when it turns white, only more furry and much more numerous.  A thousand times more numerous.

When we arrived back in the shop, I walked into the office and told Charles that I had a present for him.  Holding the stalk in my hand I opened his drawer.  As Charles leaped out of his chair to stop me, I dropped the cattail into his drawer full of tools and odds and end parts, and it exploded into a huge ball of fur.  Cattail fur went flying around the room.

Charles was genuinely upset.  You see… It wasn’t bad enough that our clothes and hair and nose were being speckled with fur… Charles had allergies and this fur wasn’t helping.  So Charles hurried into the shop and wheeled the Shop Vac over to the door and unraveled the hose and plugged it in to vacuum out his drawer.

A Shop-Vac like this

A Shop-Vac like this

Charles was trying to vacuum up the mess in his drawer before the office became flooded with the fur.  He turned the vacuum on and turned around to put the end of the hose in the drawer.  As he turned, Andy quickly disconnected the hose from the intake and attached it to the outtake.  Notice the two holes on the front of the Shop-Vac.  The bottom one is to vacuum while the top hose connect actually blows out the air.

By the time Charles plunged the end of the hose into the drawer, it was blasting air from the hose which caused just the opposite effect that Charles was hoping for.  The entire room became so full of flying fur that any attempt to clean it up became impossible.  I couldn’t help it, I was over in the corner laughing at the situation that Charles found himself in….. Of course… I was standing in the middle of what looked like a heavy snowstorm.

After about 5 minutes some of the flying fur had settled on the floor and the entire floor in the office was covered with what seemed like about 2 inches of fur.  —  Ok.  So, I felt guilty about this.  I hadn’t thought about Charles’ allergies.  For the next 2 months (at least), each morning Charles would remind me that I was still supposed to feel bad about it by opening his drawer when he first came in, and blowing down into the drawer causing fur to stir up and fly around the room.  Yeah, it was remarkable that it lasted so long.

During a Major Overhaul, the electricians do alarm checks.  During this time, you go down the list of every alarm in the plant and test it to make sure it is still working as designed.  There are hundreds of alarms.  You take blueprints with you to go to every conceivable alarm on the unit that is down for overhaul.  Then while someone is sitting in the control room watching the alarm printout and the alarm monitors, the electrician will place a jumper across the apparatus that brings in the alarm and wait until the person in the control room acknowledges the alarm.

To do this job, you need to read the wire numbers on the print and match them with the wires on the terminal blocks.  Then you call the Control room on the radio and ask them if alarm so and so came in.  We found out quickly that we didn’t want Charles doing either of these two jobs.  Charles had the habit of reading the numbers out of order.  Instead of wire number 25496, he might read 24956.

I know that some of you recognize the signs that I have described about Charles.  I know that Charles felt a great frustration with his problem spelling and transposing numbers.  One night in 1992, I watched a movie on TV called “The Secret” with Kirk Douglas.

The SecretI wouldn’t normally have sat and watched a movie like this because it dragged on for a while and didn’t seem to have much of a plot.  What kept me glued to the TV was that the man in the movie played by Kirk Douglas was just like Charles except that he couldn’t read at all.  He was very smart and was trying to hide the fact that he just couldn’t read.

When his grandson began having the same problem, he realized he had to do something about it.  That was when he found out that he had Dyslexia.  There are different forms or degrees of Dyslexia, but I recognized right away that this was a story about Charles Foster.  I knew that his son Tim who was in High School at the time was having the same difficulty with spelling.

The next morning when I arrived in the Electric Shop Office I had to tell Charles right away (I couldn’t wait until our normal lunch time movie review) that I knew why he had so much trouble spelling and why he always jumbled his numbers around.  It was because he had Dyslexia.  I explained the movie to him.  As I was telling this to Charles I could see that he was beginning to understand…. everything fit.

I watched as Charles soaked in what I had just told him.  A lifetime of feeling like he had failed at the most simple of tasks were drying up before his eyes.  He had a condition that was not only common, but was also treatable in the sense that you could learn to improve using the correct techniques.  Just knowing why was good enough for Charles.  He had spent years coping and working around.  Now he knew why.  I will never forget that moment when I was sitting in the office smiling at Charles smiling back at me.

Charles Foster - A True Power Plant Hero!

Charles Foster – A True Power Plant Hero!

I mentioned above that Charles reminded me of Albert Einstein.  It is an interesting coincidence (or is it?) that the movie “The Secret” earned  the Einstein Award from the National Dyslexia Research Foundation in 1992.  It seems that Einstein, Charles Foster and Dyslexia go together.

God Bless you Charles and your wonderful family!

Power Plant Safety as interpreted by Curtis Love – Repost

This is a repost and slightly edited from the original post that was originally posted on January 28, 2012:

I vividly remember four events while working at the power plant where I was at the brink of death.  I’m sure there were many other times, but these four have been etched in my memory almost 30 years later.  Of those four memorable events, Curtis Love was by my side (so to speak) to share the wonder of two of those moments.  This is a story about one of those times when you are too busy at the time to realize how close you came to catching that ride to the great power plant in the sky, until the middle of that night when you wake up in a cold sweat trying to catch your breath.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, safety is the number one priority at the power plant.  But what is safe and what isn’t is relative.  If you are the person that has to walk out onto a plank hanging out over the top ledge on the boiler in order to replace a section of boiler tube before the boiler has cooled down below 160 degrees, you might not think it is safe to do that with only an extra long lanyard tied to your waist and a sheer drop of 200 feet to the bottom ash hopper below (which I incidentally didn’t have to do as an electrician, but had to hear about after some other brave he-man had the privilege), you might not think that this is safe.  But the Equipment Support Supervisor who has spent too many years as an engineer behind his desk doesn’t see anything wrong with this as long as you don’t fall.  So, he tells you to do it, just don’t fall.

Safety is also relative to the date when something occurs.  In 1994 OSHA implemented new rules for confined spaces.  A confined space is any place that’s hard to enter and exit, or a place where you might be trapped in an enclosure because of converging walls.  So, before 1994, there were no safety rules specific to confined spaces.

No rules meant that when I was on labor crew it was perfectly safe to crawl into a confined space and wind and twist your way around obstacles until the small door that you entered (18 inches by 12 inches) was only a distant memory as you are lying down in the bottom section of the sand filter tank with about 22 inches from the bottom of the section to the top requiring you to lie flat as you drag yourself around the support rods just less than 2 feet apart.  Oh.  and wearing a sandblast helmet…

Sand Blast Helmet

Sand Blast Helmet

and holding a sandblaster hose…

Sand Blast Hose

Sand Blast Hose

with a straight through Sandblast Nozzle….

Sand Blast Nozzle

Sand Blast Nozzle

Which means, the person sandblasting has no way of turning off the sand or the air on their own.  If you wanted to turn off the sand, you had to bang the nozzle against the side of the tank and hope that the person outside monitoring the sandblaster was able to hear you above the roar of the Sandblaster and the Industrial Vacuum.

Sandblasting machine.  Would run about 15 minutes before it would run out of sand.

Sandblasting machine. Would run about 15 minutes before it would run out of sand.

and a drop light that left you all tangled in wires and hoses that blew air on your face so that you could breathe and a vacuum hose that sucked the blasted sand and rust away, while the sandblaster blasts away the rust from all things metal less than a foot away from your face, because the air is so full of dust, that’s as far as you can see while holding the drop light with the other hand next to the sandblast hose.  The air that blows through the sandblaster is hot, so you begin to sweat inside the heavy rain suit that you wear to protect the rest of you from sand that is ricocheting everywhere, but you don’t feel it as long as cool air is blowing on your face.

The week I spent lying flat trying to prop up my head while sandblasting the bottom section of both sand filter tanks gave me time to think about a lot of things…. which leads us to Curtis Love…. Not that it was Curtis Love that I was thinking about, but that he enters the story some time in the middle of this week.  When I least expected it.

Similar to these Sand Filters only about twice the size

Similar to these Sand Filters only about twice the size.  If you look closely you can see the seam around the bottom. Below that seam is where I was lying while sandblasting

Curtis Love was a janitor at the plant when I first joined the Sanitation Engineering Team after my four summers of training as a “summer help”.  Curtis was like my mother in some ways (and in other ways not – obviously).  He was always looking for something to worry about.  For instance, one Monday morning while we were sitting in our Monday Morning Janitor safety meeting and Pat Braden had just finished reading the most recent safety pamphlet to us and we were silently pondering the proper way to set the outriggers on a P&H Crane, Jim Kanelakos said, “Hey Curtis.  Don’t you have your mortgage at the Federal Bank in Ponca City?”  Curtis said, “Yeah, why?”  Jim continued, “Well I heard this morning on the news that the bank was foreclosing on all of their home mortgages.”

Curtis said that he hadn’t heard that, but that as soon as it was 9:00 he would call the bank to find out what he needed to do so that he wouldn’t lose his house.  About that time I gave a report on the number of fiddleback spiders I had killed in the main switchgear the previous week.  It seemed like no one was listening to my statistics as Doris Voss was still pondering the P&H Crane hand signals, and Curtis was shuffling his feet in worry and Ronnie Banks was staring off into space, as if he was stunned that Monday was already here again, and Jim Kanelakos was snickering under his breath.

When the meeting was over and we were standing up, Jim told Curtis, “Hey Curtis.  I was just kidding.  The bank really isn’t foreclosing on their mortgages.”  Curtis replied, “I don’t know.  I better call them to check anyway.”  Jim replied, “Curtis, I just made that up!  I was playing a joke on you.”  Curtis said, “I better check anyway, because it still is possible that they could be foreclosing on their mortgages”.  So Jim just gave up trying to explain.

I know you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at me now, but there were only two of us at the plant that were small enough to crawl through the portal into the Sand Filter tanks (Ed Shiever and myself), because not only was it very tight, but the entry was so close to the edge of the building that you had to enter the hole by curving your body around the corner and into the tank.

I have tried to paint of picture of the predicament a person is in when they are laying in this small space about 20 feet from the small portal that you have to crawl through.  with their airline for the sandblast helmet, the sandblast hose, the drop light cord and the 4 inch vacuum hose all wound around the support rods that were not quite 2 feet apart in all directions.  Because this is where I was when without my giving the signal (by banging the sandblast nozzle on the tank three times), the sand stopped flowing from the nozzle and only air was hissing loudly.  This meant one of two things.  The sandblast machine had just run out of sand, or someone was shutting the sandblaster off because it was time for lunch.  I figured it was time for lunch, because I didn’t think it had been more than 10 minutes since the sand had been refilled and amid the roaring blasts and the howling sucking vacuum hose, I thought I had caught the sound of a rumbling stomach from time to time.

Industrial Vacuum used to suck out the sand as I was sandblasting

Industrial Vacuum used to suck out the sand as I was sandblasting

The next thing that should happen after the sand has blown out of the sandblast hose, is that the air to the sandblaster should stop blowing.  And it did…. but what wasn’t supposed to happen, that did, was that the air blowing through my sandblast hood allowing me to breathe in this sea of rusty dust shut off at the same time!  While still pondering what was happening, I suddenly realized that without the air supply to my hood, not only could I not breathe at all, but my sweat-filled rain suit that I was wearing suddenly became unbearably hot and dust began pouring into my hood now that the positive pressure was gone.

I understood from these various signs of discomfort that I needed to head back to the exit as quickly as possible, as I was forced by the thick dust to hold my breath.  I pulled my hood off of my head and everything went black.  I had moved more than a foot away from the drop light.  I knew that the exit was in the direction of my feet, so I swung around a row of support rods and dragged myself along by the rods as quickly as I could.  Working my way around the cable, the air hose, the sandblast hose and the vacuum hose as I pulled myself along trying to make out where the exit could be.  Luckily, I had figured correctly and I found myself at the exit where in one motion I pulled myself out to fresh air and the blinding light of the day.

Furious that someone had turned off my air, I ran out of the sand filter building to the sandblast machine where I found Curtis Love of all people.  Up to this point, Curtis had never had the privilege to operate the sandblaster and was not aware of the proper sequence to shutting down the machine…. without shutting off the air to my hood.  Incidentally, both the sandblaster and the air hose to the sandblast hood were being fed from the same regular plant air supply (which OSHA might have frowned upon back as far as 1983, and which caused you to blow black oily stuff out of your nose for a few days).

Needless to say, about the time that I came bolting out of the sand filter building Curtis had figured out that he had shut off the wrong valve.  He was apologizing profusely in one long drawn out sentence….. “Kevin, I’m sorry, I’m really sorry, I’m sorry, I’m really sorry….”  I stopped myself short as my hands were flying toward the area where his neck would have been, if Curtis had had a neck.  I looked over toward the crew cab parked nearby.  It was full of hungry labor crew “he-men in training” all smiling and chuckling.  At that moment I knew that both Curtis and I had been on the receiving end of what could be construed as a “power plant joke” (refer to the post about Gene Day to learn more about those).  So, I spent the next 30 seconds as Curtis and I piled into the crew cab telling Curtis that is was all right, he didn’t have to feel bad about it.  Evidently, someone had told Curtis how to shutdown the sandblaster, but failed to tell  him exactly which valve to turn off when turning off the air to the sandblaster.

Needless to say.  Lunch tasted extra good that day.  Possibly the rusty dust added just the right amount of iron to my sandwich.