Tag Archives: Walt Oswalt

When Power Plant Durability and Automation Goes Too Far

Everyone expects when they enter an elevator and push a button for the 3rd floor that when the doors open they will find themselves on the third floor. It doesn’t occur to most people what actually has to happen behind the scenes for the elevator to go through the motions of carrying someone up three stories. In most cases you want an automated system that requires as little interaction as possible.

I have found while working in the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma that some systems are better off with a little less than perfect automation. We might think about that as we move into a new era of automated cars, robot soldiers and automatic government shutdowns. Let me give you a for instance.

The coal trains that brought the coal from Wyoming all the way down to the plant would enter a building called “The Dumper.” Even though this sounds like a less savory place to park your locomotive, it wasn’t called a Dumper because it was a dump. It was called a Dumper because it “Dumped.” Here is a picture of a dumper:

A rotary dumper much like the one that was at our Power Plant

A rotary dumper much like the one that was at our Power Plant

The coal train would pull into this room one car at a time. I talked about the dumper in an earlier post entitled “Lifecycle of a Power Plant Lump of coal“. As each car is pulled into this building by a large clamp called the “Positioner” (How is that for a name? It is amazing how when finding names for this particular equipment they decided to go with the “practical” words. The Positioner positions the coal cars precisely in the right position so that after the car clamps come down on the car, it can be rotated upside down “Dumping” the coal into the hoppers below. No fancy names like other parts of the power Plant like the “Tripper Gallery” or the “Generator Bathtub” here.

A typical coal train has 110 cars full of coal when it enters the dumper. In the picture of the dumper above if you look in the upper left corner you will see some windows. This is the Dumper Control Room. This is where someone sits as each car pulls through the dumper and dumps the coal.

Not long after the plant was up and running the entire operation of the dumper was automated. That meant that once put into motion, the dumper and the controls would begin dumping cars and continue operating automatically until the last car was through the dumper.

Let me try to remember the sequence. I know I’ll leave something out because there are a number of steps and it has been a while since I have been so fortunate as to work on the dumper during a malfunction… But here goes…

I remember that the first coal car on the train had to positioned without the positioner because… well….. the car directly in front of the first car is, of course, the locomotive. Usually a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Engine.

A picture from Shutterstock of a locomotive pulling a coal train

A picture from Shutterstock of a locomotive pulling a coal train

Before I explain the process, let me show you a picture of the Positioner. This the machine that pulls the train forward:

The piece of equipment with the large wheels is the positioner It can pull a coal train full of coal forward to precisely the proper position

The piece of equipment with the large wheels is the positioner It can pull a coal train full of coal forward to precisely the proper position

The automation begins after the first or second car is dumped. I’ll start with the second car just finishing the process as it rolls back up right after dumping the coal… The car clamps go up.

  • The rear holding arm (that holds the car in place from the entrance side of the dumper) lifts up out of the way.
  • The Positioner begins pulling the entire train forward.
  • Electric eyes on both end of the dumper detect when the next car has entered the dumper.
  • The Positioner adjusts the position of the coal car to the exact position (within an inch or two) by backing up and pulling forward a couple of times.
  • The Holding arm on the back end comes down on the couplings between the two train cars one back from the car that is going to be dumped.
  • The four car clamps come down on the train car at the same time that the dumper begins rotating.
  • The Positioner clamp lifts off of the train car couplings.
  • Water Sprayers come on that are attached to the top of the dumper so that it wets the coal in order to act as a dust suppression.
  • The Positioner travels back to the car clamp between the car that was just emptied before and the car in front of it.
  • As the train car rotates to the desired angle. (I think it’s about 145 degrees), it begins slowing down.
  • When the car has been rotated as far as desired it comes to a stop.
  • The Dumper pauses for a few seconds as all the coal is dumped from the coal car.
  • The Positioner moves back and forth until it is in just the right position for the positioner arm to lower onto the couplings between the cars.
  • The Sprayers turn off.
  • The Dumper begins returning to an upright position.
  • The Positioner arm lowers down onto the clamps between the coal cars.
  • Once the car is upright the dumper stops rotating.
  • The 4 car clamps go up.
  • The Holding arm goes up. And the process is repeated.

This is a beautiful process when it works correctly. Before I tell you about the times it doesn’t work correctly, let me tell you about how this process was a little…uh… too automated…

So. The way this worked originally, was that once the automated process was put into operation after the second car had been dumped, all the dumper control room operator had to do was sit there and look out the window at the coal cars being dumped. They may have had some paperwork they were supposed to be doing, like writing down the car numbers as they pulled through the dumper. It seems that paperwork was pretty important back then.

Each car would pull through the dumper… The coal would be dumped. The next car would be pulled in… etc.

Well. Trains come from Wyoming at any time of the day. Train operators were paid pretty well, and the locomotive engineers would come and sit in the control room while the train was being dumped. Often (more often than not it seemed) the trains would pull into the dumper in the middle of the night. Coalyard operators were on duty 24 by 7.

So, imagine this…. Imagine Walt Oswalt… a feisty sandy haired Irishman at the dumper controls around 3 in the morning watching 110 cars pull through the dumper. Dumping coal…. One after the other. I think the time it took to go from dumping one car to the next was about 2 1/2 minutes. So it took about 3 1/2 hours to dump one train (I may be way off on the time… Maybe one of the operators would like to leave a comment below with the exact time).

This meant that the dumper operator had to sit there and watch the coal cars being slowly pulled through the dumper for about 3 hours. Often in the middle of the night.

For anyone who is older than 25 years, you will remember that the last car on a train was called a Caboose. The locomotive engineers called it a “Weight Car”. This made me think that it was heavy. I don’t know. It didn’t look all that heavy to me… You decide for yourself:

A Caboose

A Caboose

Back in those days, there was a caboose on the back of every train. A person used to sit in there while the train was going down the tracks. I think it was in case the back part of the train accidentally became disconnected from the front of the train, someone would be back there to notice. That’s my guess. Anyway. Later on, a sensor was placed on the last car instead of a caboose. That’s why you don’t see them today. Or maybe it was because of something that happened one night…

You see… it isn’t easy for Walt Oswalt (I don’t mean to imply that it was Walt that was there that night.. well… it sounds like I’m implying that doesn’t it…. I use Walt when telling this story because he wouldn’t mind. I really don’t remember who it was) to keep his eyes open and attentive for 3 straight hours. Anyway… One night while the coal cars were going through the dumper automatically being dumped one by one… there was a point when the sprayers stopped spraying and the 4 car clamps rose, and there there was a moment of pause, if someone had been there to listen very carefully, they might have heard a faint snoring sound coming from the dumper control room.

That is all fine and dandy until the final car rolled into the dumper. You see… One night…. while all the creatures were sleeping (even a mouse)… the car clamps came down on the caboose. Normally the car clamps had to be raised to a higher position to keep them from tearing the top section off of the caboose.

If it had been Walt… He woke when he heard the crunching sound of the top of the caboose just in time to see the caboose as it swung upside down. He was a little too late hitting the emergency stop button. The caboose rolled over. Paused for a moment as the person manning the caboose came to a rest on the ceiling inside… then rolled back upright all dripping wet from the sprayer that had meant to keep down the dust.

As the car clamps came up… a man darted out the back of the caboose. He ran out of the dumper…. knelt down… kissed the ground… and decided from that moment on that he was going to start going back to church every Sunday. Ok. I exaggerate a little. He really limped out of the dumper.

Needless to say. A decision had to be made. It was decided that there can be too much automation at times. The relay logic was adjusted so that at the critical point where the dumper decides to dump a coal car, it had to pause and wait until the control room operator toggled the “Dump” switch on the control panel. This meant that the operator had to actively decide to dump each car.

As a software programmer…. I would have come up with another solution… such as a caboose detector…. But given the power that was being exerted when each car was being dumped it was probably a good idea that you guaranteed that the dumper control room operator actually had his eyeballs pointed toward the car being dumped instead of rolled back in his head.

I leave you with that thought as I go to another story. I will wait until another time to talk about all the times I was called out at night when the dumper had failed to function.

This is a short story of durability…

I walked in the electric shop one day as an electrician trainee in 1984 to find that Andy Tubbs had taken an old drill and hooked it up to the 480 volt power source that we used to test motors. Ok. This was an odd site. We had a three phase switch on the wall with a fairly large cable attached with three large clips so we could hook them up to motors that we had overhauled to test the amperage that they pulled to make sure they were within the specified amount according to their nameplate.

I hesitated a moment, but I couldn’t resist…. I had to ask, “Andy…. Why have you hooked up that old drill to 480? (it was a 120 volt drill). He replied matter-of-factly (Factly? Can I really say that in public?), “I am going to burn up this old drill from the Osage Plant (See “Pioneers of Power Plant Fame Finally Find Peace” for more information about Osage Plant) so that I can turn it in for a new one.

Ok. I figured there must be a policy somewhere that said that if you turned in a burned up tool they would give you a new one. I knew that Bud Schoonover down at the toolroom was always particular about how he passed out new tools (I have experienced the same thing at my new job when trying to obtain a new security cable for my laptop).

Anyway. Andy turned the 480 volts on and powered up the drill. The drill began whining as it whirled wildly. Andy stood there holding up the drill as it ran in turbo mode for about five minutes. The drill performed like a champ.

Old Power Drill

Old Power Drill

After showing no signs of burning itself up running on 480 volts instead of 120 volts, Andy let off of the trigger and set it back on the workbench. He said, “This is one tough drill! I think I’ll keep it.” Sure. It looked like something from the 1950’s (and it probably was). But, as Andy said, it was one tough drill. On that day, because of the extra Durability of that old Pioneer Power Plant Drill, Andy was robbed of a new variable speed, reversible drill that he was so craving.

new variable speed reversible drill

new variable speed reversible drill

Comments from original post:

 

Ron October 12, 2013:

Great stories!
Coal trains today have engines at the rear of the train. I hope we never try to dump one of them!

devin October 12, 2013:

It takes about 7 hrs to dump 150 car train

Bruce Kime October 12, 2013:

Wasn’t Walt but a certain marine we won’t mention. They dumped the last car & forgot to put the car clamps in the up maximum position. They give the go ahead for the train to pull the caboose through! Instant convertible caboose! Now there are break away clamps on the north side. And there are locomotives on the rear of the train because the trains are made up of 150 cars .

 

NEO October 12, 2013:

Like you, I can think of several ways to automate the process without dumping the caboose but I think the operator pushing the button may be the best. Automation can get out of hand.

Jack Curtis November 3, 2013:

An engineer used to remind us: “A machine always does what you tell it to…whethr you want it to, or not.”
IF the union or the lawyers require a duty operator on an automated process, I’m all for giving him a button to push and attaching some responsibility. All automation designs are approved by Murphy…Wow! Thanks for the update Bruce!

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Tales of Power Plant Prowess by Ray Eberle

The first time I saw Ray Eberle was during my first summer as a summer help in 1979.  He was standing in the midst of a group of mechanics who sat around him as school children sit around the librarian as a story is being read.  Ray was telling a story to a group of mesmerized Power Plant Men.

Many years later I heard that Ray was invited to tell stories to hunters who were hunting elk in Montana around the campfires at night as an occupation.  I think he passed on that opportunity.  Who would think of leaving the comfort of a Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma to go sit around telling stories by campfires in Montana?

For many years I didn’t have the opportunity to work with Ray.  He had joined the Safety Task Force that we had created at the plant.  He had also become a member of the Confined Space Rescue Team, and was a HAZWOPER Emergency Rescue responder.  I was on all of these teams with Ray, but I really had never worked side-by-side with him.

I know that at times, I had disappointed Ray by not living up to his expectations of what a True Power Plant Man should be.  When we were on the Safety Task Force, after the reorganization, we had shifted gears to be more of an “Idea” task force instead of one that actually fixed safety issues.  I was pushing hard to have the company move to a “Behavior-Based Safety” approach.  It was a misunderstood process and if not implemented correctly would have the exact opposite effect (see the post “ABCs of Power Plant Safety“)

Book about the Behavior-Based Safety Process

Book about the Behavior-Based Safety Process

I know this bothered Ray.  He let me know one day when I received an intra-company envelope with a memo in it.  It said that he was resigning from the team:

Ray's Memo

Ray’s Memo

I hang on to the oddest things.  Some things that lift me up and some things that break my heart.  I figure that there is a lesson for me in this memo.  That is why I have held onto it for the past 20 years.  I suppose this enforces my philosophy of trying to make a “Bad First Impression” (See the post:  “Power Plant Art of Making a Bad First Impression“).

Ray Eberle told me once that he had always thought that I was a lazy stuck up electrician that didn’t like to get dirty and just sat around in the electric shop all the time. (read the post:  “Power Plant Man Becomes an Unlikely Saint“)  He said that he saw me as a “higher than thou” type of person that looked down on others.  Then one day I said something that totally changed his perception of me.  I said, “Don’t get twisted.”

It’s funny to learn sometimes what people actually think of you.  Then it’s even funnier to think what makes them change their mind.  You see… when Ray Eberle was sharing his thoughts about me, we had become very good friends.  He said that he felt that he finally understood me when I uttered those three words “Don’t get twisted.”

I remember the moment I had said that.  As members of the Confined Space Rescue Team, we were responsible for inspecting the SCBAs (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) each month.  We were standing in the control room and had a couple of the SCBAs sitting out while the instructor was showing us the proper way to inspect them.

Man wearing an SCBA

Man wearing an SCBA

Ray had asked a few “what-if” questions (like “What if the pressure is right at the minimum amount?”  or “What if we send a tank off to be refilled and we have an emergency?”) and his questions weren’t being answered.  He was getting a little hot under the collar, so I said, “Don’t get twisted.”

I remember Ray’s reaction.  He turned to me and said, “What did you say?”  I looked him straight in the eye with a grin on my face and repeated “Don’t get twisted.”

At that moment I didn’t know if Ray was going to haul off and belt me one, so I was mentally preparing my various responses…. like…. get ready to duck… just try to stand there as if nothing had happened… run and call a therapist because my ego had been shattered (no… wait… that wasn’t then)….  Anyway… instead Ray just smiled at me and said calmly, “I thought that was what you had said.”  I could see that he was in deep thought.

It was a couple of years later that I found out that at that moment Ray Eberle’s perception of who I was had done a 180.  Isn’t it funny what causes someone to change their mind sometimes?  Maybe he saw a spot of dirt on my tee shirt.

One day during the spring of 1998 my foreman, Alan Kramer told me that Jim Arnold wanted me to be assigned to create “Task Lists” in SAP.

Alan Kramer

Alan Kramer

Task lists are instructions on how to perform jobs associated with trouble tickets.  Jim Arnold (probably to keep me out of trouble) had assigned me to write task lists and Ray Eberle to write Bill of Materials (or BOMs).  Thus began our three year journey together working side-by-side entering data into the computer.

Writing task lists didn’t mean that I just sat in front of the computer all day.  In order to create them, I had to find out what tools a person would use to fix something, and what procedure they would perform in order to do their job.  This meant that a lot of times, I would go up to a crew that was working on something and I would ask them to tell me all the tools they used and how they did their job while standing at the job site.

I will write another post later about how I actually did the task of writing task lists, so I won’t go into any more detail.  After a short while, Ray and I figured out that we needed to be in the front office close to the Master Prints and the room where the “X-Files” (or X-drawings) were kept.

X-Files didn’t have to do with “Aliens”.  X-Files were files in cabinets that had all the vendor information about every piece of equipment at the plant (just about).  They were called X Files because their filing numbers all began with an X.  Like X-160183.

About 50% of my time for the next three years was spent creating task lists.  The rest of the time, I was still doing my regular electrician job, and going to school.  After the first year, I moved into the Master Print Room and Ray and I set up shop working on the computers next to each other.

Ray was a collector of Habanero Sauce bottles.

Habenero Sauce comes in colorful bottles

Habanero Sauce comes in colorful bottles

He would travel the country looking for unique Habanero Sauce bottles.  Each day, Ray would bring a bottle of habanero sauce to work and pour some on his lunch.

I ate the same boring lunch every day.  It consisted of a ham sandwich with a slice of American cheese.  Then I had some kind of fruit, like an apple or an orange.  Since I was no longer eating lunch in the electric shop where Charles would give me peppers with my sandwich, when Ray asked me if I would like some hot sauce for my sandwich I was quick to give it a try.

There is something very addictive about habanero sauce.  After a few days of having this sauce on my sandwich, I went to the grocery store and bought some of my own bottles of habanero sauce and salsa.

Ok.  One side story…

I was sitting at home reading a school book at the dining room table, my 9 year old daughter Elizabeth walked up to the table and took a tortilla chip from my paper plate, dipped it in the (habanero) salsa in the bowl next to it, and began to put it in her mouth.  Without looking up from my book, I said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Thinking that I meant that she shouldn’t be stealing my chips, she went ahead and put it in her mouth.  Grinning because she had stolen my chip, she began to walk away.  Then she started to squeal a little.  Moments later she was hopping all over the kitchen trying to find some way to put out the fire.

I told her the best remedy is to eat more chips.  Don’t drink water.  It makes it worse.  Eat chips without salsa.

End of side story…

I mentioned above that Ray Eberle is a very good storyteller.  He told me a series of stories that I call the “Walt Oswalt Stories”.  These were real life stories about a Power Plant Man at our plant.  They were so funny that I would go home and share them with my wife and she would fold over laughing at them.  She said that Ray needs to write a book about Walt Oswalt.

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

I have shared some of these stories with various people in my later career and the reaction is always the same.  These stories belong in a book.  Later this year, I will share some of the Walt Oswalt stories in a post or two then you will see what I’m talking about.

One time in 2007 when I worked for Dell, I was meeting with the CEO of the world’s leading timekeeping company called Kronos.  His name is Aron Ain.

Aron Ain, Kronos CEO

Aron Ain, Kronos CEO

My director, Chris Enslin was with us in Massachusetts.

Chris Enslin

Chris Enslin

Aron  had taken us out to eat dinner, and Chris asked me to tell Aron some Walt Oswalt stories, so I shared a couple.

Then a couple of years later in 2009, Chris told me that he was at a meeting with CEOs from companies all over the United States, and there was Aron standing in the middle of a group of CEOs telling them a Walt Oswalt story.

Here is a picture of Ray Eberle sitting next to me at our computers in the master print room at the power plant:

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

Each day at lunch, after we had eaten our sandwiches, Ray would reach into his lunch box and pull out a worn black book and begin reading it.  He would spend about 10 to 15 minutes reading.  Sometimes he would stop and tell me something interesting about something he had just read.  When he was done, the book went back into his lunch box and we continued working.

I remember some of the interesting conversations we used to have about that worn black book in his lunch box.  One time we talked about a story in the book about how a hand just appeared out of nowhere and began writing on a wall when this guy named Belshazzar was having a party.  Then this guy named Daniel came and told him what it meant, and that night Belshazzar was killed.  Ray said,  “…. God sent the hand that wrote the inscription.”  What do you think about that?  My response was…. “Yeah.  God sure has class.  He could have just struck the guy down right there and then.  Instead he has a hand appear and write something on the wall.  That way we can now have the saying: The writing on the wall’.”

I always thought if you were going to pick a good friend to have, if you pick one that reads their Bible every day during lunch, they are bound to be trustworthy.  I could tell that I could trust Ray with anything.  So, I spent the three years with Ray telling him everything I knew about myself while Ray shared a good deal of his life story with me.  Of course… being nine and a half years older than I was, he had lived a lot more life than I had.

When I left the Power Plant in 2001 to work for Dell, one of the things I missed the most was sitting next to Ray talking about our lives, eating our lunch with Habanero Sauce, and listening to Ray’s stories about Prominent Power Plant Men!  I have considered Ray a very dear friend for many years and I am honored to have him take me into his confidence.  I only hope that I could be as much of a friend to Ray as he has been to me.

Mr. Frog’s Wild Power Plant Ride

I woke up from a dream this past Wednesday where I had just insulted a young lady who had cancer treatment by calling her “baldy”. In the dream I was attempting to be funny, but as soon as I said it, I knew I had crossed the line of common courtesy. I acknowledged right away that “I shouldn’t have said that”, and rose from my chair to go find whoever it was so that I could apologize. In my dream I was never able to find the person, though I thoroughly searched whatever restaurant-factory-office building we were in. You know how thing are in dreams.

I preface this post with that thought because someone may take offense to the title I have chosen today. So, let me just say that this is a story about someone that has been the source of constant conversation in my family for the past 30 years. Though I never refer to him as “Frog”, that is a title reserved for one of this man’s best friends. It is an expression of friendship bestowed upon Walt Oswalt by Ray Eberle.

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

Ray Eberle is the most amazing storyteller of our time.  He captivated Power Plant audiences for the past 40 years up until the day he recently retired.  I have heard hundreds of stories by Ray, but none of them were ever said with more compassion and humor than the stories that Ray Eberle would tell me about our fellow Power Plant Man, Walt Oswalt.

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

I used to think that Walt’s parents name him Walt so that it would be easy for him to spell his entire name.  Once he learned his first name, he just had to add an OS to it, and he could spell his last name.  Well, actually, his full name was Walter Lee Oswalt.  But whose counting?  I also thought that OD McGaha (prounounced Muh Gay Hay) was in a similar situation, because OD simply stood for OD  (prounounced O-D or Oh Dee).   Not to forget Dee Ball.  I’ll bet all of these guys could spell their names by the time they graduated the third grade.

Look closely at Ray Eberle’s picture above, because if you look closely into his eyes you can see that back behind those orbs, thousands of wonderful stories are packed in there waiting to be told.  I don’t know if I have mentioned this in a post before, but Ray looks just like my grandfather when he was younger.  I think I mentioned that to Ray one day.  Since those days when we used to sit side-by-side working on the computers in the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, I have loved Ray with all my heart as if he is a member of my family (see the post:  “Tales of Power Plant Prowess by Ray Eberle“).

Even though this post is about Walt Oswalt, I am spending an unusual amount of time talking about Ray, because the stories I am about to relay are told through the eyes of Ray.  I have already passed on some stories about Walt in other posts, so I will focus on those stories about Walt experienced by Ray.  I will only scratch the surface today, as it takes some time to absorb the universal significance of each story.  If I flood you with too many  Walt Oswalt stories at once it may cause confusion.  I appreciated the fact that Ray didn’t lay all his Walt Oswalt stories on me in one sitting for this very reason.

Ray Eberle began his stories about Walt by telling me about going over to Jimmy Moore’s new house.  Jimmy had just moved into a new house outside Morrison Oklahoma not too far from Ray.  Ray described how nice the property was at the time.  It was a picture perfect piece of property.  The surrounding fields were pristine giving the feeling of peace when you looked around.

Jimmie Moore

Jimmie Moore expression after moving into his nice house

Note the Sparco notepad in Jimmy’s pocket.   A Power Plant Electrician Necessity, just like the notepads I always used:

My Power Plant Sparco Wirebound Memo Book

One of My Power Plant Sparco Wirebound Memo Books

Just when Ray was soaking in the perfection of Jimmy’s new property, dreaming that he could have found such a great spot, Jimmy mentioned that Walt Oswalt bought the property across the road.  Ray’s response was “Frog bought the land across the road?  Oh no!”  Not wanting to upset Jimmy, he didn’t say anything else, but he was thinking it….  You see, Walt is sort of a “junk collector”.

I have always been a junk collector myself, as you may have figured out by the fact that I still have a notepad left over from Christmas 1995.  Actually, I could take a picture of the Sparco notepads I have kept from my time at the power plant and it would look like this:

My personal collection of used Power Plant Sparco Notepads

My personal collection of used Power Plant Sparco Notepads

So, I was a note taker…  Each page of these notepads are filled with work order numbers, part numbers, phrases I heard, Things Gone Right, Things Gone Wrong meeting notes, Meeting schedules, tools needed, and sometimes just thoughts that came to my mind.  I am mentioning this because I have this common bond with Walt.  We both like to collect things that others see as “junk”.

Ray was worried that after Walt moved in across the road that the Beatrice Potter Meadow was going to change into Fallout 3  terrain (well, my phrases, not his, but I think you can picture what I am saying).  From what I understand, this is what happened.  — This by the way is not a Walt Oswalt Story.  This has been more of a Jimmy Moore story.

I have been waiting so long to actually write down a Walt Oswalt Story that I actually find it hard to bring myself to put it down on virtual paper, but here goes….

Here begins the first Walt Oswalt Story:

In the mid-90s the Internet was something of a new phenomenon.  I had taught most of the Power Plant Men how to use the Internet (excluding upper management)  as you can read in the post:  “Power Plant Quest for the Internet“.  One person who immediately saw the benefit of using the Internet beyond looking up indecent pictures or connecting with clandestine online “Match.com” experiences was Walt Oswalt.  Walt saw “business opportunity”!

So, follow me on this story, because Walt stories can become complicated on paper because I can’t talk using my hands.  I may need some help from Walt’s son Edward, since he played a major role in this one…

One day, Walt and Ray were talking and Walt told Ray that he was looking at buying a dump truck.  Let me just show a picture of a dump truck, even though I don’t know the specific truck Walt had in mind.  I just know the approximate size:

A Ford Dump Truck

A Ford Dump Truck

Let’s just suppose that it is a truck like this….  anyway, Walt explained to Ray that he could buy the truck he wanted up in Wichita one hundred miles away.  However, Walt wasn’t going to do that.  He had found the same truck on the Internet for sale for $500 cheaper near Virginia Beach, Virginia, 1,400 miles away.

Ray asked, “But isn’t it going to cost you more than that to have the truck shipped to Oklahoma?”  “Oh, I have that all figured out.  I’m going to go pick it up myself.”  He went on to explain that he and his son (this is where Edward enters the story) were going to drive non-stop to Virginia Beach and pick it up.  They won’t have to stop because they can trade off driving while the other rests.

A Flat Bed Trailer

A Flat Bed Trailer

So, a marathon trip for 2,800 miles was planned.  Walt had a trailer attached to his truck to bring the new truck back… Though I’m not sure why the thought that they could just drive the new truck home wasn’t considered (or flying out there and driving the truck back, but then, that would cost more than the $500 they were saving by buying the truck)….  The plan was that they would load the truck on the trailer and haul it home.  Maybe it was so that they didn’t have to stop because they could swap off driving if they were only driving one of the two trucks.

Two members of the Oswalt family took off for the East Coast one Friday evening.  They arrived early Sunday morning at the place of business where they were going to purchase the truck.  From what I understand, the business was closed, (being Sunday, and all), so they called the owner and told him they were there to pick up the truck.  After waiting a few hours, the truck was purchased, and Walt and Edward were on their way back home.

A couple of days later, Ray noticed that Walt had made it back home, so he went over to his house to see how he managed.  Obviously, after travelling 2,800 miles in four days, the two were bushed, but the new truck was finally home.  While Ray was talking to Walt about his trip, he happened to notice that the back of the dump truck was loaded with blown out tires.

“Hey Walt, what’s up with all the tires?” Ray asked.  “Oh.  Those.” Walt replied….  “Well, the trailer wasn’t really big enough to carry this much weight, so we kept blowing out tires on the trailer when we were coming home.”  They must have blown out more than 20 tires driving home.  So, it seems to me that this turned out to be a pretty costly savings of $500.

I would leave this story at that, but after a couple of trips to Los Angeles and back from Round Rock, TX, I have to say that spending countless hours with your family in the car where there is nothing to do but to talk to each other is an incredibly priceless experience.  Once, my son Anthony and I drove the same distance, 1400 miles non-stop from Los Angeles to Round Rock without stopping and we talked the entire time.  I would say it is an experience worth a million bucks.

The night before last, I received a message on Facebook from a Power Plant Technician, Doug Black.  He wrote:  Sooner retiree, Walter Oswalt passed away on September 30, 2015.  Walter will be laid to rest at Yukon Cemetery with a grave service on October 23, at 2 p.m.

Doug Black

Doug Black

I looked up Walt’s Obituary, and it seemed to me that there was one phrase missing from the description.  It said that “Walt had went to work for OG&E in Mustang Oklahoma and later retired from the OG&E plant in Redrock…”  I didn’t see the words, “Power Plant Legend” mentioned anywhere in the Obituary.  It should be mentioned, because that’s exactly who Walt Oswalt is.

I may not have had the benefit of sitting in a truck with Walt for 20 hours at a time, but I was able to work one-on-one with Walt one day for 19 hours straight on a Saturday when we were on “Coal Cleanup” that had turned into a job repairing conveyor belt rollers.  During that day, while I was a young man of 20, I went through the motions directed by Walt to remove and install rollers on the number 10 belt up toward the top.

Coal conveyor carrying coal to the coal silos from the coalyard

Coal conveyor carrying coal to the coal silos from the coalyard

I didn’t have much of a clue about what I was doing, but I had placed all my confidence in Walt.  I felt the entire time as if Walt was keeping me safe in a potentially unsafe situation even after being awake for 19 hours.  So, I have a little knowledge of what the road trip was like that Walt and his son Edward took “There and Back Again.”

It may seem that Walt had made a bad decision to make the Internet Purchase of a truck 1,400 miles away in order to save $500, but I think that God helps us along some times by sending us down a path that seems a little foolish, only to force us into a benefit we would not otherwise encounter.  I keep Walt in mind whenever things like that happen to me today and I thank him for keeping me from being disappointed with those times in my life.

Now that Walt has met his maker, I’m sure that Walt is sitting there with Jesus Christ reviewing not only Walt’s life, but also Ray Eberle’s retelling of Walt’s story.  Walt may now be surprised to find that moments that he thought were rather insignificant to anyone but himself have actually been spread to others across the world.  As I mentioned in the post about Ray Eberle, a few years ago, CEOs of large companies across the U.S. were all learning about the “Wisdom of Walt”.  Some day I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the Walt Oswalt Stories have become required reading in Oklahoma Schools.

Rest in Peace Walt Oswalt.  We all love you.

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

Power Plant Trip Leads to Game of Frogger

Some days when everything seems to be going just right, some little thing comes along that throws a wrench into the end of a perfect day. That’s what happened to the husband of the timekeeper at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma. Vance Shiever had spent the day baling hay into large bails in a pasture outside Morrison Oklahoma. All day while he worked, off in the distance he could see the plant where his wife Linda spent her week days.

Linda Shiever

Linda Shiever

Linda Shiever was one of the first two employees hired at the Coal-fired plant along with Sonny Karcher.  She was hired on May 30, 1978, just 10 days after her marriage to Vance.  During the 20 years I worked at the Power Plant, I heard Linda talk about Vance often.  So, when Ray Eberle began telling me a story about him, I already had a picture of a Vance in my head much like Paul Bunyan (having never met him in person):

Like this Paul Bunyan only with tinted glasses. Actually, this is a historian named Wayne Chamberlain

Like this Paul Bunyan only with tinted glasses. Actually, this is a historian named Wayne Chamberlain

Ray Eberle said that he had stopped to visit Vance this particular Saturday afternoon when Vance was just finishing up loading the bales of hay onto a large flat bed semi-truck trailer.

Large Round Hay Bale

Large Round Hay Bale

About that time, Walt Oswalt drove by and saw his best buddy Ray standing out in the pasture talking with Vance, so he pulled off the road to visit Vance and Ray.  This is the same Walt Oswalt that I wrote about last month (see the post:  “Mr. Frog’s Wild Power Plant Ride“).  Ray’s nickname for Walt was Frog.  Even today when I talk to Ray, he refers to him as Frog.

While Ray, Walt and Vance stood there talking, Vance looked off in the distance toward the Power Plant looming in the distance.

Power Plant at sunset

Power Plant at sunset

He mentioned that even though his wife has worked there for 20 years (at that time), he had never actually been to the plant.  Ray said that he would be glad to give him a tour of the plant right then and there if he wanted to see it.  This was a tempting proposition for Vance, who had been curious for many years about what actually went on there.

Vance said that it would be great if he could have a tour of the plant, but unfortunately, he still had to tie down all the bales of hay on the truck before he headed off to Muskogee to deliver his load by morning.  At this point Walt spoke up and said that Vance should go with Ray on a tour of the plant.  Walt said he would tie down the bales.  Vance replied that he wanted to make sure the bales of hay were properly secured before he took his trip down the turnpike to Muskogee.

Walt was insistent that Vance should go take a tour of the Power Plant and that he would tie down the bales of hay.  He knew how to do it.  Vance gave Walt some instructions about how to make sure the bales were securely tied down, and Walt kept reassuring Vance that he knew what he was doing.

A truck loaded with large round bales

A truck loaded with large round bales properly tied down

Walt finally convinced Vance that he could handle the hay bales, and Vance went with Ray Eberle to tour the Power Plant.  Ray said that Vance was so excited to finally be able to see the plant up close.  Ray gave Vance the full Power Plant Tour, which can take a few hours, especially with a professional story teller such as Ray Eberle:

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

It was dark when Ray and Vance returned to the pasture where the large semi-truck was parked.  Walt was taking a nap in his car waiting for them to return.

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

Vance asked Walt if he had tied down the bales of hay, as it was too dark to tell for sure.  Walt assured Vance that the bales of hay were securely tied down to the bed of the trailer.  He had no need to worry.  Now it was time for a second favor…

Ray had given Vance a long desired tour of the Power Plant, so Ray asked Vance if he would do a favor for him.  Ray had never had the opportunity to ride in a “Big Rig” Semi Truck, so he asked Vance if he would let him ride with him to Muskogee and back.  Walt would follow along behind them to bring Ray back home when arrived in Muskogee.

Vance was glad to return the favor.  Ray climbed into the truck and it pulled out of the pasture and onto the dark highway 64, then the Cimarron Turnpike that ran next to Morrison.  Walt, following along behind.  The traffic on this particular stretch of the Cimarron was always light, especially on a Saturday night.

This was a perfect day for Vance.  He had spent the day doing what he loved.  Baling Hay and loading it on the trailer.  The first class tour of the Power Plant with the best tour guide in Oklahoma and the surrounding states (since Mark Twain is no longer with us).  Now, driving down the highway with a load of hay with a good friend sitting shotgun.  What could be better?

Ray was thinking that there was something in the air that just wasn’t quite right.  The few other cars that were driving down the highway seemed to be driving a little more erratic than usual.  Well, it was Saturday night….  Maybe that was the reason a couple of cars swerved around the truck honking their horns before speeding off into the night.

Eventually, one car pulled up alongside the truck so that Vance could see the person in the passenger side.  They were frantically pointing back behind them.  Oh No!  Yeah.  That’s right.  If you have been reading this post with more than a simple glance, you have already surmised what was happening. Vance quickly pulled off the side of the road and came to a stop.

Ray finally realized what was happening at that point…  As they were travelling down the highway, the bales of hay had been flying off the truck into the middle of the dark highway.  Vance jumped out of the truck yelling, “I’m going to kill him!  I’m going to kill him!”  He stood in the middle of the highway, fists out at his side, waiting for Walt to show up… after all, he was following the semi when they left the pasture.

Ray could see Vance standing in the middle of the highway like Paul Bunyan, with the red glow of the tail lights dimly lighting the back of the truck.  Waiting for Walt to arrive… but Walt didn’t show up.

Ray and Vance spent the next hour or so walking down the highway pushing the large round bales off the side of the turnpike.  Luckily, few cars were travelling on the Cimarron Turnpike that night and no one was hurt (yet).  After walking a couple of miles back to the truck both Ray and Vance were worn out.  They were beat.  All the rage that Vance had felt when he realized that Walt had not tied down the bales was gone.  He was too tired at that point.

About that time, Walt Oswalt came driving down the highway and saw the truck pulled over.  He pulled up behind the truck.  Vance was too tired to confront him for his failure to secure the bales.  Where had Walt been for the last hour and a half while Ray and Vance had been rolling bales of hay off of the road?  That’s what they really wanted to know.

Walt said that when they left the pasture he suddenly realized that he was hungry, so he went down to the diner in Morrison and ate some supper.  When Ray was relaying this story to me, he said, “Walt’s stomach probably saved his life.  By the time he showed up, Vance was too worn out to kill him.  Besides… that really wasn’t Vance’s nature.  But there for a moment, I thought if Walt had showed up right away, his life may have been in danger.”

Of all the Walt Oswalt Stories, this is my favorite.  When I sat down to write my post this morning, this story was on my mind, so I thought for a moment what would be a good title.  I thought of the game of Frogger where the frog jumps across the road dodging the cars.  In this case, of course, it was the cars that were dodging the round bales of hay that were placed there because of the actions of a man whose best friend calls him “Frog”.  So, I wrote:  “Power Plant Trip Leads to Game of Frogger”.

A game of Frogger

A game of Frogger

Then I thought, I have pictures of Ray and Walt.  Let me see if I can find a picture of Vance on the Internet.  So, I did what I usually do in this instance.  I opened up Google and searched.  I typed Vance Shiever, Morrison Oklahoma.  The link at the top of the page said, “Vance Lee Shiever – Stillwater News Press:  Obituaries”.  Oh No!  What?!?!

I quickly clicked the link and my heart fell.  There was a picture of a man smiling back at me… Vance Lee Shiever.

Vance Shiever

Vance Lee Shiever

Vance died this past Tuesday from pancreatic cancer.  I had no idea!  I have been so busy this past week that I haven’t even logged into Facebook since last weekend.  If the dates are right, (because I know that Stillwater News Press often misspells names and dates), then Vance is having his funeral service this very afternoon.  I don’t believe for a moment that this is just a coincidence.

I have found that the members of the Power Plant Family in which I was a member for 20 years keep in touch in various ways.  Sometimes it is by e-mail. Sometimes it is through Facebook.  Other times, we just think about each other, and we just seem to know that something is up, even when we aren’t sure what.  I believe that is what happened this morning.

This past month three people have died in the Power Plant Family.  Walt Oswalt, Vance Shiever, and Ray Eberle’s wife Barbara.  I have often heard it said at the Power Plant that things always seem to happen in 3’s.  This Power Plant Post was one story about those three.

I thought that I should find a better picture of Vance, so I logged into Facebook, and the first picture that came up was this picture of Vance, the photo that was used by the New Press:

Vance Shiever, adored husband and father

Vance Shiever, adored husband and father

I can now picture Vance watching over his family from Heaven.  By the way that Linda always spoke of Vance, I know that he was one of those rare people full of kindness.  I also picture him going through the videos of his life with Saint Peter.  All those happy days he spent with Linda, and their children Beau and Lindsey….

Then as Saint Peter works the remote, he pulls up the video of Vance out in the field loading the round bales on the trailer as Ray pulls up in his truck.  As they watch this story unfold, they both break out in laughter as they watch Vance standing like Paul Bunyan in the middle of the highway waiting for Walt.  Saint Peter puts his arm around Vance, as they turn and enter the gates of Heaven.  Saint Peter mentions one last thing to Vance, “Yeah.  It is like Ray said…. Walt’s stomach saved his life.”

Addendum to this story:

After posting this last week, Ray Eberle contacted me and pointed out that Vance had died one year ago to the day from the date I created this post on November 7, 2015.  He actually died November 7, 2014.  No one had told me about Vance’s death, and when I pulled up Facebook, the first picture I saw was a picture of Vance, which further enforced my thought that he had died this past week.  The family was remembering his funeral service from the previous year. — This would explain why the Stillwater NewsPress said that he died on a Monday, when the date was on a Tuesday.

When Power Plant Ingenuity Doesn’t Translate

There are various reasons why “outsiders”  might look at Power Plant Men with a certain degree of uncertainly.  It could be because their worn jeans are permanently stained with coal dust.  It could be that they use a language that only seasoned mechanics, operators and welders understand.  I think that the main reason that Power Plant Men remain a mystery to many outsiders is because their Power Plant Ingenuity doesn’t always translate into viable solutions outside the plant grounds.

This is best illustrated by sharing another in a series of “Walt Oswalt Stories”.  I may be able to squeeze two Walt stories into one.  If you haven’t read the earlier Walt Oswalt Stories, then maybe you should take a break first and read these two posts: “Mr. Frog’s Wild Power Plant Ride” and “Power Plant Trip Leads to a Game of Frogger“.   Now let’s see how this story goes….

Before I share more of the life and times of Walt Oswalt, let me just preface the story with a few factors that influence the lives of Power Plant Men at the plant, that lead to occasional confusion when they move beyond the Power Plant Boundary.

I suppose that most Power Plant Ingenuity springs from the need to perform tasks that others would consider impossible.  In order to perform these feats of magic, Power Plant Men develop a 7th sense where they have a canny ability to think outside the box.

I can’t say for sure when I first came face-to-face with this type of thinking, but it was probably the first day I ever worked with a Power Plant Man side-by-side.  Various people with completely different backgrounds were hired to work on thousands of pieces of equipment that were each designed by people with incredible imaginations.  In order to fix, repair or operate some of this equipment, the most obvious solution was usually not the best solution to be found.

Let me give you a for-instance…

When I relayed the story about when there was a large explosion just below the Turbine Generator that was followed with an oil fire hot enough to melt the roof off of the building, (see the post:  “Destruction of a Power Plant God“), the shaft on the Main Power Generator was going to be warped because the turning gear was not able to run, mainly because all the cables feeding everything no longer existed…

Unit 1 Turbine-Generator

Unit 1 Turbine-Generator

If the generator warped, it would have cost the Electric Company (or their Insurance Company) a lot of money to replace as well as month of lost revenue.  In order to save the generator, Charles Patten thought of using cans of STP Oil Treatment to lubricate the bearings while manually rotating the turning gear.

STP Oil Treatment

STP Oil Treatment

As Operators and Charles and some other brave souls worked throughout the night to turn the generator by hand, the fire department fought the fire that was only a few feet away.

Charles Patton

Charles Patten

Such bravery and ingenuity can not be celebrated enough.  The life time salaries of Charles’ entire crew wouldn’t have amounted to as much cost as Charles Patten saved the company through that one act of bravery.  The only reason we came to know about this was because someone passed it up the line to someone who cared enough to share it with others.  Usually great feats of magic goes on every day, just not on such a grand scale.

The reason I’m sharing this with you is because after years of service at a Power Plant, the Men and Women become so accustomed to doing the impossible, that the word “impossible” is usually not in their vocabulary.  In other words…. “Everything has a Solution.  That seems to be the Power Plant Motto…. and management might add… “Everything has a Safe Solution”.

The problem is that “Power Plant Solutions” don’t always translate into the world beyond the Power Plant.  I don’t mean that Charles Patten went home and tried STP Oil Treatment when he washed his dog…. remember… this is a story about Walt Oswalt.

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt had worked many years at the Power Plant in Mustang, Oklahoma before being offered a job at the new Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma by Orville Ferguson.  Orville had asked Walt to move north to work at the new Power Plant because he knew that whatever task you gave to Walt, he would figure out how to “get-er-done”.

As with many Power Plant Men at the plant, when Walt went home in the evening, it wasn’t to go lay back in a chair and drink a beer.  Not right away anyway.  First he had to do some farming…. After all, even though a Power Plant Man’s salary paid the bills, making a little extra never hurt anyone… or so it was thought anyway.

It turned out that Walt had a new barn put on his land that was the admiration of his neighbors.  A nice shiny new metal barn… this is not a picture of the actual barn… This is just a metal barn I found on Google images to illustrate my point:

New Metal Barn

New Metal Barn – envy of the neighbors…

As you know from my previous posts (if you read them…) that one of Ray Eberle’s best friends was Walt Oswalt.  So, Ray would go over to visit him often since he lived just down the road.  On one particular day when Ray came by for a visit he found Walt loading square bales of hay in his shiny new barn.

Square Bale of hay often used by Power Plant Men to feed their cattle

Square Bale of hay often used by Power Plant Men to feed their cattle

Now, be careful… or you might learn something….  Ray noticed right away that Walt was laying the bottom layer of hay flat as shown in the picture above.  This might not seem like such a bad thing to an amateur like me or you, so let me explain…..  The floor of the barn was dirt.

So, as tactfully as Ray could muster the words, he asked Walt… “Don’t you want to set the bottom bales of hay on edge so the wires don’t rust from the moisture that comes up through the ground?”  — You see… the bale of hay is held together by two or three metal wires going around the bale.

Ray was concerned that the wires would rust and then the bottom bales would fall apart when it came time to move them later in the winter when they were needed.  If you just rotated the bale onto it’s side, then the wires would go around the bale instead of under and over the bale.  This was common practice in a world of which I am totally unfamiliar… – but learning.

Walt Oswalt replied with one of his most favorite phrases:  “I have that all figured out.”  He explained why he wasn’t worried about the wires rusting with this explanation….  Now put on your thinking cap and see if you can follow along with this logic…

This is Walt’s explanation:  “You see… I happen to know that salt absorbs moisture, so before I put the bales of hay in the barn, I covered the entire floor with salt.  That way the salt will absorb all the moisture and the wires won’t get wet.”

I know how Walt could come up with such a fantastic idea as this… after all, he had come up with some doozies at work in order to do the impossible, so why not think outside the box (or the barn in this case) to come up with a solution just so that you can lay your bottom bales of hay wire-side down…

Maybe he had an argument about this at a bar one day and decided to prove that you don’t “always” have to put the bottom layer on their side… because if you think about it, it’s just as easy to lay them on their side as it is flat.  I know that salt is cheap, but gee whiz… sprinkling salt all over the floor of your brand new shiny metal barn in order to lay the bottom row of hay flat…. I’m just not seeing it… but then… I’m not Walt.

Within two months, Ray went to visit Walt and his shiny new barn only to find that the walls of Walt’s new barn now looked like this:

uh...hmm...

uh…hmm…

The bottom of the barn had rusted completely away around the entire barn.  Walt’s neighbors were no longer envious of Walt’s new barn.  In fact, I think some non-power plant neighbors were probably even unsympathetic to Walt’s circumstance.

I guess Walt didn’t consider the other feature that salt displayed…. That salt corrodes metal… Especially when wet… The entire bottom layer of hay in the barn was useless.  The wires had all corroded away and it was a mess.  Ray really felt bad for his friend.  What could Ray do, but show his support for Walt.

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

Fast forward another couple of months….. Ray Eberle drops by Walt Oswalt’s house for a visit again only to find that the rusted out barn now looks completely new again….  “What Happened?”  Walt explained that Jerry Osborn came over and fixed the barn…..  I suppose it’s time to introduce another one of the “True Power Plant Men” of his day… Jerry Osborn.

Jerry Osborn

Jerry Osborn

As with many true power plant men, Jerry Osborn could fix just about anything he ever laid his hands on.  Sometimes that was all he had to do… Lay his hands on it and nod a little and the pump would start running again…. sometimes it was so eerie it even startled Jerry.  Jerry Osborn had a way of nodding his head much like Jerry Mitchell, only a somewhat younger version.

Whenever Walt backed himself into a corner, all he had to do was call up Jerry and he would show up and patch things up.  Jerry was sort of like Walt’s Guardian Angel.  Jerry was a master carpenter, sheetrocker, mechanic, and observer of mankind.

Though some people thought Jerry was lazy on the job, because he kept himself clean like Jerry Mitchell used to do (see the post:  “A Power Plant Man Becomes an Unlikely Saint“), the truth was that when it came to helping your neighbor, Jerry would always come through.

Ray was standing there admiring the shiny new barn when he noticed that Walt was pacing off some squares in the barn, so he asked him what he was doing…

Walt said, “Oh.  I’m going to turn the barn into a stable.  I’m just pacing off how I am going to place the stalls.  Ray watched for a few minutes as Walt walked back and forth in the barn…. Ray noticed that Walt wasn’t writing anything down so he asked, “Aren’t you going to write this down so you can remember it?”

Walt replied, “Nope.  I have it all right here,” pointing to his head.  “I’ll remember it.”  Ray was becoming a little concerned, because he knew that Walt wasn’t the best with figures, and he also wasn’t the best with using a saw, or a hammer and he especially wasn’t the best at building a barn full of stalls…. Ray began to wonder when Walt would find time to build stalls between his weekly heart-attacks.

Ray thought he was going to find a total mess when Walt called him to come by and look at the new stalls in his barn.  When Ray walked in the barn, he was totally amazed.  The stalls looked like they were done by a professional stall installing service (if there is such a thing).  Ray told Walt that he was really impressed that Walt had built such terrific stalls.

Walt explained that all he had to do was tell Jerry Osborn what he wanted and Jerry built the stalls!  How is that for service?

I know this is a small picture, but let me show it to you again….

Jerry Osborn

Jerry Osborn

This story began as just another Walt Oswalt Story, but as usual with Walt, there is always something else that pops up when talking about Walt.  The first Walt Oswalt story I wrote shortly after Walt had died.  When I went to write the second Walt Oswalt Story, I found out that Vance Shiever (the husband of Linda Shiever the Plant timekeeper) had died that very week (only a year earlier).

I didn’t have a picture of Jerry Osborn, so, I Googled Jerry and found that he had died on February 27, 2014.  This is the picture on the memorial site for Jerry.  It seems that the Power Plant Party is growing in heaven faster than I imagined.

Let me tell you a little more about Jerry, since I have not mentioned him in many posts so far…

As you can tell by the way Jerry was taking care of Walt, he was a considerate man.  I never had much to say about Jerry because Jerry never spent much time talking about himself… as a matter of fact, Jerry didn’t spend much time talking at all.

When Jerry was a foreman, he would stand guard over his crew in a silent vigil watching them work.  This bothered some of those that worked for him, because they thought that he was either “bird-dogging” them while others thought that he should be pitching in and giving them a hand.

I had another take on Jerry.  When I watched Jerry watching his crew, I had the feeling that he was looking out for them some way.  Sort of “praying” for their safety in some way.  I mentioned above that I looked at Jerry as Walt’s Guardian Angel.  I think he was doing the same thing with his crew.

As I said, Jerry wasn’t much for words.  When he spoke, it was because he had something to say.  He was the type of Power Plant Man that I knew so well…  The type that leaves a first “Bad Impression” (see the post: “Power Plant Art of Making a Bad First Impression“).  I could see right through that facade.  Jerry wasn’t the grumpy old fart he wanted you to think he was.  He was the one looking out for your back.

Rest In Peace Jerry, and now that Walt has joined you, take care of him up there, and try to keep him out of trouble…. you know that Walt is “worth his salt!”

A Window Into the Power Plant Man Bedroom

It is not clear how many heart attacks one Power Plant Man can have.  Walt Oswalt probably had a heart attack on a monthly basis, but rarely let anyone know about it.  Ray Eberle dropped by Walt’s farm one day to visit and found Walt out in the pasture passed out next to his combine as if dead.  When Ray began following the ABC’s for safety he found that Walt was still breathing.  Upon reviving him, Walt just said that he was tired and decided to take a nap.  Ray knew that he had just had another heart attack but didn’t want to admit it.

The best way to revive Walt at this point, we found, was to say out loud that we were going to take him to the hospital in Ponca City.  At that time, no one would be caught dead going there…. or maybe they would.  At least when they were discharged.

Walt had a different way of looking at the world.  It was probably brought on by a combination of being a long time Power Plant Man and being partly insane… in a likable sort of way… if you already have a good sense of humor.  If your sense of humor is lacking, then Walt may have appeared annoying.

Either way, Walt bounced between one adventure to another.

One day Ray Eberle, who considered Walt a dear friend, dropped by to visit Walt (which was a common occurrence).  When Ray walked into the living room of Walt’s double-wide, he found two coffin-like boxes laying in the middle of the floor.  Ray asked Walt why he had two wooden coffins laying on his living room floor, half thinking that maybe Walt was thinking ahead and found a deal on a couple of cheap coffins on the Internet.

Walt explained that the two boxes contained a marketing tool that was going to be the key to his success.  Walt decided to open one of the boxes and show Ray instead of trying to explain his new idea, so he took a pry bar and pried open the lid on one of the wooden coffins.  In all of Ray’s imagination, he had not figured on seeing what he saw when the lid was lifted from the box.

Carefully stacked inside the box were 50 high dollar pool cues.

Pool Cue

Pool Cue

Walt pulled one of the pool cues out of the box and showed Ray that each one was carefully engraved with the following words:

“Walt’s Excavating and Dirt Movers – Why go anywhere else when Walt can cheat you just the same?”   Then it had his phone number.

Walt explained to Ray that all he had to do was go down to each of the bars in the Morrison and Pawnee areas and hand out these pool cues to everyone, and before long, everyone in town will see his advertisement because “Everyone shoots pool and drinks beer.”

Ray looked at the satisfied look on Walt’s face as he was explaining his new business adventure and replied, “But I don’t shoot pool and drink beer.”  Walt said, “Yeah, but everyone else does.”  Walt also added that people will think that the part about “cheating you as good as anyone else” is a joke…. but it isn’t.

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

Ray was curious as he examined the very expensive pool cues and the fine engraving, so he asked Walt how much each of these pool cues cost.  Walt explained that since he had ordered 100 of them, he was able to get them at a discount of $75 each (or so.  I don’t remember the exact cost).  I do know that this added up to $7,500 worth of pool cues that Walt was going to give away for free.

Walt’s dream was that his tractor with the scoop shovel and dirt grater was going to be busy all over the county leveling roads and moving dirt.  Ray watched as Walt’s wife walked through the room with a slightly disgusted look on her face as she glanced over at the two coffins on the living room floor.  Ray decided to keep quiet until the storm had passed.

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

When Ray was telling me this story, I wondered how many times Walt’s wife had a heart attack.

On another occasion, Ray Eberle went to visit with Walt after work.  Walt invited Ray into the kitchen to have a drink of water.  Ray was admiring the new carpet Walt just had installed in the house.

As they sat there talking, Ray noticed that a complete window frame with the glass already installed was next to the kitchen table leaning against the wall.  Since Walt didn’t mention the window frame right away, Ray finally asked, “Walt, what are you planning on doing with this Window?”

A window like this, only new

A window like this, only new

Walt explained that he bought the window on sale and since he wanted to put another window in kitchen, he bought it.  Ray looked around the kitchen and wondered where Walt could possibly add a new window.  He wasn’t sure where Walt could add a window.  So, knowing Walt, he figured that the fastest way to find out was to ask….

“Walt, where in the kitchen are you going to put the window?”  Walt pointed to the wall directly behind Ray where there was a blank white wall.  “I’m going to put the window right there.”

Ray saw a flaw in this logic immediately, but decided to wait 30 seconds or so in order to check his logic with reality, just to make sure he wasn’t mistaken…. when he was sure, Ray replied, “But Walt…. Isn’t your bedroom on the other side of that wall?”

Without pausing Walt said, “Yeah.  I want to be able to see what’s happening in the kitchen when I’m in bed.”  Ray’s right hand slowly grabbed the edge of the table in order to steady himself, so that he didn’t spill the glass of water in his left hand.

At this point, Walt ensured Ray that he always wanted to have a window right there as he reached into a kitchen drawer and retrieved a claw hammer.

Claw Hammer

Claw Hammer

Walt walked over to the wall and said, “I am going to put that window right here… and using the claw on the hammer, he began tearing a hole in the sheet rock.  Ray, a little shocked backed off to give Walt room as he began destroying the wall in the kitchen.

Sheet rock was flying all over the new carpet, and Ray noticed that as Walt was attacking the wall, he was grinding the sheet rock dust into the carpet even further as he walked on the fallen bits of chalk.  Before long there was a gaping hole in the wall, more in a circle than the square hole that would be needed to mount the window.  Sheet rock fragments were all over the kitchen table, floor and spilling out into the living area.

About this time Walt’s wife returned home from work.  She took one look at the disaster in the kitchen.  Ray thought that she was either going to cry, have another heart attack or… well, some other kind of attack….  So, Ray thought it would be a good time to go home to see his own wife Barbara.

Ray said his quick goodbye’s and skedaddled through the front door amazed at the sudden destruction of the wall in the kitchen and the new carpet.

Ray decided not to visit Walt for a few days, just to let things “work themselves out”.  Finally when Ray came over for another visit with Walt, when he entered the living room and looked toward the wall in the kitchen, he could see that there was no window mounted in the wall, and the entire wall was back to the way it was before anything had happened.

A little confused, Ray asked Walt, “What happened to the window you were putting in the kitchen?”  Walt explained that when he went to put the window in the wall, he broke the glass, so he decided not to put a window there after all.  So, he asked Jerry Osborn if he would patch the wall up.

I mentioned in the last week’s post that Jerry Osborn was one of Walt’s “Guardian Angels”, see the post:  “When Power Plant Ingenuity Doesn’t Translate“.  He was the one that would clean up after Walt’s experiments.  Walt was always thinking outside the box.

Walt’s wife walked into the living room with a cheerful satisfied look on her face, “How are you doing today Ray?”, she asked, as she sat down on the couch.  Ray thought he knew how the window was broken.

One of Walt’s other ventures had to do with miniature ponies.  Walt had decided that even though he had no experience in the “miniature pony” arena, he had read up about the business on the Internet and decided that just by looking at a picture of a miniature pony on the Internet, he could tell if a pony was a keeper or not.

Much like his purchase of the truck in Chesapeake Bay (see the post:  “Mr. Frog’s Wild Power Plant Ride“), Walt decided to buy some miniature ponies from someone in Louisiana, sight unseen.  Before long, Walt owned some miniature ponies, and was in business.

Miniature Pony by Andrew Fuller

Miniature Pony by Andrew Fuller

Ray knew Walt really was in the miniature pony business the day he walked into Walt’s house and there in the middle of the floor in the living room were two large wooden boxes, that looked like two coffins.  Can you guess what was in them?

Walt couldn’t wait to show Ray his new batch of pool cues.  He pulled one out of the box, and there written on the side it said, “Walt’s Miniature Ponies, Why buy from someone else when Walt can cheat you just the same.”  Walt explained, “You know Ray… Everyone shoots pool and drinks beer… well, except for you.”

Rest in Peace Walt, and thanks for the great adventures!  The Power Plant Men of North Central Oklahoma wouldn’t have known what to do without you!

A Window Into the Power Plant Man Bedroom

It is not clear how many heart attacks one Power Plant Man can have.  Walt Oswalt probably had a heart attack on a monthly basis, but rarely let anyone know about it.  Ray Eberle dropped by Walt’s farm one day to visit and found Walt out in the pasture passed out next to his combine as if dead.  When Ray began following the ABC’s for safety he found that Walt was still breathing.  Upon reviving him, Walt just said that he was tired and decided to take a nap.  Ray knew that he had just had another heart attack but didn’t want to admit it.

The best way to revive Walt at this point, we found, was to say out loud that we were going to take him to the hospital in Ponca City.  At that time, no one would be caught dead going there…. or maybe they would.  At least when they were discharged.

Walt had a different way of looking at the world.  It was probably brought on by a combination of being a long time Power Plant Man and being partly insane… in a likable sort of way… if you already have a good sense of humor.  If your sense of humor is lacking, then Walt may have appeared annoying.

Either way, Walt bounced between one adventure to another.

One day Ray Eberle, who considered Walt a dear friend, dropped by to visit Walt (which was a common occurrence).  When Ray walked into the living room of Walt’s double-wide, he found two coffin-like boxes laying in the middle of the floor.  Ray asked Walt why he had two wooden coffins laying on his living room floor, half thinking that maybe Walt was thinking ahead and found a deal on a couple of cheap coffins on the Internet.

Walt explained that the two boxes contained a marketing tool that was going to be the key to his success.  Walt decided to open one of the boxes and show Ray instead of trying to explain his new idea, so he took a pry bar and pried open the lid on one of the wooden coffins.  In all of Ray’s imagination, he had not figured on seeing what he saw when the lid was lifted from the box.

Carefully stacked inside the box were 50 high dollar pool cues.

Pool Cue

Pool Cue

Walt pulled one of the pool cues out of the box and showed Ray that each one was carefully engraved with the following words:

“Walt’s Excavating and Dirt Movers – Why go anywhere else when Walt can cheat you just the same?”   Then it had his phone number.

Walt explained to Ray that all he had to do was go down to each of the bars in the Morrison and Pawnee areas and hand out these pool cues to everyone, and before long, everyone in town will see his advertisement because “Everyone shoots pool and drinks beer.”

Ray looked at the satisfied look on Walt’s face as he was explaining his new business adventure and replied, “But I don’t shoot pool and drink beer.”  Walt said, “Yeah, but everyone else does.”  Walt also added that people will think that the part about “cheating you as good as anyone else” is a joke…. but it isn’t.

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

Ray was curious as he examined the very expensive pool cues and the fine engraving, so he asked Walt how much each of these pool cues cost.  Walt explained that since he had ordered 100 of them, he was able to get them at a discount of $75 each (or so.  I don’t remember the exact cost).  I do know that this added up to $7,500 worth of pool cues that Walt was going to give away for free.

Walt’s dream was that his tractor with the scoop shovel and dirt grater was going to be busy all over the county leveling roads and moving dirt.  Ray watched as Walt’s wife walked through the room with a slightly disgusted look on her face as she glanced over at the two coffins on the living room floor.  Ray decided to keep quiet until the storm had passed.

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

When Ray was telling me this story, I wondered how many times Walt’s wife had a heart attack.

On another occasion, Ray Eberle went to visit with Walt after work.  Walt invited Ray into the kitchen to have a drink of water.  Ray was admiring the new carpet Walt just had installed in the house.

As they sat there talking, Ray noticed that a complete window frame with the glass already installed was next to the kitchen table leaning against the wall.  Since Walt didn’t mention the window frame right away, Ray finally asked, “Walt, what are you planning on doing with this Window?”

A window like this, only new

A window like this, only new

Walt explained that he bought the window on sale and since he wanted to put another window in kitchen, he bought it.  Ray looked around the kitchen and wondered where Walt could possibly add a new window.  He wasn’t sure where Walt could add a window.  So, knowing Walt, he figured that the fastest way to find out was to ask….

“Walt, where in the kitchen are you going to put the window?”  Walt pointed to the wall directly behind Ray where there was a blank white wall.  “I’m going to put the window right there.”

Ray saw a flaw in this logic immediately, but decided to wait 30 seconds or so in order to check his logic with reality, just to make sure he wasn’t mistaken…. when he was sure, Ray replied, “But Walt…. Isn’t your bedroom on the other side of that wall?”

Without pausing Walt said, “Yeah.  I want to be able to see what’s happening in the kitchen when I’m in bed.”  Ray’s right hand slowly grabbed the edge of the table in order to steady himself, so that he didn’t spill the glass of water in his left hand.

At this point, Walt ensured Ray that he always wanted to have a window right there as he reached into a kitchen drawer and retrieved a claw hammer.

Claw Hammer

Claw Hammer

Walt walked over to the wall and said, “I am going to put that window right here… and using the claw on the hammer, he began tearing a hole in the sheet rock.  Ray, a little shocked backed off to give Walt room as he began destroying the wall in the kitchen.

Sheet rock was flying all over the new carpet, and Ray noticed that as Walt was attacking the wall, he was grinding the sheet rock dust into the carpet even further as he walked on the fallen bits of chalk.  Before long there was a gaping hole in the wall, more in a circle than the square hole that would be needed to mount the window.  Sheet rock fragments were all over the kitchen table, floor and spilling out into the living area.

About this time Walt’s wife returned home from work.  She took one look at the disaster in the kitchen.  Ray thought that she was either going to cry, have another heart attack or… well, some other kind of attack….  So, Ray thought it would be a good time to go home to see his own wife Barbara.

Ray said his quick goodbye’s and skedaddled through the front door amazed at the sudden destruction of the wall in the kitchen and the new carpet.

Ray decided not to visit Walt for a few days, just to let things “work themselves out”.  Finally when Ray came over for another visit with Walt, when he entered the living room and looked toward the wall in the kitchen, he could see that there was no window mounted in the wall, and the entire wall was back to the way it was before anything had happened.

A little confused, Ray asked Walt, “What happened to the window you were putting in the kitchen?”  Walt explained that when he went to put the window in the wall, he broke the glass, so he decided not to put a window there after all.  So, he asked Jerry Osborn if he would patch the wall up.

I mentioned in the last week’s post that Jerry Osborn was one of Walt’s “Guardian Angels”, see the post:  “When Power Plant Ingenuity Doesn’t Translate“.  He was the one that would clean up after Walt’s experiments.  Walt was always thinking outside the box.

Walt’s wife walked into the living room with a cheerful satisfied look on her face, “How are you doing today Ray?”, she asked, as she sat down on the couch.  Ray thought he knew how the window was broken.

One of Walt’s other ventures had to do with miniature ponies.  Walt had decided that even though he had no experience in the “miniature pony” arena, he had read up about the business on the Internet and decided that just by looking at a picture of a miniature pony on the Internet, he could tell if a pony was a keeper or not.

Much like his purchase of the truck in Chesapeake Bay (see the post:  “Mr. Frog’s Wild Power Plant Ride“), Walt decided to buy some miniature ponies from someone in Louisiana, sight unseen.  Before long, Walt owned some miniature ponies, and was in business.

Miniature Pony by Andrew Fuller

Miniature Pony by Andrew Fuller

Ray knew Walt really was in the miniature pony business the day he walked into Walt’s house and there in the middle of the floor in the living room were two large wooden boxes, that looked like two coffins.  Can you guess what was in them?

Walt couldn’t wait to show Ray his new batch of pool cues.  He pulled one out of the box, and there written on the side it said, “Walt’s Miniature Ponies, Why buy from someone else when Walt can cheat you just the same.”  Walt explained, “You know Ray… Everyone shoots pool and drinks beer… well, except for you.”

Rest in Peace Walt, and thanks for the great adventures!  The Power Plant Men of North Central Oklahoma wouldn’t have known what to do without you!

When Power Plant Ingenuity Doesn’t Translate

There are various reasons why “outsiders”  might look at Power Plant Men with a certain degree of uncertainly.  It could be because their worn jeans are permanently stained with coal dust.  It could be that they use a language that only seasoned mechanics, operators and welders understand.  I think that the main reason that Power Plant Men remain a mystery to many outsiders is because their Power Plant Ingenuity doesn’t always translate into viable solutions outside the plant grounds.

This is best illustrated by sharing another in a series of “Walt Oswalt Stories”.  I may be able to squeeze two Walt stories into one.  If you haven’t read the earlier Walt Oswalt Stories, then maybe you should take a break first and read these two posts: “Mr. Frog’s Wild Power Plant Ride” and “Power Plant Trip Leads to a Game of Frogger“.   Now let’s see how this story goes….

Before I share more of the life and times of Walt Oswalt, let me just preface the story with a few factors that influence the lives of Power Plant Men at the plant, that lead to occasional confusion when they move beyond the Power Plant Boundary.

I suppose that most Power Plant Ingenuity springs from the need to perform tasks that others would consider impossible.  In order to perform these feats of magic, Power Plant Men develop a 7th sense where they have a canny ability to think outside the box.

I can’t say for sure when I first came face-to-face with this type of thinking, but it was probably the first day I ever worked with a Power Plant Man side-by-side.  Various people with completely different backgrounds were hired to work on thousands of pieces of equipment that were each designed by people with incredible imaginations.  In order to fix, repair or operate some of this equipment, the most obvious solution was usually not the best solution to be found.

Let me give you a for-instance…

When I relayed the story about when there was a large explosion just below the Turbine Generator that was followed with an oil fire hot enough to melt the roof off of the building, (see the post:  “Destruction of a Power Plant God“), the shaft on the Main Power Generator was going to be warped because the turning gear was not able to run, mainly because all the cables feeding everything no longer existed…

Unit 1 Turbine-Generator

Unit 1 Turbine-Generator

If the generator warped, it would have cost the Electric Company (or their Insurance Company) a lot of money to replace as well as month of lost revenue.  In order to save the generator, Charles Patten thought of using cans of STP Oil Treatment to lubricate the bearings while manually rotating the turning gear.

STP Oil Treatment

STP Oil Treatment

As Operators and Charles and some other brave souls worked throughout the night to turn the generator by hand, the fire department fought the fire that was only a few feet away.

Charles Patton

Charles Patten

Such bravery and ingenuity can not be celebrated enough.  The life time salaries of Charles’ entire crew wouldn’t have amounted to as much cost as Charles Patten saved the company through that one act of bravery.  The only reason we came to know about this was because someone passed it up the line to someone who cared enough to share it with others.  Usually great feats of magic goes on every day, just not on such a grand scale.

The reason I’m sharing this with you is because after years of service at a Power Plant, the Men and Women become so accustomed to doing the impossible, that the word “impossible” is usually not in their vocabulary.  In other words…. “Everything has a Solution.  That seems to be the Power Plant Motto…. and management might add… “Everything has a Safe Solution”.

The problem is that “Power Plant Solutions” don’t always translate into the world beyond the Power Plant.  I don’t mean that Charles Patten went home and tried STP Oil Treatment when he washed his dog…. remember… this is a story about Walt Oswalt.

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt had worked many years at the Power Plant in Mustang, Oklahoma before being offered a job at the new Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma by Orville Ferguson.  Orville had asked Walt to move north to work at the new Power Plant because he knew that whatever task you gave to Walt, he would figure out how to “get-er-done”.

As with many Power Plant Men at the plant, when Walt went home in the evening, it wasn’t to go lay back in a chair and drink a beer.  Not right away anyway.  First he had to do some farming…. After all, even though a Power Plant Man’s salary paid the bills, making a little extra never hurt anyone… or so it was thought anyway.

It turned out that Walt had a new barn put on his land that was the admiration of his neighbors.  A nice shiny new metal barn… this is not a picture of the actual barn… This is just a metal barn I found on Google images to illustrate my point:

New Metal Barn

New Metal Barn – envy of the neighbors…

As you know from my previous posts (if you read them…) that one of Ray Eberle’s best friends was Walt Oswalt.  So, Ray would go over to visit him often since he lived just down the road.  On one particular day when Ray came by for a visit he found Walt loading square bales of hay in his shiny new barn.

Square Bale of hay often used by Power Plant Men to feed their cattle

Square Bale of hay often used by Power Plant Men to feed their cattle

Now, be careful… or you might learn something….  Ray noticed right away that Walt was laying the bottom layer of hay flat as shown in the picture above.  This might not seem like such a bad thing to an amateur like me or you, so let me explain…..  The floor of the barn was dirt.

So, as tactfully as Ray could muster the words, he asked Walt… “Don’t you want to set the bottom bales of hay on edge so the wires don’t rust from the moisture that comes up through the ground?”  — You see… the bale of hay is held together by two or three metal wires going around the bale.

Ray was concerned that the wires would rust and then the bottom bales would fall apart when it came time to move them later in the winter when they were needed.  If you just rotated the bale onto it’s side, then the wires would go around the bale instead of under and over the bale.  This was common practice in a world of which I am totally unfamiliar… – but learning.

Walt Oswalt replied with one of his most favorite phrases:  “I have that all figured out.”  He explained why he wasn’t worried about the wires rusting with this explanation….  Now put on your thinking cap and see if you can follow along with this logic…

This is Walt’s explanation:  “You see… I happen to know that salt absorbs moisture, so before I put the bales of hay in the barn, I covered the entire floor with salt.  That way the salt will absorb all the moisture and the wires won’t get wet.”

I know how Walt could come up with such a fantastic idea as this… after all, he had come up with some doozies at work in order to do the impossible, so why not think outside the box (or the barn in this case) to come up with a solution just so that you can lay your bottom bales of hay wire-side down…

Maybe he had an argument about this at a bar one day and decided to prove that you don’t “always” have to put the bottom layer on their side… because if you think about it, it’s just as easy to lay them on their side as it is flat.  I know that salt is cheap, but gee whiz… sprinkling salt all over the floor of your brand new shiny metal barn in order to lay the bottom row of hay flat…. I’m just not seeing it… but then… I’m not Walt.

Within two months, Ray went to visit Walt and his shiny new barn only to find that the walls of Walt’s new barn now looked like this:

uh...hmm...

uh…hmm…

The bottom of the barn had rusted completely away around the entire barn.  Walt’s neighbors were no longer envious of Walt’s new barn.  In fact, I think some non-power plant neighbors were probably even unsympathetic to Walt’s circumstance.

I guess Walt didn’t consider the other feature that salt displayed…. That salt corrodes metal… Especially when wet… The entire bottom layer of hay in the barn was useless.  The wires had all corroded away and it was a mess.  Ray really felt bad for his friend.  What could Ray do, but show his support for Walt.

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

Fast forward another couple of months….. Ray Eberle drops by Walt Oswalt’s house for a visit again only to find that the rusted out barn now looks completely new again….  “What Happened?”  Walt explained that Jerry Osborn came over and fixed the barn…..  I suppose it’s time to introduce another one of the “True Power Plant Men” of his day… Jerry Osborn.

Jerry Osborn

Jerry Osborn

As with many true power plant men, Jerry Osborn could fix just about anything he ever laid his hands on.  Sometimes that was all he had to do… Lay his hands on it and nod a little and the pump would start running again…. sometimes it was so eerie it even startled Jerry.  Jerry Osborn had a way of nodding his head much like Jerry Mitchell, only a somewhat younger version.

Whenever Walt backed himself into a corner, all he had to do was call up Jerry and he would show up and patch things up.  Jerry was sort of like Walt’s Guardian Angel.  Jerry was a master carpenter, sheetrocker, mechanic, and observer of mankind.

Though some people thought Jerry was lazy on the job, because he kept himself clean like Jerry Mitchell used to do (see the post:  “A Power Plant Man Becomes an Unlikely Saint“), the truth was that when it came to helping your neighbor, Jerry would always come through.

Ray was standing there admiring the shiny new barn when he noticed that Walt was pacing off some squares in the barn, so he asked him what he was doing…

Walt said, “Oh.  I’m going to turn the barn into a stable.  I’m just pacing off how I am going to place the stalls.  Ray watched for a few minutes as Walt walked back and forth in the barn…. Ray noticed that Walt wasn’t writing anything down so he asked, “Aren’t you going to write this down so you can remember it?”

Walt replied, “Nope.  I have it all right here,” pointing to his head.  “I’ll remember it.”  Ray was becoming a little concerned, because he knew that Walt wasn’t the best with figures, and he also wasn’t the best with using a saw, or a hammer and he especially wasn’t the best at building a barn full of stalls…. Ray began to wonder when Walt would find time to build stalls between his weekly heart-attacks.

Ray thought he was going to find a total mess when Walt called him to come by and look at the new stalls in his barn.  When Ray walked in the barn, he was totally amazed.  The stalls looked like they were done by a professional stall installing service (if there is such a thing).  Ray told Walt that he was really impressed that Walt had built such terrific stalls.

Walt explained that all he had to do was tell Jerry Osborn what he wanted and Jerry built the stalls!  How is that for service?

I know this is a small picture, but let me show it to you again….

Jerry Osborn

Jerry Osborn

This story began as just another Walt Oswalt Story, but as usual with Walt, there is always something else that pops up when talking about Walt.  The first Walt Oswalt story I wrote shortly after Walt had died.  When I went to write the second Walt Oswalt Story, I found out that Vance Shiever (the husband of Linda Shiever the Plant timekeeper) had died that very week (only a year earlier).

I didn’t have a picture of Jerry Osborn, so, I Googled Jerry and found that he had died on February 27, 2014.  This is the picture on the memorial site for Jerry.  It seems that the Power Plant Party is growing in heaven faster than I imagined.

Let me tell you a little more about Jerry, since I have not mentioned him in many posts so far…

As you can tell by the way Jerry was taking care of Walt, he was a considerate man.  I never had much to say about Jerry because Jerry never spent much time talking about himself… as a matter of fact, Jerry didn’t spend much time talking at all.

When Jerry was a foreman, he would stand guard over his crew in a silent vigil watching them work.  This bothered some of those that worked for him, because they thought that he was either “bird-dogging” them while others thought that he should be pitching in and giving them a hand.

I had another take on Jerry.  When I watched Jerry watching his crew, I had the feeling that he was looking out for them some way.  Sort of “praying” for their safety in some way.  I mentioned above that I looked at Jerry as Walt’s Guardian Angel.  I think he was doing the same thing with his crew.

As I said, Jerry wasn’t much for words.  When he spoke, it was because he had something to say.  He was the type of Power Plant Man that I knew so well…  The type that leaves a first “Bad Impression” (see the post: “Power Plant Art of Making a Bad First Impression“).  I could see right through that facade.  Jerry wasn’t the grumpy old fart he wanted you to think he was.  He was the one looking out for your back.

Rest In Peace Jerry, and now that Walt has joined you, take care of him up there, and try to keep him out of trouble…. you know that Walt is “worth his salt!”

Power Plant Trip Leads to Game of Frogger

Some days when everything seems to be going just right, some little thing comes along that throws a wrench into the end of a perfect day. That’s what happened to the husband of the timekeeper at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma. Vance Shiever had spent the day baling hay into large bails in a pasture outside Morrison Oklahoma. All day while he worked, off in the distance he could see the plant where his wife Linda spent her week days.

Linda Shiever

Linda Shiever

Linda Shiever was one of the first two employees hired at the Coal-fired plant along with Sonny Karcher.  She was hired on May 30, 1978, just 10 days after her marriage to Vance.  During the 20 years I worked at the Power Plant, I heard Linda talk about Vance often.  So, when Ray Eberle began telling me a story about him, I already had a picture of a Vance in my head much like Paul Bunyan (having never met him in person):

Like this Paul Bunyan only with tinted glasses. Actually, this is a historian named Wayne Chamberlain

Like this Paul Bunyan only with tinted glasses. Actually, this is a historian named Wayne Chamberlain

Ray Eberle said that he had stopped to visit Vance this particular Saturday afternoon when Vance was just finishing up loading the bales of hay onto a large flat bed semi-truck trailer.

Large Round Hay Bale

Large Round Hay Bale

About that time, Walt Oswalt drove by and saw his best buddy Ray standing out in the pasture talking with Vance, so he pulled off the road to visit Vance and Ray.  This is the same Walt Oswalt that I wrote about last month (see the post:  “Mr. Frog’s Wild Power Plant Ride“).  Ray’s nickname for Walt was Frog.  Even today when I talk to Ray, he refers to him as Frog.

While Ray, Walt and Vance stood there talking, Vance looked off in the distance toward the Power Plant looming in the distance.

Power Plant at sunset

Power Plant at sunset

He mentioned that even though his wife has worked there for 20 years (at that time), he had never actually been to the plant.  Ray said that he would be glad to give him a tour of the plant right then and there if he wanted to see it.  This was a tempting proposition for Vance, who had been curious for many years about what actually went on there.

Vance said that it would be great if he could have a tour of the plant, but unfortunately, he still had to tie down all the bales of hay on the truck before he headed off to Muskogee to deliver his load by morning.  At this point Walt spoke up and said that Vance should go with Ray on a tour of the plant.  Walt said he would tie down the bales.  Vance replied that he wanted to make sure the bales of hay were properly secured before he took his trip down the turnpike to Muskogee.

Walt was insistent that Vance should go take a tour of the Power Plant and that he would tie down the bales of hay.  He knew how to do it.  Vance gave Walt some instructions about how to make sure the bales were securely tied down, and Walt kept reassuring Vance that he knew what he was doing.

A truck loaded with large round bales

A truck loaded with large round bales properly tied down

Walt finally convinced Vance that he could handle the hay bales, and Vance went with Ray Eberle to tour the Power Plant.  Ray said that Vance was so excited to finally be able to see the plant up close.  Ray gave Vance the full Power Plant Tour, which can take a few hours, especially with a professional story teller such as Ray Eberle:

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

It was dark when Ray and Vance returned to the pasture where the large semi-truck was parked.  Walt was taking a nap in his car waiting for them to return.

Walt Oswalt

Walt Oswalt

Vance asked Walt if he had tied down the bales of hay, as it was too dark to tell for sure.  Walt assured Vance that the bales of hay were securely tied down to the bed of the trailer.  He had no need to worry.  Now it was time for a second favor…

Ray had given Vance a long desired tour of the Power Plant, so Ray asked Vance if he would do a favor for him.  Ray had never had the opportunity to ride in a “Big Rig” Semi Truck, so he asked Vance if he would let him ride with him to Muskogee and back.  Walt would follow along behind them to bring Ray back home when arrived in Muskogee.

Vance was glad to return the favor.  Ray climbed into the truck and it pulled out of the pasture and onto the dark highway 64, then the Cimarron Turnpike that ran next to Morrison.  Walt, following along behind.  The traffic on this particular stretch of the Cimarron was always light, especially on a Saturday night.

This was a perfect day for Vance.  He had spent the day doing what he loved.  Baling Hay and loading it on the trailer.  The first class tour of the Power Plant with the best tour guide in Oklahoma and the surrounding states (since Mark Twain is no longer with us).  Now, driving down the highway with a load of hay with a good friend sitting shotgun.  What could be better?

Ray was thinking that there was something in the air that just wasn’t quite right.  The few other cars that were driving down the highway seemed to be driving a little more erratic than usual.  Well, it was Saturday night….  Maybe that was the reason a couple of cars swerved around the truck honking their horns before speeding off into the night.

Eventually, one car pulled up alongside the truck so that Vance could see the person in the passenger side.  They were frantically pointing back behind them.  Oh No!  Yeah.  That’s right.  If you have been reading this post with more than a simple glance, you have already surmised what was happening. Vance quickly pulled off the side of the road and came to a stop.

Ray finally realized what was happening at that point…  As they were travelling down the highway, the bales of hay had been flying off the truck into the middle of the dark highway.  Vance jumped out of the truck yelling, “I’m going to kill him!  I’m going to kill him!”  He stood in the middle of the highway, fists out at his side, waiting for Walt to show up… after all, he was following the semi when they left the pasture.

Ray could see Vance standing in the middle of the highway like Paul Bunyan, with the red glow of the tail lights dimly lighting the back of the truck.  Waiting for Walt to arrive… but Walt didn’t show up.

Ray and Vance spent the next hour or so walking down the highway pushing the large round bales off the side of the turnpike.  Luckily, few cars were travelling on the Cimarron Turnpike that night and no one was hurt (yet).  After walking a couple of miles back to the truck both Ray and Vance were worn out.  They were beat.  All the rage that Vance had felt when he realized that Walt had not tied down the bales was gone.  He was too tired at that point.

About that time, Walt Oswalt came driving down the highway and saw the truck pulled over.  He pulled up behind the truck.  Vance was too tired to confront him for his failure to secure the bales.  Where had Walt been for the last hour and a half while Ray and Vance had been rolling bales of hay off of the road?  That’s what they really wanted to know.

Walt said that when they left the pasture he suddenly realized that he was hungry, so he went down to the diner in Morrison and ate some supper.  When Ray was relaying this story to me, he said, “Walt’s stomach probably saved his life.  By the time he showed up, Vance was too worn out to kill him.  Besides… that really wasn’t Vance’s nature.  But there for a moment, I thought if Walt had showed up right away, his life may have been in danger.”

Of all the Walt Oswalt Stories, this is my favorite.  When I sat down to write my post this morning, this story was on my mind, so I thought for a moment what would be a good title.  I thought of the game of Frogger where the frog jumps across the road dodging the cars.  In this case, of course, it was the cars that were dodging the round bales of hay that were placed there because of the actions of a man whose best friend calls him “Frog”.  So, I wrote:  “Power Plant Trip Leads to Game of Frogger”.

A game of Frogger

A game of Frogger

Then I thought, I have pictures of Ray and Walt.  Let me see if I can find a picture of Vance on the Internet.  So, I did what I usually do in this instance.  I opened up Google and searched.  I typed Vance Shiever, Morrison Oklahoma.  The link at the top of the page said, “Vance Lee Shiever – Stillwater News Press:  Obituaries”.  Oh No!  What?!?!

I quickly clicked the link and my heart fell.  There was a picture of a man smiling back at me… Vance Lee Shiever.

Vance Shiever

Vance Lee Shiever

Vance died this past Tuesday from pancreatic cancer.  I had no idea!  I have been so busy this past week that I haven’t even logged into Facebook since last weekend.  If the dates are right, (because I know that Stillwater News Press often misspells names and dates), then Vance is having his funeral service this very afternoon.  I don’t believe for a moment that this is just a coincidence.

I have found that the members of the Power Plant Family in which I was a member for 20 years keep in touch in various ways.  Sometimes it is by e-mail. Sometimes it is through Facebook.  Other times, we just think about each other, and we just seem to know that something is up, even when we aren’t sure what.  I believe that is what happened this morning.

This past month three people have died in the Power Plant Family.  Walt Oswalt, Vance Shiever, and Ray Eberle’s wife Barbara.  I have often heard it said at the Power Plant that things always seem to happen in 3’s.  This Power Plant Post was one story about those three.

I thought that I should find a better picture of Vance, so I logged into Facebook, and the first picture that came up was this picture of Vance, the photo that was used by the New Press:

Vance Shiever, adored husband and father

Vance Shiever, adored husband and father

I can now picture Vance watching over his family from Heaven.  By the way that Linda always spoke of Vance, I know that he was one of those rare people full of kindness.  I also picture him going through the videos of his life with Saint Peter.  All those happy days he spent with Linda, and their children Beau and Lindsey….

Then as Saint Peter works the remote, he pulls up the video of Vance out in the field loading the round bales on the trailer as Ray pulls up in his truck.  As they watch this story unfold, they both break out in laughter as they watch Vance standing like Paul Bunyan in the middle of the highway waiting for Walt.  Saint Peter puts his arm around Vance, as they turn and enter the gates of Heaven.  Saint Peter mentions one last thing to Vance, “Yeah.  It is like Ray said…. Walt’s stomach saved his life.”

Addendum to this story:

After posting this last week, Ray Eberle contacted me and pointed out that Vance had died one year ago to the day from the date I created this post on November 7, 2015.  He actually died November 7, 2014.  No one had told me about Vance’s death, and when I pulled up Facebook, the first picture I saw was a picture of Vance, which further enforced my thought that he had died this past week.  The family was remembering his funeral service from the previous year. — This would explain why the Stillwater NewsPress said that he died on a Monday, when the date was on a Tuesday.

When Power Plant Durability and Automation Goes Too Far

Everyone expects when they enter an elevator and push a button for the 3rd floor that when the doors open they will find themselves on the third floor. It doesn’t occur to most people what actually has to happen behind the scenes for the elevator to go through the motions of carrying someone up three stories. In most cases you want an automated system that requires as little interaction as possible.

I have found while working in the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma that some systems are better off with a little less than perfect automation. We might think about that as we move into a new era of automated cars, robot soldiers and automatic government shutdowns. Let me give you a for instance.

The coal trains that brought the coal from Wyoming all the way down to the plant would enter a building called “The Dumper.” Even though this sounds like a less savory place to park your locomotive, it wasn’t called a Dumper because it was a dump. It was called a Dumper because it “Dumped.” Here is a picture of a dumper:

A rotary dumper much like the one that was at our Power Plant

A rotary dumper much like the one that was at our Power Plant

The coal train would pull into this room one car at a time. I talked about the dumper in an earlier post entitled “Lifecycle of a Power Plant Lump of coal“. As each car is pulled into this building by a large clamp called the “Positioner” (How is that for a name? It is amazing how when finding names for this particular equipment they decided to go with the “practical” words. The Positioner positions the coal cars precisely in the right position so that after the car clamps come down on the car, it can be rotated upside down “Dumping” the coal into the hoppers below. No fancy names like other parts of the power Plant like the “Tripper Gallery” or the “Generator Bathtub” here.

A typical coal train has 110 cars full of coal when it enters the dumper. In the picture of the dumper above if you look in the upper left corner you will see some windows. This is the Dumper Control Room. This is where someone sits as each car pulls through the dumper and dumps the coal.

Not long after the plant was up and running the entire operation of the dumper was automated. That meant that once put into motion, the dumper and the controls would begin dumping cars and continue operating automatically until the last car was through the dumper.

Let me try to remember the sequence. I know I’ll leave something out because there are a number of steps and it has been a while since I have been so fortunate as to work on the dumper during a malfunction… But here goes…

I remember that the first coal car on the train had to positioned without the positioner because… well….. the car directly in front of the first car is, of course, the locomotive. Usually a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Engine.

A picture from Shutterstock of a locomotive pulling a coal train

A picture from Shutterstock of a locomotive pulling a coal train

Before I explain the process, let me show you a picture of the Positioner. This the machine that pulls the train forward:

The piece of equipment with the large wheels is the positioner It can pull a coal train full of coal forward to precisely the proper position

The piece of equipment with the large wheels is the positioner It can pull a coal train full of coal forward to precisely the proper position

The automation begins after the first or second car is dumped. I’ll start with the second car just finishing the process as it rolls back up right after dumping the coal… The car clamps go up.

  • The rear holding arm (that holds the car in place from the entrance side of the dumper) lifts up out of the way.
  • The Positioner begins pulling the entire train forward.
  • Electric eyes on both end of the dumper detect when the next car has entered the dumper.
  • The Positioner adjusts the position of the coal car to the exact position (within an inch or two) by backing up and pulling forward a couple of times.
  • The Holding arm on the back end comes down on the couplings between the two train cars one back from the car that is going to be dumped.
  • The four car clamps come down on the train car at the same time that the dumper begins rotating.
  • The Positioner clamp lifts off of the train car couplings.
  • Water Sprayers come on that are attached to the top of the dumper so that it wets the coal in order to act as a dust suppression.
  • The Positioner travels back to the car clamp between the car that was just emptied before and the car in front of it.
  • As the train car rotates to the desired angle. (I think it’s about 145 degrees), it begins slowing down.
  • When the car has been rotated as far as desired it comes to a stop.
  • The Dumper pauses for a few seconds as all the coal is dumped from the coal car.
  • The Positioner moves back and forth until it is in just the right position for the positioner arm to lower onto the couplings between the cars.
  • The Sprayers turn off.
  • The Dumper begins returning to an upright position.
  • The Positioner arm lowers down onto the clamps between the coal cars.
  • Once the car is upright the dumper stops rotating.
  • The 4 car clamps go up.
  • The Holding arm goes up. And the process is repeated.

This is a beautiful process when it works correctly. Before I tell you about the times it doesn’t work correctly, let me tell you about how this process was a little…uh… too automated…

So. The way this worked originally, was that once the automated process was put into operation after the second car had been dumped, all the dumper control room operator had to do was sit there and look out the window at the coal cars being dumped. They may have had some paperwork they were supposed to be doing, like writing down the car numbers as they pulled through the dumper. It seems that paperwork was pretty important back then.

Each car would pull through the dumper… The coal would be dumped. The next car would be pulled in… etc.

Well. Trains come from Wyoming at any time of the day. Train operators were paid pretty well, and the locomotive engineers would come and sit in the control room while the train was being dumped. Often (more often than not it seemed) the trains would pull into the dumper in the middle of the night. Coalyard operators were on duty 24 by 7.

So, imagine this…. Imagine Walt Oswalt… a feisty sandy haired Irishman at the dumper controls around 3 in the morning watching 110 cars pull through the dumper. Dumping coal…. One after the other. I think the time it took to go from dumping one car to the next was about 2 1/2 minutes. So it took about 3 1/2 hours to dump one train (I may be way off on the time… Maybe one of the operators would like to leave a comment below with the exact time).

This meant that the dumper operator had to sit there and watch the coal cars being slowly pulled through the dumper for about 3 hours. Often in the middle of the night.

For anyone who is older than 25 years, you will remember that the last car on a train was called a Caboose. The locomotive engineers called it a “Weight Car”. This made me think that it was heavy. I don’t know. It didn’t look all that heavy to me… You decide for yourself:

A Caboose

A Caboose

Back in those days, there was a caboose on the back of every train. A person used to sit in there while the train was going down the tracks. I think it was in case the back part of the train accidentally became disconnected from the front of the train, someone would be back there to notice. That’s my guess. Anyway. Later on, a sensor was placed on the last car instead of a caboose. That’s why you don’t see them today. Or maybe it was because of something that happened one night…

You see… it isn’t easy for Walt Oswalt (I don’t mean to imply that it was Walt that was there that night.. well… it sounds like I’m implying that doesn’t it…. I use Walt when telling this story because he wouldn’t mind. I really don’t remember who it was) to keep his eyes open and attentive for 3 straight hours. Anyway… One night while the coal cars were going through the dumper automatically being dumped one by one… there was a point when the sprayers stopped spraying and the 4 car clamps rose, and there there was a moment of pause, if someone had been there to listen very carefully, they might have heard a faint snoring sound coming from the dumper control room.

That is all fine and dandy until the final car rolled into the dumper. You see… One night…. while all the creatures were sleeping (not even a mouse)… the car clamps came down on the caboose. Normally the car clamps had to be raised to a higher position to keep them from tearing the top section off of the caboose.

If it had been Walt… He woke when he heard the crunching sound of the top of the caboose just in time to see the caboose as it swung upside down. He was a little too late hitting the emergency stop button. The caboose rolled over. Paused for a moment as the person manning the caboose came to a rest on the ceiling inside… then rolled back upright all dripping wet from the sprayer that had meant to keep down the dust.

As the car clamps came up… a man darted out the back of the caboose. He ran out of the dumper…. knelt down… kissed the ground… and decided from that moment on that he was going to start going back to church every Sunday. Ok. I exaggerate a little. He really limped out of the dumper.

Needless to say. A decision had to be made. It was decided that there can be too much automation at times. The relay logic was adjusted so that at the critical point where the dumper decides to dump a coal car, it had to pause and wait until the control room operator toggled the “Dump” switch on the control panel. This meant that the operator had to actively decide to dump each car.

As a software programmer…. I would have come up with another solution… such as a caboose detector…. But given the power that was being exerted when each car was being dumped it was probably a good idea that you guaranteed that the dumper control room operator actually had his eyeballs pointed toward the car being dumped instead of rolled back in his head.

I leave you with that thought as I go to another story. I will wait until another time to talk about all the times I was called out at night when the dumper had failed to function.

This is a short story of durability…

I walked in the electric shop one day as an electrician trainee in 1984 to find that Andy Tubbs had taken an old drill and hooked it up to the 480 volt power source that we used to test motors. Ok. This was an odd site. We had a three phase switch on the wall with a fairly large cable attached with three large clips so we could hook them up to motors that we had overhauled to test the amperage that they pulled to make sure they were within the specified amount according to their nameplate.

I hesitated a moment, but I couldn’t resist…. I had to ask, “Andy…. Why have you hooked up that old drill to 480? (it was a 120 volt drill). He replied matter-of-factly (Factly? Can I really say that in public?), “I am going to burn up this old drill from the Osage Plant (See “Pioneers of Power Plant Fame Finally Find Peace” for more information about Osage Plant) so that I can turn it in for a new one.

Ok. I figured there must be a policy somewhere that said that if you turned in a burned up tool they would give you a new one. I knew that Bud Schoonover down at the toolroom was always particular about how he passed out new tools (I have experienced the same thing at my new job when trying to obtain a new security cable for my laptop).

Anyway. Andy turned the 480 volts on and powered up the drill. The drill began whining as it whirled wildly. Andy stood there holding up the drill as it ran in turbo mode for about five minutes. The drill performed like a champ.

Old Power Drill

Old Power Drill

After showing no signs of burning itself up running on 480 volts instead of 120 volts, Andy let off of the trigger and set it back on the workbench. He said, “This is one tough drill! I think I’ll keep it.” Sure. It looked like something from the 1950’s (and it probably was). But, as Andy said, it was one tough drill. On that day, because of the extra Durability of that old Pioneer Power Plant Drill, Andy was robbed of a new variable speed, reversible drill that he was so craving.

new variable speed reversible drill

new variable speed reversible drill

Comments from original post:

 

Ron October 12, 2013:

Great stories!
Coal trains today have engines at the rear of the train. I hope we never try to dump one of them!

devin October 12, 2013:

It takes about 7 hrs to dump 150 car train

Bruce Kime October 12, 2013:

Wasn’t Walt but a certain marine we won’t mention. They dumped the last car & forgot to put the car clamps in the up maximum position. They give the go ahead for the train to pull the caboose through! Instant convertible caboose! Now there are break away clamps on the north side. And there are locomotives on the rear of the train because the trains are made up of 150 cars .

 

NEO October 12, 2013:

Like you, I can think of several ways to automate the process without dumping the caboose but I think the operator pushing the button may be the best. Automation can get out of hand.

Jack Curtis November 3, 2013:

An engineer used to remind us: “A machine always does what you tell it to…whethr you want it to, or not.”
IF the union or the lawyers require a duty operator on an automated process, I’m all for giving him a button to push and attaching some responsibility. All automation designs are approved by Murphy…Wow! Thanks for the update Bruce!