Tag Archives: We’ve Got The Power

Power Plant “We’ve Got the Power” Program

Originally posted March 14, 2014:

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

“We’ve Got the Power” Igloo Lunch Box

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

A windbreaker like this, only gray. The

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

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

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

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

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

Terry Blevins

Terry Blevins

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

Jody Morse

Jody Morse

Darlene Mitchell

Darlene Mitchell

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

Richard Dale many years later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponca-City-House

The house we rented in Ponca City, Oklahoma

I had been married for 4 years by the time this program rolled around, and when the first few boxes of prizes had just arrived at our house, one Sunday in April, a priest came to the house we were renting on Sixth Street in Stillwater, Oklahoma to bless the house.

Stillwater-house

House we rented in Stillwater

When he walked in and saw a large box leaning against the wall in the living room, and not a stitch of furniture, he asked us if we were moving.  I asked him what he meant.  He said, “Well, you don’t have any furniture.”  I said, “Oh.  No.  We’re not moving.  We just have the furniture in the other room” (which was a spare bedroom that we used as the computer room.  That was where our old couch was along with an old coffee table (both of which had been given to me by my friend Tim Flowers).

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

Two Lazy-Boys received as an award from the

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

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

Dining Room Table received as an award from the

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

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

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

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

Linda Shiever

Linda Shiever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments from the Orignal Post:

  1. Ron March 15, 2014

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

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

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

    1. Plant Electrician March 15, 2014

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

  2. Morguie March 17, 2014

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

  3. Jonathan Caswell March 17, 2014

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

  4. Tim March 18, 2014

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

 

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Power Plant “We’ve Got The Power” Stress Buster

Originally posted April 12, 2014:

In an earlier post titled “Power Plant We’ve Got the Power Program” I explained how in 1990 we broke up into teams at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma to find ways to save the Electric Company money.  Before we were actually able to turn in our first set of ideas, we had a month or more to prepare those ideas and to turn them into proposals.  During this time, and throughout the entire “We’ve Got the Power” program, teams who wanted to succeed and outdo the other teams became very secretive.  Our team was definitely that way.  We had secret experiments going on throughout the plant, and we didn’t want other teams to even know what areas we were investigating.

As the program progressed, a certain level of stress developed between teams.  In a later post I will tell a story about how this level of stress led to a situation of suspicion and eventually even animosity.  This  post will not go into that situation.  Instead I want to explain what our team did to try to alleviate some of the stress by devising a special “Power Plant Joke” that we played on the rest of the Power Plant Men (and Women).

There were some teams that had setup some experiments that they were running to see if their ideas may save the company money.  Our team had several experiments running throughout the beginning months.  All of which we carefully hid from prying eyes.  We were proud of our stealthiness.  Sneaking around, making sure we weren’t being followed when we went to take readings from our carefully hidden recorders and other devices.

Charles Foster, Scott Hubbard and I were sitting in the electric shop office discussing the stress level that had permeated the plant, and we thought we could take advantage of the stress by setting up a “We’ve Got The Power” Experiment out in the open that would be obvious to anyone that walked by.  Only it would be a fake experiment designed to play a joke on the unsuspecting Power Plant Man.

Here is what we did….

Right outside the electric shop in the Turbine Generator basement there is a water fountain.  We placed a hazard waste barrel a few feet away from the water fountain.  Like this:

Hazardous Waste Barrel

Hazardous Waste Barrel

Then we mounted a junction box on the wall a few feet above the chemical waste barrel and a little to the right.

A junction box like this

A junction box like this

We turned the junction box so that the hinge was on the top, allowing the door to fall closed naturally.  This was an important part of the setup to allow for the joke to automatically reset each time it was operated.

We ran some copper tubing from the water fountain water line over to the box.  Then another copper line came out the bottom of the box and into the barrel.  Next to that copper tube, another smaller copper tube came out of the bottom of the box and just bent toward the front of the box.  It was not noticeable.  We had a plastic hose coming out of the barrel and over to the drain next to the water fountain.  Then we put Yellow Barrier Tape around the entire setup.

Barrier Tape

Barrier Tape

 

We tied Caution tags to the Barrier tape that said “We’ve Got the Power Experiment” Do not enter!  I signed the tags.

Caution Tags like this

Caution Tags like this

There was an electric conduit running up from the junction box, that went up and into the wall about 6 feet above the junction box.  So, this looked like a legitimate experiment going on, but for the life of anyone, no one would be able to tell what it was doing.  — Mainly because it wasn’t doing anything….. At least not until someone went to investigate it.

So.  Here is what would happen….

Employees would walk by and see the barrier tape with the hazardous waste barrel and the hoses and water lines coming from the back of the water fountain, with a junction box above it that was not completely closed.  The door to the junction box was down, but not screwed closed.  Conduit was going into the box, which meant that something electrical was probably inside  Maybe a solenoid or something that was controlling the experiment.

They would read the Caution Tag that explained that this was a “We’ve Got the Power” experiment, and it would pique (pronounced “peak”) their curiosity enough that they couldn’t help but investigate it to see what was really going on.

So, what would invariably happen, was that someone would enter the area that was barrier taped off, and open the junction box to see what was inside.  When they lifted the lid, they would find that they were instantly being soaked with water that would spray out of a small copper line pointing right at them directly under the junction box.  At the same time, an alarm would go off above them behind the wall right above the electric shop office.  It was very loud.  A counter inside the junction box would register an “intruder’ had just opened the box.

So, as we would be sitting there during lunch, we would suddenly hear the alarm go off, and we could dart out the door to the Turbine Generator basement to find a drenched Power Plant Man.  They were usually amused that they had fallen into the trap.  I say usually, because I have the feeling that one particular person who found himself violating the barrier tape and getting soaked didn’t act too cordial about it.  I’ll get to him later.

As I said, inside the box was a counter.  It counted how many times the box had been opened and sprayed someone with water.  So, we could go inspect it in the morning and we would know if anyone had looked at it while we were gone.

After the experiment had been there about a week, an overhaul began where Power Plant Men from different plants came to our plant to perform the overhaul.  The plant would shut off one of the units and we would take it apart, and put it back together again fixing problems along the way (well.  maybe not quite that drastic.  It was a time to fix things that couldn’t be maintained or repaired while the unit was running).

So, the Power Plant Men at our plant, who by that time all knew about the bogus experiment just outside the electric shop, would bring unsuspecting Power Plant Men from other plants over to the see the “We’ve Got the Power” experiment going on in the hopes of seeing them get sprayed with water.  So, a new round of alarms were going off during that time.

Eventually, when people had heard about the experiment, and knew that it was spraying people, they would approach the experiment with caution.  When they opened the lid of the junction box, they would stand next to it against the wall in order to not get wet.  The spray pattern from the crimped copper line was fairly wide, so you would have to stand practically against the wall next to the box in order to stay dry.

So, this was when we implemented Phase 2 of the experiment.  — Yeah.  It’s the second phase of many Power Plant Jokes that usually make the joke a much bigger success than the first phase.  For instance, I have written a post about the “Psychological Profile of a Control Room Operator” in which I had played a joke on Gene Day, where after a week of preparing him for the final joke, I had coaxed him to look over my shoulder, only to have him read that according to his psychological profile, he was the type of person that would look over your shoulder and read your private material.

That would be a good joke in itself, but when Gene Day read that and began choking the life out of me, I pointed out to him the final statement in Gene Day’s profile which stated that he tends to choke people who try to help him by creating Psychological profiles of him.  This second part of the joke is what really completes the joke and makes it a real success.  The first part just makes it funny.

So, here is how we modified the experiment for Phase 2….  The nozzle that sprayed the employee actually came out the bottom of the box and elbowed to point toward the front of the box.  So, what we did was we took a file and filed a tiny notch in the side of the copper tubing just below the junction box just above the elbow.  The notch was on the side of the copper tube, and it was deep enough of a notch to make a little hole in the side of the copper line.

So, then, if someone was standing to the only side they could stand next to the box and the barrel and they opened up the lid of the Junction Box to show someone how the experiment worked, they wouldn’t notice right away, but a small stream of  water would be spraying on their pants in just the appropriate location to make it look like the person had just pee’ed their pants.

Right when we had finished modifying the experiment for Phase 2, Howard Chumbley walked into the electric shop.  He was a retired Electric Foreman, that I have written about in the post “Pioneers of Power Plant Fame Finally Find Peace“.  He had come to visit the plant that day because there was going to be a Men’s Club lunch and he wanted to come and see some other old codgers that he used to work with that liked to attend the Men’s Club dinners.  He always wanted to see us of course as well.

So, we told him about the “We’ve Got The Power” Joke Experiment just outside the electric shop that sprayed water on people.  Of course, he wanted to see it, so we took him out and let him observe it.  We explained that when you open the lid, an alarm goes off, the counter toggles and water sprays out of that little nozzle sticking out at the bottom.  We told him he could try it if he wanted to see how it worked.

So,  he climbed under the barrier tape and walked around the side of the junction box that didn’t have the barrel, and reached over and lifted the lid.  The alarm when off, water sprayed out, and Howard laughed with glee to see how we had devised such a nice trick.  After watching the water spray for about 3 or 4 seconds, he suddenly realized that something was wrong.  He dropped the lid and looked down, only to find that it looked like he had just pee’ed his pants.

That was it!  That was icing on the cake.  Howard laughed even more when he realized what had happened.

The next morning when we came in the shop, we went to look at the experiment, it had been disassembled, or shutdown in some manner.  I think some caution tag had been placed there by Gary Wright, the Shift Supervisor stating something like this was a safety hazard, or some such thing.

Gene Day is the one standing on the right with the Orange shirt.

Gary Wright is the one down in the front with the glasses.  He had more hair in this photograph than I remember

Anyway, when I went up to the Control Room to ask him why he shutdown our experiment he was adamant that it constituted Horseplay and someone could get hurt.  Maybe when the water sprayed on them, they might jerk back and fall down and get hurt.  Ok….

I suppose.  Though, by the time he took it down, everyone at the plant already knew about it, and we were just in the Phase 2 part of the experiment.  In this phase anyone who was looking at the experiment was doing it by opening up the door from the side, and peeing their pants and they wouldn’t jerk back……—- Oh….. I see….  Shift Supervisors don’t usually like to walk into the control room looking like they have just pee’ed their pants.

I will say that I hadn’t expected that type of reaction from Gary Wright, because up to that time, he seemed more mild-mannered than the rest of the Shift Supervisors.  We just took it that the more upset Gary was with us about it, the more successful the joke had been implemented.  The joke had played out by that time, and we were good with it either way.

After it was all said and done.  We thought it did help to reduce the overall tension that was permeating the plant due to the “We’ve Got the Power Program”.

Making Friends from Foes – A Tale of Power Plant Woes

Originally posted April 25, 2014:

Later in life, thinking back to when I was young, I sometimes wonder at how my first real friend, Mark Schlemper remained my friend throughout my childhood.  I remember as a boy, there were times when I wasn’t the friendliest friend.  Sometimes I was downright selfish.  Mark, on the other hand, was always considerate.  Not in an Eddie Haskell way, but in a sincere way.  I learned a lot about being a kinder person from Mark, and I’m forever grateful.

Mark Schlemper with his Mother.  Two very good people.

My favorite picture of Mark Schlemper with his Mother

I think if Mark had not been my friend during my childhood, then this story would have a very different ending.

Last Friday (April 18, 2014), I posted a story called “Vertan or Sand and Making Enemies of a Power Plant Man“.  At the end of that post I explained that I had become the enemy of a team leader during the “We’ve Got The Power” program.  I explained this program in the post:  “Power Plant ‘We’ve Got The Power’ Program“.  With all that said, here is the story:

I was a plant electrician at a coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma when we took part in the “We’ve Got The Power” program.  At the time, I was in charge of maintaining the Unit 1 precipitator.  The precipitator is what takes the ash out of the exhaust from the boiler, so that you don’t normally see smoke coming out of a Power Plant Smokestack.

My bucket buddy in the Electric Shop, Diana Brien was on a team that tried an experiment on the Unit 1 precipitator by injecting sand into the intake duct in the hope that it would increase the performance.  I didn’t put much faith in the experiment, because it was based on something that had happened almost a year earlier when sand was burned in the boiler in order to burn off the oil that had been soaked into the sand.

I hadn’t seen any sand build up in front of the precipitator during the next overhaul, and didn’t believe that any of it had been able to make it’s way through the economizer and the air preheaters to the precipitator.

Diagram of a boiler

Diagram of a boiler.  The precipitator is after the air preheater where it is labelled “Flue gas”

When Ron Kilman asked me about it, I said that I didn’t think it would do any good, but also, it wouldn’t do any harm either, so I told Ron that I couldn’t see any reason not to do the experiment.  Who knows.  Maybe something unexpected would happen.  — Something did, but not quite in the way anyone would have expected.

On the day of the experiment, sand was blown into the intake duct of the precipitator.  When the experiment was taking place, Diana Brien sat at the precipitator computer behind the Unit 1 Alarm Panel in the Control Room.  She was printing out readings every so many minutes as the experiment progressed.

At times, I walked by and checked on her to see how it was going.  One time when I was standing there watching the readings on the computer, all of the sudden the Opacity shot up.  Opacity is used to measure how much smoke is going out of the smoke stack.  Something definitely happened to cause a large puff of smoke.

I switched screens to look at the power on each of the control cabinets.  After a few seconds I found that cabinet 1A10 had zero Volts on the secondary side of the transformer.  It should have been somewhere above 40 Kilovolts.  The cabinet hadn’t tripped, but it wasn’t charging up the plates.  Cabinet 1A10 was in the very back row of the precipitator, and when the power shuts off on the cabinet it readily lets go of the ash that had built up on it when the rappers on the roof strike the plates.

When I saw the puff occur, I knew where to go look, because this happened whenever one of the back cabinets was turned off.  I told Dee that it looked like a fuse had blown on the cabinet.  The ash was going to continue billowing out of the precipitator for a couple of hours if I didn’t go do something about it.  So, I told Dee that I was going to go to the Precipitator Control Room and replace the fuse.

I passed through the electric shop to grab my tool bucket and headed out to the precipitator.  When I arrived, I found the cabinet just as it had indicated on the computer.  The fuse had obviously failed.  Interesting timing.  Coincidence?  I thought it was.  The fuses controlling the back cabinets were usually the ones that blew because we ran them at a much higher voltage than the rest of the cabinets (at the time).

This is a picture of the exact fuse I replaced, except the writing was pink instead of blue

This is a picture of the exact fuse I replaced, except the print was orange instead of blue

I quickly replaced the fuse (after attaching grounding cables to the leads, and using a pair of high voltage gloves).  Then I powered the cabinet back on.

 

High Voltage gloves like this

High Voltage gloves like this

I returned to the Control Room and told Dee that I replaced the fuse on cabinet 1A10.  The opacity had returned to normal.  I watched a few more minutes to make sure everything had stabilized, and then I left.

When Ron Kilman was evaluating the results of the experiment, he could plainly see that something strange had happened.  Smoke had been pouring out of the smoke stack in the middle of the experiment.  So, he asked me what I thought about it.

First of all, as a disclaimer, our team had our own experiments we had been conducting on the precipitator in hopes of coming up with money savings ideas.  So, when I told Ron what had happened with the fuse blowing, I wondered if he would trust me to tell the truth, since I had my own skin in the game.

I explained in detail to Ron how the fuse had blown and that I was standing next to Dee watching the computer when the smoke started blowing out of the stack.  I could tell that a fuse had blown by looking at the readings, so I went out and replaced the fuse.  I told him that fuses do blow periodically in the back of the precipitator, but I couldn’t explain why it happened to fail at that particular time.  After I gave him my explanation, he seemed satisfied that I was telling the truth.

I think a token amount of points were awarded to the team because something obviously had happened during the experiment, though it wasn’t clear that sand had anything to do with it.  On the other hand, our team was awarded a large amount of points for increasing the precipitator performance using a different method that I may bring up in a later post.  To the team that burned the sand, this looked a lot like foul play.

The leader of the team was the Shift Supervisor Jim Padgett.  He became very upset when he found out that I had gone to the precipitator control room during the experiment and worked on the equipment.  Our team had been awarded a lot of points that was enough to purchase the dining room table set that I have in my dining room today:

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

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

It became known throughout the control room and the electric shop that Jim Padgett viewed me as his enemy.  The other electricians would jokingly refer to Jim as my “friend”, knowing that Jim had basically declared “war” on me.  Any time someone in the shop would have something to say about Jim, they would say, “Kevin’s friend” Jim Padgett….”

When I first became aware that Jim was upset with me, I understood why.  If I had been in his shoes I would probably feel the same way.  It’s a rotten feeling when you believe that someone has cheated you out of something important.  So, I decided up front that I was going to become Jim’s best friend.  This is where I think my memory of Mark Schlemper with his patience for me as a boy helped me with this decision.

I had determined that any time Jim asked me to do something I wouldn’t hesitate to help him.  It took about a year before Jim could look at me without grimacing.  Finally, one day, he asked me if I would go look at something for him to see if we needed a clearance, or if it was something that could be fixed right away.  It was something minor, but I knew that this was an indicator that the ice was finally beginning to melt.  I was able to fix the problem on the spot, and returned to let him know.

Once we were on semi-speaking terms again, I took an opportunity one day to ask Jim if he would like to join our Computer Club.  I had started a Computer Club in the Electric Shop.  Anyone could join it for a one time fee of $5.00 that was used to buy shareware and disk cases.  For a while I also published a newsletter letting the members of the club know what games and such we had that could be checked out.

Once Jim Padgett joined the Computer Club, it was much easier to have a regular conversation outside of the normal daily business.  I had put the thought in my mind when I decided that Jim was going to become my best friend that nothing would make me happier than to be able to do something for Jim.  That way, no matter what I was doing at the time, if Jim asked me to do something for him, I would drop whatever I was doing and do my best to help.

I could go on and on explaining how gradually over time, not only was Jim my friend, but Jim acted more and more as if I was his friend as well.  Let me just say that the entire process took almost exactly ten years.  I can remember the exact moment when Jim indicated to me that I had become his friend.

Here is what happened:

The phone next to my bed rang at 2:15 in the morning on Thursday February 17, 2000.  I instantly knew what it meant when the phone rang in the middle of the night.  It meant that someone at the plant was calling because there was a problem.  Who else would be up on in the middle of the night?  The night shift of course.

When I answered the phone, Jim Padgett said, “I hate to wake you up buddy.”  I replied, “No.  That’s okay.  What’s up?”  Jim explained that the dumper was down and a train was about halfway through dumping the coal and everything was dead in the water.  I said, “Ok.  I’ll be right out.”

I turned to Kelly and told her that I had to go fix the dumper.  She already knew of course.  I pulled on a pair of jeans, a flannel shirt, and on the way out the door, I slipped on my work boots and laced them up.  Then I drove the 30 miles out to the plant.

It was just before 3:00 am when I arrived.  I grabbed my hardhat from the electric shop and took the elevator up to the Control Room.  Jim apologized again and told me that how the dumper acted when it shutdown.  I went back down the elevator to the electric shop where I grabbed the key to the pickup truck and my tool bucket and left the electric shop into the cool night air.

Power Plants at night take on magical properties.  It’s hard to explain.  Lights shining from the 25 story boilers, noises from steam pipes.  Hums from motors and transformers.  Night Hawks screeching.

When I arrived at the coalyard, I went straight into the Dumper Switchgear where the relays that controlled the dumper were mounted.  Having worked on the dumper for the past 17 years, I could troubleshoot the circuits in my sleep.  — Actually, I may have done just that.  It didn’t take long, and I had replaced a contact on a relay that had broken and had the Coalyard Operator test the dumper long enough to know it was going to work.

When I returned back to Control Room Jim was sitting in the Shift Supervisor’s office.  I walked in and showed him the small relay contact that had caused the failure.  Jim, looked at me and said something that I thought only a friend would say so casually.  I won’t use his exact words, though I remember not only the exact words, I remember his exact expression.  He indicated to me that he had passed some gas, and he was apologizing about it.  I replied, “Well.  That happens.” (No.  Not the other thing that happens).  I told him I was going to go home.  It was about 3:40 by that time.

Jim wished me a good night, and smiling with gratitude, thanked me again for coming  out.  As I was going back to the parking lot, and on the way home driving through the dark, tired from being woken up in the middle of the night, I had a great feeling of peace.  That brief conversation with Jim just before I left was so pleasant in an odd way that I knew we had become friends.  This was such a long way from where we had been 10 years earlier when Jim had literally wanted to kill me (well, not that he actually would…).

When I arrived home, I peeled my clothes off in the utility room to keep from tracking coal all over the house.  I set the small broken relay contact on the kitchen table as a token to my wife, so she could see why I was called out when she wakes up in the morning.  I climbed back into bed around 4:15 to sleep for another two hours.

That morning when I arrived at the plant, the first thing I learned was that about the time that my alarm had woken me up that morning, Jim Padgett had left his shift and driven to his home in Ponca City.  When he walked in the door to his house, he collapsed and died instantly of a heart attack.  That would have been about 3 hours after the moment that we had said goodbye.

 

Jim Padgett is on the far left along with his crew of True Power Plant Men

Jim Padgett is on the far left along with his crew of True Power Plant Men

I grieved for Jim’s wife Jane, who had worked for a while at the plant before marrying Jim, but I didn’t grieve for Jim.  Something told me, and maybe it was Jim, that he was at peace.  In the moment that I heard about Jim’s death, I burned the conversation we had just had that morning into my mind so that I would never forget it.

To this day whenever I know that someone is upset with me for something that I have done to them personally (which still happens occasionally), I am determined that they will become one of my best friends.  I will do anything for that person if they ask (unless, of course it is to “not be their friend”).  I have my childhood friend Mark Schlemper to thank for the attitude that helped me decide to reach out to Jim Padgett.  Without that experience while growing up, Jim and I would never have become friends.

I would like to leave you with a song that reminds me of Jim whenever I hear it.  It is called “Bright Eyes” from the movie “Watership Down”. Art Garfunkel sings it:

Note:  If you are not able to watch the video above, try clicking this link:  Bright Eyes, Art Garfunkel

 

Comments from the original post:

  1. Dan Antion April 26, 2014

    I’m glad that you were able to work through a tough situation and reach the point of friendship. although, it does make the loss harder to accept.

  2. Jack Curtis May 6, 2014

    Your story would have been a matter of course for my grandparents and immediately understood and admired by my parents. I suspect that telling it to today’s children might draw blank stares …

    Midwestern values likely still include such behaviors, at least for a reasonable number of people. I doubt many folk on the coasts would identify with it. We have lost a lot and have yet to learn the price of that, seems to me.

Doing Dew Point Tests and Lowering Expectations

Originally posted May 9, 2014:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

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

The Exact Graham Condenser used in our experiment Spring 1990

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terry Blevins

Terry Blevins

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

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

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

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

Diagram of a boiler

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

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

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

Doing Dew Point Tests and Lowering Expectations

Originally posted May 9, 2014:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

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

The Exact Graham Condenser used in our experiment Spring 1990

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terry Blevins

Terry Blevins

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

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

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

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

Diagram of a boiler

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

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

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

Making Friends from Foes – A Tale of Power Plant Woes

Originally posted April 25, 2014:

Later in life, thinking back to when I was young, I sometimes wonder at how my first real friend, Mark Schlemper remained my friend throughout my childhood.  I remember as a boy, there were times when I wasn’t the friendliest friend.  Sometimes I was downright selfish.  Mark, on the other hand, was always considerate.  Not in an Eddie Haskell way, but in a sincere way.  I learned a lot about being a kinder person from Mark, and I’m forever grateful.

Mark Schlemper with his Mother.  Two very good people.

My favorite picture of Mark Schlemper with his Mother

I think if Mark had not been my friend during my childhood, then this story would have a very different ending.

Last Friday (April 18, 2014), I posted a story called “Vertan or Sand and Making Enemies of a Power Plant Man“.  At the end of that post I explained that I had become the enemy of a team leader during the “We’ve Got The Power” program.  I explained this program in the post:  “Power Plant ‘We’ve Got The Power’ Program“.  With all that said, here is the story:

I was a plant electrician at a coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma when we took part in the “We’ve Got The Power” program.  At the time, I was in charge of maintaining the Unit 1 precipitator.  The precipitator is what takes the ash out of the exhaust from the boiler, so that you don’t normally see smoke coming out of a Power Plant Smokestack.

My bucket buddy in the Electric Shop, Diana Brien was on a team that tried an experiment on the Unit 1 precipitator by injecting sand into the intake duct in the hope that it would increase the performance.  I didn’t put much faith in the experiment, because it was based on something that had happened almost a year earlier when sand was burned in the boiler in order to burn off the oil that had been soaked into the sand.

I hadn’t seen any sand build up in front of the precipitator during the next overhaul, and didn’t believe that any of it had been able to make it’s way through the economizer and the air preheaters to the precipitator.

Diagram of a boiler

Diagram of a boiler.  The precipitator is after the air preheater where it is labelled “Flue gas”

When Ron Kilman asked me about it, I said that I didn’t think it would do any good, but also, it wouldn’t do any harm either, so I told Ron that I couldn’t see any reason not to do the experiment.  Who knows.  Maybe something unexpected would happen.  — Something did, but not quite in the way anyone would have expected.

On the day of the experiment, sand was blown into the intake duct of the precipitator.  When the experiment was taking place, Diana Brien sat at the precipitator computer behind the Unit 1 Alarm Panel in the Control Room.  She was printing out readings every so many minutes as the experiment progressed.

At times, I walked by and checked on her to see how it was going.  One time when I was standing there watching the readings on the computer, all of the sudden the Opacity shot up.  Opacity is used to measure how much smoke is going out of the smoke stack.  Something definitely happened to cause a large puff of smoke.

I switched screens to look at the power on each of the control cabinets.  After a few seconds I found that cabinet 1A10 had zero Volts on the secondary side of the transformer.  It should have been somewhere above 40 Kilovolts.  The cabinet hadn’t tripped, but it wasn’t charging up the plates.  Cabinet 1A10 was in the very back row of the precipitator, and when the power shuts off on the cabinet it readily lets go of the ash that had built up on it when the rappers on the roof strike the plates.

When I saw the puff occur, I knew where to go look, because this happened whenever one of the back cabinets was turned off.  I told Dee that it looked like a fuse had blown on the cabinet.  The ash was going to continue billowing out of the precipitator for a couple of hours if I didn’t go do something about it.  So, I told Dee that I was going to go to the Precipitator Control Room and replace the fuse.

I passed through the electric shop to grab my tool bucket and headed out to the precipitator.  When I arrived, I found the cabinet just as it had indicated on the computer.  The fuse had obviously failed.  Interesting timing.  Coincidence?  I thought it was.  The fuses controlling the back cabinets were usually the ones that blew because we ran them at a much higher voltage than the rest of the cabinets (at the time).

This is a picture of the exact fuse I replaced, except the writing was pink instead of blue

This is a picture of the exact fuse I replaced, except the print was orange instead of blue

I quickly replaced the fuse (after attaching grounding cables to the leads, and using a pair of high voltage gloves).  Then I powered the cabinet back on.

 

High Voltage gloves like this

High Voltage gloves like this

I returned to the Control Room and told Dee that I replaced the fuse on cabinet 1A10.  The opacity had returned to normal.  I watched a few more minutes to make sure everything had stabilized, and then I left.

When Ron Kilman was evaluating the results of the experiment, he could plainly see that something strange had happened.  Smoke had been pouring out of the smoke stack in the middle of the experiment.  So, he asked me what I thought about it.

First of all, as a disclaimer, our team had our own experiments we had been conducting on the precipitator in hopes of coming up with money savings ideas.  So, when I told Ron what had happened with the fuse blowing, I wondered if he would trust me to tell the truth, since I had my own skin in the game.

I explained in detail to Ron how the fuse had blown and that I was standing next to Dee watching the computer when the smoke started blowing out of the stack.  I could tell that a fuse had blown by looking at the readings, so I went out and replaced the fuse.  I told him that fuses do blow periodically in the back of the precipitator, but I couldn’t explain why it happened to fail at that particular time.  After I gave him my explanation, he seemed satisfied that I was telling the truth.

I think a token amount of points were awarded to the team because something obviously had happened during the experiment, though it wasn’t clear that sand had anything to do with it.  On the other hand, our team was awarded a large amount of points for increasing the precipitator performance using a different method that I may bring up in a later post.  To the team that burned the sand, this looked a lot like foul play.

The leader of the team was the Shift Supervisor Jim Padgett.  He became very upset when he found out that I had gone to the precipitator control room during the experiment and worked on the equipment.  Our team had been awarded a lot of points that was enough to purchase the dining room table set that I have in my dining room today:

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

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

It became known throughout the control room and the electric shop that Jim Padgett viewed me as his enemy.  The other electricians would jokingly refer to Jim as my “friend”, knowing that Jim had basically declared “war” on me.  Any time someone in the shop would have something to say about Jim, they would say, “Kevin’s friend” Jim Padgett….”

When I first became aware that Jim was upset with me, I understood why.  If I had been in his shoes I would probably feel the same way.  It’s a rotten feeling when you believe that someone has cheated you out of something important.  So, I decided up front that I was going to become Jim’s best friend.  This is where I think my memory of Mark Schlemper with his patience for me as a boy helped me with this decision.

I had determined that any time Jim asked me to do something I wouldn’t hesitate to help him.  It took about a year before Jim could look at me without grimacing.  Finally, one day, he asked me if I would go look at something for him to see if we needed a clearance, or if it was something that could be fixed right away.  It was something minor, but I knew that this was an indicator that the ice was finally beginning to melt.  I was able to fix the problem on the spot, and returned to let him know.

Once we were on semi-speaking terms again, I took an opportunity one day to ask Jim if he would like to join our Computer Club.  I had started a Computer Club in the Electric Shop.  Anyone could join it for a one time fee of $5.00 that was used to buy shareware and disk cases.  For a while I also published a newsletter letting the members of the club know what games and such we had that could be checked out.

Once Jim Padgett joined the Computer Club, it was much easier to have a regular conversation outside of the normal daily business.  I had put the thought in my mind when I decided that Jim was going to become my best friend that nothing would make me happier than to be able to do something for Jim.  That way, no matter what I was doing at the time, if Jim asked me to do something for him, I would drop whatever I was doing and do my best to help.

I could go on and on explaining how gradually over time, not only was Jim my friend, but Jim acted more and more as if I was his friend as well.  Let me just say that the entire process took almost exactly ten years.  I can remember the exact moment when Jim indicated to me that I had become his friend.

Here is what happened:

The phone next to my bed rang at 2:15 in the morning on Thursday February 17, 2000.  I instantly knew what it meant when the phone rang in the middle of the night.  It meant that someone at the plant was calling because there was a problem.  Who else would be up on in the middle of the night?  The night shift of course.

When I answered the phone, Jim Padgett said, “I hate to wake you up buddy.”  I replied, “No.  That’s okay.  What’s up?”  Jim explained that the dumper was down and a train was about halfway through dumping the coal and everything was dead in the water.  I said, “Ok.  I’ll be right out.”

I turned to Kelly and told her that I had to go fix the dumper.  She already knew of course.  I pulled on a pair of jeans, a flannel shirt, and on the way out the door, I slipped on my work boots and laced them up.  Then I drove the 30 miles out to the plant.

It was just before 3:00 am when I arrived.  I grabbed my hardhat from the electric shop and took the elevator up to the Control Room.  Jim apologized again and told me that how the dumper acted when it shutdown.  I went back down the elevator to the electric shop where I grabbed the key to the pickup truck and my tool bucket and left the electric shop into the cool night air.

Power Plants at night take on magical properties.  It’s hard to explain.  Lights shining from the 25 story boilers, noises from steam pipes.  Hums from motors and transformers.  Night Hawks screeching.

When I arrived at the coalyard, I went straight into the Dumper Switchgear where the relays that controlled the dumper were mounted.  Having worked on the dumper for the past 17 years, I could troubleshoot the circuits in my sleep.  — Actually, I may have done just that.  It didn’t take long, and I had replaced a contact on a relay that had broken and had the Coalyard Operator test the dumper long enough to know it was going to work.

When I returned back to Control Room Jim was sitting in the Shift Supervisor’s office.  I walked in and showed him the small relay contact that had caused the failure.  Jim, looked at me and said something that I thought only a friend would say so casually.  I won’t use his exact words, though I remember not only the exact words, I remember his exact expression.  He indicated to me that he had passed some gas, and he was apologizing about it.  I replied, “Well.  That happens.” (No.  Not the other thing that happens).  I told him I was going to go home.  It was about 3:40 by that time.

Jim wished me a good night, and smiling with gratitude, thanked me again for coming  out.  As I was going back to the parking lot, and on the way home driving through the dark, tired from being woken up in the middle of the night, I had a great feeling of peace.  That brief conversation with Jim just before I left was so pleasant in an odd way that I knew we had become friends.  This was such a long way from where we had been 10 years earlier when Jim had literally wanted to kill me (well, not that he actually would…).

When I arrived home, I peeled my clothes off in the utility room to keep from tracking coal all over the house.  I set the small broken relay contact on the kitchen table as a token to my wife, so she could see why I was called out when she wakes up in the morning.  I climbed back into bed around 4:15 to sleep for another two hours.

That morning when I arrived at the plant, the first thing I learned was that about the time that my alarm had woken me up that morning, Jim Padgett had left his shift and driven to his home in Ponca City.  When he walked in the door to his house, he collapsed and died instantly of a heart attack.  That would have been about 3 hours after the moment that we had said goodbye.

 

Jim Padgett is on the far left along with his crew of True Power Plant Men

Jim Padgett is on the far left along with his crew of True Power Plant Men

I grieved for Jim’s wife Jane, who had worked for a while at the plant before marrying Jim, but I didn’t grieve for Jim.  Something told me, and maybe it was Jim, that he was at peace.  In the moment that I heard about Jim’s death, I burned the conversation we had just had that morning into my mind so that I would never forget it.

To this day whenever I know that someone is upset with me for something that I have done to them personally (which still happens occasionally), I am determined that they will become one of my best friends.  I will do anything for that person if they ask (unless, of course it is to “not be their friend”).  I have my childhood friend Mark Schlemper to thank for the attitude that helped me decide to reach out to Jim Padgett.  Without that experience while growing up, Jim and I would never have become friends.

I would like to leave you with a song that reminds me of Jim whenever I hear it.  It is called “Bright Eyes” from the movie “Watership Down”. Art Garfunkel sings it:

Note:  If you are not able to watch the video above, try clicking this link:  Bright Eyes, Art Garfunkel

 

Comments from the original post:

  1. Dan Antion April 26, 2014

    I’m glad that you were able to work through a tough situation and reach the point of friendship. although, it does make the loss harder to accept.

  2. Jack Curtis May 6, 2014

    Your story would have been a matter of course for my grandparents and immediately understood and admired by my parents. I suspect that telling it to today’s children might draw blank stares …

    Midwestern values likely still include such behaviors, at least for a reasonable number of people. I doubt many folk on the coasts would identify with it. We have lost a lot and have yet to learn the price of that, seems to me.

Power Plant “We’ve Got The Power” Stress Buster

Originally posted April 12, 2014:

In an earlier post titled “Power Plant We’ve Got the Power Program” I explained how in 1990 we broke up into teams at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma to find ways to save the Electric Company money.  Before we were actually able to turn in our first set of ideas, we had a month or more to prepare those ideas and to turn them into proposals.  During this time, and throughout the entire “We’ve Got the Power” program, teams who wanted to succeed and outdo the other teams became very secretive.  Our team was definitely that way.  We had secret experiments going on throughout the plant, and we didn’t want other teams to even know what areas we were investigating.

As the program progressed, a certain level of stress developed between teams.  In a later post I will tell a story about how this level of stress led to a situation of suspicion and eventually even animosity.  This  post will not go into that situation.  Instead I want to explain what our team did to try to alleviate some of the stress by devising a special “Power Plant Joke” that we played on the rest of the Power Plant Men (and Women).

There were some teams that had setup some experiments that they were running to see if their ideas may save the company money.  Our team had several experiments running throughout the beginning months.  All of which we carefully hid from prying eyes.  We were proud of our stealthiness.  Sneaking around, making sure we weren’t being followed when we went to take readings from our carefully hidden recorders and other devices.

Charles Foster, Scott Hubbard and I were sitting in the electric shop office discussing the stress level that had permeated the plant, and we thought we could take advantage of the stress by setting up a “We’ve Got The Power” Experiment out in the open that would be obvious to anyone that walked by.  Only it would be a fake experiment designed to play a joke on the unsuspecting Power Plant Man.

Here is what we did….

Right outside the electric shop in the Turbine Generator basement there is a water fountain.  We placed a hazard waste barrel a few feet away from the water fountain.  Like this:

Hazardous Waste Barrel

Hazardous Waste Barrel

Then we mounted a junction box on the wall a few feet above the chemical waste barrel and a little to the right.

A junction box like this

A junction box like this

We turned the junction box so that the hinge was on the top, allowing the door to fall closed naturally.  This was an important part of the setup to allow for the joke to automatically reset each time it was operated.

We ran some copper tubing from the water fountain water line over to the box.  Then another copper line came out the bottom of the box and into the barrel.  Next to that copper tube, another smaller copper tube came out and just bent toward the front of the box.  We had a plastic hose coming out of the barrel and over to the drain next to the water fountain.  Then we put Yellow Barrier Tape around the entire setup.

Barrier Tape

Barrier Tape

 

We tied Caution tags to the Barrier tape that said “We’ve Got the Power Experiment” Do not enter!  I signed the tags.

Caution Tags like this

Caution Tags like this

There was an electric conduit running up from the junction box, that went up and into the wall about 6 feet above the junction box.  So, this looked like a legitimate experiment going on, but for the life of anyone, no one would be able to tell what it was doing.  — Mainly because it wasn’t doing anything….. At least not until someone went to investigate it.

So.  Here is what would happen….

Employees would walk by and see the barrier tape with the hazardous waste barrel and the hoses and water lines coming from the back of the water fountain, with a junction box above it that was not completely closed.  The door to the junction box was down, but not screwed closed.  Conduit was going into the box, which meant that something electrical was probably inside  Maybe a solenoid or something that was controlling the experiment.

They would read the Caution Tag that explained that this was a “We’ve Got the Power” experiment, and it would pique (pronounced “peak”) their curiosity enough that they couldn’t help but investigate it to see what was really going on.

So, what would invariably happen, was that someone would enter the area that was barrier taped off, and open the junction box to see what was inside.  When they lifted the lid, they would find that they were instantly being soaked with water that would spray out of a small copper line pointing right at them directly under the junction box.  At the same time, an alarm would go off above them behind the wall right above the electric shop office.  It was very loud.  A counter inside the junction box would register an “intruder’ had just opened the box.

So, as we would be sitting there during lunch, we would suddenly hear the alarm go off, and we could dart out the door to the Turbine Generator basement to find a drenched Power Plant Man.  They were usually amused that they had fallen into the trap.  I say usually, because I have the feeling that one particular person who found himself violating the barrier tape and getting soaked didn’t act too cordial about it.  I’ll get to him later.

As I said, inside the box was a counter.  It counted how many times the box had been opened and sprayed someone with water.  So, we could go inspect it in the morning and we would know if anyone had looked at it while we were gone.

After the experiment had been there about a week, an overhaul began where Power Plant Men from different plants came to our plant to perform the overhaul.  The plant would shut off one of the units and we would take it apart, and put it back together again fixing problems along the way (well.  maybe not quite that drastic.  It was a time to fix things that couldn’t be maintained or repaired while the unit was running).

So, the Power Plant Men at our plant, who by that time all knew about the bogus experiment just outside the electric shop, would bring unsuspecting Power Plant Men from other plants over to the see the “We’ve Got the Power” experiment going on in the hopes of seeing them get sprayed with water.  So, a new round of alarms were going off during that time.

Eventually, when people had heard about the experiment, and knew that it was spraying people, they would approach the experiment with caution.  When they opened the lid of the junction box, they would stand next to it against the wall in order to not get wet.  The spray pattern from the crimped copper line was fairly wide, so you would have to stand practically against the wall next to the box in order to stay dry.

So, this was when we implemented Phase 2 of the experiment.  — Yeah.  It’s the second phase of many Power Plant Jokes that usually make the joke a much bigger success than the first phase.  For instance, I have written a post about the “Psychological Profile of a Control Room Operator” in which I had played a joke on Gene Day, where after a week of preparing him for the final joke, I had coaxed him to look over my shoulder, only to have him read that according to his psychological profile, he was the type of person that would look over your shoulder and read your private material.

That would be a good joke in itself, but when Gene Day read that and began choking the life out of me, I pointed out to him the final statement in Gene Day’s profile which stated that he tends to choke people who try to help him by creating Psychological profiles of him.  This second part of the joke is what really completes the joke and makes it a real success.  The first part just makes it funny.

So, here is how we modified the experiment for Phase 2….  The nozzle that sprayed the employee actually came out the bottom of the box and elbowed to point toward the front of the box.  So, what we did was we took a file and filed a tiny notch in the side of the copper tubing just below the junction box just above the elbow.  The notch was on the side of the copper tube, and it was deep enough of a notch to make a little hole in the side of the copper line.

So, then, if someone was standing to the only side they could stand next to the box and the barrel and they opened up the lid of the Junction Box to show someone how the experiment worked, they wouldn’t notice right away, but a small stream of  water would be spraying on their pants in just the appropriate location to make it look like the person had just pee’ed their pants.

Right when we had finished modifying the experiment for Phase 2, Howard Chumbley walked into the electric shop.  He was a retired Electric Foreman, that I have written about in the post “Pioneers of Power Plant Fame Finally Find Peace“.  He had come to visit the plant that day because there was going to be a Men’s Club lunch and he wanted to come and see some other old codgers that he used to work with that liked to attend the Men’s Club dinners.  He always wanted to see us of course as well.

So, we told him about the “We’ve Got The Power” Joke Experiment just outside the electric shop that sprayed water on people.  Of course, he wanted to see it, so we took him out and let him observe it.  We explained that when you open the lid, an alarm goes off, the counter toggles and water sprays out of that little nozzle sticking out at the bottom.  We told him he could try it if he wanted to see how it worked.

So,  he climbed under the barrier tape and walked around the side of the junction box that didn’t have the barrel, and reached over and lifted the lid.  The alarm when off, water sprayed out, and Howard laughed with glee to see how we had devised such a nice trick.  After watching the water spray for about 3 or 4 seconds, he suddenly realized that something was wrong.  He dropped the lid and looked down, only to find that it looked like he had just pee’ed his pants.

That was it!  That was icing on the cake.  Howard laughed even more when he realized what had happened.

The next morning when we came in the shop, we went to look at the experiment, it had been disassembled, or shutdown in some manner.  I think some caution tag had been placed there by Gary Wright, the Shift Supervisor stating something like this was a safety hazard, or some such thing.

Gene Day is the one standing on the right with the Orange shirt.

Gary Wright is the one down in the front with the glasses.  He had more hair in this photograph than I remember

Anyway, when I went up to the Control Room to ask him why he shutdown our experiment he was adamant that it constituted Horseplay and someone could get hurt.  Maybe when the water sprayed on them, they might jerk back and fall down and get hurt.  Ok….

I suppose.  Though, by the time he took it down, everyone at the plant already knew about it, and we were just in the Phase 2 part of the experiment.  In this phase anyone who was looking at the experiment was doing it by opening up the door from the side, and peeing their pants and they wouldn’t jerk back……—- Oh….. I see….  Shift Supervisors don’t usually like to walk into the control room looking like they have just pee’ed their pants.

I will say that I hadn’t expected that type of reaction from Gary Wright, because up to that time, he seemed more mild-mannered than the rest of the Shift Supervisors.  We just took it that the more upset Gary was with us about it, the more successful the joke had been implemented.  The joke had played out by that time, and we were good with it either way.

After it was all said and done.  We thought it did help to reduce the overall tension that was permeating the plant due to the “We’ve Got the Power Program”.

Power Plant “We’ve Got the Power” Program

Originally posted March 14, 2014:

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

"We've Got the Power" Igloo Lunch Box

“We’ve Got the Power” Igloo Lunch Box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terry Blevins

Terry Blevins

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

Jody Morse

Jody Morse

Darlene Mitchell

Darlene Mitchell

My Dear Friend Richard Dale

Richard Dale many years later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linda Shiever

Linda Shiever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments from the Orignal Post:

  1. Ron March 15, 2014

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

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

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

    1. Plant Electrician March 15, 2014

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

  2. Morguie March 17, 2014

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

  3. Jonathan Caswell March 17, 2014

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

  4. Tim March 18, 2014

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

Doing Dew Point Tests and Lowering Expectations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

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

The Exact Graham Condenser used in our experiment Spring 1990

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terry Blevins

Terry Blevins

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

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

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

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

Diagram of a boiler

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

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

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

Making Friends from Foes – A Tale of Power Plant Woes

Later in life, thinking back to when I was young, I sometimes wonder at how my first real friend, Mark Schlemper remained my friend throughout my childhood.  I remember as a boy, there were times when I wasn’t the friendliest friend.  Sometimes I was downright selfish.  Mark, on the other hand, was always considerate.  Not in an Eddie Haskell way, but in a sincere way.  I learned a lot about being a kinder person from Mark, and I’m forever grateful.

Mark Schlemper with his Mother.  Two very good people.

My favorite picture of Mark Schlemper with his Mother

I think if Mark had not been my friend during my childhood, then this story would have a very different ending.

Last Friday (April 18, 2014), I posted a story called “Vertan or Sand and Making Enemies of a Power Plant Man“.  At the end of that post I explained that I had become the enemy of a team leader during the “We’ve Got The Power” program.  I explained this program in the post:  “Power Plant ‘We’ve Got The Power’ Program“.  With all that said, here is the story:

I was a plant electrician at a coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma when we took part in the “We’ve Got The Power” program.  At the time, I was in charge of maintaining the Unit 1 precipitator.  The precipitator is what takes the ash out of the exhaust from the boiler, so that you don’t normally see smoke coming out of a Power Plant Smokestack.

My bucket buddy in the Electric Shop, Diana Brien was on a team that tried an experiment on the Unit 1 precipitator by injecting sand into the intake duct in the hope that it would increase the performance.  I didn’t put much faith in the experiment, because it was based on something that had happened almost a year earlier when sand was burned in the boiler in order to burn off the oil that had been soaked into the sand.

I hadn’t seen any sand build up in front of the precipitator during the next overhaul, and didn’t believe that any of it had been able to make it’s way through the economizer and the air preheaters to the precipitator.

Diagram of a boiler

Diagram of a boiler.  The precipitator is after the air preheater where it is labelled “Flue gas”

When Ron Kilman asked me about it, I said that I didn’t think it would do any good, but also, it wouldn’t do any harm either, so I told Ron that I couldn’t see any reason not to do the experiment.  Who knows.  Maybe something unexpected would happen.  — Something did, but not quite in the way anyone would have expected.

On the day of the experiment, sand was blown into the intake duct of the precipitator.  When the experiment was taking place, Diana Brien sat at the precipitator computer behind the Unit 1 Alarm Panel in the Control Room.  She was printing out readings every so many minutes as the experiment progressed.

At times, I walked by and checked on her to see how it was going.  One time when I was standing there watching the readings on the computer, all of the sudden the Opacity shot up.  Opacity is used to measure how much smoke is going out of the smoke stack.  Something definitely happened to cause a large puff of smoke.

I switched screens to look at the power on each of the control cabinets.  After a few seconds I found that cabinet 1G10 had zero Volts on the secondary side of the transformer.  It should have been somewhere above 40 Kilovolts.  The cabinet hadn’t tripped, but it wasn’t charging up the plates.  Cabinet 1G10 was in the very back row of the precipitator, and when the power shuts off on the cabinet it readily lets go of the ash that had built up on it when the rappers on the roof strike the plates.

When I saw the puff occur, I knew where to go look, because this happened whenever one of the back cabinets was turned off.  I told Dee that it looked like a fuse had blown on the cabinet.  The ash was going to continue billowing out of the precipitator for a couple of hours if I didn’t go do something about it.  So, I told Dee that I was going to go to the Precipitator Control Room and replace the fuse.

I passed through the electric shop to grab my tool bucket and headed out to the precipitator.  When I arrived, I found the cabinet just as it had indicated on the computer.  The fuse had obviously failed.  Interesting timing.  Coincidence?  I thought it was.  The fuses controlling the back cabinets were usually the ones that blew because we ran them at a much higher voltage than the rest of the cabinets (at the time).

This is a picture of the exact fuse I replaced, except the writing was pink instead of blue

This is a picture of the exact fuse I replaced, except the print was orange instead of blue

I quickly replaced the fuse (after attaching grounding cables to the leads, and using a pair of high voltage gloves).  Then I powered the cabinet back on.

 

High Voltage gloves like this

High Voltage gloves like this

I returned to the Control Room and told Dee that I replaced the fuse on cabinet 1G10.  The opacity had returned to normal.  I watched a few more minutes to make sure everything had stabilized, and then I left.

When Ron Kilman was evaluating the results of the experiment, he could plainly see that something strange had happened.  Smoke had been pouring out of the smoke stack in the middle of the experiment.  So, he asked me what I thought about it.

First of all, as a disclaimer, our team had our own experiments we had been conducting on the precipitator in hopes of coming up with money savings ideas.  So, when I told Ron what had happened with the fuse blowing, I wondered if he would trust me to tell the truth, since I had my own skin in the game.

I explained in detail to Ron how the fuse had blown and that I was standing next to Dee watching the computer when the smoke started blowing out of the stack.  I could tell that a fuse had blown by looking at the readings, so I went out and replaced the fuse.  I told him that fuses do blow periodically in the back of the precipitator, but I couldn’t explain why it happened to fail at that particular time.  After I gave him my explanation, he seemed satisfied that I was telling the truth.

I think a token amount of points were awarded to the team because something obviously had happened during the experiment, though it wasn’t clear that sand had anything to do with it.  On the other hand, our team was awarded a large amount of points for increasing the precipitator performance using a different method that I may bring up in a later post.  To the team that burned the sand, this looked a lot like foul play.

The leader of the team was the Shift Supervisor Jim Padgett.  He became very upset when he found out that I had gone to the precipitator control room during the experiment and worked on the equipment.  Our team had been awarded a lot of points that was enough to purchase the dining room table set that I have in my dining room today:

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

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

It became known throughout the control room and the electric shop that Jim Padgett viewed me as his enemy.  The other electricians would jokingly refer to Jim as my “friend”, knowing that Jim had basically declared “war” on me.  Any time someone in the shop would have something to say about Jim, they would say, “Kevin’s friend” Jim Padgett….”

When I first became aware that Jim was upset with me, I understood why.  If I had been in his shoes I would probably feel the same way.  It’s a rotten feeling when you believe that someone has cheated you out of something important.  So, I decided up front that I was going to become Jim’s best friend.  This is where I think my memory of Mark Schlemper with his patience for me as a boy helped me with this decision.

I had determined that any time Jim asked me to do something I wouldn’t hesitate to help him.  It took about a year before Jim could look at me without grimacing.  Finally, one day, he asked me if I would go look at something for him to see if we needed a clearance, or if it was something that could be fixed right away.  It was something minor, but I knew that this was an indicator that the ice was finally beginning to melt.  I was able to fix the problem on the spot, and returned to let him know.

Once we were on semi-speaking terms again, I took an opportunity one day to ask Jim if he would like to join our Computer Club.  I had started a Computer Club in the Electric Shop.  Anyone could join it for a one time fee of $5.00 that was used to buy shareware and disk cases.  For a while I also published a newsletter letting the members of the club know what games and such we had that could be checked out.

Once Jim Padgett joined the Computer Club, it was much easier to have a regular conversation outside of the normal daily business.  I had put the thought in my mind when I decided that Jim was going to become my best friend that nothing would make me happier than to be able to do something for Jim.  That way, no matter what I was doing at the time, if Jim asked me to do something for him, I would drop whatever I was doing and do my best to help.

I could go on and on explaining how gradually over time, not only was Jim my friend, but Jim acted more and more as if I was his friend as well.  Let me just say that the entire process took almost exactly ten years.  I can remember the exact moment when Jim indicated to me that I had become his friend.

Here is what happened:

The phone next to my bed rang at 2:15 in the morning on Thursday February 17, 2000.  I instantly knew what it meant when the phone rang in the middle of the night.  It meant that someone at the plant was calling because there was a problem.  Who else would be up on in the middle of the night?  The night shift of course.

When I answered the phone, Jim Padgett said, “I hate to wake you up buddy.”  I replied, “No.  That’s okay.  What’s up?”  Jim explained that the dumper was down and a train was about halfway through dumping the coal and everything was dead in the water.  I said, “Ok.  I’ll be right out.”

I turned to Kelly and told her that I had to go fix the dumper.  She already knew of course.  I pulled on a pair of jeans, a flannel shirt, and on the way out the door, I slipped on my work boots and laced them up.  Then I drove the 30 miles out to the plant.

It was just before 3:00 am when I arrived.  I grabbed my hardhat from the electric shop and took the elevator up to the Control Room.  Jim apologized again and told me that how the dumper acted when it shutdown.  I went back down the elevator to the electric shop where I grabbed the key to the pickup truck and my tool bucket and left the electric shop into the cool night air.  Power Plants at night take on magical properties.  It’s hard to explain.

When I arrived at the coalyard, I went straight into the Dumper Switchgear where the relays that controlled the dumper were mounted.  Having worked on the dumper for the past 17 years, I could troubleshoot the circuits in my sleep.  — Actually, I may have done just that.  It didn’t take long, and I had replaced a contact on a relay that had broken and had the Coalyard Operator test the dumper long enough to know it was going to work.

When I returned back to Control Room Jim was sitting in the Shift Supervisor’s office.  I walked in and showed him the small relay contact that had caused the failure.  Jim, looked at me and said something that I thought only a friend would say so casually.  I won’t use his exact words, though I remember not only the exact words, I remember his exact expression.  He indicated to me that he had passed some gas, and he was apologizing about it.  I replied, “Well.  That happens.” (No.  Not the other thing that happens).  I told him I was going to go home.  It was about 3:40 by that time.

Jim wished me a good night, and thanked me again for coming  out.  As I was going back to the parking lot, and on the way home driving through the dark, tired from being woken up in the middle of the night, I had a great feeling of peace.  That brief conversation with Jim just before I left was so pleasant in an odd way that I knew we had become friends.  This was such a long way from where we had been 10 years earlier when Jim had literally wanted to kill me (well, not that he actually would…).

When I arrived home, I peeled my clothes off in the utility room to keep from tracking coal all over the house.  I set the small broken relay contact on the kitchen table as a token to my wife, so she could see why I was called out when she wakes up in the morning.  I climbed back into bed around 4:15 to sleep for another two hours.

That morning when I arrived at the plant, the first thing I learned was that about the time that my alarm had woken me up that morning, Jim Padgett had left his shift and driven to his home in Ponca City.  When he walked in the door to his house, he collapsed and died instantly of a heart attack.  That would have been about 3 hours after the moment that we had said goodbye.

 

Jim Padgett is on the far left along with his crew of True Power Plant Men

Jim Padgett is on the far left along with his crew of True Power Plant Men

I grieved for Jim’s wife Jane, who had worked for a while at the plant before marrying Jim, but I didn’t grieve for Jim.  Something told me, and maybe it was Jim, that he was at peace.  In the moment that I heard about Jim’s death, I burned the conversation we had just had into my mind so that I would never forget it.

To this day whenever I know that someone is upset with me for something that I have done to them personally, I am determined that they will become one of my best friends.  I will do anything for that person if they ask (unless, of course it is to “not be their friend”).  I have my childhood friend Mark Schlemper to thank for the attitude that helped me decide to reach out to Jim Padgett.  Without that experience while growing up, Jim and I would never have become friends.

I would like to leave you with a song that reminds me of Jim whenever I hear it.  It is called “Bright Eyes” from the movie “Watership Down”. Art Garfunkel sings it:

Note:  If you are not able to watch the video above, try clicking this link:  Bright Eyes, Art Garfunkel