Three hours left of a string of three night shifts. It had been a very long and uneventful night. What we called in the Navy, “Like sailing between the islands of boredom and tedium.” We could hear the rumble of the fire in the boilers and the whine of the turbines-- generating 220 megawatts of electricity-- white noise-- a siren of sleep. Three more hours and we would make it out alive.
Jim and I were in our regular quiet little discussion about creationism and evolution with me losing to Christianity. No matter how much I told him of the geological evidence, I could not dissuade his deeply held beliefs in a 6,000-year-old earth. God bless America.
The discussion had moved to the division between church and state. I was about ready to quote--as best I could--from a Jefferson letter to those Baptist fellows. Tony’s eyes had been closed for three minutes. Joe had not stopped talking--Frank was still listening. God bless his soul.
An alarm went off. AAALLLRRR AAALLLRRR AAALLLRRR AAALLLRRR AAALLLRRR AAALLLRRR
Tony’s eyes opened up like a roller blind in a Saturday morning cartoon show and in his Alabama way of saying things, “That’s not very good.”
“What is it?”
“Lost flow on B Feeder.”
“We‘re on our way, boss.”
“So put some fire to it, boys. Jim, we can’t lose more than three megawatts.”
Tony took the fire by the hand and added fuel. “Got all the igniters in, boss.”
“You boys know what you’re doing –I’m going out to the feeder. “
“Remember, no more than three.”
Out at the feeder, the PSO’s-- these Prometheus men-- had an air lance in the feeder’s throat. They were in a shower of coal, the black rain filling their ears and shirt pockets. I had to yell above the staccato rapping of the coal pipe vibrators.
“What we got going? “
“Wet coal.” Frank put a ball of coal in my hand for inspection.
Wet coal. Operating a power plant is hard work-- it’s harder when it rains.
Joe, looking into the feeder, “We got coal back!”
“Let the control room know.”
“Aye, aye. “
Back in the control room, boiler pressure was going up and the drum level was dropping. Tony already had the boiler master backed down and was pulling out fuel. Jim had taught him well. In three minutes he had the boiler back in auto.
“How many megawatts did we lose?”
“Brian! We did not lose a single one-- maybe 300 kilowatts-- if that.”
“Yeah, inertia and some damn good are firing.”
Two hours and 45 minutes left of three long and uneventful night shifts. The sleep we wished for so devoutly will not come so easily now.