Where There’s Fire; There’s Smoke

This past week’s terrible weather issues in Texas have stirred up some memories of one of the power industry’s more “colorful characters.” The former Texas-based Enron Corporation ranks at the very top in this notorious category.

Years ago, before I became a full-time employee at my present power plant, I worked as a contractor that would go plant to plant, completing service at the facility.

One Monday morning, as I approached the maintenance building for the first time working at this particular plant; which had just recently been sold by Enron to a British company. I noticed this massive stainless steel box-covered trailer as pictured here. I had no idea what it was. Meeting my plant contact, I asked him what it was. He said it was a “smoker.” I said what’s a smoker? He looked at me not only wondering how I didn’t know what a smoker was but also questioning his judgment to hire me to begin with. If by chance, anyone reading this is lost, a smoker is a barbeque grill of various sizes. Wood is burned to create smoke and infuse it into whatever is being barbequed; meat, vegetables, Cheerios, (beer???), I don’t know.

Now at this point some of you may be thinking; “Zulu, you’re an idiot. How could you not know what a smoker is? Others like me may be thinking; “Whoa, whoa……..isn’t such a process carcinogenic?” The last section of you may be thinking; “that sounds awesome!/Zulu you’re an idiot, and it’s no wonder you never get invited to barbeques!”

Several months later, I was hired as a permanent employee at this plant. The first day I walked up to the maintenance shop, I noticed the smoker was gone (what the hell do you mean you don’t know what a smoker is????). I asked the other technician what happened. He said “don’t ask,” and that was the end of that; until 5 years later when I heard an incredible story, and the fact that it turned out to be true was an added bonus!

So let’s ramp this story up! At power plants, there is an evolution in initial construction called “First Fire.” At this particular plant, there was a Gas Turbine; basically a large jet engine. For First Fire, natural gas is put into the machine and ignited for a very brief time; just long enough to see the machine “light off,” show ignition, and test the protection shut down safety control measures. It’s a major milestone of the construction process. There is usually a celebration lunch. “Finally Zulu!!! Let’s get this story moving!”

OK, OK. Here’s what happened next. Enron, being a “big Texas player” in the power industry, decides to build a plant in Massachusetts. They also decided to buy the plant personnel a Smoker (don’t start). The Turbine and the new Smoker will each have their own First Fire together. The day before the monumental event, “Texan number 1” comes to talk to the local guys about the setup for First Fire on the Smoker. He asks “Where all yall got the wood; translation- where is the wood for the smoker? “Mass Guy 1 points at the stack of wood ready to go. “Texan number 1” flies into a full-on personal nuclear melt-down! “My GAWD!!! My GAWD!!! You put the Ca-bosh on the whole %$#@*&^ THING! You ain’t got no wood! You ain’t got no wood!!!!! “There’s a whole pile of it right there,” says the Mass guy. “That ain’t wood! You need Mesquite wood! You damn Yankee’s don’t know a damn thing!!!!! Try’in to wreck everything!”

Let’s switch writing formats and waltz this one out. Here’s what happened next.

  • Texan Guy storms off and calls the Senior Vice President at the Corporate HQ in Houston with all of his 6-part meltdown hysteria.
  • Houston HQ decides there is a travesty of epic proportions going on up in New England and springs into action.
  • HQ picks up the emergency “E-phone” and the call goes out near and wide for the immediate procurement of Mesquite wood.
  • Enron having not run the company completely into the ground at this time, assembles the wood IN TEXAS, and loads it on the Enron Corporate Jet!!!!!
  • Meanwhile, back at the plant, an Electrical Contractor and two of his men are recruited. They jump into a truck and drive to Boston.
  • The Jet flies from Houston to Boston Logan International Airport; 45 miles from the plant.
  • The Contractor drives up to a special gate (in the times before 9/11). Before they even get to the gate, it opens. A man instructs the truck to follow him out on the tarmac. They do and back the truck up to the stairs on the plane. Two men on the plane unload the wood from the jet onto the truck.
  • The truck rolls out and the jet rolls away.

The next day, the Gas Turbine is lit off, the Smoker smokes, and all is right again in the world. All it took was a little friendly communication, some love for food, a corporate jet, and one whacky, morally, and now financially bankrupt company to pull it off.




7 thoughts on “Where There’s Fire; There’s Smoke

  1. I didn’t know what a smoker was either (or a dumpster -it’s a skip!, parked next to the smoker). Never heard the story about the mesquite but I did get rid of both the smoker and the pile of mesquite in the warehouse after being told the team didn’t want it kept. Don’t think it was ever lit again after the Texans went home. Do you remember the two lists on the wall outside Carol’s office headed – If he says this he means this. One day I asked for a torch in the workshop and was was handed an oxy acetylene burner, all I wanted was a flash light!

    Happy days

    Liked by 1 person

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