Fun and Family
Working at ASA was hard work, but there was always time for a little fun. Every employee’s birthday was celebrated. Employee’s marriages and births of children were always celebrated. Before a male got married there was a ritual. The female employees would tell them they needed their office furniture rearranged. Once it was moved around a couple of times, then they had them put it back just like it was to begin with and thanked them for moving it. They would look perplexed and the girls would say welcome to being married. This was a well kept secret, so new employees had no idea what would happen, if they decided to get married. The birth of a child was a very special event. Children were always celebrated, not only at birth, but throughout their childhood and all the way through college. Academics were stressed, and at last count, we had 10 children who participated and held titles in academic competitions. No need to say, ASA children always had the winning science project, and the project was not done for them. They just had really good teachers and supervision.
Every summer ASA sponsored a picnic or trip to an amusement park for the employees and their families. This event was looked forward to all year long.
Christmas parties at ASA were not your typical office Christmas party. The last day of work before Christmas, all the doors were locked and we were only open for emergency work. The day was filled with games and food. The annual rook tournament, with a coveted trophy, was the highlight of the day. If you had a driver, you were allowed to drink some of Ama’s famous hooch, which had been fermenting in the sample cooler for a couple of weeks. Trivia games and scavenger hunts were played for gifts. ASA’s Christmas Star was the talk of the community. Ama had mentioned she would like to have a big star to put in the front yard. One night several of the guys built a 16 foot high lighted star and it was in the front yard when she came to work the next morning. Since she normally came to work around 5am, it was still dark and when she came down the mountain and say that 16’ high star all lite up, it was amazing. Greatest gift she ever received. In years to come the star grew and was eventually 24+ feet high. The story was on the front of a local paper.
Ama was terrified of mice. Regrettably no matter what we did, occasionally we would get a mouse. If a mouse was noticed, it was a well kept secret. Employees would try to get rid of it before she discovered it, because if she knew, there would be major mouse hunts until the varmint was found and killed. Now everybody knew Ama kept a bebe gun to shoot at crows that got in the dumpster. One day Ama spotted a mouse in her office. She screamed and ran out. Four of the girls run in the office, shut the door and began the hunt. They realized they had nothing to kill it with. One of the girls picked up the bebe gun. They cornered the mouse and she shot it with the bebe gun. It was hilarious. She became known as the big game hunter.
Shannon Chapman, the laboratory manager, was very soft spoken. One day she came out of the bathroom and just frantically stated in her soft voice, “Snake in the bathroom” She kept walking around and kept saying “Snake in the bathroom”. Most people would be screaming, but her mode of panic was hilarious. Just calming walking and walking saying “Snake in the bathroom” Yes there was a very small green snake in the bathroom. Ama, the person terrified of mice, but not afraid of snakes, went in and killed the snake. We finally got her to quit walking. Needless to say, the guys could not resist putting a fake snake in her desk. They got in real trouble.
Lyndon Johnson loved his truck. No one could drive it but him. One morning it was blocking another vehicle in the parking lot. One of the samplers, John Hall moved the truck, so he could get out. When it was time for Lyndon to leave, he went out and his truck was not there. He panicked. He came running in and told us to call the police, someone stole his truck. We all ran outside and sure enough Lyndon’s truck is gone. Then one of the guys walked out on the road and saw it, it had rolled over the hill and was hidden in the big ditch in front of the office. The sampler who moved the truck had left it out of gear. Lyndon ran over the hill and was jumping up and down and furious. He was a sight to see. Luckily the truck did not have a scratch on it, but needless to say, John never got in Lyndon’s truck again.
David Bryant was ex-military, retired postal worker, and very straight laced and soft spoken unless you made him angry. One day he was working in the attic and he made a misstep and stepped on the ceiling tiles over the lab. He fell through, all the way through and ending up in an upright position on a lab counter. Luckily all he hit was sample cups full of sewage. He never said a word, just stepped off the counter and acted like he was just passing through. Everyone started laughing, once they saw he was fine. He just looked at them and shook his head. In a few minutes, he came back with ceiling time and fixed the ceiling. Then he calmly said, I’m going home and getting this S- - t off me. The next day, he went to the attic and put up a bannister, so no one else would make the same mistake as him.
When Troy first asked me to contribute to the development of a history of Standard Laboratories I was both flattered and honored. In retrospect the years I spent at Standard were remarkable in terms of opportunity and experiences. When I tried to remember the events of my tenure I found that I could recall much more of the social interactions than the business achievements. Indeed the masks of Melpomene and Thalia seemed more in my mind's eye than deals closed or business goals achieved. What follows then are some of those memories.
To start, a disclaimer seems appropriate, and I can think of none better than the lyrics of a Jimmy Buffett song (after all Beth and I retired to the beach):
"It's a semi-true story
Believe it or not
I made up a few things
And there's some I forgot
But the life and the telling
Are both real to me
And they all run together
And turn out to be
A semi-true story"
My first visit to Standard consisted of a number of interviews and a tour. I remember being impressed by the cleanliness of the "coal lab." I found the rows of filter funnels with beakers pink with basic phenolphthalein familiar and the precipitate of barium sulphate to be determined gravimetrically from Eschka mixture ignition a process somewhat known to me. When I learned that the principal tests being performed were calorimetric heat of combustion and something called a "proximate analysis' (which consisted of weighing a portion of coal, cooking it and weighing the residue repeatedly) I was pretty sure I could be a part of the operation. I was gratified to start work for Israel in 1977.
Although there is no wish to dwell on the tragedies of those days the moments are an indelible part of my memories.
One of my earliest memories was of my father's death in October, 1983. Although I'd been with the company a few years I was quite touched and more than a little moved when you and Israel attended his funeral; I'm pretty sure neither of you had ever met my dad. Other deaths were truly tragic: Troy lost a son, Lee lost a wife and Israel lost a granddaughter in sad and unexpected circumstances.
There were other deaths and other personal tragedies as would be inevitable in the space of two dozen years. The numerous fires, including the most eventful for me personally being the Charleston Laboratory, are all chronicled by you in the "Portrait...History" of Standard Laboratories. Over the years I learned numerous life lessons-some humorous and some sad but many enduring.
An early lesson came from the kindness, compassion and wisdom of Gladys. Israel was furious with me over some supposed transgression and as was sometimes his want, he was yelling at me, insulting me and generally belittling me. It was more than I could take; I resisted the solutions of my youth and decided flight was better than fight. I took off upstairs only to encounter Gladys. As she was very perceptive, it didn't take much for her to stop me and inquire of my distress. After a brief explanation, she beckoned me into her office and had me lie down on the small bed therein. After I had a moment to gather myself she wisely advised me to watch Israel and learn from him and at the same time recognize that his arrogant behavior was "just who he was."
I took those words to heart and learned to respect Israel as someone who was always a man of his word. What a refreshing way to conduct business! I also began to notice that he generally arrived to work between 8:20 and 8:40 each day except on Monday. He came in each Monday a few minutes before our 8:00 o'clock starting time, picked out one of his more senior employees and read them the riot act over something or the other. This was his way of jump starting the week; not the most admirable technique but quite effective. Lesson learned; learn from Israel and ignore his peccadilloes.
As with many times throughout my tenure at Standard I was given the opportunity to take on an assignment or task without a mentor or associate with little but my own acumen as an individual contributor. Numerous lessons were learned during the Coalscan years. In the early days of the Coalscan endeavor I was often left to my own devices prior to having a sales staff of my own. During that time, I had many first time ever encounters. Although I never quite found the closing of a particular deal to be the ultimate goal and exhilaration reported by many successful sales people, I would be remiss to not admit a great sense of satisfaction when it occurred. This event let me feel the opposite!
In this case, I had negotiated the sale of a Coalscan 3500 to Falkirk mining in North Dakota. Falkirk provides the lignite fuel for the Coal Creek Station of Great River Energy which is adjacent to the mine. Coal Creek is one of the largest lignite fired power plants in North America and all of Falkirk's production goes by belt line across the MSHA/OSHA interface (a term I learned while there that applied to the fence line between the properties of the two entities-each had a different primary regulator for coal handling). I was enthused about an opportunity to provide a Coalsan to interrogate lignite for two such major operations, help with quality control and even referee payment. The Coalscan was to set on the Falkirk side of the "interface" and provide both companies with the results.
I had a proposal that had been accepted and I set out to present the final details to both companies. I left Charleston one morning early and two planes and seven hours later arrived in Bismarck. It was cold and snowy as I set out by car to the north; normally about an hour's drive but due to conditions it took about two.
I still arrived on time, met the principals, made my presentation and answered questions. The goal of the application as I learned that day was to use the threat of a Coalscan as a way to improve the quality of the mining operation. There was never an intention to buy a Coalscan; I had been led down the proverbial primrose path. I thanked everyone, said my goodbyes and headed back to Bismarck for the night.
This part of North Dakota is even more remote than most (and that's saying something). After about fifteen minutes the snow turned to a white out blizzard. In my exhaustion and frustration I pulled over, pulled my coat around me and took a two hour nap while I waited for a snow plow to come by. When I started out south again I was about as down and depressed as I had ever been! I learned that day to contain my enthusiasm for the ups and downs of business!
I learned yet another lesson coincident with "Black Monday" (October 19, 1987). I had sold a Coalscan 3500 with the first U.S. capacitance moisture meter to one of the UP&L mines. We had already placed one analyzer and had presented results with Rob Webster at Coal Prep. Rob and I had a personal relationship as well as a professional one. We interfaced professionally over laboratory matters as well as on line analyzers, skied together, visited in each other's homes, white water rafted and generally spent time together when it coincided with business activities. We remain trusted friends.
Del Devins and I were to calibrate the new devices. By this time the calibration process for a 3500 was well understood and fairly routine. That Monday we were to begin the calibration of the thru-belt capacitance moisture meter. I was excited and pleased to be doing this and proud of the faith Rob had placed in me. By the time we heard that afternoon of how much money had evaporated, I also knew that a random number generator would provide as accurate a measurement of moisture as the device we were trying to calibrate.
After some time Coalscan made good on the cost of the device and relationships were mended. The lesson I learned was that it was naive to put faith in data that had not been peer reviewed. I took the performance I had been shown as representative; I'm not sure from whence it came but those devices simply did not work. I insisted on better proof going forward and never quite saw the scientists with whom I had worked in the same light thereafter.
Not all lessons learned during the Coalscan days were hard ones. One memorable one came about when I sold a 3500 to monitor the fuel quality of anthracite "culm." This part of Eastern Pennsylvania had numerous waste piles of the anthracite waste from the earlier mining years. This was a combination energy recovery project and environmental clean-up project. The "culm" was to feed a fluidized bed power station in Frackville, PA. I had a hand shake agreement with the engineer in charge of the project. As it turned out the entire project was being built by R.U.S.T. International from Birmingham, Alabama. Today this company has sales of $1.25 billion and has 23,000 employees. By the 1990's they had cleaned up 10,000 sites including Superfund and radioactive sites. I was to go to R.U. S.T. headquarters to get my purchase order signed.
In those days my proposals contained a General Terms and Conditions page that MPSI had basically copied from the Koppers days (MPSI was a spin off from Koppers). We at Standard had made many agreements with a letter and our onsite laboratory services contracts were fairly straightforward. The General Terms page was just a bit of boiler plate to me.
When the time for my meeting came I was introduced to a gentleman who was the purchasing manager for the entire project We went into his office and he graciously asked me to explain my proposal. When I was finished he very kindly and graciously explained to me how little of my General Terms and Conditions were acceptable to him and his company. He took me through each paragraph line by line and explained patiently to me Workman's Compensation, Liability Insurance, Indemnification, Warranties and every other paragraph. By the end of the day I knew more of these aspects of business than ever before. I consummated the deal after a few discussions with MPSI and learned a very valuable lesson about the conduct of big company business.
One last memory of the Coalscan years is of the scientists with whom I was privileged to work. It was gratifying to know I could hold my own with them intellectually and that they were as eccentric as I was at times. There were not very many PhD scientists with whom I had contact in the coal lab business and only a few in the environmental area, but the nature of the Coaslscans required radiochemists, nuclear physicists and numerous engineers and technicians.
Del Devins honored me by asking me to author some chapters in his upcoming textbook. I respectfully declined. Del subsequently had a mild heart attack from which he recovered. His diet was restricted and he had to give up steaks that he dearly loved. When I questioned this he replied, "I can live without them." True words those.
Geoff Gault was much fun. He was as social as any salesman and as intelligent and learned as any scientist that I had encountered. Most striking he could play golf in the mid 80's with a 3 iron, 7 iron, pitching wedge and putter. Quite remarkable that!
Ken Smith was the epitome of the absent minded professor. He worked closely with Jim Howarth and was a principal in MCI. For recreation he was an underwater spelunker. Cave diving? You can have it; it takes some concentration.
One morning he came to our offices for one last meeting before I was to take him to the airport. As we were preparing to depart he looked at me and said, "Mick, I had a camera around my neck when I checked out of the hotel. It doesn't appear to be there now does it?" Well, no Ken, not there! We recovered it from the cab company in time for him to catch his plane.
So much for tragedy and lessons learned the remainder of this commentary will be devoted to the fun memories and quirky times. Firstly though I will recount one last time of discomfort that is unforgettable. Troy and I were together in Canada. I think probably putting on one of our seminars. We were in Calgary and headed out to the Banff area to Sunshine Village to ski. I enjoyed our skiing times in Canada and Utah. When we arrived at Sunshine Village still in our business attire we learned of the Snowshoe-like upside down resort construction and the news that our luggage would be taken up to the lodge for us. What of us? We were to go up the mountain on a small, unheated gondola lift. The ride was probably less than fifteen minutes to the top, but the air temperature was sub-zero and the cars were not heated. I never wanted to hug Troy more than then before or since; I think we were both lucky to not be frost bitten. The next day was still exceedingly cold, but the above tree line skiing in the Canadian Rockies was spectacular.
There are many fond memories but I will relate only two more. They both are associated with manager's meetings held in West Virginia. I think they were both in the mid-nineties or thereabouts; one at Pipestem one at Snowshoe/Silver Creek.
The recreation at Pipestem was varied, but one major affair was floating on the New River. Knowing our history one might think such an adventure might be a little ill advised. Much earlier we floated a lower stretch in a raft that leaked air so much that we put Karen's husband Andy and my Beth out on a rock for "safety." What was I thinking?
This time we set out in a flotilla of rafts and rubber duckies in the upper WV section of the river. Sharon Blankenship stayed back but warned her husband Bill to not show his ass. Well, inadvertently, that's exactly what he did. We had severely underestimated the strength of the river especially at Brooks Falls; we had severely overestimated the boatmanship of some of our attendees who chose two man rubber canoes ("duckies"). A number of us in rafts made the exciting run without much drama; although there was a little swamping and being temporarily caught in a hydraulic. Those in the duckies were far less successful. Everyone was turned out and at least one person was turned several times in the hydraulic. When Bill surfaced he no longer had any trunks-boldly showing his ass unintentionally! Looking back we were lucky no one was hurt.
The other fun encounter was at Silver Creek on the last night of the festivities. We had called it a night around midnight. I was sound asleep when Snowshoe Security came to my door. After confirming my identity they told me they needed my help; they didn't want to disturb Troy they said. What was the problem I inquired? It seems a number of our attendees had set up a rather noisy drinking party in the far reaches of the parking lot and I was nominated to go with security to return folks to their appointed rooms.
When we reached the group I was greeted with "whoops and hollers" and an offer to have a beer. I'm unsure of my persona at the time but I tried to convince my closest associates to break up this soiree. The security guard accompanying me choose one of our men of small stature and tried to convince him it was in his best interest to return to the safety of the lodge because there "were bears in these woods."
Poor security guard; he had chosen Kelly Manor to warn. Now you may recall Kelly was a former rodeo rider and had suffered a fractured skull that had been repaired surgically with a steel plate. Kelly was not easily intimidated and he exclaimed, "Bears? You got them pussy Black Bears. Where we come from we drink with Grizzly Bears!" To say the least the security guard was speechless! Thereafter anything more would have been anticlimactic so everyone gathered themselves and their gear and headed back inside.
I could go on and on. There was the time I realized I wasn't going to be a good expert witness during the P & O Falcoal, Marc Rich debacle because I couldn't swear to anything as a sure thing. Another time I almost resorted to the days of my youth when fight preceded flee and Marv Davis got in my face one too many times. Tales of Chuck, Bill and Delano are best left untold.
These were truly heady times. I experienced so much and accomplished a great deal too. Thank Std Labs for the opportunity to contribute.
I can say my tenure here at Standard Labs has definitely been anything but boring. I have been afforded the opportunity to grow both personally, as well as professionally, and am greatly appreciative of all those opportunities. During these many years, I have worked with so many amazing people it would be impossible for me to list memories of them all. There are some stories I would love to be able to share but can’t as even changing the names of the not so innocent could certainly be problematic. Many, many went through my head but were quickly dismissed as embarrassing to someone, inappropriate, or possibly a violation of confidentiality. But I’ve managed to recall a few that can be communicated without recrimination or backlash.
…When I had first been with SL about 3 months, answering the phones, sorting and delivering mail to each office, I was called in to Troy’s office and laid off due to the lack of work resulting from a UMW strike at the time. Six weeks later, I was contacted to return to work, and invited to attend the company picnic just before my return. You would have thought the Queen of England was at that picnic! People were soooo happy to see me! However, this was not so much due to my magnetic personality as it was due to the fact that during my absence these many weeks, lab, accounting, and Standard Instrumentation personnel were required to man the main phone console to answer calls, take messages, and track down or page people for unanswered calls, etc. Everyone HATED that job, and were just happy I was coming back to take it over again.
…Every year, we have an accounting audit performed by our CPA’s to ensure our policies and procedures are being followed and all is flowing as it should be. Back in the early days, these audits took weeks to complete, and the auditors were in residence at our offices every day for weeks on end, and late into the evenings. On one of those long, grueling days, we did experience some levity however. One of the auditors had come into Ron’s office with questions that needed clarification. He was leaning against the doorway, and as he turned to leave his pants pocket caught on the door jamb and ripped half way down his leg. This was fairly early in the day, and he had many long hours of work ahead. So, we searched around, found a few safety pins, and he was able to pin his pants together enough so at least he wasn’t walking around flashing his boxers all day.
Gladys’ panty hose
…On one occasion it was my assignment to pick Gladys up from the airport, she lived in Lexington at that time, take her back to our offices to change and freshen up, then deliver her to a hotel downtown for a meeting. After we had left the office to go to the hotel she noticed a run in her pantyhose. Ever prepared, she whipped a spare pair from her bag, proceeded to yank up her skirt, wiggle out of the ruined pair, and into the new ones in less than the 10 minute drive to our destination, arriving looking no less than spectacular. She performed this feat with the skill and dexterity of a 20 year old fashion model…mind you, she was at least in her sixties at the time.
Micks tires and wheels
…One year during our annual Coal Testing Conference, Mick Samples decided to leave his vehicle in the office parking lot instead of at the airport. Safer, you know. Our parking lot was on the back side of our office building that was situated on a busy main thoroughfare thru Kanawha City at that time. The next morning when I pulled in to open up the office, there sat Mick’s SUV propped up on cinder blocks with all four tires and wheels missing! That morning was spent calling the police, and helping to facilitate Mick filing a report long distance.
There are many more stories, but I’ve taken up enough space for now. At any rate, I am thankful for all the memories I have of Standard Labs, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly!
I went to work for Core Laboratories on October 21, 1987 and was assigned to the Buckskin Mine. i was hired to travel between Buckskin Lab, Caballo Rojo Lab, and the Jacobs Ranch Lab.
When a permanent position presented itself at JR, I took it.
Ed Smith was the Western Division Manager at that time and Doug Kline was the Laboratory Manager. Doug decided to take another position and suggested to Ed that I be his replacement. Ed took Doug's suggestion and made me the manager. I think that was late summer of 1989.
In 1990, Standard Laboratories bought Core Laboratories.
In March of 1991 I took maternity leave. When I returned back to work, I went back at the Buckskin Mine,
I can't remember for sure when I was asked if I would go to manage the laboratory Standard Labs built at Wright, but I'm thinking 1999. I did accept that position and transferred to Wright. The reason the Wright Lab came to pass was to make the minesite laboratories in the area of Wright, to be 'quick' analysis laboratories, with the Wright Lab running the ASTM's. I think the that staff was around 18 to 20 people, quite a different atmosphere from managing 4 people. Unfortunately, the Wright Lab was not a success and it was closed in 2000.
After the Wright Lab closed and all the inventory was taken care of, I went back to the Buckskin Lab.
Kiewit Mining Group took over the Buckskin Mine in 2004. With that change in the guard came lots of changes.
The Encoal Project, had operated on the Buckskin Mine site. This was a government subsidized program to reduce the moisture content and enhance the BTU value of the coal. I don't recall when this project started, but I coordinated analyzing and reporting results with Encoal personnel, on both products that the coal enhancement process produced. Buckskin Lab analyzed the PDF, (processed derived fuel), and Encoal Lab was used to analyze the CDL, (coal derived liquid). .
Unfortunately, this project was not successful, and was shut down.
With the mining industry forecasting an increase in coal demand, in late summer of 2006, the Buckskin Lab moved it's on site location to the previous Encoal facility.
That move brought duplicate equipment for nearly every instrument with the exception of the sulfur analyzer and the AA.
The staff of 4 techs went to, I think 12? I'm thinking at the highest production year, Buckskin shipped like 24 million tons.
Then the bottom started falling out and staff at one time went down to 3 people for 3 shifts like in 2015?
When coal came back, we went back to 4 techs and things evened out.
I think I have a mental block from PTSD on when the ISO procedures entered my life...maybe
2016? :-) :-) hahahaha I did manage to get procedures in order, approved and trained. The Lab was ISO 17025 certified in 2018? and successfully passed one onsite audit and one surveillance? audit.
The rest of the time at Buckskin was pretty much just trying to stay under the radar and not draw much attention to myself. :-)
Thank you for taking the time to do this.