Priorities and power outages

This is what the Main Control Room was like in the 2000s. But when there was an unscheduled power outage, what did these industrious folks do? Photo: Fred Ullrich

Sometime in the early 2000s, I remember, we had an unscheduled power outage. I had gotten a call at home at about 11 p.m. from someone in the Main Control Room to come in to restart my equipment since power restoration was imminent. So I made the 45-minute drive to the lab and made the right-hand turn from Pine Street toward the high-rise building (which is near the Main Control Room) just in time to see all the lights go off again. I had decided that under the circumstances, it was better for me to stick around the Main Control Room and wait for word from the power company or the people in the lab’s High Voltage Group than to make the drive back home just to turn around and come back at any moment.

Well, our group waited … and waited. We had already configured our equipment into a safe mode for when the power returned. There was nothing to do but immerse ourselves in all the line drawings sprawled out on the Crew Chief desk and debate what had happened. Nobody knew if the problem could be fixed quickly or if there was going to be an extended power outage. It would turn out to be a long wait into the morning.

Then, at about 8 a.m., I heard some commotion outside, so I decided to go see what was happening. Outside, in the Main Control Room parking lot, there was a pickup truck, and in the back of the truck was an 8-kilowatt generator. About four or five people were gathered around this generator. One person was pulling and pulling on the generator rope trying to get it started. Another one stepped in and took out the needle valve for inspection. Somebody else grabbed a hammer and started tapping on the float bowl of the carburetor. Try as they may, they just couldn’t get the engine started. Next the spark plug came out. They were all feverishly working on this generator with urgency as if it were an emergency.

I felt a sense of dedication and devotion to the lab seeing all these people pitching in to help get this generator started. I was still very new at the lab, so seeing all this teamwork made a very good impression on me. But I wondered, what was all the fuss about? What could they possibly be trying to power up after the power being off for 10 hours? The computer room? A sump pump? Was is something necessary to prevent disaster?

So I followed the huge industrial sized extension cord from the parking lot, through the doorway, and into the kitchen next to the Main Control Room, where it was plugged into a coffee pot.