Getting trapped in a cooling tower at the Georgia Power Company Plant Yates

Excluding a high-school job at the Kroger grocery store, my first real job was with the Georgia Power Company, at their electrical power generation plant in Newnan, Georgia — called Plant Yates. I had a very pleasant surprise this morning, to receive an email from an old colleague there.

To help pay for school, the university where I studied — The Georgia Institute of Technology — offered what’s called the “co-op program,” in which they’d assist in finding a job related to your studies. Generally, co-op students would study for quarter and work for a quarter, throughout their entire program. The benefit of earning money in a job relevant to your studies compensated the additional year it took to graduate.

I was initially a bit doubtful about the whole “relevant to your studies” part, when my first assignment as a newby co-op at Plant Yates was to put on an asbestos fire suit, and go stick a temperature probe in the boiler. I guess that was just an initiation tradition, as the job later became very interesting. During my years at Plant Yates, I became friends with some great engineers, and learned all about the generation and distribution of electricity.

There were a couple of quite memorable experiences…

Trapped at 800ft

My most memorable experience at Plant Yates was the day the plant manager didn’t come to work. Sensing an opportunity, the other co-op got the idea that we should ride the elevator to the top of the 800ft smoke stack, and look around.

As a safety mechanism, the rickety old cage elevator latches itself to the top, and has to be unlocked before it can descend. We didn’t know that, and ended up burning the motor out trying to go back down. Alarms went off, and we got a call on the rickety old phone, saying, “WHO THE HELL IS UP THERE!?!”.

“Uh, it’s the co-ops.”

(silence)

Long story short, despite being deathly afraid of heights, we had to climb down a ladder that runs the length of the stack. We of course received a fine tongue lashing by the plant manager when he returned (I remember learning what the word “asinine” means.) We probably would have been fired, if we hadn’t managed to spin the incident into a story that ended up on the front page of the company safety magazine:

On a routine maintenance inspection, co-op students escape danger due to well-practiced safety procedures!

Squeaky Clean

Another time, I was assigned the enviable task of finding and cleaning every pressure gauge in the plant. (Dirtiest. Job. Ever.) After finding a gauge that needed cleaning, I’d enable the pressure cut-off value, remove the gauge, and go clean and calibrate it.

In another memorable occasions, the maintenance staff had worked for a week to get the plant absolutely squeaky clean for the annual management visit from the company’s top brass in Atlanta.

On the morning of the visit — literally as the Georgia Power Company’s top management was checking into the gate — I was removing a gauge I’d discovered in some obscure nook of the plant. The pressure cut-off valve broke, and the moment I unscrewed the gauge — KABOOM! — it was knocked out of my hand, and tons of black sticky goo sprayed out under insanely high pressure, covering everything in the area.

Rickety old phone rings again: “WHAT THE HEEEELLLLLLL!?!”

“Uh, it’s the co-op.”

Although I’m still not 100% sure whether it was related, the following semester The Georgia Power Company decided my abilities could be put to better use in the safe confines of an office job at the Atlanta headquarters, working with a spreadsheet. I got a transfer — thus ending my passage through Plant Yates.

4 thoughts on “Getting trapped in a cooling tower at the Georgia Power Company Plant Yates”

  1. This was a great story and I really enjoyed reading it. I live in Newnan and I have always wanted to go to the top of those towers, however after your story, I will enjoy the view from the road!

    “(I remember learning what the word “asinine” means.)” now that is funny…

    1. I have no idea. I tried googling, and the only thing I could find is plans announcing the end of using coal there, due to environmental reasons. I wonder what they are going to do now?

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