I didn’t post my usual New Year article here this year; it’s been a busy year so far. As it happens, I’m glad I waited, since it turns out that 2014 will be another banner year in a sad sort of way. It’s been officially announced that Table Rock Gas Plant, formerly Table Rock Processing Plant, will be permanently shut down during the first quarter of this year.
From my perspective as one of the many who worked there, this will be a milestone that’s related to, but separate from the demolition of the village. Families, friends and even a few lucky passersby experienced the village and feel the loss. At the risk of sounding prideful, I believe the workers at the plant and in the supporting field shared something that even our families can’t fully appreciate.
The resources we processed, the processes themselves and the materials we used in the processes all posed serious risks. I’m not romanticizing the situation when I say that there were a hundred ways to suffer life-changing injuries or death at TRPP and being overcome by the toxic gas we stripped was among the least ugly and painful. We worked with substances that could burn the flesh off your bones, freeze your lungs or drop you where you stood. We worked with gases and liquids at extreme pressures and temperatures, heavy machinery rotating at insane speeds and substances so volatile that a spark could eliminate the entire crew on duty. We worked 200 feet in the air and on the ground with hundreds of tons overhead. We sometimes did all of this in temperatures that literally froze any exposed skin in minutes.
We were the front lines if disaster struck. We were the firefighters. We were the first – and the only- responders. We were the security team. We were the cleanup crew, the repair crew and the emergency transport personnel. We were trained in all of those disciplines and drilled regularly. When you’re in a hazardous environment, 45 miles from “civilization”, you have only yourself and your co-workers to depend on. To this day, I know I can have a Scott Air Pack donned and operational in less than 10 seconds. (The beard, of course, would pretty much defeat the purpose.)
Here’s a twist that few people think about: Our families were housed in a village only about a mile, as the crow flies, away from the plant. What’s more, the gas that ran all of the appliances in the homes came directly from the plant outlet stream. That meant that the safety of our loved ones and our friends was constantly in our hands, as well. How’s that for job-related stress?
I’m not pointing all of this out to brag or complain. We were well trained and well paid and we knew the risks when we took on the job. The real point I’m trying to make is that those of us who worked there were more than just a crew. We had to know that we could count on each other to do our jobs. Regardless of how we felt about each other outside the work environment, when we clocked in, we were part of a team. What needed to be done got done. We also found ways to have some laughs while we did it. I’m proud to have been a member of that work force and, I believe, a better person for it.
Interestingly, I also find myself grateful that my book wasn’t completed last year as planned, since the closure of the plant wouldn’t have been included. The fact is, I still haven’t received the input I’ve hoped for from other Table Rockers yet, either. I’m hoping that the reunion later this year will be a good opportunity to collect some more stories. Although my own experiences there would easily fill the pages, they can’t possibly do justice to what Table Rock was on their own.
So, there’s my somewhat lengthy first article of the New Year on this site. Comments are, as always, welcome. Happy New Year, everyone!