In June of 1980, a terrible explosion rocked our dear Love Field. A major portion of the airport was shut down. You see, under Love Field, is another world, where lighted streets lead through miles of electrical and mechanical equipment. The previous contractors had installed a new type of wire, with square strands of copper, instead of the usual round strands. It was claimed that this new wire could carry more power. I never did get to identify the testing laboratory that approved this wire. The explosion had lifted a chunk of concrete, at least twenty feet long and twenty feet wide. We worked, day and night, living mostly on coffee and cigarettes, making repairs until Love Field was back up and running. We were presented with beautiful plaques and, on each plaque, is a section of the infamous wire. I treasure that plaque, to this day. It gives me pride and humility, but also is a painful reminder of the electrician that was killed on that job. We didn’t know him. He was trying to make repairs, before we were called in, may he rest in peace and may his loved ones have solace.
The Republican National Convention was coming to Dallas; I think it was also in the 1980s. I was chosen to head a team of electricians that was responsible for carrying out demands of the security forces, protecting the presidential candidate. State electricians handled adding the lighting in the “Canyon” underpasses. You know, where 35 heads in and out of downtown? Did you ever wonder why we Dallasites had put up with the sudden immersion, into the darkness of those underpasses, and then the state installed the square, brown fixtures that lit the dungeons up, like daylight? Well, it was not for our safety, it was for the Convention delegates. Anyway, it was my team’s job to light the roof and grounds of the Convention Center and City Hall. We also had to be on the job, during the entire convention, ready for an electrical emergency. Afterward, each team member got a cool cap, with an emblem of the Dallas skyline that read, “I survived the Republican Convention”.
The City was trying out a new plan; letting low-security criminal offenders work off their fines. It was dubbed, “Work-Release”. I guess because I was a woman and they thought a mother figure was what might be needed, I was selected to run this motley crew and make this pilot program work. Our job was to light all the trees around City Hall, for the holidays. I was prepared for the worse and, at first sight of my “crew”, that’s just what I felt I had gotten. After we unloaded what seemed like a thousand cases of light strands and supplies, I went to my work truck and brought out bags of oranges, peanut butter crackers and cans of juice, to share with the detainees. We sat out on the lawn and ate, then went to work, assembling the strands into long “peacock tails” that we lifted, in unison with long poles. We looked like synchronized swimmers, gliding around the trees, draping the light strands. It was truly a beautiful effort! We moved from tree to tree, stretching out our strands and hoisting them into the trees. We finished, faster than any hired contractor had ever done and the trees were the prettiest they had ever been, according to city officials. Then my “crew” was released to go back to their lives. I wonder what happened to them, especially the younger ones. Anyway, the “Work Release” was up and running. One of the City Directors called me and asked about why I fed the workers. Apparently we were being watched from the windows of City Hall. I asked him if he had ever been hungry for days. He said no and I said that I had. From then on, he called me Cool-Hand Luke, from the Paul Newman jail movie.
At the Dallas Zoo, in the Bird and Reptile building is probably the most fantastic climate-control system I have ever seen. You’ve probably never thought about it, but consider that the Gaboon Viper, a jungle snake, might require 70 degrees and 70 percent humidity. The desert Rattlesnake might require 95 degrees and 20 percent humidity. Every creature in the building has different needs and one system provides for them all. The system is controlled by pneumatic and electric switches that open and close pipes filled with chilled and heated waters. There are hundreds of these switches, in small groups, behind each glass box you look into and in every room. The slightest change in temperature or humidity sets off a chain of pneumatic and electrical responses. I wish I could take credit for the entire design, but I only helped and I drew the schematics into easily understandable sheets, so that future generations could maintain it. The system even has a concentric cam, on the air pressure system, that takes one year to rotate. As it rotates, it gradually notches the temperatures down and then back up, simulating the passage of the seasons, for our wonderful birds and reptiles. Is that cool, or what?
In a warehouse near downtown Dallas, a businessman has a collection of valuable cars and memorabilia. Among the items I have powered, are an original Magnolia winged horse and a giant neon cowboy that is very famous but I don’t remember from where. The Magnolia horse is powered by a transformer that puts out 250,000 volts and the Cowboy rotates, so both were real challenges. The contents of this warehouse are so valuable, that I designed a relay system that can apply magnetic locks to the overhead door, if an intruder sets off the security alarm. Do I have fun, or what?
The old Skillerns Mansion sits at the bottom of the hill, where Montclair turns into Colorado Blvd. When the original fuse box was installed, it was state of the art, serving all three floors of the home and the elevator. The addition of a modern kitchen, bath with heated spa, waterfall, upstairs water heater, etc called for more and more ampacity. In 1994, we installed an electrical system capable of a 400-amp load. I was especially happy to take care of this home, as I grew up playing with the kids that used to live there.
When we remove the knob-and-tube system from these fine old Oak Cliff homes, we have a certain formula that we created. It is the result of years of practice and fine tuning. The homeowner comes in from work, everyday and he/she can’t tell that we’ve been there, except for the new grounded plugs that replace the old two-prong, one room at a time. What they don’t see is in the attic; a neatly arranged and labeled system of brand new copper wiring, tacked in rows like railroad tracks, running the lengths of their rafters. To us, it’s a work of art. We’ve got a pretty good start on my goal of rewiring all of North Oak Cliff; one home at a time. In the picture at left, you can see just some of the signs and cars that Anna’ Electric has powered and lighted. We were very careful around these gems and we’ll be careful in your place, too.