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Home > General > The Long Road To Fifty: Interlude 2

The Long Road To Fifty: Interlude 2

June 30th, 2014

My dad was a company man. The company in question was the Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO), the local gas and electric supplier, and Dad made it his career. He’s told me how fortunate he felt finding a good-paying job that he also happened to love. It was not, however, a love without complications.

On January 15, 1971, we received a phone call to let us know that Dad had been caught in a house explosion. He had been investigating a gas leak in Gary when the place went up. Dad escaped more or less intact, though the shock wave slammed him into a door frame. The home owner did not make it; Dad saw her engulfed in a fireball.

The event changed him in a couple of ways. One was that he suddenly took a strong interest in religion. To this day he’s not a regular church goer, yet he loves to rattle on about his interpretation of the Bible. (The problem with most churches, he says, is that they only follow the parts of the Bible that suit them. Now, if they only read the whole thing, they’d see…)

The other change was that for a time he became a crusader for truth. Now, if you ever ask him to recount the story of his quixotic quest (which I do NOT advise), be prepared to devote 90-120 minutes. It’s like The China Syndrome, except that he does not in any way resemble Jane Fonda.


Not my dad.

As part of his training, he was told that natural gas only burns when at a concentration between 4 and 14%. (As far as I’ve been able to determine, this is still accepted fact.) However, to this day he swears that the concentration of gas in that house was considerably higher when it ignited.

Long story short, he spent the next year or so trying to convince the company to publicly admit that it was possible for natural gas to burn above that upper explosive limit. Allegedly, he was told off the record that they knew about this possibility but were sticking with their story. (My cursory Googling of the subject turned up that explosive limits vary with temperature and pressure, so perhaps both sides were right; it did happen as Dad describes, but it was such an edge case that the 4 to 14% range generally holds true.)

Frustrated by NIPSCO’s unwillingness to tell their employees and customers the truth as he understood it, he went to the ultimate authority: Paul Harvey. Unfortunately, the veteran radio broadcaster was too busy telling “the rest of the story” to come out and talk to him.

In the end, Dad toed the line to keep his job. I don’t blame him. I really don’t blame the company either. I’ve been a supervisor, and I know what it’s like when an employee JUST. WON’T. STOP.

Dad did stay with NIPSCO until his retirement, and in general he still treasures his time on the job. Just don’t ask him about the furnace repair program (he has opinions), and really, really don’t ask about the gas explosion.

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