Charlie Reader could have retired at age 65 – with 45 years on record at Dresden Station.
But retiring at age 70 with a 50-year career had a nice ring to it, he said.
“Fifty and 70 was achievable. And it just sounds better than 45 and 65,” he said at a retirement party Wednesday morning, where his co-workers congratulated him on a lengthy career as a non-licensed equipment operator at Dresden.
Charlie began his career at Dresden as a station man on March 26, 1968, at 19 years old.
A graduate of Coal City schools, he attended Joliet Junior College before his money ran out. Forced to look for a job, Charlie applied and was hired for a position at Dresden - that became known as station laborer - before going into operations.
His badge number at the time was number 273. He was the 273rd person hired to work at Dresden Station.
“Back then, you get a job like this and you stayed with it until you retired,” he said.
At that time, Units 2 and 3 were under construction. The administrative and training buildings didn’t exist. Charlie parked his car every day in a space that would now sit inside the IM department.
The back end of rad protection was the plant manager’s office. Security consisted of three guys who were injured on the job and had no weapons. Security didn’t work on the weekends.
He recalled the massive rebar involved in the pouring of the concrete for Units 2 and 3. He watched both reactors go in.
In 50 years, Charlie gained a lot of experience. Experience is a result of poor performance, he likes to say.
“You learn from your experience. ‘Well, I won’t do that again,’” he said. “There were a lot more errors back then. There were also not as many procedures. It’s way different now than when I started ops.”
“You learn faster that way, but then you’ve created an error. Now there’s no tolerance for doing it wrong.”
He recalls once experiencing a 340-day outage – an inconceivable number of days compared to modern day outages that average in the teens.
“We were subsidized by the government back then,” he said. “There was no rush to do anything. Outage duration was meaningless then. It was ‘whenever it gets done, it gets done.’”
Fifty years and three months later, Charlie is now 70. And he says it’s time.
“I woke up Feb. 9 blind in my right eye. I’m half deaf from working in the plant all those years. And I’m chronologically old,” he said.
He doesn’t have any major plans or hobbies for his retirement. Maybe he’ll go fishing once in a while.
“Coming to work is my last major hobby,” he said. “These last years, I didn’t do it for the money. It was my hobby. I would really like to stay working.”
Fifty collective year’s worth of advice? Easy answer for Charlie. Have a questioning attitude, he says.
“The most important thing for an operator is to have a questioning attitude. Question everything,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing that will save them as an operator: a questioning attitude.”