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The History of Louisiana Smoke School and the Whitlow Smoke School Nation September 12, 2009
I have been conducting smoke school the past 30 years either as a state employee of Louisiana DEQ or as a commercial professional smoke school provider. Lloyd Blount and Paul Laird, both retired from the Louisiana DEQ where they took smoke school training before I got there and after I retired in September 2001. Now both Paul and Lloyd have have retired from the state and are now conducting smoke school with me at Whitlow Enterprises. This explains the 100 years combined experience with smoke school and as state environmental regulators. The 3 of us have worked hand in hand with several environmental and industrial hygiene consultant companies. Environmental consulting and smoke school go together like peas and carrots. My momma always used to say that life is just like a mess of peas and carrots. I have had the longest relationship with my great friends at Emissions Testing Service (ETS) based in my former home town of Baton Rouge Louisiana. The friendly owners Barry Gipson. Fred Dowling, and Ron McCabe have shown up like an old pocket watch at smoke school since the beginning out at the Louisiana State Police Training Academy where Fred once crash landed an airplane when Independence Park used to be the airport and a fellow Vietnam War Veteran helicopter pilot and singer Kris Kristofferson flew helicopters to off shore oil rigs. Fred was able to walk away from the plane all in one piece. Meanwhile Kris hitched a ride from Baton Rouge to New Orleans and wrote a song about it. Perhaps you have heard the song Me and Bobbie Magee.
Here is a little shuffle through Louisiana Smoke School history for all of you who were there to remember. Before I took over smoke school in 1984 James Gipson, Gerald Mack, Henry Landry, Debbie Bendally, and Dave Hughes conducted training at the LSU Fire Training Academy. When I came onboard, everyone else except James and I moved on to better jobs, higher wages, more responsibility and a new car. They left it all to me and my best friend James. After James got me trained and saw that you all liked my style of smoke school, he more or less took the back seat, easy chair so he could flirt with all of you beautiful women. Eventually James retired and left me holding the bag. Back in the beginning when I came on board, they had already moved the training to the Louisiana State Police Training Academy.
The first day in 1984 I took up the microphone and started turning the valves on the smoke machine, James and I knew that I was a natural. Brother let me tell you what. I knew absolutely that I had found my calling. I loved smoke school without a doubt. Up until that point in my life I was extremely shy ever since my Freshman football year in Neville High School when Coach Buck stood me up in front of the Drivers Ed class next to him and asked the class if I were not the ugliest person they had ever seen. He stood up beside me, had his hand on the top of my flat top hair cut. He was trying to make a joke that pointed out that I looked exactly like him- we could have been twin brothers. But in smoke school I was a natural. I felt like the smoke machine control box hid me from you enough so you could not see how ugly I was and it reminded me of the good ole days when I was a young buck age 14 at the public address system calling the play by play at Monroe Little League baseball games at Bendel Stadium. I remembered my favorite television baseball broadcaster Dizzy Dean and his stories about his life while he sang the Wabash Cannonball to make listening to baseball more fun for all of us. It reminded me of when I preached a few times in the Assembly Of God Church in Oklahoma when I was in the Air Force. I had attended several of my daddy's classes at the LSU Law Enforcement Institute where we all laughed at his stories and jokes as he was teaching us about the dangers of being a cop. I copied my daddy's style of teaching at smoke school. I had taken smoke school several times as an inspector and I knew how stressful the test was. When I started giving the test my goal was to remove the stress. It takes time to adjust the fuel valves and let the smoke stabilize between readings. I used that time to tell Jerry Clower Jokes. The more you laughed, the more jokes and stories I told- boy was I fired up. Yawl came up to me at the end and said how much fun you had and how much you enjoyed taking the test. Brother let me tell you what- You made my day and I knew that I had found my calling. Since the very beginning at the State Police Academy we all loved Whitlow Smoke School style. That very first day in 1984 led me to that early morning dream in September 2001 when Jesus said to me, "Build it and They will come."
"Build What- A corn field?"
"A smoke machine- it is the only thing you know how to do." And that was the birth of Whitlow Smoke School. All things work together for good for those who love the Lord.
Would you like to read some of my smoke school stories?
Back in 1984 at the State Police Academy we let you read the smoke against the background of the bricks in the building. You could read the cracks in the mortar for fairly accurate readings. That location worked out very well. It was across the street from my house. The Angola prison trustees served great lunches every day at the academy for about $2. I would have kept the school there forever, if not for the fact, that one day, the wind changed and 85% opacity diesel smoke entered the intake vent for the central air conditioner unit. About 100 young fresh state police training recruits had to evacuate the building with burning itching watering eyes. For months after that, the cadets pulled me over on the interstate just to remind me. The academy informed me that we could come back for the next smoke school in 6 months, but instead of being free, it would cost us $10,000 a day.
After that, I moved the smoke school to the Holliday Inn South on Airline Highway. I liked that location, it was not that far from the house, and it had a nice electric player piano in the Atrium. Some of you really thought that I could play the piano as good as Liberace- sorry I let it sneak out. We set up the smoke machine trailer out back by the dog kennel. There was an 8 foot high wooden fence behind the kennel and after the second year, I noticed the 80% opacity black smoke was going over the fence. I quickly remembered the disaster at the State Police. I got out a ladder and looked over the fence, and the smoke was traveling into an open window on a new brick house.
After that smoking episode, I moved the school to Jimmy Swaggart Bible Collage. I loved that location, it was very beautiful, quiet, and peaceful, and had lots of parking. The only problem was that Jimmy only gave us two porta- potties. I really liked Jimmy a lot, every time he saw me, he smiled a real big pearly white $10,000 toothy smile, walked across the large room, and shook my hand. He always called me Brother Whitlow. Then one day after about the second year, he called me into his office. Some of his female Bible students had complained that they had seen some of our smoke school attendees indecent exposuring themselves as the coeds were jogging around on the jogging track through the woods behind the campus. I investigated the incident and learned that a couple you just could not wait in line for the porta-potty and Surprise. After that I relocated the smoke school to the BREC Park on North Sherwood. BREC provided us with great service including a new restroom (Hooray- no more porta- potties) they built especially for smoke school.
A few years before I retired, my boss Bob Hanna asked me to start a new smoke school in North or Central Louisiana to be held in July and January. Up until that point we only had smoke school in Baton Rouge in April and October. I hit the road in my ole beat up state truck trying to find the perfect location. After all of the years witnessing your wet clothes and wet test papers, I knew that I wanted a quiet location with a picnic shelter to keep you all dry, and me 2. I once conducted a school while I was wading in 3 inches of rain water- and there sure is a lot of electricity involved on conducting smoke school. My momma always used to say that water and electricity don't mix. This is when I developed an interest in state parks for smoke school. My first choice was Chicot State Park in the heart of Cajun country near Ville Platte, Louisiana. I scoped out the park and had the location ready for approval by the big bosses, when one of the big bosses, Chris Roberie- who was from Ville Platte called me into his office. Chris was normally very quiet, reserved and displayed an attitude of authority. He displayed an expression of great regret when he discussed the issue of Chicot State Park. He informed me that our department had been banned for life from the park. He said they once had a DEQ convention at the park. Some of his friends had just a little too much Jack Daniels and made a simple mistake. It turned cold that night and they did not have any firewood for the fireplace. They broke up some furniture and broke down a cabin door to burn for firewood. I stared at him in shock- this was totally opposite of any Chris Roberie that I had ever seen. Later when I retired from the state, I started conducting smoke schools in one of my favorite towns, Ville Platte at Chicot State Park. Whitlow Smoke School still conducts training in this beautiful park.
I got back in my truck and headed further north searching for the perfect smoke school location. Along the path, I remembered Group Camp 2, at Lake Bistineau State Park. Years ago when I was a young buck, we had baseball team campouts and family reunions in the park. The park is absolutely unchanged since the beginning of time. I just love the giant cypress trees and the Spanish moss. We had about 20 people on the first day of smoke school at the park. It was one of those Louisiana dog days of summer, very hot and humid on that July morning. After we finished the smoke school test a lady came up to me pale and sweating. She said that she was never coming again to any smoke schools in July in Lake Bistineau state park because I nearly killed her from heat stroke. The next January she was back and complaining about how cold it was. All of these years later, she still complains about the heat or cold at Whitlow Smoke Schools at Lake Bistineau.
I had a personal very bad experience at a Lake Bistineau smoke school a few Julys later. I brought my ex-wife and my mother with me. We were camped out in one of the cottages in Group Camp 2, which is about a mile or 2 away from the main park. When you register at the park they give you a piece of paper with the gate combination on it. I put the paper on the dresser drawer and took a nap. While momma and Catherine were sleeping I decided to take all of our dirty clothes to the main park for washing. It was 11 PM when I got to the front gate of the main park and the gate was open. The park personnel had informed me where the washiteria was and that it was open all night. I guess I did not hear them say they locked the main gate at midnight. Brother let me tell you what, it is hot and muggy in Louisiana on a July night. I finished washing and folding the clothes and drove up to the gate. I found it locked. I searched for my cell phone to call momma to come open the gate. A lot of good that would have done, because I had the only vehicle and there were cottonmouths and alligators every where and I had the only flashlight on the dashboard of the truck and the batteries were dead.
I sat there with the truck air conditioner on looking at the gate. I had left my lock cutters with the smoke school trailer and I could not find a hack saw. I drove through the woods back to the park office and naturally it was locked. There was some emergency phone numbers taped on the door. There was also a rare pay phone. I found a few quarters and tried to call the park employee on call. I got the dreaded voice mail. To this very day, he has never returned my call. Glad I was not dying. I called the sheriff office from another number on the paper. They did not know the new gate combination. I hung up the phone and then remembered that I should have asked them to come pick me up at the gate and take me back to the camp. I searched for more quarters for the pay phone and could not find any.
I drove back through the woods and through the tent camp ground near the washiteria. There were a lot of people camping in the tents. I searched for a lamp burning and could not find one. By now it was 2 AM. I drove back to the gate and waited and tried to sleep. This is when I realized the mosquito was the Louisiana State Bird. I designed a t-shirt to commemorate the memory of Giving Blood at Smoke School. I drove back to the camp ground and waited. Finally about 4 AM someone had to wake up to go to the restroom. The drowsy campers gave me the look of shock like a suicidal deer getting caught up in the head lights. I sure was happy after they gave me the gate combination, I got the gate open and finally made it back to bed. Nobody had noticed that I was gone. Then there was another July smoke school when we got lost night fishing on Lake Bistineau. Whitlow Smoke School still conducts smoke school in the park.
Louisiana State Bird I gave Blood at a Whitlow Smoke School
The Louisiana DEQ kept conducting smoke school in the BREC park and Lake Bistineau after I retired in September 2001 to start this Whitlow Smoke School company. Hurricane Katrina ended funding for Louisiana DEQ Smoke School in 2005. This explains why Whitlow has so many customers and and locations all over Louisiana. We have always had plenty of Louisiana companies attend our school because they had the history of my State Smoke Schools to remember. Throughout all of that long history Emissions Testing Service served donuts, coffee, and cokes at the state smoke school. I always wanted to serve donuts and cokes to the smoke school attendees, but the state did not want to fork out the big bucks. Come to a Whitlow Smoke School today and make my LDEQ dreams of serving food and refreshments come true.
We will cook you a fine Louisiana Cajun meal, usually fresh pond raised fried catfish for lunch and bring along plenty of coffee, bottled water and cokes.
The state did not want to fund the food, so ETS purchased the donuts and cokes. Barry's lovely wife, Linda used to sit with me at smoke schools and serve yesterday's coffee and last weeks donuts to the 500 of yawl that come to smoke school in Baton Rouge every 6 months. Man did we all have a blast, wern't nuttin like it. I remember the day when the companies first learned about the EPA Title V, Permits that required all of you to document compliance with visible emissions and other regulations. Before that day we averaged about 75 people. Early on that particular morning, Linda and I were sitting at the picnic table in our location in the BREC Park on North Sherwood Forrest Blvd watching the cars coming down the gravel road. There was only one place they could be going. I looked at the donuts and told Billie we were going to run plum out of donuts. We had enough for 75 people and there were 500 cars out in the parking lot. ETS is still coming to Whitlow Enterprises for their smoke school needs. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that ETS will provide you with excellent environmental and industrial hygiene services, you can take that to the bank son. Emissions Testing Service
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