The man who keeps Hanscom warm

  • Published
  • By Mark Wyatt
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
In 1964, the country was in the early stages of one of the most tumultuous decades in its history. President Lyndon B. Johnson had just signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964, yet violence escalated in many cities across the nation. Congress officially authorized war in North Vietnam, which would officially begin a conflict that would last for years.

This same year Lawrence Morton quietly began his career at the Hanscom steam plant.

A lot has changed since he began working here as an airman 2nd class. Now, the once-young, single Airman is a great-grandfather. In addition, Mr. Morton has transformed from an Airman to a civil servant to a contractor and has experienced just about everything someone could experience at a steam plant.

"He has spent a total of 47 years at the central plant and is the resident expert on all aspects of the operation," said Thomas Schluckebier, base civil engineer. "He has stayed current with technology changes and has been the primary advocate for numerous upgrades at the central plant, including many energy conservation initiatives."

Mr. Morton began his career in the early 60s as a civil engineer apprentice after completing several weeks of technical training at Port Hueneme U.S. Navy Seabee Base in California. The North Carolina native went on to learn well from civilian coworkers at the plant while he was on active duty.

"I was fortunate to have learned steam turbine chillers and boilers from some of my coworkers at the time," said Mr. Morton, now the steam plant supervisor. "This invaluable experience helped get me hired after I was medically retired from the military in 1969."

After gaining important training while serving as a young Airman at the steam plant, Mr. Morton decided to stay around the area when met his wife at a church function held in Cambridge, Mass., for single Airmen who were away from home during the holidays.

"We met at a Thanksgiving function at the Cornerstone Baptist Church in 1965 for single military personnel who had nowhere to go for dinner," Mr. Morton said. "We were married May 28, 1966, at the church. I was married in my uniform, which was all that I could afford at the time."

After waiting for the then-required one year break from military service before being hired as a civil servant, Mr. Morton was hired as a wage grade employee at the steam plant in 1970.

In the years that followed, he ascended the wage grade scale to plant superintendant, based on his tireless work ethic.

"I've always tried to do what is expected and then some," he said. "It's certainly helped me in my career."

It hasn't all been smooth operating for him, however.

In December of 1977, Mr. Morton suffered first, second and third degree burns when he unknowingly stepped in up to his knees in 336 degrees of boiling water that had formed above ground in a junction box from a condensate leak when he was troubleshooting a suspected steam leak.

The burns left him hospitalized at the Ft. Devens hospital for several weeks during recuperation and out of work for over six months.

"Back in those days there was no workman's compensation program," Mr. Morton said. "I had some good watch partners who supported me coming in to just take readings so I didn't use up all my sick leave."

Fortunately for Mr. Morton, the successes have been much more frequent.

"We've been pretty fortunate, we've not really had any significant issues over the past 40 years," he said. "We've had small steam leaks and pin holes in the lines."

When asked whether he plans to retire anytime soon, Morton simply had this to say.

"I enjoy this trade and coming to work every day very much. Working together to keep the steam plant operating is difficult work but a lot of fun."