In this episode of Engineering Legends, we hear spooky stories from two guests who have witnessed ghostly apparitions and other paranormal activity at water treatment plants.
See photos of the plants discussed in this episode.
Tiffany Long: Welcome. I’m Tiffany Long here with Kelly Rogers. And we are excited today to present a special haunted episode of Engineering Legends.
Bob Melanson: He opened the chemical room door and behind him, a little girl about eight years old appeared and was singing to him. He watched her disappear seconds later and he was very shaken up by this.
Ruben Montes: They called from his house or whatever to notify him that he had had a heart attack. He had a heart attack that morning, so he never really showed up for work. But people here say that they actually saw him here at the plant.
Tiffany Long: Kelly and I both love anything spooky or paranormal and have been looking forward to this episode since we started the podcast. Both of us love to tour haunted locations but neither of us have ever toured a haunted water or wastewater facility. Kelly, wouldn’t that be fun?
Kelly Rogers: Oh, yeah. I would love that. I’m one of those people that loves when a scary movie or a good ghost story makes me want to sleep with the light on. I love being creeped out. I’m not sure what I would do though, if I saw an actual ghost.
Tiffany Long: Yeah, I’m right there with you on that one. But today, we’re going to hear two stories from guests who have seen ghostly apparitions at water treatment plants. Our first story begins in El Paso, Texas at the W.E. Robertson Water Treatment Plant. The facility is situated along the Rio Grande River and is on the US and Mexico border. For decades, employees at the plant have been sharing ghost stories of spirits that have been sighted at the Robertson plant, also known as the canal plant by locals. Today, we’ll be speaking to superintendent Ruben Montes, who has heard many stories over the years. He was a skeptic until he had his own ghostly experience. You won’t want to miss this.
Ruben Montes: The plant was built in 1943, the original plant, which is plant one. It’s basically two plants into one. Each plant has capability to treat 20 million gallons, so between both plants, we could produce 40 million gallons a day of potable water, from surface water, from water that we get from the Rio Grande.
Kelly Rogers: Before you experienced what you’re going to describe at the plant, did you believe in ghosts or the supernatural?
Ruben Montes: I believe that it’s true. I still believe that it is true and they’re out there.
Tiffany Long: When did you first hear about the plant potentially being haunted? Did you hear about it first or did you experience something strange first?
Ruben Montes: I heard about it first when I started working here. I was one of the youngest guys there and they told me that there were stories about people seeing things at the plant and just to keep an eye for it. And I really didn’t pay much attention to it, but later, I went through an experience where they really caught my attention. I was on a graveyard shift. It was, I think, around 1:00 in the morning or so. And I had to go down to station one and get a meter reading. And when I was doing that, I felt like when you feel you have this feeling that somebody is watching you. And I always hear that the hair on the back of your neck stands up and well, all that happened to me. And then I looked out the corner of my eye and I actually saw somebody sitting on the pipe. There’s a 20-inch line that sends water out into the distribution system. And the number that I was adding is actually the number of that meter, how much water we pumped out through the system for 24 hours. And I looked at the corner of my eye and I saw somebody sitting there and I just got the number and turned around and headed out. I wasn’t going to investigate any further.
Kelly Rogers: Did it like an actual person or—
Ruben Montes: Yes, it did. It did look like an actual person just sitting there on the pipe. And it was looking towards where I was and that’s the time that it really, really caught my attention. And I said, “Well, something’s going on.” I blame that on being on graveyard, as an excuse with my mind just playing tricks on me or something like that. But no, I have a feeling there was something there. I mean, you just feel it. You feel things like that.
Kelly Rogers: So, I know you heard some other stories from other folks as well. Can you share some of the stories you’ve heard?
Ruben Montes: Sure. There’s at least three of them I was part of it, so I can say that I was there. Another one was really the other person, I got to see that he was scared, is that we were working. This was on a night shift. We were doing the evenings. And I think it was almost around 10:00 at night, around there and it was just three of us. One guy takes care of one plant, another guy the other plant, and then the shift operator oversees the whole operations, pretty much. And I had just run my filter samples, my 10:00s and then the shift leader says, “Hey, let’s go back to the other plant, to plant two,” because we were at plant one. He says, “You’re done with your sample?” I go, “Yeah, I’m done with them.” He says, “Let’s go back to plant two and talk to Henry, see what he’s doing.” Henry was our other partner.
So, we start walking over there and we see him, that he’s by the filters at plant two, by filter number three. And then we keep walking. We walk through the primaries, made it all the way to the chemical building. By that time, Henry started walking towards the chemical building also, so we actually met there. And then he usually walks with his hands down, his head looking down, but when got there he raises his head and then he sees both of us and then he quickly turns around to the filter. And then he says, “Weren’t you just over there?” I go, “No, I was coming from over here, from plant one.” And he goes, “No, somebody was over there.” We go, “No, we were just over here.” And he says, “No, you’re messing with me.” We go, “No, I’m not. I’m serious. I was just running my samples. Robert asked me if we could go over there with you, check what you were doing. That’s all.” And then he says, “No, no one of you was over there.”
And then Robert, he’s a guy that had already been here when I started. He had been here for about seven years. He’s the one that told him. He says, “Was it a guy leaning against the handrails at filter three?” And then he goes like this. “Oh, you saw him too?” He says, “No, but is that the guy you saw?” He says, “Yeah.” He says, “Don’t worry about it. It’s just the guy that you see every now and then,” but he turned out he was all white. I mean, he was scared.
Another time I was working with the guy in charge of the SCADA system. And we were up on the fifth floor, where the SCADA servers are and all that. And we had to do the accomplishments every week on the Mondays. We had to do what we did the previous week. I was sitting across the desk from him and so he had a view of that door. It was opened a little bit. And he jumped all of a sudden and his facial expression changed immediately. He jumps out and starts running out of the room, so I get up and also run behind him. And then he says, because there’s a stairway going up the building, up to the sixth floor. We have stairs from the bottom all the way up.
So he starts running and then I’m running behind him. And he yells at me. He says, “Go up the stairs. Just go up the stairs.” I go, “Okay.” And then he takes off down the stairs so I go up the stairs to the roof. I didn’t see anything so then I come back down and then he went running down and he ran into another guy that was walking up and he was asking him. He says, “Hey, did you see anybody?” He says, “No, I didn’t see anybody.” He goes, “Are you sure?” He says, “No, nobody. I just saw you coming down,” so then he starts walking back up. By this time I come down from the rooftop. And then I said, “What’s wrong with you? What happened?” He goes, “You didn’t see? You didn’t see anybody?” I go, “No, I didn’t see anybody. I went all the way up to the roof and there’s no way you can jump up six stories up here.”
So, he says, “No, there was nobody up there.” “So what happened?” He said, “I saw somebody peek through the door. They just went like that and looked out into the door opening.” I mean, he swears by it. He said “I saw somebody. Somebody was there.” And that’s another incident that I was there when it happened. Nothing had ever happened to him before, but you can tell that caught his attention quick.
And then another one was, this one, I wasn’t here for that one. But my supervisor back then… We have engineers that come and visit the plant whenever we need to do some upgrades or whatever they need. They come and look at the plant, the facility, see what we need to do, so they can do their scope of work and all that.
And that day happened. I had already left. And the following day, my supervisor, his name’s Ruben Rodriguez at the time. He tells me, he says, “Hey, you know what? There was this engineer, a female that came from Hawkins. I was going to show her the project they were going to plan on working on.” Then he says, “And this is after you guys had left. I go, “Yeah, I don’t remember seeing anybody when I left.” He says, “Yeah well, she showed up and I took her around the plant.” And he says, “When we were coming up the stairs, she needed a restroom, so I asked her, “Well you can wait till we go to the main office over there and you can use that one or we have this one here, but this was used by the employees. But everybody already left. We’re done for the day. If you want, you can go ahead and use this one. I’ll stand guard out here.” And he says, “Yeah, she said, ‘Yeah, that’s fine. I’ll go in here.'” So she went in there and so he just waited outside for her to come out.
And when she came out, all of a sudden she just told him, “You have ghosts here, huh?” And he had never told her anything or nothing. And then he goes, “Yes. There’s a lot of talk about people seeing stuff here. She says, “Yes. There’s one in there right now.” He says “Where?” “In the restroom? Is it a guy?” She says, “Yeah, it’s a guy.” He says, “Well, what is he doing?” She says “No, he’s just sitting in there.” And then he asked her, says, “How is he dressed?” She says, “No, it’s just dressed regular, like a neat, regular person,” but that’s all she said and then he tried to get more from her. And apparently she, through her life, she sees things. She says this is not the first time that she’s seen one.
So, I don’t know. It’s just one of those things that I really don’t think he would lie to me because of how long I’ve known him. I don’t think he would make up a story like that. But it’s just something odd that when I heard that, that’s just another sign that there is something happening here.
Kelly Rogers: Do you have any theories on who the ghost is? It sounds like it’s just one that people are seeing, right? The same one over and over.
Ruben Montes: It seems to be the same one and like I was saying, one of the first stories that they told me is that apparently, this gentleman showed every day for work. And that day, they said they actually saw him here at the plant. I mean that’s what I was saying. It was probably a time when there was no punching in, no punching out. People just showed up. But somebody said that, “Hey, they just called.” I think his name was Armando. If I remember correctly, they said that they called from his house or whatever and to notify him that he had had a heart attack. He had a heart attack that morning so he never really showed up for work. But people here say that they actually saw him here at the plant.
Tiffany Long: Oh, wow.
Ruben Montes: So that’s what makes a lot of people think that it’s that guy.
Tiffany Long: That’s dedication to your job.
Ruben Montes: That’s what I was telling them. That’s what kind of dedication we need. I mean, people are going to be showing up here after they’re gone. And people, through the years, they said that that’s him just coming back. And the good thing is that you see in the movies where people get attacked or you got some bad ghosts out there. This one must be a good one because I’ve never heard of anything bad really happening, so that’s good.
Kelly Rogers: Yeah. It sounds like it’s just mischievous, just playing pranks and having a little fun.
Tiffany Long: Keeping an eye on things.
Ruben Montes: And sometimes things happen in the plant. It’s an old plant. We try to do as much maintenance on it as we can every year. Sometimes things happen that we don’t have an explanation for, so people would just say, “Ah, it’s the ghost. It’s the ghost,” and they just blame it on the ghost.
Kelly Rogers: Well, Ruben. We really appreciate your time today. These are great stories and I think people will enjoy listening to them for sure.
Tiffany Long: Absolutely. Thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it.
Ruben Montes: No problem. Thank you.
Tiffany Long: Next, we move across the country to New England to chat with Bob Melanson from the New Bedford Water Department in Massachusetts. Bob is going to share his experiences at the Quittacas Water Treatment Facility, which is located off Route 105 in Rochester.
Kelly Rogers: The original plant began operating in July of 1899 and has a rich history. The building is constructed from large, gray stone and looks every bit the part of a haunted New England building. We’ll hear about how the plant’s original chief pumping engineer, who died a day prior to retirement, continues to haunt the facility, but he’s not the only ghost to haunt the halls of this plant.
Bob Melanson: Our building, the main building, a long time ago was built in 1899. And this has two 48-inch mains water supply from our five ponds. We actually get it from five ponds, the drinking water, but this pumps also to our 75 million gallon facility and the High Hill Reservoir in Dartmouth. That was built in 1899, also. Okay? And then in 1974, and it was completed finally in 1977 of November that year, our new building facility here, the New Quittacas Water Treatment Plant, treats the water for the city and sends it out to that 75 million gallon reservoir and also to all the citizens of New Bedford, approximately a hundred thousand.
Tiffany Long: So, before all of this came about, did you believe in ghosts or the supernatural?
Bob Melanson: I did somewhat, but I did not expect to experience anything over here. I just thought it’s a wonderful place to work. We’re giving a wonderful product to the citizens of New Bedford – clean, safe drinking water. And it’s a great area to work, near five ponds. I didn’t think of the supernatural aspect then.
Kelly Rogers: So when did you first learn or hear about the plant being haunted?
Bob Melanson: That’s what threw me for a loop. So right after I started, fellow coworkers started telling me this place is haunted. The old building, not the new building, the ’77 building where we are in now that was complete. The old 1899, they said is definitely haunted and I laughed about it. I laughed about it. I said, “I don’t think so, but you’re welcomed to your beliefs.”
Kelly Rogers: So, when did your mind change about it?
Bob Melanson: All right. When I went down to the old 1899 building one night, and I was checking my paperwork. This was around midnight, up on the old mezzanine floor, second floor. Now, right near me is a picture of the first pumping engineer Adoniram Stone Negus. He looks like Wyatt Earp. We’re going to send you a picture of him. His picture is on the wall. I’m about 10 feet from him, all by myself in that building and the door right behind me, which was wide open, slammed shut. When it did that, the hairs stood up on my neck and back. I couldn’t believe it. And I reopened that door and ran down the stairs and up to the main building that was built in 1977. And I told my other coworker what just happened. And he said, “I told you so.”
Bob Melanson: Another time, I went back down to that building. Now this was about 4:00 in the afternoon and everybody had just left. And my other coworker and I went into that old building to check our paperwork. And we were standing there looking at our notes in the garage. The garage doors close. There’s no one around us. And we heard a woman scream right next to us, but no one was there. My coworker said, “I’m getting out of here. Yeah.” He said, “I can’t take this. I’m getting out of here.”
Kelly Rogers: Was it loud?
Bob Melanson: It was loud. It was a very loud scream. Not a whisper, not hoarse, very clear and loud and no one’s there. It’s just the two of us and we could not believe it. So, he left and I left, went back up to the other building and we talked about it the next day. But what could we say? There was nothing more to say. You couldn’t see anyone.
I have another one. A coworker of mine… This was not long ago, about a year ago. His previous job was air force security. He was working with me on a summer night, last summer, about 7:00 PM at night. It’s broad daylight out there. It doesn’t get dark till 8:30. We were in the new building, the plant built in 1977. This is what threw me for a loop. He told me he was going to fill our chemical tanks in the other room. I said, “Okay.” I was doing samples in the other room. A minute later, he came back, sweat all over his face. And he told me, “Look, I want you to know first. I don’t believe in ghosts or any of that stuff.” But Buddy said he opened the chemical room door and behind him, a little girl about eight years old appeared and was singing to him.
Kelly Rogers: Oh, I just got chills.
Bob Melanson: Is an apparition-
Tiffany Long: So he actually saw an apparition.
Bob Melanson: Apparition, and he watched her disappear seconds later. And he was very shaken up by this when he was talking to me. And I told him, “Show me, let’s go back,” so we went right back to the room and there was nothing there. He told me, “She was singing right here, right here outside this door.” I said, “What about families?” We have a main road, about 500 feet away. Families walk by. And I said, “Could it have been one of them walking up to you from the road?” He said, “No way. She disappeared right in front of my face.” I said, “Oh man.” I said, “Well, I’ve never experienced anything like that.”
Bob Melanson: Well, then things got weirder. He went outside the main building to his truck to his cell phone to call his friend and tell him about it. He ran up a minute later. He was sweating again and told me he and his friend on the phone heard a scream right next to his truck, but no one was there. I said, “Wait a minute. Is your friend still on the phone?” He said he was. And I talked to his friend, who confirmed he heard a loud scream while talking to my coworker. I said, “Let’s get out there.” We went right outside. Nothing, nothing. After that incident, he put in his two week’s notice the next day.
Kelly Rogers: Oh man, it really freaked him out.
Bob Melanson: Now here’s the most recent. A few months ago, a coworker went down to the old 1899 building, again, to get readings. And he was outside a scale room that we use to measure chemicals. And he heard footsteps heading towards him. And he heard someone step on the scale, causing the metal plate in the scale to make a loud clunking sound. He checked the room immediately. No one was there. This is a lock-alarmed building. He was afraid, but he kept going to the next room to bleed air tanks. We have air tanks in this room and what you do is you put a metal can under the tank and you open the valve to get water, the moisture out of the tanks. Well, he got the can in his hand. He’s holding it and something pulled it right out of his hand, straight to the floor. He tried to pick the-
Tiffany Long: Wow.
Bob Melanson: How about that one? Huh? And he tried to pick the can up. He couldn’t, he couldn’t budge it. He ran up out of that room to the main building and told me about it. And I said, “That’s unbelievable.” I said, “Let’s go back down again. Show me.” He said, “I don’t want to go down there.” I said, “I’m with you. Let’s go down there,” so we went down there. There was the can. I picked it right up off the floor. This time, no trouble. I want you to realize something. Those air tanks, the door that slammed on me, the air tanks and Mr. Negus’s picture are no more than 15 feet apart, so that is something. Now I want to say something about Mr. Negus before I tell you more stories. I was told by several people-
Kelly Rogers: Now, you’re talking about… Who is he? He was the original chief pumping engineer?
Bob Melanson: Correct, who had worked here for years, Adoniram Stone Negus. So, I was told after this, because I contacted an engineer and he came to the plant. And he knew all about him. He said, “This man works many years here and on his last day of work, when he came here to retire, he went and spoke to his men and he died right in this building.”
Tiffany Long: Oh, wow.
Bob Melanson: Isn’t that something?
Tiffany Long: That is. So, he decided to stick around.
Bob Melanson: I think this is why a lot of these things are happening.
Kelly Rogers: But do you think it’s all him because you saw the little girl too. Why are there multiple ghosts, I wonder?
Bob Melanson: Exactly. You just said a good one there. It is not all him. That little girl, that’s one. And I’m going to tell you another one in this building that happened, again, several months ago. So again, around 4:00, everyone leaves. I’m still here. My shift is still 7:00. Now, I am by myself and at 4:00, they all left. The buildings are locked. It’s alarmed. We did have contractors upgrading the plant but they had all left, I thought. Well, I went into the chemical room to fill tanks. And as I was filling a chemical tank, I looked over and I saw an old man with white hair and old-style work clothes. They’re the gray overalls from the 1930s. I don’t know if you saw any of your father or family or grandfathers in these old farmers’ work clothes. That’s the clothes this guy had on. And I said, “That’s strange,” to myself. “What is this contractor doing here after hours? And why is he wearing these old clothes?” I’m looking at-
Kelly Rogers: So it looked like an actual person?
Bob Melanson: It was an actual person, the full shape, body, everything. You couldn’t see through him. It was a solid person to the best of my knowledge. And I’m looking at him and I was just going to go over after and talk to him, but I’m filling the tank right now so I can’t leave the tank. And the phone rang. Our main phone rang, look. So when our main phone line rang, I looked through the glass into the control room, where our phone was. And I looked back at the old man and he was gone. He was gone. I finished filling the tank and I went over to the chemical tank where he was standing against, looking at it. There was a big black handprint on the tank that was not there. This is a brand new tank, just installed by contractors. There were no marks on it. Now there’s this. I took a picture. I’m trying to find it. And we’re going to try to get that one to you also.
Tiffany Long: Great.
Bob Melanson: But isn’t that something. So that’s—
Tiffany Long: So were you able to get the handprint off of the tank? Or is it permanently there?
Bob Melanson: Here’s the funny thing. I had trouble getting it off with chemicals. I couldn’t remove it. We had another maintenance worker work on it and she did work on it hard. And she was finally able to get it off, but it took a lot of work. It was some sort of a heavy-duty impression stain that didn’t want to come off easily. She did get it off.
And there’s more. Another coworker came on a Saturday with his wife to take pictures outside the old building with them, the building as the backdrop, of course. And he there with his wife and a friend took their picture. They took their picture and then they came up to the building, running. I was in this main building, the new building. They showed me the picture. There was a face of… The best I can describe it is a demon in the glass behind them, the glass window.
Kelly Rogers: Oh, I’m getting chills. This is creepy. Oh my goodness.
Bob Melanson: They were shaken up by that and I don’t blame them. And I went down to that building after and I was standing right in the window where that demon’s face was. And again, that doesn’t look like Mr. Negus, who looks like Wyatt Earp. Mr. Negus, you’ll see. He looks like Wyatt Earp. And the old man looks like Spencer Tracy, so that was a different person. The girl was about eight years old and it’s unbelievable.
The other incident happened. There was a man, a coworker. He went down to the other building, a calm day. He opened the door and a lightning bolt shot across the length of the building. A thin lightning bolt. He came back up and told me about it. And I went down there again. There was nothing, but he insisted it was a lightning bolt.
Tiffany Long: Inside the building?
Bob Melanson: Inside the building, that shot from one end of the building to another and disappeared. That’s what he said and he stuck with that. Now for me, this is an interesting one. I was just telling Ymane. It was on my birthday a year or two ago. I was in the building on a Saturday morning. It was a beautiful day. I was all by myself and I was getting samples in the filter room. Every room has telephones, but they’re in-house phones. In other words, you use them to call office to office. They’re not outside lines. They can’t make phone calls or anything. Right? Well, I’m in the room on my birthday. I’m walking by filter number two. Filter number two, rang. The phone rang and rang right as I walked by it. I picked it up. No one was there, just a hum, and I hung up. But just the fact that it rang is very strange because it can’t ring unless somebody’s calling from another room to call me, another phone in the plant. And there’s nobody in the plant but me, very strange.
Tiffany Long: Wow. The ghost just wanted to wish you happy birthday.
Bob Melanson: Yep. That’s exactly the way I’d figure it. And then another one, this happened to me again. It was not this past summer, the summer before. I was with a coworker and I went down to the other building, the old building, and I went taking readings. Again, on that infamous second floor mezzanine where it slammed right behind me and the tanks that we had to bleed down and pulled the can out of the co-workers hand and right next to Mr. Negus’s picture. Well, it was crooked. The picture was crooked on the wall. And I said, “Oh, that’s odd,” so I straightened his picture out and I said, “Mr. Negus, I straightened out your picture. It’s a beautiful day. We don’t want any problems. Let’s keep it like that.” And I turned around and all the power went down in the building and in the main building, both buildings, completely out of power. And my coworker called me on my phone to tell me this. “We have no power, Bob, anywhere. Come up here.” And I went back up to the building. We had to reset the plant. So, don’t you find that odd?
Tiffany Long: Yes.
Kelly Rogers: Now, do you feel like they’re just mischievous or do you think these ghost are menacing? What do you think their intent is?
Bob Melanson: He was definitely mischievous. I felt like he was telling me, “I’m going to do what I want, Bob. You’re not going to tell me what to do about this plant.” And he just decided to do a little trick. “I’m going to take the power out and you’re going to have to restart the plant.” I am a believer now. I am definitely a believer. Something is going on at that facility and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that he died on his last day there.
Kelly Rogers: Wow. This was amazing, Bob. Thank you so much.
Tiffany Long: Yes, great stories.
Bob Melanson: Okay. Thank you so much.
Tiffany Long: We’d like to, again, thank our guests from El Paso Water and the New Bedford Water Department. We very much enjoyed these legends of ghostly hauntings at your treatment facilities.
Kelly Rogers: I still get chills just picturing that ghostly girl singing in the corner.
Tiffany Long: I know. Well, and one thing that happened during the recording of this podcast that is worth mentioning, when we were speaking to Bob Melanson about his experiences, right after he mentioned the photograph with the demon face, the phone line that he was calling in on dropped the call for no reason. He attributed it to the ghost having a little fun.
Kelly Rogers: I bet many of our listeners out there have their own engineering legends. We’d love to hear from you. Please send your feedback, stories and ideas for future episodes. You can reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. This podcast was brought to you by Brown and Caldwell. It’s our purpose and our passion to safeguard water, maintain infrastructure and restore habitats to keep our communities thriving. Until next time.