Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Week the Generator Died

When you're grateful that it's 41 degrees indoors, things are probably not good.

To get what we're dealing with, you probably need to know a few things.

Heat: As of the beginning of this madness we were heating the trailer with a small electric parabolic infrared heater. It's small, but it does the job.

Electric Power: We've been using a series of small 800 watt generators. They usually last about 4-6 weeks or so.  We've been through about a dozen in the past year. We paid for at least 4 of them. The rest have been under warranty. Thank goodness for that, because they are crappy as heck. The one we were using before this disaster was only a few weeks old. Most folks probably use them for camping trips, occasional field work with power tools. Don't ask me how this company stays in business. To get a new/replacement generator we need to drive 100 miles round trip to Pueblo.

Sleeping Space: Right now I sleep on the couch, while Quantum sleeps on a small twin or smaller futon-like mattress next to the couch. The dogs sleep on either the couch or mattress with us, generally on top of our legs. Much as Quantum and I would love to share a bed there just isn't enough space on either. Hey at least we can hold hands, which beats the last trailer we had.

Housing: It's a 70s or so RV, about 25 ft long. The previous owner had dreams that he was an electrician and rewired the place. Thus many of our problems. There are bare wires all over the place running to nowhere. Patently unsafe to connect electricity to. Presently the toilet doesn't work, the stove is running out of propane

Contact With the Outside World: TV and Internet/Computer. It's a half hour (at least) walk to cellphone service. Assuming the phone is charged.

Transport: A rather whiney F-250 pickup that RY sold us about 6 months ago. Perenially crappy in mud or snow. Has a problem starting in cold weather.

Nearest Road: 2 1/2 miles mostly uphill and across nasty terrain just to reach the main road. 10 miles to town from there. We can also walk 1/2 mile across our neighbor's land to reach the road, which shaves about 3 miles off that, but that's WALKING, and no car at the end of it.

Okay so it's Thursday the 2nd. We're contemplating a happy day tomorrow as it'll be Zen (the puppy)'s 3rd birthday. We plan a puppy "cake" with beef jerky "candles". Quantum goes to town for supplies, as we're expecting a storm. RY is supposed to come out at 3 to bring us a water shipment, since we're low. We also have a generator (we'll call it Gen2) in the trailer that RY sold us when he sold us the trailer we're presently living in. Charged us an extra $200 and he swears it works. The problem is that it doesn't work with the present electrics in the trailer. Some maniac rewired the trailer and there are bare wires all over the place. We have no choice but to disconnect Gen2 from the trailer wiring or risk a housefire - ANOTHER ONE - and that's somewhere we don't want to go. But we know that our "usual" generator is probably going to crap out soon, and until we get a chance to drive up all the way to replace it, that's our backup.

So here we are, planning to meet with RY and have him tell us how to fix the wiring into the "new" generator (Gen 2). Well RY shows up 2 hours early, claiming he didn't want to risk the weather getting worse. Quantum isn't home yet. RY tells me that Quant had a problem with the battery. I know rewiring the generator (Gen2)  is one of the major priorities, so I quiz RY on this and he draws out a basic schematic, and I try to follow the whole thing. Did I mention I don't know crap about electrics? Plug the plug into the outlet is about the best of my knowledge.

Quantum makes it home, grumbling that RY is early. But we've got a few supplies, all should be good, right? He wanted to go buy a new battery, but he cut his visit to town short because RY was in a hurry.

10:30 that night, Quant is sleeping and I'm messing around on the computer. The generator runs out of gas. Quantum wakes off, rather ticked off that I didn't wake him up to fill the generator. The darn thing won't start. We wait a half hour. It starts getting pretty cold. I cross my fingers and hope and go out, and fortunately the darn thing starts right up. Sadly it's the beginning of the end.

Friday morning seems pretty good. I'm doing some of my writing, Quantum's doing whatever Quantum does. It's been snowing, so we're taking a snow day. We'll try messing with Gen2 when it stops blowing. Around noon the generator craps out. This time it's for real.

I go out and try to re-wire Gen2. Quantum tries to fix the regular generator with parts from the 4 or so dead ones lying around. We also have an inverter that runs off the battery on the truck, and Quantum tries to get that going. No go anywhere. The truck won't start, the generator won't start, Gen 2 isn't powering the outlet. RY's directions are wrong.

We climb onto the roof of the trailer and try to call RY to confirm the wiring info. No luck, we get through to him but the connection is breaking up. "I think the batteries on the cell are going," Quantum says as I take off to walk the half mile or so to cell range.

Uphill. In the snow. By the time I get there I'm ready to collapse. RY goes over the instructions with me again. "Okay, I get that I connect one of the ends of the jumper cables to the solenoid on the generator and another to a ground," I say, "where do the other ends of the jumper cables go?" "To the battery, of course," RY says. "The battery?" I ask, with a sinking feeling in my gut. RY makes a noise that translates as, "what are you, stupid?" "Okay," I say, groaning. "I hope the battery has enough juice."

Of course it doesn't. Almost. Just at dark, it cranks over and starts and we make rejoicing noises and plug in the extension cord to our new buddy Gen2. Nothing happens. The outlet isn't working somehow.

Night falls, and we still have no electric and no heat. We cuddle together, us and the dogs on the tiny pallet that Quantum usually sleeps on. It's too cold to stretch out, so we sleep sitting up and cramped as heck. The temperature outside reads about 7 degrees.

Morning comes and we try to figure out what to do. Somehow we didn't freeze to death, so that's good so far. In the middle of the night I've dreamed up different wiring configurations to try with the outlet. No luck, of course. The snow has thankfully stopped, though it was going for most of the night. At least four more inches, maybe six.

We put together a plan. You know how that "best laid plans" work. We'll call RY and ask him to buy us a new battery. CK (our former roommate who now lives with RY) owes us $200. We know he just got his monthly stipend. He can buy us a new battery and that should start the truck so we can run the inverter. That'll give us enough electric to get online and we can look up how to wire the outlet to the generator correctly. Should be easy, right?

Quantum, the master of planning, wants to "make sure we get it right" and runs through every scenario he can think of. Meanwhile time's wasting and we're losing daylight. I finally point out that it's Saturday and will the car parts place even be open to get a battery? This is, after all Hicksville, and the stores close early on weekends.

I trek uphill back to cell range. Yesterday the walk was rough. Today it's worse. I've had to give up on my boots, since they're soaking wet with snow. Now I'm wearing a pair of super heavy rubber galoshes. The blasted things chafe my ankles like mad. And they're heavy.  Every step is work. It's snowing again now. Between exertion and cold, I'm hyperventiating by the time I get to the area by the "Stockdamn pond" (no clue why it's called that, and there's certainly no pond there) where I can get cell reception.

I open the phone. It does the Verizon wakeup thingie and then announces, "Low Battery, powering down." I want to cry.

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