Three Adventures From The Field

January 24, 2003
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[Editor’s note: When News editor John R. Hall wrote an editorial asking readers to relate some of their more bizarre experiences in the field, service technician Terry Warner of La Crosse, Kan. answered the call. His trilogy of tales follows.]

What Is That Noise?

It was an early spring day. I was on my way to repair a furnace that had been making a loud noise. I arrived at the house and checked the furnace. It was old, but it appeared to be in good working condition.

The customer said every morning around 5 a.m., when the furnace first came on, it would make the most terrible “tat-tat-tat” noise. It was so loud, it would wake him out of a deep sleep. The customer explained that he had replaced the water heater, thinking it was about ready to go, and he had believed the noise was coming from it. Still the noise persisted.

Unable to find anything wrong with the furnace, I left. I was sure something else was responsible. The noise could be kids playing pranks or something of that sort.

The next day I was asked to come back again and check to see if I could have overlooked the problem. The early morning “tat-tat-tat” was driving this elderly couple crazy. This time I checked the flue, the air conditioner, the ductwork, and the flue pipe. All were in excellent working condition.

“Would you please come over and stay several hours and listen for the noise?” the customer pleaded.

I returned that afternoon and stayed until early evening. There was no “tat-tat-tat” at all, and I left. The next day the customer called, even more frantic. “Please come back and try one more time. We are desperate.”

I arrived at the house at 4 a.m. and crept down into the basement to wait. It was cool, quiet, and dark. I watched shadows and imaginary creatures scurry around the room as my eyes adjusted. It seemed I sat for an eternity as the darkness gave way to a faint glimmer of morning light. Still I sat quietly, wondering what I would do if an animal did appear. I waited and waited.

“TAT-TAT-TAT!” I jumped up out of my chair and cautiously entered the furnace room. I found nothing. It was as quiet as if the noise had never happened. I held my breath. “TAT-TAT-TAT!” Still, I could see nothing. I ran out of the furnace room as fast as I could, through the basement, up the stairs, and outside. I looked up where the flue pipe came out of the roof.

A big woodpecker sat on top of the pipe, tat-tat-tatting on the flue cap.

I breathed a sigh of relief. The customer was delighted. The problem shifted from fixing the furnace to finding a way to get rid of a pesky woodpecker who appeared to enjoy playing reveille every morning.

Seek And You Shall Find

This day was warm and sunny. The homeowner had gone to work and left the door open for me. The blower on the furnace was making a loud thud when it tried to blow air.

The blower unit was located under the house. Access was gained by a crawl hole in the garage. It was dry and clean underneath the house as I crawled on my hands and knees toward the unit.

I had perfected the “workman’s crawl” technique some years back. It was just plain experience that enabled me to put my entire toolbox in my pants pockets and my flashlight in my mouth, and crawl at a rhythmic pace, at the same time keeping an eye out for spiders, rodents, and other critters that might attack me for invading their turf.

After crawling about 75 feet, I found the blower unit. I took the panel door off and tried to look inside. Seeing nothing, I put the panel back on and crawled back out. Then I went to the thermostat and turned on the blower. It started up and immediately heard “thud ... thud ... thud.”

I shut off the unit and crawled back to the blower. After removing the panel, I again tried to peer inside the cabinet, but it was a little too high to see without changing to a totally different position. So I lay on my side, enduring the pain caused by the awl in my front pocket, and thinking that I needed to update my tool list for work underneath houses.

Still nothing. So, I started feeling around the shaft — good, then the set screw — good and tight, then the blower wheel. Aha! I felt something in the blower: probably a piece of insulation. I reached in and grabbed something cold and round. I was crouched at eye level and about eight inches from the blower, when I realized that insulation would not be cold and round and knew I’d found a snake.

I developed the “underneath-the-house run,” exiting the access hole in record time.

Now I had a real dilemma. My speedy retreat had caused several tools to propel themselves from my body. They were strewn about somewhere along my trail.

I got a larger light and a mirror and crawled back inside, setting no speed record. If I didn’t spot the snake, I wasn’t going to search for it.

I peered carefully into the blower cabinet; there it was. I flinched, and took a second look. Its head had been severed when the unit started. I put my gloves on and gingerly pulled the snake out, half expecting it to come to life. I carried it outside and laid it on the lawn.

I was a hero! I had repaired the damage to the blower, and I had gone above the call of duty to do so. However, I knew it would be some time before I would reach inside a blower cabinet without taking a look first.

Let’s Go Bowling

It was a dark and stormy night (really!). I received a call at about 9 p.m. that a walk-in cooler was not working at the bowling alley and the beer was getting warm. I immediately rushed over to remedy this major catastrophe.

The cooler’s compressor was mounted on top of the walk-in and there were three to four feet between the cooler and the “red iron” holding up the roof. By means of a step ladder, I went up through the ceiling tiles and crawled over to the compressor. It was a cramped space, and I needed some way to get off of all fours so I could free up my hands to check the compressor.

Due to my electrical abilities, I had just finished building a “metal-cased” multimeter a few days earlier and had not had the opportunity to use it. Tonight would be an actual case to use this sophisticated instrument that only an electronics nut would want.

I set the meter by the compressor and set my rear end on top of the meter. Hey, it’s metal and it can handle it. By doing this, I was able to hold the flashlight in my mouth, free up both hands, look down between my legs, and read the meter.

I reached behind me and found the disconnect to turn off the power. The compressor had been humming and then clicking. I removed the cover and checked the motor windings by leaning over and reading the meter that I was sitting on. My flashlight was still in my mouth and all was going well.

The meter windings checked out OK. I decided it was time to check voltage and see if one leg of my 220 was blown. I removed the wires coming to the compressor, clipped one lead with my alligator clip, and held the other lead in my hand. I looked down between my legs to make sure my meter was set on the correct scale.

What happened next is difficult to explain. It all happened so quickly.

I reached behind my back and felt for the disconnect handle. Keeping one hand behind my back on the disconnect handle, I then focused my attention on the meter between my legs and threw the switch.

BAM! A big ball of fire shot out from between my legs! This made me jerk up and hit my head on the red iron, causing me to drop the meter lead that I was holding into the condenser fan and each time the blades went around, it would spark. That made me open my mouth and drop my flashlight.

Finally, in the dark, I was able to turn off the power. After a few minutes I was able to check myself over; I was OK, still complete.

Because of the bowling noise, no one heard a thing. I then went to the truck, retrieved my old meter, and found that the start gear was out on the compressor. I replaced the start gear and went home.

I always thought they made meters out of plastic and Bakelite to be cheap. To this day I still buy the “cheap” meters — and sit on the floor.

Publication date: 01/27/2003

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