I went out on a no-heat call around 8:30 p.m. one night last winter — old people, so I felt like I hadda. The daughter called, sounded worried. She said things had been pretty bad up there since the old man got sick. And they won’t sell the house. Just too old to move.

The big oil company they bought the service contract from wouldn’t repair the boiler. They said it was a fire hazard, but I think the tech just didn’t have the stomach for this cellar.

And I mean cellar, not basement. I felt like Indiana Jones going down there. It was like spelunking. It was an old house, built in 1692. I believe the spider webs were from that era, too. There was no light in the basement. I went back to the truck and got my “headlight” glasses with the two little flashlights attached. Got the kneepads too; I knew this would be a mudder (in both ways).

Well, me and the helper started slippin’ and slidin’ on the wet, mud-coated floor while flailing our arms at the matted spider webs, which kept sticking to our heads and faces. All the while we were hoping there weren’t any snakes, critters, or trolls lurking in the shadows.

We found the at least 45-year-old boiler (“Smith, Scotch — Phila.” was on the casting) just sitting, waiting. Inside of it lay the hope of the old couple’s heat. I discovered the corroded circuit board on the old Honeywell RA117A stack relay and the loose wire on the old B&G 100 pump.

While the helper nervously held the flashlight, I proceeded to replace the stack relay (hadda run back to the shop to get one) and reconnect the pump wires.

I started the burner and that old sucker purred like a kitten. Amaz-ing! How could old junk like this still work, and so well — because it was made in America, or was there some greater force at work?

Just then I had the feeling we weren’t alone in that slimy old cellar. It wasn’t a fearful feeling, and I ain’t talkin’ about the creepy critters and the mice. I suddenly realized that I wasn’t the only one worried about the old folks.

Somebody much bigger than me was looking after them. I mean, how is it that the big oil company wouldn’t fix these people’s heat and yet they found little old me who doesn’t even advertise? There’s just no other logical explanation, is there?

Well, turns out I put a new boiler with all the trimmings in this house the following summer and it turned out to be a profitable job. Got other work there, too. Plus, I got some work off the builder who was working next door.

Still can’t figure out why the big oil company let this one go. It was tough and dirty, to say the least, but it really turned out nice and we made money. Actually, these people have turned out to be great customers. I guess it was well worth a night spent as a Raider of the Lost Spark.

You know, I think somebody’s looking out for me, too.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Frank Hierholzer is the owner of J.F. Hierholzer Mechanical and Electric in Philadelphia, PA. His words of wit are often found on Dan Holohan’s website, www.heating help.com. He will now periodically provide his offbeat humor to The News. Let us know what you think of “Frank from Philly” by e-mail at LetterstoTheNews@bnp.com.

Publication date: 01/29/2001