Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Prepper Fail, Volts and Amps Edition

Out of date, out of luck
Our power went out even before the storm arrived.

Which is actually no big deal.  The kids were in bed, so we really didn't need it*. And our electric service is much improved over the past 10 years. When we first moved in, if someone farted in Redfield our power would be out for 12 hours.  Now outages are few and far between and seldom last as long.  So I went to sleep thinking it would be back on by morning. It wasn't.

And that's no big deal, either.  To deal with such a case, we have half of our house** wired for generator power.  I have a big long cord that plugs into my electrical box on one end and the generator on the other, and a couple switches to flip, and I can run the house that way so long as I have gasoline.  Which I do.

So I got up with the sun, put my hoodie on, flipped all the switches, plugged the cord into the electrical box, fed the other end outside, filled the generator and started it, then went to plug the cord in.  Nope.  The rounded prong that's supposed to point inward is facing outward and the others are all too close together***. I turn the plug this way and that. Nope. Stare stupidly at it as if that will change something. Nope. It appears that that I am undone. We will not be running the well pump via generator today.

The part of the story I have neglected is that I burned up my 15-year-old generator last summer and we bought a new, bigger one. And as the Lovely and Gracious Rogue was looking it over in the store, I asked if it had one of those round plugs.  Yup. Buy it. Assemble it. Run it.  But I didn't hook it up to the house until 6:30 this morning. Why bother?

Well, apparently in the last 15 years or so, the style among electricians has become a 120/240V 20A plug instead of the 125/250V 30A that my electrical box, my cord, and my old generator use. So I need to get my box rewired (probably) to match the new standard. Fail.

But I hear now that a pole has snapped somewhere near Redfield and the power should be back on by noon. And if that's the case, no harm will come to my steaks, or at least no thawing.  So if nothing untoward comes of it, I guess we'll just call it a dry run, a test.  And stuff is allowed to go wrong in a test.

It just needs to be right on the final exam.

* I enjoyed re-reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with a flashlight no little bit.
** The half with the freezer, fridge, pellet stove, well pump, etc. 
*** Not unlike the guy in Johnny Cash's One Piece at a Time, who tries to assemble a car he has stolen bit by bit over a 30 year career at GM.


  1. Well, and I might not be even close to that well geared and all. However, it's good to know I'm not the only one who comes up short from time to time, even on what I thought I had set. Not laughing or grumbling, just... noticing and nodding... and thinking. Electrical connections and that are on the list. Be well.

  2. mmmm.

    this exposes a major hole in your prepper tool kit.

    IF you are expecting an actual TEOTWAWKI scenario

    THEN you shouldn't have any major components of your homestead which you cannot at least attempt to kludge a fix on.

    that means parts and tools AS WELL AS the knowledge to use them.

    what's particularly disappointing about this is that home wiring is not very complex or difficult. assuming you have the parts, you should be able to fix almost anything in your existing home wiring with a flathead screwdriver and some dikes.


    you ought to have a parts box which includes matched pairs of electrical plugs and receptacles for all your major components ( frig, oven, water heater, welder, etc as well as several sets of the normal 15a wall plug pairs ).

    Home Depot or Ace Hardware or your local library ought to have books on basic home wiring available for cheap or free.

    some basic electrical principles:

    1 - do NOT mess with electrical if it's not dry

    2 - if unsure if a wire is hot, brush it with the BACK of your *right* hand/fingers. electrical current will cause your muscles to convulse, if you grasp a hot wire with the palm side of your hand you may involuntarily grip the wire and be unable to let go. this could be the difference between minor annoyance ( momentary 125v in dry situations won't generate enough current to do more than annoy you ) and a lethal outcome.

    use the right hand because electricity ALWAYS follows the path of least resistance to ground. and your heart is on the left side of your torso. shortest path to ground will normally be from right hand to right foot ...

    3 - all electrical requires a positive and negative source, ie - a circuit back to the power source. any interruption in this loop means that your device will not function because there is no voltage/current available to it. home wiring refers to these circuit legs as "hot" and "neutral". neutral is nominally the same thing as ground, although all three plug systems run a discreet circuit to your local ground rod.

    all that's really needed from your wall outlet though is the Hot and Neutral, which is why two prong plugs will work.

    the same "kludge principle" apples to the internal combustion vehicles around the homestead ...

  3. this exposes a major hole in your prepper tool kit

    Guilty as charged. There are two areas where I almost never attempt to "kludge a fix". Those are areas related to a) fire, and b) electricity.

    I can and have replaced outlets and ceiling fans. But I refuse to mess with anything more complicated. The odds I'm playing are that in an economic collapse SHTF, I know guys who know wiring, and I'm more or less hoping they have the parts. In a hard SHTF, the electricity runs out when my gas does and so it's a wasted skill, like making shamrock shakes.

    In either case, when it comes to things that could burn my house down, I'm willing and able to hire experts to do the actual work while I nod and grunt and try to look competent. Or at least important.

    1. El B March 7, 2017 at 8:27 PM
      the electricity runs out when my gas does and so it's a wasted skill

      true, but only trivially and only due to your lack of knowledge.

      the internal combustion engine, of itself, is irrelevant to the production of electricity. it's simply a means of spinning the shaft in the electrical generator / alternator ( because the only thing a car alternator is, is a ~14v DC generator ... which can be hooked up to an inverter and turned into 120v AC ).

      you can drive an electrical generator in the same way you would drive a mill of any type ( grain or saw, for instance ), by water, wind, bicycle, gasoline engine *or diesel engine*.

      the interesting thing about diesel is that, if you use a low tech one, you can run it on vegetable oil or waste oil from a fast food joint.

      and you can make fuel oil yourself, at home.

      so it would probably be most strategically useful for you to procure
      1 - a diesel driven generator or gen / welder combo
      2 - a diesel truck with mechanical injection, ie - no newer than the 1994 7.3L Ford
      3 - look into biodiesel cooking

  4. El B, I betcha the easiest, cheapest solution is to buy a "pig tail," the cord that attaches to a new clothes washer for instance. There's a cord attached to the back of every discarded clothes washer, and those end up at the metal recyclers. Last year I saw a group of five of them for sale on my Craigslist for a total of $15.00.
    Anyway, a new pigtail ought to do the job, as they are available in various configurations, and you'll need to check out whether one that you find will do the intended job and also be safe.

    Charley Z

  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Harvester_IDI

    the straight 6 Cummins / Dodge from the same era ( 6BT or 1984-98 ) might be an even better option than the Ford.