Firefighter    ■    Power Dispatcher    ■    Husband    ■    Daddy    ■    Grandpa    ■    Crazy Man

Friday, April 19, 2019

Postcards and tales

Hey guys.

Lots of life changes, that I may or may not go into on here at some point.  We all go through them, we all have drama.  I'm still at my power company job, though, that hasn't changed.  Sometimes I think about this place, and wonder if I've got some more writing in me.  Not quite yet, but I was successful in getting dear old dad, the Smooth Substation Operator, to write me up one of his tales.  He has so many!

This one is an easy one, won't require too much gray matter, but just so you have a chance to get to know the man.  Hopefully he will do a lot more guest articles for us!  So here is where he went when we talked about poor storage of 9 volt batteries.  As a refresher, by the time he retired about 10 years ago, he was the senior all-knowing "oracle" of the substation operations staff, and tended to be the mother hen for everyone in the shop.....


The 9-volt thing was something that I came across online years ago, about how some loose 9 volt batteries had gotten together in someones kitchen 'junk' drawer, heated up, started a fire, and set the house on fire.  Whatever it was, the article had a couple of 'impressive' pictures.  But the writer's recommendation was to put some kind of tape across the snap contacts.  OK, good idea.  At least his house wasn't a total loss.

But same basic thing.  6 volt lantern batteries, the kind with two coiled-in-a-cone-shape contacts on top.

Each year, winter-coming-on time, I would go through the emergency kits and check / replenish as needed.  Finding the occasional red plastic hand lantern with a run down battery or otherwise dim beam of light, I'd replace the battery.  At some point (the particular event escapes me) I began to pack an extra lantern battery in each bag.

Again, the event escapes me, but somebody told me that there was a smell of hot metal?  hot plastic? coming from one of the bags a day or so after I'd done my yearly check / replenish thing.  I found the bag (hard to miss) and emptied it out.

What I found was a discolored (like when a piece of steel or iron gets too hot and the too-hot area looks like the colors of the rainbow?) clipboard clip.  It was touching the vinyl lining of the emergency bag, and had a couple of melted (from the heat) spots.

What the!?  The 'hot' place on the clip was actually two spots, about an inch and a quarter apart - the 'colors' had blended.  Heat?  Two spots?  I picked up the spare lantern battery - needless to say the 'points' of the cones were also discolored.  OK.  Remembering the thing about the 9 volt batteries, I proceeded to wrap 333 (electrical) tape across the contacts and around the body of the battery.  Problem solved.  I thought.

A couple of months into winter, and we had a snow storm, you know the kind, big sloppy wet flakes landing on tree branches, branches breaking off and falling on the 12.5.  Sometimes they'd bounce off or fall off, one reclose, and everything's fine (lots of those you never find unless one of the callers happened to have seen the flash).

Of course, you're never that lucky all the time.  If the branch lands across the 3-phase and happens to be 'balanced', it will sit there, light up the neighborhood several times until the PCB goes to lockout.  Bottom line, we were busy for a couple of days.

OK, the party is over, everyone has their lights back on, and I have some emergency kits to check.  A lantern in one had been left on when it was dropped back into the bag.  Easy fix, I'll just put the spare in and pack a new spare, right?

No.  The spare was dead.  Huh?  Got the spare out of another kit, put it in and same thing - dead.  Checked them all, and all dead.  They were just fine when I packed them, so I'm scratching my head.

OK, think.  They were all good when they went in, and none of the installed batteries had gone dead (I checked the other lanterns).  What's the common difference here?  The ones in the lanterns, of course, had no tape, while the spares did.  But 333 is an insulating medium.  Isn't it?  Well, isn't it!

Donning my imaginary Sherlock Holmes hat, I deduced that there was a clue worth pursuing; check out the 333.  Take out the weakest of the still working lantern batteries, check the voltage, write it on the body of the battery, and wrap some tape across the terminals as I had been doing.

The next day I checked the voltage - it had dropped about half a volt.  OK, leave it for a few more days, and I'll check on the last day of my shift.  Down to about 4-1/2 volts.  First day of my next shift I check it  again -  a little over 3 volts.  The voltage on the other lantern batteries had not dropped at all.  Checked it again on the last day of that shift, and it barely moved the needle of the voltmeter.

(Voltmeters with moving needles dates me, wouldn't you say?  Today, we have $3.99 digital multimeters from Harbor Freight.  Ain't science wonderful?)

OK, how do we fix this.  The battery contacts need to be protected / prevented from shorting out against the random piece of meta while they're flopping around in the emergency bags.  Gotta be durable AND dependable.

High-tech fix, coming up!

Find a piece of what I call "shoebox" cardboard, cut it into 3" by 1-1/2" chunks, fold it into an 'L' shape lengthwise, place it across the contacts, and THEN tape it into place.

Never had a problem again for as long as I was with City Light, doing my Senior-Substation-Operator-who-wears-the-hats-of-MANY-jobs thing.

- Smooth Substation Operator


And there you have it.  Honest to goodness, a material intended to INSULATE actually CONDUCTS!  I mean, just a little.... but still!

If you're still reading, drop me a note, would love to know if anyone is still out there.  Stay safe!