it’s electric

Well I took a few days off and went on a wilderness retreat to the barren lands of Africa. That is, I spent so damn much time playing the little game on the sidebar that I just never got around to posting. Being as the particular game is supposedly based in Africa I assume that that means I was doing some of that wildnerness therapy crap that all of the rich, SUV driving Metrosexuals get into. It is probably healthier than most other reality escapes but seems a bit less theraputic. Hell, without the aid of any foreign substances the creatures in the game just look rather plain, and not once did I feel the urge to get naked and play the bongos. I guess that is what I get when I try to take the easy way out.

• There was a pretty terrible lightning storm here in town a couple of days ago. It happened pretty early in the morning, which is unusual as we are in monsoon season and that tends to bring lightning storms in the late evening, not at 6 or 7a.m., yet that was when it happened this time. It must have been directly overhead, as this was the loudest thunder I have ever heard in my life; It sounded as though there were gunshots coming from inside my own house all morning. We lost electricity at about 8a.m. as a result of it, but had it restored by shortly before 10a.m., which isn’t a bad turn-around on that sort of thing. When I went in to work, though, everything went straight to hell.

Neither of the two coolers on the roof were working, at all, no power whatsoever. I did a quick test for continuity on each of the 30amp fuses that run to the coolers. Out of a total of six fuses, five were blown. I am not an electrician but I do know a good bit about electrical circuits, when I saw that five of the fuses were blown it did not bode well. The particular circuits that run the coolers are 240volt, that means that you have two power wires and one common wire (the common is often linked to the ground wire in residential applications). When a huge spike of electricity hits, say the store is struck by lightning for instance, it would be pretty likely to blow the fuses on the power wires but not on the common wire. One of the coolers had blown the common wire fuse as well, and I knew even before I replaced the fuses that the motor was burnt out.

As stated, I am not an electrician, I just know from experience that when you blow the fuse for the power and the common that it usually means that a hell of a lot of power went through the common. The most likely reason for this (especially in an electrical motor) is that the power wire had touched (or arced) electricity to the common wire. This would instantly burn all of the fuses in the circuit while at the same time burning a lot of the copper windings in the motor. If you were to ask me to give you a detailed explanation of why this happens, I got nothing. If you were to ask me why the surge burnt out the motor of one of the coolers on the roof while only blowing the fuses on the power wires on the other cooler, that I think I could answer.

When a bolt of lightning strikes it looks for the quickest path to the ground. Anything that is high in the air and made of metal is a really good choice. Both of the coolers on the roof fit that bill perfectly, the one that burnt out is actually a couple of inches higher than the one that didn’t, but I am pretty sure that is coincidence. These are the two highest pieces of metal for at least a good four square blocks, so it was kind of inevitable that one of them would be struck if the ligtning chose to discharge near there. The cooler that survived the ordeal had been rebuilt the previous year and I installed it personally. I mentioned to the owner that there was not a ground on the cooler and he said to just wire it up anyway, which I did, but as a precaution I went ahead and grounded the motor to a piece of metal conduit which ran across the roof and into a breaker box that is securely grounded. I did that for my safety, as I am usually the only one on the roof working on the things and if it is not grounded and gets a power surge it could easily kill me. I truly believe that grounding that cooler through the conduit was what saved it (although the conduit is NOT a good ground and should never be used as such).

When I opened up the other cooler to check on it, I found that it was indeed not grounded. Not only that but whoever installed it didn’t even bother to connect the ground wire to the body of the cooler (which in itself is absolutely wrong, but if you are going to go with no ground on a 240volt circuit you should at least connect the ground to the casing; it could save the life of someone touching it in the case of a surge). With nowhere for the electricity to go, I assume that it traveled down both of the actual power wires as well as the commone wire, which would have instantly turned the motor into a molten metal lump had all of the fuses not blown simultaneously. It is probably lucky that there was not a fire as a result of this whole ordeal.

The even more unfortunate part of the story is that I was so involved with making the cooling system for the store work, and the meat case, which had gone out a few days before for unrelated reasons, that I didn’t bother to check the other cooling systems in the store. The power had been back on for a couple of hours by the time I got to work, I assumed that someone must have checked them. ASS U ME, enough said. Thankfully, the cashier informed me that the wall freezer seemed a bit warm, a quick check of thermometers showed that it was about 30 degrees too warm (but still below freezing) so I went to have a look at that system. It also had a blown fuse, but only a 15amp (not that the amperage matters), which I immediately replaced to get that system back on-line. The only other system that operates on the same (I am going to say ‘Master circuit’ since I don’t know if there is a word for it) circuit as the cooler that burnt is the dairy walk-in, which was operating just fine. Job done, or so I thought.

The second I got home, I mean literally, since I had stopped at the circle K for a hot dog on the way, I got a call from work. It seemed that the large ice cream freezer was a bit warm also. Back to work I went. I found, once I got there, that the light bulb in the continuity tester I had been using all day had burned out. It took me a few minutes to come up with an idea but I did eventually improvise a temporary replacement bulb by using one out of a small flashlight on the shelf. None of the fuses running to that compressor were blown though, so I lifted up the service panel to see if there were more fuses inside, there weren’t, but there was a breaker. Flipped it down, then back up and the compressor started running again. I went home again, for the day this time, thinking that all was well.

Next day (yesterday) I spent my first hour of work moving ice cream to various other freezers around the store. The freezer was working, but for some reason it was not able to go below about five degrees, which is not cold enough for ice cream. A quick look through the sight glass shows that there is no air in the freon lines so I am still not quite sure why that freezer isn’t working. I did notice that as the day went on the case was getting colder and colder each time I checked the temperature, but really how many days should it take to get back to operating temperature? Of course it is about ten time larger than your average home’s chest freezer, and likely fifty times the size of the freezer connected to your refrigerator, so I certainly don’t know. Anyway, it was a bad day or two.

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