Bring on the juice!

My job gives me the wonderful opportunity to not have to repeat the same mundane tasks on a daily basis. No endless screwing on of toothpaste caps for me. What it also gives me is the opportunity to fuck with things that I would rather not, such as electricity.

I have a pretty good basic knowledge of electricity, which I actually learned in high school in the improperly named Introduction to Technology class. Of course since the only computers we had in my high school were in the library, and only there as a replacement to the card indexes with no other purpose whatsoever, I guess basic electricity really was technology in their eyes. That aside, I loathe electricity. It is wonderful when it is working as expected, but when I have to actually start wiggling wires I get a tad bit nervous. This is compounded when I have to do it where I work.

To say that the wiring in the building I work in is old would be like saying that Hitler was merely a bit quirky. Many of the electrical panels in the building are at least forty years old, complete with the old screw in fuses. The disconnect boxes on the outside of the building are likely every bit as old and scary as hell. Not to mention that, as I think about it, there are at least five separate breaker boxes in the building (two of which have been replaced within the last ten years, two which at least have breakers, and one that still has screw in fuses). As far as power cut off boxes, there are at least (wait while I try to count from memory) 14 of those. Most of those are for specific refrigeration units, while there are a couple that are there for no damn reason at all. The 14 number was counting only the ones that are active as well, there are at least another half dozen that are hanging on the walls but not connected to anything. It is old, it is complex, yet it works just fine for the most part. I will leave it at that for now.

Yesterday, I noticed that the fans in the dairy walk-in were not working so I went to investigate. Here I must note that there is another light outside of the walk-in that runs on the same circuit as the fans, that light was still working. I assumed that this meant that there was something wrong with the compressor for the dairy walk-in itself, when I got outside to the compressor I saw that the compressor for the wall freezer was working just fine, since it is on the same, huge, 100 amp circuit as the dairy compressor I was confident that my initial guess was correct. I pulled the fuse block from the dairy walk-in’s compressor (it is a block about three by four inches that holds three fuses. The fuses look like miniature shotgun shells but with copper on both ends) and tested the fuses, they were all fine. So up the line I went.

The next set of fuses that needed testing were the massive 100 amp ones that I so fear. They also look like shotgun shells, but they are about three inches long with an additional inch of a copper blade sticking out of each end. It is not that I fear the fuses really, but that one of them will not blow out unless the amperage across it has reached 100 amps. If the amperage across the fuse reached 100 then that means that there could be a serious short in the electrical system. Since less than one amp can be fatal I am really scared of touching 100 amp fuses. I think that fear is pretty justified.

In any electrical installation the line (power) always comes into the top of a box, while the load (the place the power is going to) always goes out the bottom, always, in every instance. I didn’t trust that in this particular case, so I traced the wires myself before trying to test the fuses. It was, astonishingly (to me anyway), actually wired correctly. I threw the lever down on the box to test the fuses (this is, I assume, why they have standardized it so. There must be a standard way to run the power into and out of the box, if the power goes in through the top it is possible to test the fuses without having to remove them. Time saving as well as standardizing, good all around). I tested the left fuse, then the right, both of which were fine (I only tested the left and right first since in a home application, like a dryer, the left and right will each be power while the middle will be ground). Then it went really bad.

Just a quick aside. I had taken the rubber mallet outside with me when I went to check those fuses. The reason why is that when you flip the switch back up the blades do not contact with the power supply very well, this has led to many a blown fuse on that system. The way that I circumvent that problem is to turn off both of the compressors, turn the switch back on, then tap the blades into place with the rubber mallet. This time, thankfully, I had used the rubber mallet to also hold the cover (it opens up) on the box open. I say thankfully since I normally just use my head to hold it up since it only takes a couple of seconds.

I touched my continuity tester to the top of the center fuse, then the bottom. I then immediately dropped to the ground with what used to be a continuity tester in my hands, and a horrible, unstoppable, muscle jerking thing going on. I really got a jolt out of that one. That was the worst shock I have ever felt in my life. I have been shocked by your standard electrical outlet many times, to me that feels more like a tickle than a shock, but this one, boy howdy, I thought I not only bought the farm outright, but possibly also a considerable amount of acreage around it. Funny thing is that it doesn’t really hurt exactly, it is more like you are just wasted of any physical energy, as if you had just done a decathlon a few times in a row. This one took me a good thirty minutes to settle down from, at least to the point that I was able to think and act coherently again. Certainly not recommends for entertainment purposes.

The reason that I got shocked (which completely destroyed the continuity tester, as I may have mentioned) is that when I threw the switch off on that box I didn’t even look to see if all of the blades were removed from power. It turns out that the center blade stayed connected because the arm that pulls that one away from the power was actually broken off. I tried to test a 100 amp fuse with a continuity tester, while it had power. I wonder how many people have ever done that and lived. Yet, I still had to test that fuse somehow.

It was at exactly this moment that I decided the store was going to pony up the ten bucks for a fuse puller. The fuse puller is just like a big set of pliers that is made all out of plastic. That in hand, I pulled the center fuse and took it to the hardware store to have it tested (since my tester was beyond repair) and found that it was also good. If that fuse had been bad, I think I might not be alive right now. That fuse runs to the compressors which are solidly grounded with copper, I only took a portion of the voltage (since the fuse was good, and the copper was a better ground than me. Love those rubber soles), and, more importantly, the amperage. If it would have been only me completing that circuit I would likely only be able to blog in a posthumous fashion.

Another aside. If you ever try to steal power from the warehouse next door, keep in mind that there is something (which I had never heard of previously) that is called a wild leg. It is used exclusively in industrial applications. I am not sure exactly what its purpose is, but it makes it so that the wires that carry power run at 120v, 120v, and 208v. None of the three are a ground or common wire. If you pick the wrong wire (while trying to steal power) and get the 208v one, you will likely destroy every electronic device in your whole house. Keep it in mind.

The problem with the walk-in was eventually resolved, quite simply, but I am gonna leave that for another post, as this one has gone a bit long already.

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