theories of propane chuckleheadedness
Monday, March 28 2022
location: rural Hurley Township, Ulster County, NY
Every morning I check WashingtonPost.com to see if there was a nuclear war overnight (the first indication of which would be that their homepage would fail to load). This morning, though all the news from the battlefields in Ukraine were pushed aside for a very American distraction: evidently Will Smith had slapped Chris Rock in the face at another tiresome Oscar awards. I knew this was a story that was going to persist much longer than there was any reason for it to.
Eary this afternoon as I did other things (none of which were actually work related), I happened to check in on the remote data from the cabin's solar system. I fully expected it to be unreachable due to how flaky the Moxee hotspot had become. But to my surprise, it showed live data. Furthermore, it looked like the solar installation chuckleheads were working on it, since the generator appeared to be on and the solar panels were collecting as much as three kilowatts of power, something they never did when the battery wasn't working. But looking at this data revealed something troubling: the cabin never drew more than about 100 watts of power. If the boiler was working, the cabin should be drawing between 200 and 400 watts. So I started with AJ, the lead chucklehead, asking if the circuit breakers had been turned off. He eventually sent me photos indicating that the boiler was getting power and had thrown an unknown error. Since it was showing a hydronic fluid pressure of only 3.6 psi, I figured that must be the problem. But trying to articulate this to AJ to have him open the appropriate valves proved impossible, partly because he couldn't distinguish between the well pressure tank and the boiler's expansion tank. And before I could direct him to do all I would've liked him to do via our very low-bandwidth communication channel, he said he had to head out.
One of the pictures AJ had sent was of the basement thermostat showing a temperature of 36 degrees, and that had me more concerned than Susan Collins. If the boiler wasn't working and the unseasonable cold and howling winds continued, I didn't know how long it would be before temperatures in the unwinterized cabin fell below freezing. Clearly, I had to go up there, the sooner the better.
At the time, Powerful was out dicking around in the Prius and Gretchen had driven the Bolt to the bookstore, so it meant I would have to drive our most gas-guzzling option, the Subaru Forester. Thinking quickly for a way to take advantage of this unanticipated drive to the Adirondacks, I loaded the back with a bunch of odd bluestone pieces I'd mostly gathered last week along the Farm Road (but not taken on Friday).
The drive up to Johnstown seemed to go a little faster than usual, perhaps because I was driving fast in a very comfortable vehicle. I stopped at the Price Chopper as I had on Friday and, anticipating I might be spending the night, I bought similar things to what I'd bought then (mushrooms, tofu, and pasta shells, but medium, not jumbo). I also got a 64 ounce plastic jar of citrus cocktail. Mondays are one of my two weekly non-alcohol days, and I intended to keep things this way even up at the cabin, so I didn't buy any beer. This meant I could check out using a robot at the automatic teller. As I did this, I noticed a woman there with the largest ass I'd ever seen. She also had enormous tree-trunk-like legs, though this all looked like obesity and not some deforming disease like elephantiasis. Still, the condition was clearly affecting her mobility and she required a cane to get around. She might not have struck me as so odd had it not been for the fact that from her waist-up she had nearly normal proportions. It turned out she was an actual Price Chopper employee, the one assigned to the automated checkout area presumably as a form of loss prevention. I wondered if she'd had trouble getting jobs in the past due to her freakish appearance and that she owes her present employment to the ongoing covid-related labor shortage. Speaking of covid, I noticed today a good sprinkling of people wearing masks even in the Price Chopper. The masked percentage may have been as high as ten.
As I had on Friday, I stopped at the Burger King in southeastern Gloversville to get an Impossible Burger and fries (just one order of the latter, since I hadn't brought the dogs). I ate those fries greedily as I tooled through Gloversville, successfully feeling my way up Hill Street and out to Route 308.
Temperatures had been cold when I'd set out, but by the time I got to Woodworth Lake Road, they were down to a bitter 17 degrees Fahrenheit, a condition made much worse by savage winds. Inside the cabin, I immediately checked the temperatures. Upstairs, it was still a balmy 46 degrees, reflecting residual heat from the weekend. In the basement, as AJ's photo had indicated, the temperature was 36 degrees and hadn't fallen below that, meaning nothing had yet frozen. I immediately opened up the valve connecting the well pump to the household plumbing system, which quickly brought up the pressure of the hydronic fluid in the boiler, and it looked like it was going to start. But then it threw another error, one that confounded me completely. It was now saying it had insufficient gas for ignition and that I should check the valves. So I went up to the kitchen to see if there was gas present there. There was, but perhaps not quite as much as usual. So I started a teapot heating to see if the gas would last. And then I tried to start the generator, which I found had thrown an error code that need to be manually cleared. I did this, but the generator could do nothing more than turn over a few times and give up. Looking at the SolArk inverter and such, I saw that the chuckleheaded solar installers had switched my toggle switch to allow the generator to fill in for deficiencies in the solar power in order to charge the battery and left the cabin with it doing that. The generator had then run until the battery was 65% full, at which point it had thrown the error and died. I didn't look up the error, but it was somewhere just above 1600. I went back into the kitchen and saw that the burner I'd lit was now out. It was as if our 1000 gallon propane tank was now empty. But how could it be? The chuckleheads at Ferrellgas had charged us $1000 to top off the tank with 230 gallons in late February, and we'd only been back to use the cabin on two weekends since then. I tried turning various valves off and on along the pipeline between the tank and the house to see if they affected anything. Was ice trapped in the line? I could hear a soft hissing sound from the stove top when a burner was on there, but only with the valves all open. But there was no longer enough gas to ignite. Clearly Ferrellgas was going to have to send out another team of chuckleheads to get things right.
Without a way to heat the house, I was forced to winterize the cabin yet again. Knowing how cold it was outside and that conditions wouldn't improve until Wednesday, I did as thorough of a job as I could, though I noticed that some pipes near the boiler were impossible to drain, and I wrote this on them in Sharpie marker in hopes that Little John would notice the next time he works on the plumbing.
Side note: had the cabin's Moxee hotspot failed as I expected it would or had I not managed to see the data indicating the failure of the boiler, I wouldn't've driven to the cabin, and it's possible conditions would've fallen below freezing inside, causing who knows how much damage.
With all that finished, I got into the Forester and began the long drive back to Hurley, meaning I would be spending four hours today behind a wheel. Fortunately this time I got the bluetooth communication working between my phone and the Forester's horribly-designed entertainment system, meaning I could listen to the audio track of anti-MLM content streamed from YouTube. That definitely made the drive seem to pass faster.
Conditions along the way were occasionally ominous, with little eddies of windbown snow forming dragonlike shapes snaking across the roadway in front of me. They looked alive, but were the kind of thing one could expect to see even on a lifeless planet. Fortunately the snow never added up to much, but had I been in the Bolt I would've been worried.
Back at the house, I briefly debriefed with Gretchen and then took a nice hot bath. When I got out, I had a strong hankering for citrus salad, which I ate two pint-sized glasses of.
Later, after waking up in the middle of the night, a theory occurred to me that best explained the information I had about the propane tank at the cabin. In late January, the gauge had read near-zero, causing me to winterize the cabin and Gretchen to order a propane refill. That refill had supposedly come in late February and had been, as I said, 230 gallons. But then when I'd next checked the tank, the gauge still read zero, causing Gretchen and me to assume the gauge was broken. But what if the gauge was accurate and the chuckleheaded Farrellgas delivery guys had refilled someone else's tank instead of ours? Mitch, another person in our Woodworth Lake homeowners' association, has what looks to be a Farrellgas tank, though it's smaller. Perhaps they had filled that one instead. This seemed to explain all the disparate data points better than a bad gauge followed by a suddenly-failing gas line. I was so eager to tell Gretchen this theory that I couldn't get back to sleep. But she was sleeping, so I had to wait until morning.
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