Today’s writing prompt is ‘The embarrassing truth is, I knew this.’ Here is Chief of Operations’s entry:
The Black Box
Old Blue, my ’64 International woods truck which I have owned since 1980, was parked, as it had been all winter, in the only turn-around suitable for the 26’ truck I had rented to transport syrup drums to market. I removed its battery for a quick charge, as I have often done at the end of sugar season, and reinstalled it. The minute I turned the key to start the engine, my ears told me something was very wrong.
Opening the hood again, I saw a wisp of smoke coming off the alternator, and stared in disbelief at the idiotic thing I had done. I had managed to place the battery in backwards and hook the wire terminals to the wrong posts. (This would be impossible in my van.) I was never one to hold frustration in, and at this moment I proved beyond doubt my ability to swear.
Hooking battery wires to the wrong posts isn’t easy since the positive one is slightly larger than the negative. The embarrassing truth is I knew this, and how I managed to pull off this harebrained feat is a story in itself. The battery was old and the positive post, as is often the case, was covered with corrosion that a wire brush would only partially clean. There remained a black scale that made charging difficult, so I ended up filing to get it shiny clean. When I went to hook up the battery in its reversed position, the larger positive wire terminal was of course too big for the smaller negative post. With my rational mind on the back burner I thought I must have filed the terminal down too much. Being what I thought at the time was clever, I filed the open ends of the positive terminal down enough to allow it to be clamped on to the smaller post. Hooking the smaller negative terminal onto the bigger positive post was also challenging. However, battery terminals sometimes reinstall harder than they came off, and it is often necessary to loosen the terminal nut a little and spread the open ends so they will slide onto the post all the way. Thus I creatively managed to install the battery backwards without ever triggering an alarm at what I was doing.
The truck started right up after correcting the hookup, but as I feared, the battery wasn’t charging.
Enter Clyde, the mechanical whiz kid. Clyde grew up in Nebraska Valley, and always the entrepreneur, graduated from a grade school lawn mowing service (his mower on a home-made trailer was transported by bicycle power) to a full-on auto mechanic shop in town. He has saved Old Blue from a certain death in the past, and so I explained the situation to him and said it looks like I’ve fried the alternator, which is probably impossible to replace on that ancient truck. He said, “You need to take it to Farrells Electric, and they’ll rebuild it if necessary, but it might just be the black box.” “Black box?” I said, with visions of airline disasters in my head. He explained it was a voltage regulator that is now part of newer alternators, but was mounted separately on the older versions.
And then he said it was peculiar the terminals had been reversed as there was a protection against that with their different sizes. I said yeah, I had to do some filing to make the fit. I detected an enlightened grin flashing over his face, which he instantly erased so as not to embarrass me.
Enter Farrells Electric, a back street repair shop that can seemingly fix anything you throw at them. He hooked the alternator onto an impressive looking machine (which appeared able to diagnose any condition including a human ailment) and, viewing its screen filled with undulating sine waves said, “Look, it’s working just fine.” Then, he picked up the black box and shook it. It rattled, and he said confidently, “That’s your problem.”
He wrote me a bill for the $12 part with nothing included for labor. Feeling like a big spender in some Hollywood movie, I threw a $20 at him and coolly told him to keep the change.
It takes more than a family to run a sugaring operation; it takes a village or two.