The Mains Problem

One night a few weeks ago, we lost power briefly. And then apparently again that night, but while we were asleep. A couple of weeks after that, we had a strange occurrence during the day which I first noticed because I heard some relays click like when power is turned off on some appliances. I was sitting in the family room, and tried turning on the TV, but it wouldn’t go on. I looked at the power strip it was plugged into, and there was no light. Tried resetting that, but nothing improved. I then noticed that some other things lacked power as well. So I went to the circuit breaker sub-panel upstairs. Nothing looked tripped, but sometimes those things are subtle. So I tried resetting the likely candidates. Then the unlikely ones. Then I went to the basement to reset the breaker that feeds the upstairs sub-panel. Still no improvement. At this point, I realized that other things were without power as well. The only thing that all this stuff seemed to have in common was the main circuit breaker. While I didn’t trace everything out, it seemed likely that one of our phases had become disconnected within that main breaker. At least I can’t think of another explanation consistent with the observed fact of a subset of circuits being dead. As much as I dislike doing so, I reset that breaker, and then all was well.

I assumed it was a one-time bizarre event. Then about a week later it happened again. It still took me a bit to realize it was a recurrence of the same thing. After that, I began to make the possible connection to the power outage, and suspected that something had damaged our main breaker. I called an electrician, and left a message describing the symptom and my diagnosis. They never called back. Then this past Friday, it happened again. Then Saturday morning.

At that point, my annoyance outweighed my rational fear, and after some research into circuit breaker compatibility, I headed to Home Depot and bought a replacement breaker. Shortly after I got home, it happened again, which made for a fine opportunity to swap out the breaker. So I did my best to take all the precautions I could, like standing on a wooden platform, wearing rubber gloves, using a plastic handled screwdriver, I opened up the breaker box and pulled out the main breaker and replaced it.

That’s very easy to type, but in fact, after telling people it should be about 10 minutes, and that our internet connection should survive because all the essential equipment is backed up by UPS’s, two unexpected things happened. There was a weird bar blocking the breaker slot across from the main that was interfering with my removal, and about 3 minutes into the procedure, the UPS that protects the Verizon ONT gave out. In the end, it was about 20 minutes of sweaty, shaking hands work, but it seems to have been successful. Power has been stable for almost 72 hours now, which is a new record for the past week.

So that adventure, while apparently successful, has no photographic documentation, due to my anxiety level. But a couple of weeks earlier, I was busy taking pictures of another home repair adventure in anticipation of writing up a blog post about it. Our kitchen drain had, seemingly all of a sudden (or nearly so) was completely clogged. This was Thursday night, and I arranged to take the day off to deal with it. I had purchased a drain auger a couple of years earlier, and used it successfully on another occasion. So I tackled the problem with a certain confidence, documenting the cluttered under-sink cabinet, its subsequent cleared out state, my careful prep work to minimize any mess (drain cleaning is yucky business), first view inside the clean-out, etc. But then after a couple of hours with the auger, and another attempt in the basement, where the kitchen drain has a long, nearly horizontal run, things hadn’t improved. And of course, to check, you have to put everything back together, and run water through to see if it drains.

That took us to about noon time, and Susan and I had a planned lunch date. So I cleaned myself up, and we went to lunch. Then after lunch, I had to run an errand with Clara, and besides, I was tired and discouraged. So I gave Susan the number of our regular plumber and asked her to call. They came pretty quickly, and by the time I got home from my errand, the plumber had solved the problem, and was nearly packed up and ready to leave. I don’t believe he did anything fundamentally differently than I did, but he had a couple of advantages. Mainly, I think, is his experience with the feel of the auger, and knowing what’s likely a blockage vs. an elbow, etc. And persistence. Perhaps if I’d just kept at it a bit more, I’d have been successful. Anyway, the failure discouraged me from posting what was intended to be photos of my glorious success. But here, sans photos, perhaps that failure can be a footnote to my other, more successful endeavor.

North Adams

This past weekend, Susan and I drove to the northwest corner of Massachusetts, to a town named North Adams,

as a last chance vacation before school begins. This year, only one of us is actually going back to school, Susan, to teach eighth grade science again. Even Clara, who is still in school at NU, is on co-op this semester. And Susan will in fact be teaching from home. But before things begin in earnest (classes don’t begin until 21 September!) there is all kinds of teacher training and stuff to prepare everyone for the most bizarre fall in living memory. So we wanted to get away, even if it was only for two days, and still in state (to follow quarantine guidelines!)

We drove out late Saturday morning, stopping at Herrick’s Tavern for a nice, outdoor lunch. Herrick’s has been one of our favorite stops on the way home from frisbee tournaments, back when that was a thing.

See? I told you it was Herrick’s

When we arrived in North Adams, our AirBnB host greeted us warmly, and over the next half hour we learned most of his life story, some interesting tidbits about the town (where almost all his story took place), and precious little about the apartment. We unpacked the van, and then went walking around the center of town, and did a bit of grocery shopping. After putting away groceries, we headed out to the local brewery, Bright Ideas, for some beer and BBQ from A-OK Barbecue. Good beer and tasty food!

On Sunday, after a home breakfast, we ventured out on our bikes! First, we headed back east, and rode out to Natural Bridge State Park, where we enjoyed learning about and seeing the after effects of marble mining. The marble from there is not terribly fine, and apparently much of it, especially in later years, was simply ground up into calcium carbonate powder for all kinds of uses. But the park was lovely, and the natural bridge was certainly something to see. Most importantly, Susan got to scratch her geological itch a bit, and hug a rock.

I love you. You are my rock.

We rode back home, and had a home lunch, and then got right back on our saddles and headed west to hike the Cascade Trail. It is a modest trail, mostly following alongside a brook, and leading up to a lovely waterfall. It being the dry season, the falls were hardly dramatic, but still picturesque:

Not much water, but enough to cause falls

After hiking back down to the elementary school where we parked our bikes, and riding back to our AirBnB, we cleaned up and headed out for dinner. We had planned to walk over to the nice Italian restaurant in town, but they are apparently only open Wednesday through Saturday, so we had to find an alternative. OpenTable suggested the Freight Yard Pub, and we called and made a quick reservation, as we were uncertain how crowded it might be. When we arrived (by car, and the only use of the car in town until then) about 15 minutes later, we were able to get a table on the patio right away (would have been fine even without a reservation). Susan’s steak tips were very good, and even the mixed vegetables accompanying the tips were notably flavorful. I enjoyed the fajitas I ordered, though something disagreed with my tummy later in the evening.

The next morning, Monday, we went out for breakfast to Renee’s, which Scott had recommended. It was a lovely restaurant, with recently expanded outdoor seating, and we enjoyed a nice relaxed breakfast, before packing up and heading home. Really home.

North Adams was a lovely, scenic little town in the Berkshires. We enjoyed the two days we spent there. The downtown area was rather depressed though. A non-scientific survey suggests about half the storefronts are closed. How much of that is due to the Covid-19 pandemic I don’t know. I only know it can’t have helped.