It’s Gravity season. Time for things to fall. Things like leaves and branches. On power lines, naturally. And roads. Oh joy, be still my beating heart! Since Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and Maria, I’d been meaning to dig out the generator for a test run, and do my other fall emergency checks. Thus begins a short story of preparedness and failure.

I came home from work to find my neighbor parked on the side of the street, eying the large cottonwood branch across his driveway. A branch which had brought down the power line across his driveway with it. That meant that the whole street was without juice. Marvelous. But at least he had not been hit by it. Apparently he’s wife had arrived home about five minutes before it had fallen, and he’d arrived about five minutes after. Very lucky. They’d called the power company, and “hot lines down and across a road” tends to get their attention, so trucks were due soon.

I went home, checked on things and dug out the generator. Pulled the cord, and it started up on the second try. Then started to smoke a bit, and sputter, then after about a minute it died slowly away. Bummer. I tried again – fuel line open, no obvious problems. I pulled the cord a few more times. It turned over, but didn’t catch. Another pull and half-way through and it went CLANK! and the cord stopped cold. No more turning over. Huh. Smell of gas. I looked closely and there was a bit of gas and oil dribbling out.


Long story short, it was not going anywhere without an overhaul of some sort. So, now I need to find a generator / small engine repair place that is reasonably reputable / reasonable.

Ah, finally the power line crew shows up…. then they have to wait for a second cherry-picker and a foreman. Great… Finally, about 9:30 we have power back. YAY! The laptops can charge up, the fridge and freezer can stay cold, clocks and alarms can be reset, etc. Normal life resumes.

I do the things that require power, and am about wrapping up things at 11:30 PM when there is a crash and everything goes black…. Again… I check with the wife: she was upstairs at the time and thought it sounded like something inside the house. Huh. I check the garage and other likely places, find nothing, then go outside.

A different cottonwood tree had dropped another large branch across a different power line, this time the one that crosses the street and goes to just my house. My neighbor (whose driveway was blocked by the first branch) had heard the noise and was also out investigating. I asked him if he’d be so kind as to call the power company again, since he had their number handy already, and he obliged. (Thanks!) This branch wasn’t across my driveway, just the road I live on, blocking in all the rest of the houses. Great….

And I still had no generator. The crew finally showed up, and power was restored around 2:30 AM. Then I had to check things, reset clocks and alarms, etc. My eldest gets up at around 5:30 to start getting ready for going to school. The other around 6.

Oh, joy, two hours or so of sleep before I get up and do things before going to work. Then, while walking the dog, I see a heap of stolen mail someone had taken and opened from a nearby cul-de-sac and dumped along the side of the road. The day just keeps getting better – now I get to add “call the sheriff to report it” to my list of things to do; I don’t expect them to bust anyone, but if they are bored, well… it can’t hurt.

Anyway, it’s pleasant weather to have a power outage and find out the emergency preps are in need of a serious tune-up, so it’s not all bad, I guess. Rather find out now than when it’s 33 and raining hard in a windstorm.

So, as the moral of the story – don’t put off your emergency preps: check them regularly, check them now, and get things taken care of BEFORE the shit-oscillator picks up enough RPMs  to be a real do-flinger.

Take care.


6 thoughts on “Prep-Check

  1. We have two generators, a smaller 3100 watt inverter/sine wave unit mostly for camping, and a 7500 watt Honda for powering the house, although the sine wave one gets used for computers, TV, etc., now that we have it.

    Every couple of months I like to fire mine up and make sure they’re running. Always keep some sort of preservative in the gas, and when you’re ready to put it away turn the gas shutoff valve to the off position, and let it run until it uses up all the gas in the carb. That will go a long way towards keeping them in running condition. Same thing with chain saws, for that matter. Dump the gas and see if you can then run it dry.

    You probably already know this stuff, but I figured I’d add it in here.

    • Yup, pretty much – Sta-Bil, I usually flip the fuel line valve to shut off the flow, then let it run out, etc. I don’t run it as often as I should; no excuse, but it’s just not that convenient. It’s the “clank” and oil & gas actually leaking out that concern me. Sometimes I get the “I can fix this!” vibe about a problem, sometimes I get the “oh, crud, gonna need a pro for this one” feeling; this is more the latter.

  2. Rolf,
    the symptoms would indicate you will have to replace the engine. Rebuilding it probably won’t be economically feasible. It’s toast.
    BTW, Costco carries two different types of gensets at the warehouse. Cheap and expensive.

  3. My Honda generator (electric start) has a trickle charger attached to it. So does my tractor. I’ve had to jump-start my generator 🙂 and that taught me not to expect batteries to hold a charge for 9 months…

  4. Update: I decided to pull off the easy parts, take a peek, see if I could see anything obvious. Nope, nothing obvious. Couldn’t see any clearly blown seals, broken parts, loose connections, missing plugs, cracks, etc. Huh. Odd.

    Pulled the starter cord and watched the lifters move the valves up and down w/o a problem. That’s a good sign. Reassembled it carefully, flipped on the fuel line shut-off valve and watched for spillage… nothing bad happened. Another good sign. Pulled the starter cord slowly: it still turned over OK. Opened the choke and pulled for real: a few pulls, and then it coughs, chokes, blows some smoke, and starts turning over. A little rough and smoky, but settling down fairly quickly this time, and the smoke cleared up in less than two minutes.

    I let her run for nearly an hour and it did fine. Hit the fuel shut-off valve, let her die with an empty carb and fuel line. I tipped her up and drained the oil, topped it back off, and it seems to work fine. No new leaks, no unusual sounds. No idea what happened with any certainty; could just be that it’s been a while and the seals needed to sort of re-set, or something, but it appears to be working just fine with no professional attention.

    Many possible lessons to learn here: PM is good, dry-run testing in minor “emergencies” can be used as an opportunity, keep tools, oil, fuel preservative, fuel, and spare parts on hand (and in known or logical locations), learn to not be afraid to attempt fixes yourself, etc.

    Stay safe out there, ya’ll.

  5. Yeah, you could do that prep stuff. OR, you could have 2 roomies one of whom is the live-in landlord. Roomie whined that I woke him up talking in the dark to the power company. Landlord said to not bother calling or getting out the generator as the power will come back on eventually. And, if I have set up the generator, to put it away when I go to work even if the if the juice is still out. I’ve stopped replenishing my frozen foods…
    Glad your generator healed itself.

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