Linesmen truck. At one point Sunday, we had four on the Great Farm
Monday the 30th of October started badly, with a huge wind and rain storm starting early, before light. This was a combination of a nor'easter and a tropical storm. It brought down trees on power lines all over New England, but particularly in the great State of Maine. In New England as a whole, there were a million electrical customers without power. In Maine, there were nearly 600,000. This is the record of what happened to the Womerlippis, for future reference.
We tried to get to work. Class wasn't cancelled. There were down trees blocking the roads all around the county and the windstorm was still in full force. Trees were still coming down. We both made it to work, but daycare was cancelled at 9am, although I didn't get the cancellation message until half an hour later. By prior arrangement, I was the one to pick up Edana. I cancelled my 11am class and went to get her. There was no power at daycare, and none at home when I got there.
I then began using our old propane Generac generator, and as usual it was hard to start, requiring a spritz of starter fluid. Once started, it ran well enough.
The full impact of the storm came out on the news by Monday afternoon and evening, and it was soon clear that we would be without power for a long time. Late Monday, I helped one neighbor with a temporary 220V generator hookup using a standard 30A twistlock receptacle box. I "sistered" wires to the 100 amp main household connections from an entry panel in the garage. I left instructions to connect the receptacle box to a dedicated 30A, 220V dipole breaker as soon as one could be sourced. One other neighbor had their own generator, leaving only one household without power on the Great Farm. (There are now only four households in the neighborhood, down one after the death of our elderly neighbor Jean Richards, earlier in the year.)
Late Monday I ordered one of the last available electric start generators in the Home Depot online catalog. Delivery was scheduled for Friday, which in normal circumstances would be after power was restored, but this was a large outage. I was also increasingly concerned that the Generac would poop out on us. The only thing available was a more or less unheard-of Chinese brand with no reviews, but the price was cheap enough, and the new unit would have dual propane/gas fuel capacity as well as electric start. The electric start feature would help with the starting chore in all seasons, but particularly winter, the dual fuel feature would help additionally in the dead of winter, when propane doesn't like to gasify, and sometimes will not start at all. I'd taken to leaving the propane generator on the porch to keep it warm.
On Tuesday, I went to get our older 5500W HomeLite 220V generator from the Bale House, leaving the Ryobi 110V, 3500W one we use for the camper. The occupants of the Bale House had been complaining about the HomeLite not starting, but since they were behind on the money they pay us to cover ground rent, tax, and insurance expenses on the house, I had been disinclined to help until now. They had then made a surprise payment, which arrived by mail a day or two earlier than the storm (not nearly catching up with arrears).
They had power, their home being off-grid, so this was no emergency for them. The genny is needed to charge the batteries when the sun doesn't shine, or for large power loads such as carpentry equipment. Before the storm, I had made tentative plans to switch out the generator with the help of their brother, a friend. The older one could then perhaps be repaired and used for back-up. The storm accelerated these plans. Edana accompanied me on the trip, and I got some help from the occupants to load and unload the heavy gennies.
Once home, the HomeLite started and ran seemingly fine after simply disconnecting the on/off-switch, which had a ground leak. On Wednesday morning, our truck's exhaust cross-over pipe went out. I fixed it with some muffler tape, then ordered the part.
Late Wednesday afternoon I contacted our last without-power neighbor on the Great Farm, saying we had a spare generator. She was content to do without. I then put out a bulletin on FaceBook and our work email, and had a taker for the genny within five or ten minutes from some colleagues at work, a family of two professors and two small kids. I delivered the HomeLite to their house Wednesday evening, with Edana "helping," and first set up a 110V "suicide" plug, there being no generator hook-up at this house, and no hardware available anywhere in the county to make one. This temporary measure allowed them TV, saved some food in freezers, and provided some lights, but did not run the water pump, which was 220V. The HomeLite was, however, not running well, delivering maybe 90V, and "hunting" or cycling rpms.
By Thursday morning it was clear from the occupants' reports that a combination of large loads and a too-innovative plug design (using plastic cam connectors) was causing wire heating problems and eventually a melted receptacle. The brownout was probably also contributing, adding to voltage drop and thus wire heating. I made plans to collect 220V hardware from various stores for a better, safer connection. By Thursday afternoon, parts were again available in the county, after new deliveries arrived -- although by all accounts multiple hardware stores sold out again, fast.
It was easy enough to make a 220V generator hookup for them that afternoon and evening, but it took a lot of fault diagnosis to figure out why it would not initially work. Eventually I realized I'd been trying to run the two poles to separate breakers on the same bus, instead of feeding both 110V buses separately. Duh. But this is what happens when you are tired. It didn't help that both my VOM meters seemingly refused to read correctly, one because of a bad battery. The other, an automatic, just never gave a stable readout. It should have simply read zero, but instead read wild. Later, at home, with test voltage, it would read wild then find the proper voltage, but the period of wild readouts while waiting for the automatic system to stabilize was too confusing. (Note: never take an automatic VOM to an emergency.) I eventually traced the mistake using a trouble light with stripped wires as a test light. The genny still ran badly, but provided perhaps 180V with a lot of rpm cycling. This gave them TV, dim lights, fridge, freezer and water, including hot water. With two little kids in the house, this was a welcome relief.
By Thursday night our Generac at home began to give problems running the water pump and microwave. This could be managed by reducing loads elsewhere, but was inconvenient, and threatened worse.
New generator, Wen model DF475
The new generator arrived Friday afternoon, was easy to set up and is running as I write. It seems to be a moderately well-engineered knock-off of the Generac, with a slightly larger engine and generator head. It manages the loads in the house better. It gives less than perfect sine power, and so makes the florescent and LED lights flicker, but everything else runs fine, and the microwave runs better than with the Generac. I published a review of the generator, a Wen model number DF475, on Home Depot's webpage. I figured I would have liked to have read a review before I bought one, so I could at least allow the next guy to do so. I gave it four stars, but after living with the florescent flickering for a bit longer, I'm down to three-and-a-half. Still, for only $470 after shipping, the price is good.
One thing for sure: Electric start is pretty sweet, after years of pull-cord starting.
Linesmen were seen in our neighborhood Friday, but left without doing any work. This is most likely because our line runs through the woods, and they would need regular ladders to fix it, not a boom arm. There are lots of other folks without power in Jackson, and I imagined they went off to help someone else closer to the road. This is reasonable, given the priorities. We have generators, and no longer have any elderly people living on our road -- although If I experience too many more weeks like this, I expect I shall age fast.
Today is Saturday. By family agreement, Saturday morning is set aside for me to do home and vehicle maintenance. I expect to have to spend much of the morning puttering, fixing wires and making broken and damaged equipment work again. We are not out of the woods yet, and then may need it all again soon enough. Winter is coming, and with it, more power outages.
Update: Sunday morning early and still no power. I talked to a linesman around 2pm Saturday and he made it sound like they would get here soon, but no joy so far. The HomeLite generator head is repaired where the receptacle melted. It needs a carburetor, which has been ordered. The Wen genny, apparently, likes to freeze its own propane connector, so the bottle, which is free standing, must be placed in the aircooling stream from the engine to keep it warm, or it shuts off long before all the gas is used up. Neither the Generac nor the Wen provide enough power to use the auto lift, a problem because the truck needs its pipe fitted. But you can't have everything.
Update #2: First one, then two, the three, then four Florida Power and Light boom arm trucks showed up on the Great Farm. The linesmen are all very Floridian, soft-spoken, chatty, southern accents. It took them most of the day, but they expect to have it all done by dinnertime tonight. The Wen is running better now the gas bottle is in the aircooling flow.
Update #3: Power was turned on at 4.00 pm Sunday.