Wednesday, 5 February 2014

‘There’s water coming out of the air filter housing, is that bad?’


It is 14.45 hrs the day before a bank holiday.  You have 300 dollars in cash, the banks close at 1500 hrs, your generator has stuffed up and you have seven freezers and coolers loaded with meat and drink that have stopped working.  In three hours it will be dark, the one rechargeable emergency lantern you have is uncharged, no water pump means no water, your phone is beeping at you because its battery too is about to expire.  You are hot, sweaty and incredibly dirty, and the last time you spoke to your wife, who is in town, she was clearly in the foulest of moods.

What do you do?

Well, the first thing is to invite all your mates round for a barbecue because by lunchtime the next day, the meat will be nicely defrosted.

The next thing is come up with the mother of all excuses to explain to a tired and very pissed off wife why she is arriving home to a house in darkness.  I normally face up to my failings and would never lie to worm my way out of a situation of my own creation but it is one thing throwing one’s self on the mercy of a boss the worst punishment at his disposal being a sacking, and entirely another admitting to Marcia that the reason the generator is now 850 kilograms of expensive scrap is because it wasn’t serviced on time.

This is irritating as I had included servicing the generator on my Ivan Denisovich list of things to do some two weeks ago and even more galling because I had firmly resolved to service it first thing Monday morning; the night before I had even ensured that Marcia included 10 litres of Castrol’s finest lubricating oil on her shopping list.

Before I had Dominic go and find an anthill on which to stake me out saving Marcia the effort, I rang my old boss.  He is to the knowledge base of all things mechanical, especially power generation what the encyclopaedia Britannica is to general knowledge.  When it comes to fault diagnosis, three or four honest answers to his perceptive questions is all it usually takes.  If he was a GP, he’d save the NHS billions.

‘Apparently Marcia switched on the gennie early this morning, it ran for an hour then stopped,’ I told him, ‘so I let it cool down, checked it over, topped up the radiator and started it up again.  It ran for an hour and stopped with an overheat alarm.’

‘Has it got a blocked air filter?’ he asked, beating his own record.

How does the man know?  As I was checking it over, I noticed the pneumatic warning valve had popped on the filter housing and was now showing red along with an advisory stating, ‘Change Filter when Red’.  How long it had been red, I had no idea.

‘Yes,’ I admitted and told him why I thought so.

‘Well, that’s probably it then,’ he continued in his low, steady tone, ‘the engine was struggling to breathe and the head has overheated.  Sounds to me like a blown gasket or a cracked head.’

Shit.  Symptom, overheating.  Reason, cracked head.  Cause, lack of maintenance.  Fault,  All mine.

‘But that’s not all,’ I said, ‘I filled the radiator again…’

‘How much did it take?’ he said interrupting me.

‘About a litre.’

‘About enough to fill a cylinder,’ he remarked.

‘And now there’s water running out of the air filter housing.  Is that bad?’ I asked, fearing the worst.

‘Well, it’s not good!’ says he with a sigh. ‘You haven’t tried to turn it over have you?  Because that would be really bad.’

‘No!’ I exclaimed, ‘I’m not that stupid!’  Whatever opinion he had of me he held in reserve.

‘Tell you what,’ he said brightly, ‘tomorrow is a public holiday and we fancy a run out of town, how about I come down with a couple of blokes or three and we whip the head off and have a look?’

I have never really considered having a man’s babies before but I was suddenly overwhelmed with a desire to have his.

Now I had bad news for Marcia that I could temper with some good news.  I told her that I was preparing some extension cables and fitting plugs so if she could buy a small petrol driven generator in town, I could rig something up to keep at least the freezers going and maybe the TV as well.  She wasn’t, I confess, particularly impressed but took it all better than I could have hoped for.

Sure enough, Tuesday morning they pitched up.  It had taken Dominic and I over an hour to get one panel off the sound deadening canopy so we could see if the radiator was gummed up with dust.  It took them only two hours to have the rest of the canopy off and the engine stripped down to the block.  As the rocker cover came off, we could see the valve gear was full of water.  As the head came off, we could see the number one cylinder was, as the man had correctly predicted, full of water.  Trouble was, no reason for the water being there was readily apparent.  The gasket was in good order, no cracks were visible in the head and the bores looked ok. Everything seemed as it should be. 

Water, water everywhere...
...everywhere it should not be.
 
One of the mechanics finished scraping the last of the muck off the head, ‘There you go!’ he said.  I don’t know off hand how much a core plug is but it can’t be more than a couple of dollars.  There are four of them fitted to the head, invisible to casual inspection as they are hidden under the rocker cover, and two of them had rusted through allowing water into the inlet ports.  They could only just have failed for if the gennie had sat overnight with an inlet valve open allowing a cylinder to fill, water being incompressible would have destroyed the engine had an attempt to start it been made. 
 

A few posts ago I mentioned the need for ant-freeze in the coolant and a lot of readers wondered why I needed anti-freeze in a country where it never freezes.  Well, here is the reason.  Anti-freeze is also a rust inhibitor.  By running this engine with only water as a coolant, it had quietly started to rust inside allowing the failure of a tuppenny-ha’penny component to potentially destroy a ten thousand dollar engine.  As it is, we won’t know for certain until it is back together and cranks up for the first time again.

Fortunately, it is a common and highly regarded engine and as such, is fitted to a wide range of applications from Cummins, New Holland, Perkins et al in everything from generators to tractors and plant.  Amazingly, all the components required were available off the shelf in Angola… at a price, of course.  A complete head gasket set was US650 plus another couple of hundred to have the core plugs replaced.  A new head gasket in the US is $65 so a full set wouldn’t be more than twice that.  $850 is good value for money though, because the parts are here.

The engineering company doing the head has promised it will be ready tomorrow so my ex-boss has said he will be back here on Friday.  If all goes well, we’ll have light and running water again in time for the weekend.

In my experience over twenty years in Angola, for a generator to suffer a major breakdown and have it stripped, the fault diagnosed, the necessary parts located and be rebuilt within one working week is nothing short of a miracle.  Some would say it was all down to whom I knew which is, of course true but in this case seems cynical smacking as it does of corruption.  No, what really made the difference was luck, pure and simple.  I was very lucky to have had a boss like Andy Mallet who, rather than take a hard earned day off and enjoy a much needed stress break on the beach with his family, elected instead to drop everything and help out one of his ex-employees.

Now, I must be off.  Marcia bought a small petrol driven generator that can just keep the freezers and the laptop going.  The well pump is too much for the poor little thing so water for washing and cooking has to be hauled up a bucket at a time from the well.  Guilt ridden as I am, I have ensured there are always a full 100 litre container in the bathroom and a full fifty litre plastic washing bowl in the kitchen.  Normally I heave the water for cooking onto the dining table but today I was giving the house a good clean so placed the bowl on the floor and was then distracted by blogging.  In the background as I write, I have just heard the lapping sound of three thirsty dogs burying their snouts deep into our cool, clean cooking water.  Now it would probably shock, even nauseate a few but really, that doesn’t bother me; after all I have drunk water from streams and animals don’t just drink out of them but, in all conscience, I couldn’t possibly allow Marcia to cook with what she would consider water no less than poisoned, even if she were ignorant of the fact, so I have a bit of water carrying to do before she gets home.

All that is powering Fort Hippo at the moment

39 comments:

  1. Good thing you found a back up generator. What good friends you have. It does all seem to happen a once. In the US, we are freezing. Propane used to be 1.79USD per gallon and now with a shortage, has gone up to $6.00USD per gallon. That, and all the super stores have sold out of electric heaters and won't be getting another shipment of them this winter. Don't know what will happen to all of us that depend on propane for heat. They are rationing it to 100 gallons per fill up. Guess we are going to be poor folks for the remainder of winter - that, and/or frozen.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a bloody coincidence! The oven is electric so we are stuffed as far as roasts are concerned but the hob is gas. We use LPG in bottles and, guess what? We have just run out! Ah well, I like my steaks rare... Funny how quickly we can slide back into the dark ages (literally).

      Delete
    2. We buy propane in bottles containing 11 kgs of propane for cooking. I have just worked out that we pay 78 cents a US gallon.

      Delete
  2. I don't believe you'll find me complaining about anything in my own life today. Thanks for the perspective.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A woman not complaining for a WHOLE day? Wow!

      Delete
  3. The infernal combusted engine. Last year the same happened to the engine on my Toyota T100 truck right as I was delivering a load of lumber for a project. Except no freeze pugs or duff core plugs as you call them. Mine was just piss poor design and 20 yrs of use and abuse that did it in. Aluminum head on a steel block with less than a 1/2 cm between cooling gallery and combustion chamber. here is what mine looked like. http://isserfiq.blogspot.com/2012/12/back-to-infernal-combusted-engine.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Eek! I take it you got it going again?

      I love Triumph Stags but their V8 engines were fatally flawed for the same reason, aluminium heads on a cast iron block and marginal cooling galleries. Let one overheat and it didn't just blow a gasket, it warped the heads which could not be skimmed. They also had a three mile long single timing chain, not even duplex as all Alfas had at the time, with a tensioner guaranteed to fail and we all know what a slipped timing chain does to an interference engine!

      Delete
    2. I actually got the heads decked (skimmed?) and rebuilt but they sat for 6 months at the machinist, so things got delayed a bit. He did a superb job and price was reasonable but I had to wait for them. In the mean time I bought an other used truck. I did get the heads back on, but then got busy with paying work and other things and then weather got to cold to finish the job of fitting all the fiddly bits. Truth be told I don't have a clue what I am doing and need the help of an ace mechanic like your friend just to look over my shoulder and make sure I don't screw it up. I know I have one cam out of timing so I have to pull that one and set it right. I'll gather my courage and get back to it in the spring.

      Delete
    3. Getting the timing right is fiddly and definitely not a cold weather job!

      Delete
  4. hippo, I love your frank honesty: "‘Change Filter when Red’. How long it had been red, I had no idea." Whew, now I feel so much better about the septic tank treatment that I noticed today (in plain sight of course) that I have forgotten to do now for more months than I care to remember. Ugh! I will set that to rights tonight. Promise! I'm so glad you got such a miraculous fix!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh Bollocks! The septic tank bio powder! It is late, I am tired, am I really going to warm some water up, dissolve a sachet into it and then flush it down the loo tonight? I'll do it in the morning. Thanks for reminding me!

      I keep mine on top of the fridge, by the way. Why? I don't know.

      Delete
  5. Andy Mallet? Bet you got hammered with him! (Geddit?) How very kind of him to help you out in that way. When electricity arrives through the national grid, we tend to take its presence for granted. We forget how fortunate we are - despite the bills!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you factor in depreciation of the generator, cost of maintenance and fuel, I guess I am paying around 700 bucks a month for electricity.

      Delete
  6. I'm tired after just reading this. And that's after I finished assisting my husband to shovel (okay, okay, snow blow) us out of 14 inches of snow.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Andy did most of the work, all I did was stand around looking glum!

      Delete
  7. It was all a bit boys toys for me
    Photos of engines are lost on me
    It's like showing me a close up of boobs

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have nothing against mechanics. My best friend is a mechanic.

      Delete
  8. I, on the other hand, love the close up of engine parts :)

    Wonderful re telling of a horrible set of events. Hope it is all ok now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nothing like close ups of thrusting pistons and big ends, is there?

      I guess we will know one way or another by end of play Friday.

      Delete
    2. Erm, as an Engineer and ex racing driver I find any mechanical parts interesting :)

      Delete
    3. Me too. I may not always know what I am doing but am fascinated nevertheless.

      Delete
  9. When he replied, "about enough to fill up a cylinder", it felt like somebody punched ME in the guts. That line physically hurt.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sent my heart to my boots as well because I knew he was right.

      Is it worth me surfing over to your blog? You've been pretty elusive for quite a while, how's things?

      Delete
    2. Yes! I just posted two posts this week, and I'm hoping to write more.

      Delete
  10. Give yourself some credit, man. You are sober now; that is what the difference is between luck and a miracle. Being sober does have its benefits - being aware of your surroundings rather then dumb-*ss luck all the time...

    cant wait to read about the barbeque... it did happen, right?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know, reality is pretty scary man!

      The barbecue was great, we had eleven around the table on the veranda. Now that the garden has been cleaned up, it is a real nice place to sit.

      Delete
  11. This is all becoming very sexist. What makes you think that a woman (in these liberated times) is not capable of repairing her own generator? I'm not surprised she's occasionally mad at you; she's probably dying to get her hands dirty, but always finds that you've already done the bloody job for her.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmmm, somehow I don't think so... not in the way you mean at least. She does have this highly irritating habit of trying quick fixes herself but elicits the help of the most incompetent twats she can find, usually resulting in far more damage. I remind you of the car radiator incident.

      Delete
  12. Tom in the shit and not haveing had a good feed for some time what a better excuse than to race to his aid, little hard graff and then a good home cooked meal by one of the best chefs in Sub Saharan Africa, Tom thank Marcia for the lovely food!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Shouldn't you be producing energy for your client rather than wasting time blogging?

      Everything Marcia served up will be on the restaurant menu.

      I was thinking of a decent curry for tomorrow...

      Delete
  13. A friend in need is a friend indeed. Sounds like Andy Mallet is one of the best. So glad that in my life, water and electricity are taken for granted.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not a bad chap at all, ex RAF too.

      Delete
  14. Another close call, hopefully not too expensive. And again it shows it's not what you know but whom. Well done old chap.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All thanks to Andy. Without him I'd have been at the mercy of a local mechanic and that would have been really expensive.

      Delete
  15. It was -33C here this morning...I worry about waking up in the freezing cold with the furnace on the fritz. It has happened before. We use natural gas and now have a wood stove for back up. We are on city water, but that is no guarantee either, as the infrastructure is getting old. Pipes freeze or just crack from tree roots and old age. Keeping up with everything is exhausting for sure.
    Good friends are worh their weight in gold. Glad you had someone you could call.
    Barb

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. -33C? I would be dead in seconds!

      Delete
  16. We too have a generator for our farm which by means of magic alone, turns itself on every Friday to check all functions. Then when we lose power it comes on and powers our freezers and the tank where we store our dairy's milk. But now I am curious and will be asking many questions of the hubbie this evening. I'll tell him YOU sent me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Now, if your generator could service itself as well, I'd be really impressed!

      Delete
  17. Hi there! Keep it up! This is a good read. You have such an interesting and informative page. I will be looking forward to visit your page again and for your other posts as well. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about air filter housing. I am glad to stop by your site and know more about air filter housing.



    Cheap Radiators & Radiator Fans

    ReplyDelete

Please feel free to comment, good or bad. I will allow anything that isn't truly offensive to any other commentator. Me? You can slag me without mercy but try and be witty while you are about it.