Things We Can Lose In A Heating System

Published: May 28, 2009 - by Dan Holohan

Categories: Darn-Good Stories

0927 nickels full 600

Lost and Found

I was helping a contractor troubleshoot a heating problem that he was having with a residential boiler. The problem was in this one zone that would heat some days, but not heat on other days. You could feel the place where the hot water stopped flowing. It was right at this copper elbow. Heat some days; no heat other days. The contractor says to me, "You know, Dan, it's almost like there's a little valve in there, opening and closing."

Well, we cut the pipe and it wasn’t a valve in there, it was a nickel. Turns this way; turns that way. Flow. No flow.

Now why would a nickel be inside a hydronic heating system?

Why not?

Over on the Wall one day, my buddy Mike Reavis, posed the question, "What have you dropped into a boiler section by accident?"

Fascinating question, don't you think? And one that has, I'm sure, led to many repeat sales because, as one of the Wallies points out, "Boiler’s ain't that easy to turn over and shake out."

So here for your enjoyment and consideration is a Contractors' Lost and Found. I'll leave out the names. These folks have suffered enough. And it's not just boilers into which these fine folks drop stuff. Listen:

"I dropped my reading glasses and a small box of wire nuts into a boiler once." (He'll need one to find the other.)

"I was on a no-heat call for a hot-air furnace. Every time it fired up it ran until the blower came on and then shut down. It drove me nuts until I took it apart and found the instruction package leaning up against the blower. Every time it came on it sucked the manila envelope up against itself." (Somebody’s looking for those instructions.)

"I dropped my hearing aid into a boiler. It took me a long time to get it back, but it was cheaper than buying a new one." (Say what?)

"I found 48, 1-1/2" nuts, a lunchbox and a pair of Carhart bib overalls in a 24" steam strainer." (Hey, anybody seen Joey? When's he getting back here with them nuts?)

"Let's see I have a habit of losing Mini-Mag lights. I've got one in a boiler, one in a stove, and at least two in various oil tanks. Anyone that finds them can have them. I now have one of those big rubber coated ones that won't fit into anything. You might also come across the odd pen and definitely a few little screwdrivers." (Keep 'em.)

"I had a customer take their grills off the vents on their second floor. Their kitten fell all the way down to the basement. Thank goodness for humidifiers. They make for an easier rescue." (It just gets curiouser and curiouser, doesn’t it?)

"I recently worked on a 'floor model' boiler sold by a supply house. It was in the counter area for almost a year. I found pens, small nuts and bolts, a couple of cigarette butts, and a tampon. Of course, I found the tampon after installation." (Full moon?)

"We uncrated a Weil-McLain EG boiler once and I noticed a pile of insulation on top of the block. I had never seen insulation there before and tried to brush it off. When I did, four mice ran out and two of them ran down the 3/4" tapping where the relief valve would go. The other two ran off into the customer’s basement. And yes, the homeowner saw the whole thing. I figured the two in the block were not long for this world anyway, so after we finished the install we concentrated on the two runaways. Got 'em both. As for the two that got into the block, I imagine I'll be skimming what's left of them one of these days." (Somebody should call PETA.)

"When he was a young wiry kid, my dad was helping a boilermaker finish laying up the brick refractory on a large locomotive boiler. They'd put him inside the combustion chamber and handed him bricks to lay into position. When he finished, and tried to get out the fire door, he found that his body had swollen from all the physical activity and he couldn't get out of the firebox. The old timer told him to lay back, take it easy, drink a soda and try again in a half-hour. Sure enough, out he popped." (Got Exlax?)

"How abut a Snap-on ratcheting screwdriver into the harbor. It fell out of my back pocket while I was climbing over the rail of a sailboat. I tried to fish it out with a large magnet, but no luck You try throwing a 20-pound magnet attached to a rope a few hundred times toward where you think the tool might have fallen." (I wonder what he did catch.)

"Too many years ago I was an installer's apprentice and we were taking an old hot-air unit out of this basement. My job was to return it to the shop and unload it on the junk pile. Later that afternoon I saw Harry wailing and banging on the old furnace, trying to pry it apart. I asked him what he was doing and he said, "I dropped the nicest 7/16 wrench in there three or four years ago, and I'm gonna get it back!" He did, and we laughed about it for days." (Don’t ever loan Harry money.)

"When my dad heard we were going to work at a certain nursing home he would always say, "Bring me back my jackknife." Well, one day I was sent there to fix a tub mixing valve and I crawled into the ceiling to shut off the valves. Lo and behold, there was Dad's knife! I recognized it from many years before. I brought it back to him and his comment was, 'About time.'" (Seriously, don't you think the kid should have gotten it sooner?)

"As a young mechanic, just starting out, I was working on an apartment complex. I managed to have a roll of solder slide on the title floor right into the toilet flange. Being really young, I was pretty upset, so I went looking for my boss. He just laughed and grabbed a three-prong retriever from his truck and fished that roll right out. I thanked him and he told me not to worry, and that he had done the same many times before. He just never had the nerve to tell anyone, or to get the roll back. 'I'd just flush the bowl a few extra times,' he said. I wish I could find all the stuff I've lost on jobs, in attics, basements, and on hanging steel beams. I used to do a lot of One-Day Wonders, and you sure do lose a lot of tools on those jobs.

Thank goodness for guys like that. They keep the economy turning!