Saturday, February 7, 2015

Philosophy and Mr Miller

As long as I have lived in the foothills of western Maine, I never learned anything about Mr Miller. That is similar to a grown man who does not own a one-half inch ratchet. It means that either you haven't fixed anything or the machines you own are indestructible. Another example: if you don't wear long johns this time of year in Maine, you don't go outdoors much or you are a flaming radical. Same thing: if you live in a trailer in Maine, and you don't know Mr Miller, you are either lucky, rich enough to pay the repairman, or you are freezing to death. Though not rich, for a long time I was lucky, then suddenly I was not so lucky.

This winter started so mildly that the oil delivery for my heater didn't come till late in the fall. An occasional fire in the wood stove kept the faith. I had plenty of firewood. My wife said, "He only delivers kerosene to outside tanks." "We'll get half-and-half," I said. That means half kerosene and half no2 fuel oil. My mistake was not listening to either my wife or the oil delivery man.

Everybody I know burns wood. I burn wood most of the time. Trouble is, the temps go down below zero and Mr Miller, our furnace, comes in handy. It is a hard job keeping a house, any house, warm with a woodstove when the temp has dropped below zero. If Mr Miller won't work when you need him, then you might want to think about fixing him. When you burn firewood, you don't need Mr Miller till you really need Mr Miller.

Finally, the big day came when the fuel truck drove into the dooryard. I said, "I want half-and-half." "You sure you want half-and-half?" Said the delivery man. I thought he was just trying to sell more kerosene. Kerosene is almost a dollar more than no2 fuel oil. Then he said, shrugging, "Okay." Meaning, you asked for it. It didn't take me but a couple of days to learn that no2, which when mixed with kerosene used to flow to -40f, now gels at 32f no matter what it is mixed with. Now why would they want to sell shit like that in the happy northwestern backwoods, up Maine? First cold day, Mr Miller stopped and refused to start again.

They tell you to bleed the fuel line. But suppose something is wrong with the pump? When the fuel line is bleeding, the fuel should pour out the bleeder tube. I use a clear plastic tube to see whether or not there are bubbles. It may take awhile to free up the line, but a big glob should squirt through the plastic tube and into the collection bottle. It should be a light brown, and then it should flow in a steady stream. When you have it near right, if nothing else is wrong, Mr Miller will start up.

Mr Miller takes a surprising amount of fuel; the nozzle on mine runs at a gallon an hour. So when I bleed, and a dribble is coming out, something is blocking the fuel line. Time for the compressor, another tool I couldn't imagine a jump-suited rustic living without. The wife may not be too happy about revving up an air compressor in the living room. Mine is loud, but it uses house current. Rev it up to 110 pounds per square inch. Disconnect the fuel hose at the pump and the tank outside; insert the compressed air nozzle in the end of the pipe INSIDE the house—don't squirt heating fuel in the house, it stinks awful, takes forever to go away—push the nozzle firmly inside the pipe, and pull the trigger. May need two hits or more to clear the line. Once empty before you reconnect outside, open the valve under the tank to make sure the fuel is healthily flowing out of the tank. If no healthy flow, some people use a block heater on the tank. Or they wait till spring. You have a problem. If you do get plenty of fuel pouring out of the tank into your collection pot, reconnected the fuel line to pump and tank and bleed. Fuel should pour out. And Mr Miller should get enough fuel to start even when bleeding.

But in my case Mr Miller still would not start. This is when repair work reminds me of philosophy. There is to it basic logic. the concept of if...then comes up. Isn't that philosophy? Every time I do repair work, that question prods me. "Humm, sounds like philosophy," I think. There is to fixing something a certain fascination. It is not similar to the delight one gets in a picture or a poem or a story. Our broken something should work but does not. There is nothing delightful about that, especially when the something puts heat in the house on a below zero morning. Both ends of the if...then equation are pragmatic, concrete. But they still require thought. What does that mean? It means that if there is no blockage of fuel up to the pump which must be pumping if any fuel is moving at all, then the blockage of fuel must be somewhere on the other side of the pump before it sprays into the combustion chamber. In order to run, the furnace needs two things: fire and fuel. If we have already tested for fire—the test for fire is as simple as the test for fuel—then the fuel line must be plugged up somewhere else. The only other place that the fuel line could be plugged up is at the nozzle. So I removed the nozzle assembly and unscrewed the nozzle and sure enough a sandy, coarse film spewed out. Once I replaced the nozzle, which cost $10 at the hardware store in town, and set up the gun with electrodes in the proper position, and I ran the fuel, the heater started. A bottle of HOT! heating oil treatment poured into the tank helps. I guess it works; so far it has seemed to. Trickery by modern chemistry.

My house is properly heat efficient for an old trailer. Today has been below zero all day, and wind driven snow crosses my window sideways. It is the sort of day an old man stays inside without wondering what he is missing outside, and a pile of good books lies handy nearby. Mr Miller lopes along like an experienced war horse, starting and stopping in casual rhythm. Now Mr Miller is acting decent, my marriage, which had been fussy, has calmed down. Philosophy did it, that old if...then thing I was telling you about. That's what did it. Mr Miller only happened to be around.
Last modified: Sat Feb 7 15:00:45 EST 2015

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