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Saturday, January 16, 2010

JJ: Going Out with a Bang?

I had one of my more interesting experiences here in the store, during one of the homeless times when I was living in a cubbyhole in the back. I woke up in the wee small hours to an odd HOT smell and a vibration in the air. Nerves and curiosity got me out of bed and nose and ears led me to the little room where the massive old cast-iron gas-powered water heater lived. What I found wasn't good. The burner was going full blast and the tank was vibrating and radiating heat like crazy-- I guess the thermostat that controlled the water temperature was stuck, and had been that way for a while. There was no relief valve on the tank. I hesitated for a second, stepped in and shut the gas off, then ran for the bathroom and turned on the hot water. There wasn't any -- what came whistling out of the faucet was a massive cloud of very hot steam. I ran into the back room and turned on the the faucet over the utility sink: another jet of scalding steam. I headed for the back door and the coolness of the great outdoors while the store turned into a sauna.
It seemed like it took forever before the pipes started running water again, longer still for the store to clear out after I opened the doors, and even longer for my heartbeat to get back to normal. From what I'd read of boiler explosions, at best the building would have been badly damaged. At worst, it may have come down.
I don't know how hot things got or how high the pressure was, but the city's water meter, mounted five feet upstream from the heater where the inlet pipe came up through the concrete floor, melted. That little jewel of information didn't reach me for a couple of months, till the day the Water Department guys came in to find out why the meter wasn't working. When they figured out what happened, all they did was whistle! Yeah, the new tank I had put in came with a functioning pressure relief valve -- I made doubly sure of that. And gave special thanks to that poor overworked Angel that is my Guardian. TBC (Me)