The Shot Heard Around Argos
We rolled into Argos about 10:00 PM Friday night - just in time to find Gary Gilmore and a few others making charcoal at the pavilion.
Although we took our charcoal generator with us, we were planning on keeping a low profile since we were the “new guys.” But when we mentioned we had it with us, Gary suggested we unload it front and center where the charcoal talk was going to happen the next day. We did. And you can probably imagine the rest of the story.
The next morning, we decided to give it a test run. Gary looked it over and noticed our lid seal looked a little leaky. Everybody pitched in and tried to help us get it patched up. But I guess that didn’t exactly work out.
We fired it up, and got a good flare. OK. Now, time to start the notoriously hard to start generator with everybody looking.
The first thing to go kaput was our ratcheting socket used to start the generator. It failed on the very first try. So, we tossed the ratchet and went back to the “direct drive” method with the drill.
The next thing to go kaput was the two “freshly charged” harbor freight drill batteries that were not charged at all, so far as I could tell.
But they didn’t entirely fail before we managed to generate a really nice backfire which, combined with our air leak, taught us the meaning of the words “puff-back.”
Apparently, that is a nice way of saying “explosion.”
It sounded like a 12 gauge going off. If it had been a potato cannon, it would have been great. But that wasn’t supposed to happen.
Anyway, as it turns out, my “toilet plungers” on the blower turned out to be good pressure relief valves.
The downstream plunger cleanly ejected the PVC pipe from its clutches. No harm done, since it was tethered to the air intake with a piece of sump pump hose.
The upstream plunger, on the other hand, took the brunt of the force. It blew apart, leaving a nice ring of rubber still clinging tenaciously to the blower.
As several guys were kind enough to mention, the “puff-back” was apparently heard on the other side of the fairgrounds, where the wood-gas guys were set up.
After I got done “ducking and covering” I assessed the damage.
Not pretty, but it didn’t look too bad.
Fortunately, there is a hardware store right across the street from the fairgrounds (saw a few other wood-gasser guys in there too, but I won’t call any names).
I was hoping to come up with a classier fitting than a toilet plunger, but no luck. Had to get another toilet plunger.
Thanks to Dan Moore’s generosity in providing a few parts (and a drill and some more batteries), Gary’s advice on repairing the damage, and Wayne’s duct tape, we were ready to go again by 1:00.
The charcoal guys gave their excellent presentation and, when they were done, we were ready to try it again.
It looked like we were making good gas, but we just rolled the engine over and over and could never quite get it to start.
We were feeling depressed and defeated.
Then Gary reached down, and started turning the crankshaft over by hand. He had two words: “No compression.”
Sure enough, you could spin the thing with your fingertips. There was not even a hint of a compression stroke.
We knew we had valve problems with this thing, and I guess they finally caught up to us at Argos (with everybody looking).
Matt immediately suspected a problem with the intake valve, and generously offered to pull the valve cover off (we had no tools). But we declined, figuring a valve job was a little much to undertake on the spot.
Fortunately Mike Larosa was standing around and, just to prove we were making good gas, he lit several napkins, paper plates, and other discarded items off the flare can.
Gary generously suggested that we should pipe our gas into his generator just to get a run. We did that. And it started up beautifully. But then the engine would accelerate, and suddenly die.
We kept at it for a little while, but finally admitted defeat.
We were really scratching our heads over that one.
As we learned later, Gary’s throttle was stuck wide open, and the rev limiter (or something) was shutting his generator down.
We really should have felt like a couple of shmucks after all that. But everybody was so nice and so helpful that it turned out to be a great (if humbling) experience anyway.