The night I met my German friend

Feature Story

By Alan Mercurio

The following story is one that I have had the privilege to share with many of our fellow technicians around the world, through my book Carry The Torch: Life experiences and technical data to live by. As we head into the winter months, I thought you might enjoy reading the story as much I enjoyed writing and living it.

Since I am a single dad, it was not uncommon for my daughter, Toni, to come along with me on service calls at night. I can honestly say Toni has grown up in this industry with me. She was probably one of the few 12-year-olds (at the time) that could point out a transformer, fuel pump or burner motor and really know what it was.

Anyway, let’s get back to my German friend. Her name is Hildigarde Latranyi. Before my first service call to her home I had not gotten to know her very well. I would see her once in a while at the office while she was paying her bill. I later learned that she is one of the sweetest women you could ever know. But to look at her you would think differently. I guess that’s why we should not judge a book by its cover. Mrs. Latranyi is a big woman, but we’re talking all muscle. This lady is a hard worker.

Well, one night I get a call from the answering service. Guess who has no heat? Yep, Mrs. Latranyi. So I give her a call and ask the usual questions. Did you check your fuses, oil-tank gauge, the burner switch? Yep, she checked it all. I asked her if she would mind if I brought my daughter along and she, like most customers, said she didn’t mind. Only when Mrs. Latranyi talks it comes out more like this, ‘Yes. You may bring the child. This is OK with me. Come now.”

When I arrived I was not sure where the system was located because this was her house and business all in one. So I get to the front door holding my daughter. I always took Toni in with me and kept her near me so she would not be scared or think I was leaving her with a stranger. That all changed on this particular night.

When Mrs. Latranyi came to the door, in a loud firm voice she just said, ‘Give the child to me.” I stood there in awe for what seemed like an eternity. Then to my surprise, Toni reached out for Mrs. Latranyi, so I followed her orders and handed the child over. She then said, ‘Drive around back, you will see the boiler room when you get back there.” She also reassured me if I had any concerns for Toni that I could just walk in the back door to check on her. Then she said, ‘Now you go fix boiler for me,” and she closed the door.

I try to never rush through a service call, but I think you can understand why I wanted to get through this one ASAP. This is the part of the story where you’ll see that by using technical data and the proper tools you can get through a call sooner without any guessing that may result in a callback. We all know there is no money to be made on callbacks, right?

A procedure I have always used that has become a habit for me and works well is this: Once I establish that there is power to the system and fuel in the tank I hook up my pump pressure gauge, then press the reset button. Now you know within seconds if you have fuel pressure or not. This will help you to determine what direction you’re going to look next.

In this case, I noted that there was no pressure on my gauge and quickly determined the system had a striped burner coupling. I replaced the coupling and the system fired. However, it had a bit of a screaming noise to it. That sounded like fuel restriction to me, but again, why guess?

I hooked up my vacuum gauge and confirmed my suspicions. The vacuum was higher than what I expected based on the technical data I had to refer to. Replacing the filter and strainer and flushing the line took care of that.

Before changing them, though, I felt I had to check on Toni. Surely by now she was wondering where dear old dad had gone? (Wrong!) Much to my surprise, Toni was sitting comfortably with Mrs. Latranyi by the fireplace, patting the family pooch and eating an apple while Mrs. Latranyi was reading her a story. I did not even bother to disturb them.

I just went back to finish the job and took readings before leaving the job site (smoke, draft, safety and cad-cell). Those are a must on every job. When I was done and I went in to get Toni I learned that the business Mrs. Latranyi has is a winery, so she sent me home with my daughter and a couple of bottles of her finest wine! One was Niagara and the other was Kutaba. Over the years, Mrs. Latranyi has become one of the many wonderful friends I have met in this industry.

And, yes, if you’re wondering, I have made a few trips back to buy some wine.

Alan Mercurio is the founder of Oil Tech Talk and the Oil Tech Talk Training Center in Hamburg, Pa. He can be reached by e-mailing

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