A while ago I was on a vacation in North Carolina and was strolling down a local town street that hasn’t changed in about 100 years. As I was strolling I was thinking, if you find something that works, why change it. Why try to re-invent the wheel, right? I mean this town was in the mountains with just a picture perfect setting and it was like I was back at the turn of the century; no, not this one, the last one. No cell phones to bother you, no air conditioners humming away, it seemed just perfect.
As I went to the mansion to take a tour, I was given the option of which tour to take. I was informed that a tour of the mechanical system in this old mansion was available. Well, if you don’t know me, I am perfectly at home in the basement, so this one was for me. Of course, the boiler room was where I kept returning to and the guide had to come and get me more than a few times.
I was amazed at what I saw; three boilers that were manufactured by the Kewanee Boiler Corp. of Kewanee, Ill. The total volume of water in these boilers is about 20,000 gallons. These three boilers fired coal until the 1970s and the No. 3 boiler was converted to oil at that time. Today none of the three are in use. The building in now heated with a new cast iron steam boiler. On the old boilers were controls that we still use today. A pressuretrol was used to maintain 5’7 psi steam and the water level was monitored by the same controls we still have in the field today. Hey, if it works, why mess with success? They even had natural circulation of domestic hot water. I guess with 43 bathrooms, this was kind of important. But what amazed me was that most of the controls used back then are still in use today, but if something works, why change it? Actually I have heard this many times from many different mechanics. If things have worked for all these years, why change the way we do things?
Well, let’s look at the rest of the world. Do you remember bringing your car to George the mechanic at your corner gas station? Remember George used to be fixing someone’s car when you pulled in for gas, he would stop fixing the car and fill up your tank for 10 bucks. Remember when the TV went on the blink (if you had one) and you would bring the tube, that wasn’t lighting, to the corner drug store to test it? And they even sold replacement tubes so you could plug it in your TV and all was good? You get my drift here? Well, can you find any gas station that still does repairs? Can you find a TV that needs tubes? Can you even find that corner drug store? I can’t! The ‘good old days” are gone forever. We as an industry have come a long way from those days. Today we are in the age where the new controls and techniques are safer, more dependable and, yes, even more efficient.
We are rapidly coming upon the holidays and the gift giving time of year. Have you looked at your tool box recently? I mean really looked at your tools? When your partner asks you what you want for a gift, what a great time to update your tools, no? Why not get that liquid filled pressure gauge or a digital one. Why not get the digital readout tool that you need to diagnosis today’s new series of controls? If you are in your own business, why not get some electronic testing equipment? That will probably save you a lot of trouble as well as your butt in case of a court case. We are seeing a move from the traditional fuel oil to biofuel. We are seeing electric aquastats replacing capillary ones. And there are more improvements on the way. Don’t be left behind like George at the corner gas station, but surge ahead and become the best technician you can be.
Imagine if we did not change in some ways. Would we still be burying 275 gallon oil tanks, made for indoor use, in the ground? Would we still be running systems at 70 percent efficiency? I don’t know about you, but I am happy to see the ‘good old days” go away. I am looking forward to a brighter day when oil systems will be so dependable, we will be diagnosing problems before the fault becomes evident and the system fails. And those days are not far off.
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