August 19, 2022

Standby generator

I have a vivid memory from when I was a kid. It was the summer when I was turning from 10 to 11. We lived in a huge 2.5 story farm house outside of Monroe. The farm house was so big and so well known, it had a name: Maple Hill.

There was a terrible hail storm. We saw it coming from miles away — all purple, green and yellow. My mother said, “That’s hail!” She was right. We were pummeled by blinding rain, high wind and hail the size of softballs. Farmers were caught out in their fields and had to get under their tractors for safety, but still got clubbed. Some seriously.

Hail knocked holes through roofs, broke windshields and danced on yards, not like popcorn, but popcorn balls. We saved some in the freezer as proof.

But the worst damage was to the power grid. Only we didn’t call it a “grid” back then. It was just, “electricity’s off!” Power lines were down and even those big electrical insulators high on poles, were cracked and broken. For over a week the power was off. Power crews came in from out of state to help repair the damage.

My dad, who ran a gas station, couldn’t pump gas, but he could fix tires and lube cars the old fashioned way. He walked to work (more than a mile) because his truck was low on gas and there was no way to pump more, except from farmers’ gravity tanks, if they would sell it to you.

My memory is of my mother cooking food over an open fire in the yard — barbecue grills hadn’t been invented yet. It was beans and weenies and other canned goods cooked right in the cans. The local locker plant was locked up tight. They were trying to preserve as much of their cold temperature as possible.

My second vivid memory is when the power finally came back on. The big old farm house lit up like a cathedral because all the light switches had been turned on in the outage. We’d walk into a dark room, forget the electricity was off, flip the switch and leave it on.

I’ve never forgotten that week without electricity. So, after that derecho last year in Cedar Rapids, all the violent storms we’ve been having due to climate change, and the threat of rolling blackouts, like they had in Texas, I decided it was high time to invest in one of those standby generators. Only I didn’t reckon it would take so long. Due to shortages in the supply chain, plus all the available generators going to Cedar Rapids last year, and then to Louisiana this year after Hurricane Ida, my generator was back-ordered six months and that wasn’t definite.

But it finally arrived and then some unforeseen problems arose. Ginnie and I live on an acreage, the Empty Nest Farm, east of Mt. Pleasant. We’re on propane. The distance from the propane tank and where our contractor wanted to install the generator was too great. The best solution was to invest in another propane tank to be installed close to the generator. Yep, figure in a lot more cost. “Well, we’ve gone this far, let’s not back down now,” I told Ginnie. “It’ll increase our property value, too.”

We are now the proud owner of a 22 kilowatt standby generator, plus propane tank number two. The generator fires up automatically in case of power interruption, and shuts down when power is restored. Ginnie won’t be cooking outside over an open fire, unless it’s for a picnic. Let it rain, let it hail, let it storm. The Empty Nest Farm is powered.

I have a feeling that what I’ve done is shell out a bunch of money for a generator that, in all likelihood, we will never use. But that still makes it worth it.

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