Monday, April 21, 2014

If Sisyphus Had A Daughter

     Remember Sisyphus?  Sneaky Greek king, whose chicanery earned him a spot in the afterlife rolling a boulder up a hill. As soon as he pushed it to the top, it would get away from him and roll back down and he had to start over.  My lot hasn't been much different.  I don't know who I may have chicaned (I don't even follow Formula One) and I don't remember being inhospitable to travelers, but I keep getting rock-rolled nevertheless.

     I worked an overnight shift last night with a couple of the best tower guys I've met.  We were changing a flashing top beacon light on a 1000' tower, replacing a very old (possibly 1957 vintage) incandescent fixture with a modern LED version, which takes less electricity and supposedly lasts longer.  And when I say "we," I'm the ground crew; 1000' up in the dark on something smaller across than the average apartment washroom is not something I do.

     Attempted the project with a different crew (good me) two weeks earlier and got stopped by weather: 40 mph winds aloft and gusting higher.  Last night was cool and calm, so hopes were high.

     Plenty of spare parts were on hand, extra wire -- nothing could go wrong!  Nothing!

     Well, except for something. After some false starts, they changed out the fixture, wired it up, I threw the breaker and the light began to flash: once, twice--

     "It's making a weird sizzling noise," they reported over the two-way.  "It stopped flashing."

     I knew that already.  The circuit breaker had tripped, a sad little tick of sound.

     "What'll we do next?" from up top.

     I had them disconnect the wires.  If it was the new light, we'd know about as soon as I turned the power back on.

     Several minutes later, they were all unhooked, and I flipped the breaker again.  On, on....tick.

     "It made that sizzling sound again."

     They'd only replaced a little of the wire, a kind of heavy-duty extension cord.  Because of the way things are put together at the very top, there was nearly a hundred feet more running down to the conduit that carries power from the ground all the way up.  We had wire and (barely) time; they replaced it.  It took awhile.

     Over to hours later,  I threw the breaker again and the light began to flash: once, twice--  You know the story.  SizzleTick.

     Tick and tock: there was no more time to experiment.  There was barely time for them to batten down what wanted battened and get clear of the danger-when-transmitting area before it was time to resume transmitting.

     Theories abound.  Maybe the breaker is old?  It wasn't tripped when the old, high-current lights burned out.  Maybe the flasher is bad?  It ran for a couple of weeks with no working lights on the far end.  Couldn't I try jumpering power over from one of the other lights?  Maybe, maybe--  But there's a wire up at the very top that goes sizzle when power is applied.  This is not the one-hand-clapping sound such wires are supposed to make.  It's three feet long.  I've got plenty more.

     And some night soon, I've got to to try rolling that boulder uphill again.

10 comments:

LCB said...

We have a microwave segment to our WAN, with a tower at the corner of our building. Hats off to the guys with dah...uh...kahones to climb them there towers!!!

Jim Dunmyer said...

Check current draw with an AmpProbe? That'd eliminate the breaker, anyway.

Roberta X said...

It's pretty obviously in the jumper they didn't replace.

Opinionated Grump (Rich in NC) said...

ah...yes... the old
"it's a simple 5 minute job" Murphy caller...
Nothing can go rwong at awl... Nope.

Them hills do get pretty steep there Sisyphus's sister, don't they now?

Rich in NC

B said...

Might be in the "Jumper they Didn't replace, But logic says in the item they DID replace, as that was the only change.

Me, I'd start at the light and disconnect one at a time until the breaker stopped popping, then reconnect segment by segment until it did pop. that shows you the bad segment.

50 year old wiring is funny though, insulation cracks when you move it or connect a new wire onto it.

Jeffro said...

I envy you not.....

TriggerFinger said...

Are you sure you've got the right guy? I mean, sure, Sisyphus had the rock and the hill and all, but if you want to get all rock-n-rolled...

No one else said it, so I had to.

wheelgun said...

We used to say in boating that you would start to change a light bulb and end up rewiring the boat.

The fixture is corroded, so you take that out and notice that the copper has a lot of corrosion/patina/whatever it is called. Then the breaker is old, and you look at new breaker panel, followed by a new batter charger/inverter and may new battery cables and bilge pump just for kicks.

My guess: one of the new connections they made is high resistance due to the copper being old and tarnished.

Water always wins; rust never sleeps.

Roberta X said...

It is all new copper in the segment that pops the breaker.

DaddyBear said...

I do not envy you having to troubleshoot this. Remember, it's always in the last place you look. Unless, of course, you decide to go looking for trouble after the immediate problem is fixed, which many engineers seem to enjoy.

Good luck.