Monday, January 10, 2011

Misadventures in Museum Maintenance - "Boiling Point"

First let me introduce myself. My name is Joe Clark and I am an employee of Pueblo Grande Museum. I have worked at PGM for about a year now. My responsibilities at the museum are varied. Some days I work in the front of the museum greeting visitors, other days I work in a maintenance capacity, and other days I just do whatever needs to be done. It didn’t take long for me to learn that there’s no such thing as a typical day at PGM, but with that in mind I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about one day that stands out in my memory.

It started out like any other day. I arrived to work right on time (in case my boss is reading this), working maintenance at 6 am. First on my list was to wash and sweep the sidewalks and patios. I started on the back patio where there is a large overhanging mesquite tree that in the Fall drops a substantial amount of leaves. Also, a dozen or so doves call this tree home, generally leaving a mess of their own. In preparation for the mess likely awaiting me, I gather up my tools and make my way to the patio. As I walk outside, I notice the sun has not risen and there is a distinct chill in the air and as expected there is quite a mess. After I finish cleaning up the mess, I head to the lunch room to warm myself and refresh my tea.

It is here in the lunch room, that a series of events would be set into motion that would ultimately distinguish this day apart from any another. As I was leaving the lunch room the museum director, Roger, caught me and asked me to do a few things for him. The museum had just hosted a large event and there were a few maintenance items that needed attention. There was a burnt out light, a cooler to be put away, trash to be thrown out, and a coffee machine that needed to be cleaned and put away. Unsure of where to put the coffee machine, Roger took me to the community room to show me. Upon entering the kitchenette Roger noticed some other items needed to be put away and that the freezer in the mini-fridge had frozen. The mini-fridge didn’t have any defrost capabilities, resulting in about 80% of the interior being filled with solid ice.

I decided it would be best to clean out the entire room for a good cleaning. When it came time to defrost the freezer, I remembered Roger saying something about taking the mini-fridge outside to let the ice melt. So I did just that, leaving the door open to facilitate the melting. I realized this method was going to take awhile, so I went to the maintenance shop where I found the largest flat head screwdriver I could, along with a hammer. I started on the edge of the ice block by chipping the ice with the screwdriver but the ice was very dense and the process was going slow. I then got the hammer out to try and take a larger chunk of ice out. Things were going well and I was getting larger and larger ice chunks off when a fracture developed through the center of the ice block. I thought if I could get a clean break along that fracture I would be just about done. I strategically placed the screwdriver and started to tap on it with the hammer. Needing a little more force I tapped a little harder, and a little harder, till…poof! A large white jet of vapor came hissing out of the ice directly in my face.

I had broken the fridge. The screwdriver put a large gouge directly through a Freon line. If I remember correctly the boiling point of the old style Freon is about -22 F. The “poof” I had just experienced was the Freon boiling away in the 70 F day. Lucky for me, Freon is generally harmless to the human body but the unfortunate side is that the CFCs that are in Freon will damage the environment. Over the next fifty to a hundred years the CFCs I just released will deplete the ozone concentration in the earth’s stratosphere.

I had just learned an important lesson that in older freezers the Freon lines are built directly into the freezer lining. I initially thought I could fix the fridge with some JB weld or some type of metal epoxy. However, it didn’t take long to conclude that repair was not an option. The compressor and fitting probably couldn’t take the new Freon and the age of the fridge suggested it needed to be replaced anyhow. I knew what had to be done.

As I entered Roger’s office I was filled with a feeling of regret. How could I have been so careless? I told Roger that I had nicked a Freon line and that the fridge was broken. Roger told me that in older freezers the Freon lines were built directly into the housing and that any old timer knows not to use a pick when de-icing a freezer. I was then given the responsibility of ordering a new mini-fridge.
The task of ordering a new fridge would have to wait, my shift was up so I headed home. On my way home I reflected on my actions and pondered what tomorrow would bring. A few mornings later as I was entering PGM a bird decided to follow me in, but that story will have to wait till another day.

Posted By Joe Clark, Recreation Leader

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