Bats, Batteries and Broken Stuff
October 30, 2010 by Yugen
How do you know that winter is on its way, up here at Yokoji? Is it the drop in temperature, the frosty mornings and the blazing fires heating the rooms? Is it the days which get shorter and shorter, as if slowly curling up in preparation for a period of hibernation? Is it the first snow flakes that fall from the sky creating a beautiful blanket of white as far as the eye can see? No. You know when winter is coming when everything mechanical starts breaking down. Last year the best example of this was the week shortly after training period when everyone went home leaving just a few of us here. In one week, we had a huge snow storm, with foot upon foot of snow piling up. Then the new generator went down. Then the old generator went down. Then the new snow plow broke. Then the old snow plow wouldn't start. That week was characterized by a sense of moving the barrier of the believable back a little bit further each time a new crisis broke out. 'Surely nothing else can go wrong now?!' - the phone lines die. 'There really is nothing left to go wrong now?!' - the plow, just back from the repair shop dies again, the alternator belt having been swallowed up somewhere in front of the engine block. And so on. And on. That was the worst week but the ones that followed were also plagued by various troubles, many involving the snow plows, which were problematic in varying degrees throughout the season.
This week, after the tractor broke down and is still convalescing in the shop extension, the next thing to go was the '78 GMC, the new (for us) snow plow that we bought last year, AKA, the Yeti. The guys working on the stone wall, in the absence of the tractor to haul rocks, decided to give it a try with the truck. It is a powerful truck with 4WD and a locking rear differential, so as far as trucks go, it is up to the job. But there is a limit to what can be classified as 'off-road', and that limit was tested when the truck got stuck on a boulder. They drove the 'Dog' (1960s Dodge Power Wagon) up and towed it out and drove it back to Roshi's house. Then it wouldn't start up. We figured maybe the engine was flooded or the carburetor was saturated with too much gas, or something that if we left it for an hour or two would right itself. No joy. The battery voltage seemed low, so we tried a jump start. Nothing. I remembered the mantra of a local mechanic when it came to vehicles that won't start: air, fuel and spark. I checked the air filter and intake. Seemed fine. I checked the distributor for any damage and then tested for spark and the plugs seemed to be firing as they should. So the last possible culprit was fuel. Since the engine is carbureted and not fuel injected, the pressure in the lines is not so great and not so potentially hazardous to work with. So we disconnected the line at the fuel pressure gauge (which read zero - an ominous sign) and there was no gas. We turned on the electrics (which would normally start the electric fuel pump) but no gas came out of the line. This was an irrefutable problem. The fuel pump was after-market and bolted to the frame near the passenger door. I noticed an in-line fuel filter before it. Aha! A blocked filter, perhaps! An hour later with a new filter and length of fuel line in hand to test with, I proceeded to dismantle the fuel line to replace the filter, being confident at this point that this must indeed be the problem. When fuel started dripping out from the line after the filter it seemed unlikely this was the problem after all. I tried the same with the line going from the pump to the carburetor. This line was hard to get to and I was worried about it coming off in an uncontrolled manner and spraying gas everywhere. I almost had it when I noticed a small furry thing splutter in to my peripheral vision, about 4 ft from my face as I lay on my back under the truck. A bat was tumbling and flapping around with me under the truck. This being around midday, the sun was bright out and I figured he was trying to find some dark spot to rest, or perhaps, like the bird from earlier in the week, he was sick and this was his troubled descent into oblivion. Most of my knowledge about bats is culled from two sources, the first a book that appeared in the Yokoji gift store one day called 'Neightborhood Bats in America', and the second being the batman movies. Having mainly stuck to the pictures in the former and doubting the scientific authenticity of the latter, the only thing that really came to mind was one word - rabies. So now I had one hand on a gas line that was tricky to hold on to and was on the verge of coming free and a potentially rabid bat slowly moving towards my face. I stuffed the line back on to the nipple of the pump and crawled out from under the truck. I coaxed the bat on to a stick I was holding - he refused for a long time but eventually acquiesced. Having gained the trust of the bat (or perhaps he figured that cooperating was the only was to get rid of the annoying human with the pokey stick) I relocated him to a dark spot underneath underneath the laundry shed. As far as I know, Coco did not gobble him up moments later, but I had to return to the fuel line so didn't stick around to see. It turned out that the fuel pump had been disconnected from the power supply - a relay located near the battery. The battery must have jumped up when they pulled the truck out and landed on the wire, pulling it out of the relay. It was quite a relief to evertually figure it out and lo and behold, once reunited with a power supply, the pump dutifully pumped gas in to the carburetor and we were back in business.
We are preparing for Obon tomorrow - a Buddhist celebration of the dead where we deck out the altar in various banners and food offerings and chant the 'Gate of Sweet Nectar' which invites all hungry ghosts and those suffering in various realms (our shadow sides) out in to the open to eat, share and be satisfied. It is an exciting service so please come along tomorrow if you would like to join in. We start as usual at 9:30am sharp!