|Baitcon Report part one: Power corrupts, but . . .
||[Jul. 6th, 2009|07:54 pm]
First off, for me, it was a great Baitcon. Many thanks to everyone who made it happen, even if it was only by attending.|
I went up on Thursday morning bringing the usual camping gear, plus a white-gas stove, a backpack fire extinguisher, and a generator. One of these three pieces of equipment was not used during the weekend, but it was a close thing.
The site, as it turns out, had a new high-efficiency diesel generator. The generator turned out to have a few issues -- nothing really wrong with the gennie itself, really, but in how it was implemented and, as it turns out, in how it was wired up to the rest of the site.
On Thursday we first noticed that the power would go out at random. Since the generator ha been installed and turned on just that afternoon, that should have been a warning. When we looked at the setup, it was clear that the main generator breakers were in a box welded to the generator support frame, not the wall or otherwise isolated from the madly vibrating generator. There really wasn't a fix for the vibration, so we lived with the occasional random lossage.
During teardown, though, we found out that the problem may have had a higher cause. Literally. When we got back from a dinner run for which we had turned off the generator, I was the first one back who knew how to run the thing. I pushed the isolation switch, turned the key until the green preheat light came on, turned it over until the engine caught, and released the switch. Immediately, the engine started lugging, and thick, black smoke poured chokingly out of the exhaust and into the shed.
Well, of course at first I thought I'd somehow done something wrong -- did I not wait long enough before engaging the gen set? Engine temp was right where it should be, so that didn't seem likely, and I didn't recall Nevin, the site caretaker, mentioning it during the shouted instructions over the noise of the bellowing 6-cylinder diesel motor. And even so, surely by now it would be warmed up . . .
Then the there was a click and the engine went to its normal roar. I poked my head out, and sure enough, the lights were out. Cutting power at the kitchen and other outbuildings at their panels didn't fix the problem -- as soon as the breaker was engaged, the engine would go to full load, then the breaker would trip. That meant the problem was between the generator panel and the building sub-panels, which consisted of one main breaker box and the overhead wires.
About this time, the other, more electrically-clued people started showing up, and using the proper tools isolated it to a short the overhead wire. After laying down some spare 4-gauge copper, power was restored.
My guess is that the random power outages were not caused by the engine vibrations, but by this short intermittently opening and closing. Of course, my experiences as a network engineer inform me that you should never rule out multiple causes for any given problem.
All said, considering the nature of this outage and how close we probably came to losing power for an extended period of time, I'm glad we had a few extra portable generators around. I'm just going to bring it from now on.