Where There’s Smoke…

I was pondering this morning how I could best describe for y’all the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad five miles that were the end of my bike ride a couple of days ago. Today’s plan was to get a happier ride in before it got too hot, then have a beer or two and regale you with my story of (rather mild) heat stroke.

I have been craving protein since that ride and I was in the kitchen piling up turkey and cheese on my sandwich when The Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas said, loudly, “Jerry! Come here RIGHT NOW!” In our many years together, I had never been summoned that way before. I dropped the mustard and hurried to find her. I rounded the corner to see the laundry room filling with white smoke.

Both the washer and the dryer were running, and I unplugged them both as one smoke detector after another began to tell us what we already knew. For one heart-stopping moment it seemed that the smoke was actually coming from the garage, but eventually we opened things up and while the dogs cowered from the terrible noise we vented the smoke and things calmed down.

It wasn’t clear at first which appliance had been smoking; but when we opened the dryer smoke came rolling out. “Can you fix it?” Official Sweetie asked, and after some thought I figured I probably could. Fundamentally, dryers aren’t that complicated.

Eventually we restarted the washer and very quickly realized what the problem was. “It’s never made that sound before,” OSMR&HBI said. Our washer was toast. The dryer had filled with smoke as it pulled air in.

Washers like ours have a complex gear box that, when driven by an electric motor, can move the tub and the agitator thingie in a complex motion. My best diagnosis is that the gearbox seized up, and the motor was burning itself up trying to turn it. Time to find some new parts.

This quest was made more difficult because the number on the cover of the manual wasn’t the model number of the washer, but was in fact the part number of the manual itself. Because that’s obviously the most important piece of information a customer might want to know. For a while it seemed that there were no parts for this washer anywhere.

It took me a while to find the actual model number of the washer, first because the plate with that information was well-hidden behind the lid, and second because there was no way to read that information while the lid was open. It took several tries with my phone camera to get a shot from inside the tub while the lid was mostly closed that captured the model number legibly.

Armed at last with the right model number, I was able to look up the parts. Gearbox for sure, and given the amount of electrical insulation that had been turned into a toxic cloud, it seemed a fair bet that the motor would need replacing as well. Cost of parts: $350 after I shopped around a bit. (The gearbox replacement part was an update to the version in our washer, and is used by literally dozens of washers from all the major brands.) Add to that cost a few hours of cursing and bloody knuckles.

New washer: $550-ish. The Official Sweetie set to shopping.

I don’t know if you guys have heard about this Pandemic Thing, but it leads to a lot of uncertainty about just when a product you buy might reach your doorstep. There is no uncertainty at all about whether the product will be brought inside the house. Availability of washers ranged from weeks to months, the delay inversely proportional to the desirability of the machine.

We discussed for a bit whether to get “good enough” sooner, or order what we really wanted and deal with not having a washer for a while. We agreed that waiting for the right machine was better than spending the next few years with a washer we didn’t really like. (“We” in the previous sentence is only 15% me.) Official Sweetie found the right machine online at Lowe’s, but there was no indication when it would be delivered until after the purchase was made. “If it’s too long, we’ll cancel,” OS said.

It’s being delivered tomorrow.

That in itself was a shock, and ultimately a happy surprise, but it took some adjusting to. Specifically, we will have to get the old washer to the street, and haul the new one up our front steps and into the house. This sudden need for logistics and heavy lifting was as much an emotional hill to climb as it was a hassle. Not for the first time, I wished we had a good hand truck.

I’d estimate I ask, “do we know anyone with a dolly?” about twice a year — often enough that I decided it was time to buy one. Back to the Lowe’s Web site for a preorder. Subsequently I set foot in a retail store for the first time in months to snag a Milwaukee with big, stair-friendly wheels. (Even this was not entirely without challenge, as the preorder had not been filled yet when I got there. I went to pull the item myself, and I was told it was on aisle 39. I marched along, 35, 36, 37… and then the wall of the store. There is a 38 and 39, they’re just… looped back around over there.)

Home, carefully washed so I could accept the welcome of the pack, I pulled out the (not-really-that-) old washer and we rolled it to wait by the front door.

I have a few people now encouraging me to ride my bike regularly. I’m hoping “my washer caught on fire” will earn me slack for one day, at least.

Some Excitement in the ’Hood

I was just finishing up with my post-workout ice regimen when a helicopter buzzed the house. It sounded much meatier than the usual news chopper or police bird. And lower. The windows rattled and the walls reverberated, then the sound faded.

Only to return a couple of minutes later. On the third pass I went outside to see what was going on. That’s when I saw the smoke. There is a hill directly behind our neighborhood, and it was on fire.

The view from our house.

The view from our house.


Over the throb of the helicopter, I could hear the fire itself, crackling as it romped through the dry grass on the side of the hill. No sirens, however, despite the proximity of the fire to my neighborhood. The brush is pretty low, and there are railroad tracks along the back of the property, so the chance of the flames reaching structures on our side was pretty low.

So rather than prepare the two hard drives that serve as backups to all our systems, I grabbed the camera and walked down to the fence at the back of the neighborhood.

Happily for the helicopter driver, and for spectators on the sidelines as well, there is a little pond right next to the site of the fire. I got some good pics, but the helicopter descended completely out of view during fill-up.

The helicopter rises from loading at the pond, shrouded by smoke.

The helicopter rises from loading at the pond, shrouded by smoke.

The helicopter getting a load of water, with a lucky accident as the camera focussed on the fence.

The helicopter getting a load of water, with a lucky accident as the camera focussed on the fence.


The above pictures I got while standing on a neighbor’s boat, in exchange for a promise to share my pictures with him. Then he told me a house number that doesn’t exist. Huh. Anyway, thanks, Steve!

This one’s my favorite, I think:

The chopper drops a load of water directly upslope from firefighters.

The chopper drops a load of water directly upslope from firefighters.


The Helicopter would sound a siren just before releasing the water, to warn crews below. In this case, the water almost directly onto the ground crew.
The fire helicopter passes directly overhead after releasing a load.

The fire helicopter passes directly overhead after releasing a load.

At one point the fire flared up right next to the tracks, and the helicopter diverted and dropped a couple of bucket loads right in front of us. I have video, but I’m still working on getting it in the right orientation.

An exciting day! I hope none of the firefighters were hurt, but hats off to guys who will put on heavy clothing and go tromping up and down a grassy slope that’s on fire. Thanks, guys!