Stories From The Job
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Over a period of thirty years working as an electrician, I have accumulated a huge number of stories. Most are mildly funny/strange. Only a few are really great. I will let you determine which is which. The descriptions will be minimal for now. I am experimenting with this aspect of ElectricianEducation.com to see if there is any interest in this information. We all need a chuckle. Here are a few from me.
I visited a house on a service call where there was a chair in every corner piled almost to the ceiling with clothes. I don't know if these folks ever were told about what a closet was designed to do. But on every chair, clothing was piled. There was no place to sit. Strange to me.
Speaking about closets, I had to access an attic through a closet one day. As I was climbing into the attic, the unthinkable happened. The rod fell to the floor with all the clothes. The home owner came running. She said she was sorry about what had happened. She expected it to happen. So I did not have to help put the clothes back up. I did anchor the rod properly so it would not come down again. What an electrician gets into in a day.
Numerous times I was expected to work in a house where there were dogs present. Keeping animals in a home is difficult. And time consuming. I eventually asked home owners to put dog in another room while I worked to save time.
I changed the lighting over the desk of F. Lee Bailey one day. I put newspaper on the desk and just stood right in the middle of the desk. That was the only way I could get to the fixture. The desk was huge. On that topic, I often could hear F. Lee Bailey leave town, Menominee, Michigan, in his Lear jet. He had something to do with Enstrom Helicopter in that city. He also employed Ernest Medina, probably to help pay off his debit for defending him in the Meli trial. Only fogeys like me remember that time. I ended up playing racquet ball at the Menominee YMCA with Ernie more than once. I beat him easily. I was a kid, probably 26, and he was older then. About 1969.
BB King came to West Palm Beach for a concert one night. I was asked to be a stand-by electrician for the event. Overtime, free food, and great music. The roadies were really adept. I was asked to do only a few tasks. A neat night.
I was asked to work on a Saturday which was rare. My task was to install a bathroom exhaust fan in the ceiling near a bath tub. I carried all my stuff in. Put a layer of cardboard over and around the tub. And began to work. Wouldn't you know it, a hammer slipped out of my hand and fell on the tub. Knowing I had covered the tub with cardboard, I thought nothing of it. The helper that had just come down out of the attic asked what had happened to the edge of the tub. I said what do you mean. There was a huge chip down the side of the tub. The hammer had hit just right to flake off a 6 inch by 6 inch piece of finish from the edge of the tub. I completed my job, told the owners that the office would contact them about the tub and left. I said I was sorry. Not as sorry as they were. A part of the exterior wall had to be removed to change the tub. The company where I worked never asked me to work on a Saturday again. They might have thought I did not want to work on Saturday so caused the damage intentionally which was not true. I continued to work for that company for another couple years. They were nice folks and never mentioned the tub again. And didn't ask me about Saturdays, either.
I was given a job ticket one day to go to a new house for a rough-in. I took a normal package of material and went to the address. Upon arriving at the address, I couldn't see a house under construction. All the houses seemed complete. So I went to the front door, knocked, and asked the owner if they had requested an electrician to do some wiring. Yep, the lady said. Where upon I entered the living room of a completed house thinking there must be a problem with the job ticket. I asked what I was to do. The lady said that I was to wire the house. Now mind you the house had furniture, rugs, pictures on the wall. It looked done to me. I then looked closer. There were no receptacles. There were no lights. I walked around the house. There was no service. Seems the guy who built the house, and was living in it, completed all the work and then called an electrician. I couldn't believe it. The guy didn't think to call an electrician when the walls were open. Never occurred to him, he said. Well I went on to wire this house, install a service, and hardly made a mess, working through the basement and attic. I still have a hard time believing that really happened, But it did!
I got a job ticket to change a defective breaker for a water heater in a home. I took my Square D box of breakers and knocked on the building manager door. I was shown to the panel for the water heater where I found a 20 amp two pole circuit breaker. Now the building was new. About 1 1/2 years old. I checked out the appliance. Noted it was a 4500 watt 240 volt unit. The breaker installed was a 20 amp 2 pole. The draw on the unit is a bit more than 18. And through brown outs or power surges, this 20 amp breaker was tripping. That wasn't the problem, though. The breaker was undersized. Breakers for water heaters have to be at least 125% of the nameplate but not more than 150% of the nameplate unless marked for a lower setting. The original electrician, apparently not knowing, just did the simple Ohms Watts math and came up with the 18 plus amps and picked that size. Now this would be the end of the story, but I mentioned to the building manage that the breaker was incorrectly sized and should be a 25 or 30 depending on the nameplate. He left for a few minutes, came back and asked for a price to change the entire building from 20's to 30's. I said each would be a service call plus the breaker. He called the office. They told me to go on to change all the breakers as needed. I did. In the process, I got several free hours of time and a box of relatively new Square D two pole circuit breakers which I used in my own home. This was one of the best service call jobs I ever had.
I showed up in a new 26 unit condo building we were wiring in Florida one morning when the temperature was in the 40's. All the electricians looked at one another and voted to take the day off. Yet I remember working in Wisconsin when the temperature was below zero. Go figure. Infact I have often said I have missed more work in Florida because of the weather than I ever did in Michigan or Wisconsin.
When doing a service change and piping the basement of houses up north, one of the first things I would do is screw in all the 200 watt light bulbs I could find to warm the place up. Service changes were saved for winter, as I recall.
I had my wife go with me to hold a long fixture in place while I fastened it. She did not go often. But once a year I asked her to help me. We showed up at a house that couldn't have been worse for her. There were reptiles in cages on the patio. The renters were not tidy. The place was a mess as so many of the places I ever have worked are. To me I ignored the mess and got to work. The place was so dirty, my wife wouldn't put down her purse anywhere. That's how dirty the place was.
One time we were so busy we worked thirty straight 10 hour days, took one day off then worked the next thirty 10 hour days before returning to a normal schedule. The good news is when you're working so much you do not have time to spend any money. But it does wear a person out.
I passed four final inspections in one day in the Town of Palm Beach, all in the same day. I framed the final inspection tickets which I still have. I figured I would never ever pass four final inspections ever again in the same day, there. Palm Beach Florida was a great place to work as long as the work was perfect. I liked working there because I could charge more since not many people wanted to be held to such a high standard. I did some of my finest work there.
A lady asked me to do a service change for her. I asked for a deposit for the material. She refused saying she would never pay anyone in advance for anything. Turns out, not only would she never pay anyone in advance, she would never pay anyone, period. One of my buddies did the service change. She never paid him a dime. She also had Shell Oil Company deliver tanks of gasoline to the service station where she was renting, and never paid them. Last I knew, she was renting a station in Cedar River selling Shell Oil gasoline. I was sent there on a service call by Shell Oil because something was wrong with the pumps. I called Shell Oil and told them what I knew since I was sure they were looking for her. I did not do the work, explaining that I needed parts. I never did return. I figured what she couldn't pump she couldn't steal. I never did hear what happened to her. I hope she did jail time. Probably not, though. Crooks get off since they have nothing to loose. Oh, here's the rest of the story: she was probably eighty years old at the time. Neat trick for a granny, wouldn't you say?
I worked at a pawn shop/adult video store doing something electrical. When I finished, I gave the guy a bill. He paid with quarters. At least that's how I remember it. Could be I laughed about the possibility so much I believed that is what really happened. Sometimes fiction seems more likely than the truth.
As an electrical contractor, getting paid is sometimes harder than doing the work. One time I remember I wired a new church. Good people to work for, right? Well not exactly. The folks at the church tried to say they had paid all their payments when clearly they had not. Over a thousand dollars was still due. They could not produce a cancelled check, or any sort of receipt for the payment. So I pressed to be paid. One of the electricians who helped me on the job took matters into his own hands without my knowledge. He went over to the church, and pulled out the feeders from the main disconnect. The power company was called by the church folks. The power company told them the wiring to the building was fine. Then they called me to find out why the power was not on. By then I knew about the removal of the feeders. I explained that a final payment was due. No one else could work on the building until that payment was made, according to the building department. Well, that check came fast. We then reconnected the feeders. I am sure that was an illegal thing to do. But it worked. I cautioned my guys never to do anything like that again. But it felt so good to collect what was due. We didn't get any more work from that group, but then they might not have paid for that either.
For several years I worked as a superintendent for a large electrical contracting firm. There were up to 130 electricians at one time. We wired over 900 units in less than a year plus the other projects we had to do. I made it a habit of walking all the units before rough inspection to find problems. Normally I found a few home runs missing, a few switch legs wrong, and joints here and there incorrectly made. Well, I was scheduled to do a walk through of an 8 unit building the day of the company Christmas party. I did just that. I was late to the party, getting there just in time for the bonus check and food. I was proud to stand before the group of over 100 electricians and praise them for a walk through inspection on rough where I was unable to find no errors of any kind. The building was perfect. I also did the hot check later which was also without fault. It sure is nice to work with a bunch of guys that take pride in their work.
Most of the people I worked for over the years were very nice folks who paid promptly. But there were a few exceptions. One guy in Palm Beach, when confronted to pay for the extras which were written up and signed by the owner said to sue him as he was going to pay for none of the extras. We never did collect on that one. The cost of legal action would have resulted in a judgment which the owner never would have to pay. Bonding off is something all the crooks know about.
A service call to a fairly new home in a very upscale development left me puzzled. I knocked on the door. A lady answered the door. She asked me to change the dining room fixture. I tried to go into the house but was met with a huge mound of cardboard boxes. The lady said to follow her. I did. There was a narrow path from the front door, by way of the kitchen to the dining room. I put the light fixture up. As I worked, I talked with the lady. I imagined she had recently moved in and was getting settled. Boxes, boxes everywhere is common in a house where ever I work. I asked her if she liked the area and made other small talk. Eventually I got around to asking how long she had been in the house. She said five years. Wow! Imagine living in a house with boxes piled six feet high all through your house. Paths to get from room to room. She was quite an example of something which I can not think of a name for. I got out of there fast.
There was an older lady that called for electrical work. I knocked on the door. She asked me to go to a local furniture store and pick up a mattress she had ordered. The store could not deliver it for a few days and she needed it that night. I said I was an electrician expecting to do electrical work. She asked me how much the hourly rate was. At that time it was $40. She said fine. Gave me $80 in cash, where upon I quickly went to the furniture store and pickled up the mattress. It was easy money. Nothing electrical. I still wonder how she got my number. I had worked for neighbors. Perhaps from them. Strange.
Another lady lived alone on a house where I installed electric heat. I noticed that in the kitchen she had all counters full of boxes, jars, and other food containers. The kitchen table was also covered with mustard, ketchup, salt, well you get the idea. There was only one small place where she could sit and eat. I guess she liked having everything handy. I just could not live like that. She was quite nice as I remember. I wonder what strange things I will do when I get older. I have had quite a bit of experience seeing how others live. Perhaps I will find something different to do.
One couple bought a new house in a residential development across the street from their home just to have a place to put the doll houses of the woman and the electric trains of the man. That was quite unusual. The house had to be over $100,000. Not to mention taxes and all. And it was identical to the house where they lived. I always thought it was an investment which they might sell some day. Last I noticed, they still owned both.
An attorney asked me to install track lighting in a room in his house. The closet was about ten feet wide and twenty feet long. Both sides were lined with rifles on racks. There had to be hundreds of rifles in that little closet. He probably had several tens of thousands of dollars worth of guns. The guy asked me if I liked his guns. I said no. I don't like guns. He seemed pleased that I did not have my eye on his stuff. I went on to work for him several times. I wonder if I had been impressed with his guns if he would have wanted me back. He also had a bed that rotated with a motor. I can't remember why or how. But I hooked it up. That I do remember. And a steam room, too. I called a supplier in California to find out how to connect it since the instructions were in Swedish or Norwegian or something. Strange to me.
A lady who I was wiring a small house for took pictures of all the work I did as I was doing it. I don't know why she wanted so many pictures. She took pictures of everyone who worked at her house as well as all the work that was done. I never had that happen before.
This has to be the most unusual electrical story I have. A guy who lived in an old home was taking voltage from the telephone company wiring to power lights in his house. He had no electricity in the house except for the telephone. Imagine my surprise when I was asked to go there for a service call. I looked for the service and main panel I found neither. There was no service. Yet the house had lights. Go figure.
A Palm Beach house was the address for a service call to install a foyer lighting fixture. I showed up ready to do the do. A truck was unloading a huge wooden box. Turns out the lighting fixture was several hundred pounds. I spend 6 hours there getting everything right. There were six men to do the work. One electrician and five carpenters/helpers. Who has that kind of money? The fixture was probably a ten thousand dollar deal. We ended up building a scaffold and adding braces to the attic. It turned out to be a great job. Solid and safe. They paid me that same day. What a service call.
I worked for people in Palm Beach that I never saw. They had interior decorators fly down ahead of them to get the house ready. Never once did any of that set ever offer me a soda or sandwich even on the long days and late nights needed from time to time.
A Palm Beach guy spent over $100,000 on a house remodel. The work was done. I asked why there was no provision for heating. He thanked me for pointing this out and promptly called his general contractor. Someone goofed.
I showed up to install a fixture for a lady in Palm Beach at a mansion of a house. I range the bell. The lady took me to where the fixture was to be installed. I looked it over and told her it would be an hour at $40 for the call. This was some years ago. She said fine. She wrote a check and as she was leaving, she asked me to lock the door behind me. So she ended up leaving me, a stranger, in her multi-million dollar house, alone. Talk about trusting.
One guy I worked for always paid in cash, small bills. He said it was horse money. Probably he won the money at the track, or that is what I guessed. I always liked working for him. Immediate payment is great.
The motto of my one person business for the last several years was "Most jobs too large". I did not like the large jobs. I preferred working for the store owner or home owner. They paid better than contractors on large jobs.
A customer was presented a bill. He added to it a bill that he had paid the previous week. So the check was $400 more than it should have been. He handed me this large check. I explained that he had paid $400 of the amount the previous week. He went into his office and came out with a check for $400 less. He said nothing. If I had not said anything, he would have never known the difference. I went on to work for him for years. I guess he may have been testing me. No way of knowing. I never asked.
In a discussion with an owner in Palm Beach one morning, I asked for an answer about some task on my list. He said he did not know the answer but would get back to me before 3PM. He had to go to New York for a meeting but would be back. I wondered how he would ever make it there and back by that very afternoon. That's when he admitted to taking his private jet. He was the pilot, even. You never know who you're talking to over there on the Island.
My buddy and I were getting ready to do some attic work. For this we often used headsets so we could hear one another. As we adjusted the units at our truck parked in front of the house where we were working on the street, the voice of the lady where we were working came in loud and clear on the headsets. She was talking to a friend, apparently on her cordless telephone, explaining that, no, she had placed all her antiques in a bonded warehouse under another name so her husband, from whom she was getting a divorce, couldn't attach the items as a part of the settlement. Now, this is probably not a legal thing for her to do . Yet by using her cordless phone, anyone in the world with a Radio Shack headset could listen into her admissions. I suppose the information would have been worth money to someone. Us? We just turned off the head sets and yelled back and forth from the attic. I sure didn't want to get in the middle of a Pam Beach divorce issue.
More as time allows.
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