A few months ago, our generator stopped working. And by “stopped working,” I mean fire and black smoke shot out of the exhaust, and the whole thing rumbled and made awful noises as if it were about to explode. This happened right about the time we started having our electricity rationed in Geita. [We
often regularly weekly have had outages, but this rationing is something to which we were not yet accustomed.]
I don’t want to make it sound as if we have a schedule for this rationing, because there’s certainly no such thing as a scheduled inconvenience here in Tanzania. But more or less, our electricity is off for 12 hours and then on for 24. That’s actually not bad, because if we’re without electricity during daylight hours today, our next outage will likely be at night. But, all the same, with a freezer full of frozen pork (that took two days to process), among other things, a generator is useful, if not downright necessary. So I needed to repair the thing.
Now, I like to be thought of as a man’s man, but I’m not really one — at least it doesn’t come naturally. I don’t know how to fix cars, I have allergies no outdoorsman would claim, and I once cried during an episode of King of the Hill. But I’m not unintelligent, and I don’t mind getting my hands dirty.
This is the story of how I repaired my own generator:
First, I took the whole thing apart. I drained the gasoline and the oil (saving the latter for cooking), and removed every part I could figure out how to remove. I did opt, however, to leave the engine in place as I don’t have another $1000 to buy a new generator after destroying this one in an (feeble) attempt to repair it.
My thinking was that I would clean all the parts really well, replace the spark plug, change the oil, and look for anything that seemed to be obviously broken or wrong. So we should probably call what I did maintenance and cleaning — and not an actual repair. [Also, in order to be deemed a repair, the work must actually remedy the problem, I think...]
I was really hoping the problem was going to be in the carburetor — that there would just be a lot of gunk in there that needed cleaning out. These hopes were soon dashed.
I knew the petrol (that’s what I’ve come to call it these days) in Geita isn’t the purest gasoline in the world, so I thought it’d be wise to clean the fuel tank well, seeing as it was already separate from the rest of the machine. I was fairly sure black smoke often comes from an engine when it is “running rich,” meaning too much gasoline is passing through (I learned this once while on a boat). But I was hoping it might also be the result of dirty petrol in a dirty tank.
So I bought an old ball bearing in town and took it apart. Then I put all the metal balls in the tank along with a healthy dose of kerosene, and I lit the whole thing on fire. Just kidding. I shook it for a long time and then emptied it, and then did it again. Three times total. A lot of dirty stuff came out, so I was feeling quite successful.
I also changed the spark plug, cleaned all the other parts, and put the machine back together. [No photos...]
After reassembling the generator, I decided to knock out a portion of the wall that makes the machine’s cuddly little home on the back of our house. This was in (misdirected) hopes that the problem might have something to do with the generator not taking in enough clean air to run smoothly. Now there’s an opening on the left side for air intake, as well as on the right side for exhaust.
The big joke when you do something like this is to get to the end and say, “Now, where was this piece supposed to go?” Yeah, I performed that joke. In real life. Just as if it’d been scripted for a movie. [Or at least a low-budget sitcom.]
But I figured out where those three little nuts went, and they’re not important. Seriously, they’re not.
Although, I did second-guess myself when the generator ran perfectly for 3 hours… but an hour later was again shooting out fire and smoke.
I’m still nothing more than a real-man wannabe. It’s true. Make fun of me in the comments if you like.