With federal government approval to build the Northwest Transmission Line, “promising mineral properties will now have access to stable power from the provincial grid doing away with the challenge of using diesel generators,” reported The Terrace Standard in its online edition of May 9.
And what a challenge diesel generators can be. Companies using big generators probably have qualified mechanics to service the machines daily. For a family using a small generator, there’s more of a challenge. As someone who ran a household using electricity produced by our own diesel generator I can appreciate what a power line means.
For seven years our family’s electrical requirements were supplied by a 3.5 kw Lister diesel generator. Besides lighting, fridge, radio, TV, and record player the Lister powered the washing machine, gas furnace and well pump that gave us running water and a fully functioning bathroom. But the generator could power only two of the three major units at the same time. If I needed to do laundry, I had to be sure the thermostat on the gas furnace was turned off so the generator had ample power for both the washer and the well pump. I would let the washer fill with cold water, then turn off the faucet. While the machine agitated, if necessary, I could turn on the furnace.
When heat had reached the desired level, I turned off the furnace, opened the cold water faucet, and let the washer finish its cycle.
The complete washing cycle took 30 minutes. In winter, 30 minutes might drop the room temperature to levels uncomfortable especially for our two little kids playing on the floor. Before I turned on the furnace, I lifted the washer lid to stall the machine until the furnace had brought up the temperature.
Cold weather was always a worry. If the generator conked out in below zero conditions, the pump could freeze. When that happened, as it did one sub-zero January, we were without running water until spring when the waterline melted out. In the meantime, we hauled water daily from the river in a metal garbage can, water sloshing about at every tilt of the hand sleigh. The 20-foot climb up from the river was no treat either, especially when steps had first to be shovelled into the snow.
We lived beyond phone service. Calling in a mechanic involved a drive to Terrace, requesting service, then waiting patiently. If the mechanic was able to make repairs with what he brought along, that was one thing. If he had to order a part or return to Terrace to pick one up, our time without lights, heat throughout the trailer, and running water seemed to take forever.
The price of diesel fuel climbed steadily. Not enough we had to make sure our diesel barrels were filled monthly, the cost became unmanageable. Our generator ran around the clock. My aunt, when she visited, was amazed I had hot water at all hours.
She had lived in Zebellos in the 1940s where my uncle, a carpenter, built staff housing for the gold miners. There, power was cut early in the evening until next morning. In our case, that would have meant a cold house and no lights during the night. We did have a wood heater but its effective range was limited to the front half of the mobile home. The bedrooms and bathroom remained icy cold.
My husband had no training or experience with electrical machinery, only an innate instinct, a screwdriver or two and a crescent wrench. He did learn to change the brushes, a small but vital part of producing power, and tended the machine with the concerned watchfulness of an intensive care nurse in a preemie ward.
Sometimes I almost wished for the wood stove, kerosene lights, and outhouse of my childhood. They were at least reliable. Connecting to a power grid was a dream.