Monday, January 23, 2023

Into the Now - Kicking and Screaming

 I know that in the last post I teased about following up with some hikes from Garner State Park, and I do intend to get to those, eventually, but I've been a bit busy lately. In fact I just got back home yesterday from another week-long hiking trip, maybe the last of the season before I start a big project, so for this week I'm throwing this post out there because I already had it mostly written and could finish it up quick and dirty.

I have personally owned a set of jumper-cables ever since I bought my first car in 1970, a reject VW bug, off my Uncle. (Who the day before signing it over to me decided to stop at the garden center on his way home from work and stuff it full, front trunk, front passenger foot-well, front passenger seat, rear seat and even the shelf behind the rear seat, with rolls of fresh sod. - Then he opened the window at 40 MPH!

I was cleaning dirt and dust out of the little nooks and crevasses of that car for weeks!)

Like most first cars, of those days anyway, especially in the north ( Where I had to keep an electric dipstick oil heater plugged in overnight all winter to make it to school in the morning.) jumper cables were required equipment if you wanted to have a fighting chance at suavely driving your current crush home from the movie and make out in his/her driveway instead of suffering the ignominy of waiting under the marque for dad to show up and fix things.

Even though those days are far, far - far - in the past, The Wife and I currently own three sets of jumper-cables. One in The Van, one in the car, and one in the barn.

Since I have The Van set up to be able to self-jump off the house batteries, and the car is only 8 years old, gets driven at least once a week, and is on a second, fairly fresh battery, it's the set in the barn the gets the most use.

This was the completely ignored 6 year old battery for the gate up at the end of the drive. It was in a proper box all that time but I guess the vents offered free passage for some of the smaller critters. I have since stuffed the vents with steel wool for ventilation without infiltration, actually copper wool so it doesn't just rust out.

Especially lately since battery replacement around here has been deffered for quite some time due to a COVID-driven (Yeah, let's blame it on that.) aversion to actually shopping out in public.

Since the small batteries used in general yard maintenance equipment don't last all that long, having to jump one piece of equipment off another was getting to be a standard, if annoying, policy around here.

Except for the generator.

That's one piece of equipment you DON'T want to be screwing around with, so I keep a battery maintainer on that one.

- - - Welllll - - -

Only problem with that is that it masks just how ragged out the battery really is. Until the other day that is.

I had disconnected the maintainer and rolled the generator outside like I do every month to start it up and run it with a load on. But this particular day The Wife had our one meal of the day ready earlier than usual and I wasn't about to miss out on that!

But when I got back to the generator an hour and half later (Hey! we only eat the one meal a day so we have to make the most of it!) I turned the key, it let out one, short, strangled grunt, and that was it.

Flat battery. - not even the dreaded clicks.

 OK. You might have already seen the connection between jumper cables and the current situation, But you might be wondering why a flat battery would result in our generator now sitting here in the barn naked,

with the covers tossed in a haphazard jumble nearby.

And how the hell that relates to jumper-cables.

Well it's all because, and I didn't know this before hand though it would have been handy information to have, these generators apparently have a nasty habit when jumped, even when jumped correctly, if you, as I was always trained to do, quickly disconnect the jumpers once it starts and before the on-board battery has a chance to build any useful voltage back up.

I got the generator started alright by jumping off the lawnmower, but as soon as I disconnected the jumpers it stopped again as the all-important smoke escaped out of the generator's control board.

When I went on-line to research this new, self-generated issue, the first item on the list of many things that can go wrong posted as a trouble-shooting guide by a place offering repair services was "smoking the control board when jump-starting"

I was actually looking for a replacement board at the time, but when I found out a new one (Of which there are plenty available out there, further illustrating that this is a common problem.) would cost five times more than shipping the old one off and having it repaired (they had it repaired and back on its way to me within 24 hours of receiving it) I adjusted, adapted, and revised my remediation plan!

So what's all that got to do with "Into the Now" as the title implies?

Well, despite being a crotchety old man set in his ways and vocally leery of all this new-fangled crap, (why the hell would I want to turn my lights off with my phone when I can just take a few steps and use the wall-switch in less time?) in order to distract myself from the shame of my latest costly f*%k up I decided focus on the hassle of using traditional jumper cables and do a little looking into some of these "miracle" jump-starters I've been hearing about.

Yes, they sound too good to be true, but after over 100 years of evolution (Since the first set of jump cables was invented) there was is bound to be some changes. Maybe even some of them for the better.

So don't tell the guys drinking their morning coffee at the McDonald's geezer table lest they label me a rabble-rouser and ban me to the worst seat, but now, for $100, I am the proud(?) owner of one of these.  -  I'm talking about the Norco boost on the left, although technically I do also own the $70 jumper cables on the right.

Although I could have spent more money and gotten more power, I bought the 1000 Amp version which they claim, and reviewers seem to verify, can jump up to a 6 liter gas engine and a 3 liter diesel.

  Not only does it pack away in about half the space taken by my heavy-duty set of traditional jumper cables, with the Norco I don't have to

(a) wait for hours in the dark and cold with card in hand for the AAA guy to show up
(b) maneuver the jump vehicle through snow-drifts and crowded parking lots to get it nose-to-nose with my dead one.
(c) drag some other 80 pound, non-self-propelled but functioning bit of yard-equipment across the meadow and up the ridge to jump-start the damn lawnmower. (Which needs jumping because I ran it out of gas but didn't discover that until I had flattened the battery and also had to drag a 40 pound gas-can up there.)

With this self-contained 2 pound little gadget I can simply reach behind the seat, or wherever I store it, pop the hood, and do the deed all on my own.

The one I bought even tells me if I hook it to the battery the wrong way around and won't let bad things happen until I do it right. (Not that I, with all my experience, would ever hook it up the wrong way around but - well - we don't talk about the regulator I once had to replace in the old lawnmower after I hooked the jumpers up wro - OK said I don't want to talk about it!) But let's just say it's kinda comforting knowing that the Norco will let me know.

Like many of them do, this particular model charges off of a USB port, or the charging cable can be plugged into a standard 12V outlet with the included adapter.

They warn you in the instructions that it is shipped only partially charged. Out of the box mine showed somewhere between 25% and 50% charge. The Norco marketing staff, and reviewers, note that this is still enough for one or two jump-starts, (The claim is up to 5 jumps on a full charge but I don't plan to test that one out!) but I still plugged the charging cable in and it was fully charged within 6 hours.

I saw some reviewers complaining about the device not having a full charge when they needed it after months of laying around in the dirt, fuzzballs, condoms, both used and new-but-dusty, and cheeseburger wrappers under the seat, but the internal charger of this particular unit has a maintenance mode, which means the unit's lithium ion batteries can't be "overcharged", so I don't understand why those whiners don't just find a switched outlet in their vehicle and leave the thing plugged in. That way whenever the vehicle is running the jump-starter's charge is being topped up.

Now the sharp-eyed among you may have noted that The Van's diesel engine is a 3 liter which is pushing the boundaries of this device's capabilities, so why didn't I spend a few more bucks and get a larger one? (a 1500 amp version rated for up to a 4.5 liter diesel is $150) Especially since I'm always pretty skeptical of "up to" claims.

Well first, I can already self-jump The Van off the house batteries.

Second, the primary use of this thing, as I envision it, will be for all the small engines lurking around in the barn. I very rarely have to jump start a vehicle but am frequently having to do so with those small engines.

And thirdly, there are some changes in the works that will make that 3 liter diesel engine a non-factor in the future - but that's all the hint you get on that for now.

Next time, back to hiking Garner State Park.

At least that's the plan.



  1. I think the biggest surprise in this post is that you might be having coffee with the old guys at McDonalds. You might have to turn in your introvert card. :)

  2. Yeah well, Wishful-thinking.

    Truth is I'm still the guy on the outside looking in - and if I was ever "in" I'd be looking out wishing I was there.