Ted Kalvitis - Far Muse

Ted wrote this on the eve of the 2016 election, with it appearing in print the day after Donald Trump won the presidency. He thought it would be a fitting reminder 4 years later.

This column is usually submitted on the Sunday prior to the Hampshire Review's Wednesday publication date. I actually deliver it through the door at the Review. Anyone who has tried to do the same was sure to notice that there is no slot in the door for this purpose.

For those who may want to submit printed material after hours, here's my secret; Facing the double doors, insert your envelope lengthwise at the top of the right hand door just to the right of where the two doors meet. Gently push the envelope inward until the end of the envelope is flush with the aluminum door frame. The door frame keeps the envelope from folding during the next critical phase. Now, place a fingernail against the envelope and give the envelope a sharp inward push. This should send your submission sailing across the office to land prominently on the floor. I've been writing this column for about seven years now so I've worn a pretty deep groove in the weather stripping.

This week's column will be submitted in the same manner but is a little different. I'll be writing this introduction in the world as we knew it before this contentious presidential election but this installment may be published in a very different post-election atmosphere.

I'll bet Hillary won. Looking at the image in the Bible book of Daniel, we see the feet of the image from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream that represent the last human governments to exist on earth. These little piggys are of iron mixed with clay. This mixture would certainly represent a disunity in metallurgy and we might reason that it represents the same in world government.

I won't go into what nations may or may not be involved but a Democratic President and a Republican Congress would be consistent with that theme. That's the basis for my guess, anyway.

On the other hand, in case I'm wrong, (me, not the Bible) I would like to hedge the bet in my favor. Throughout history, any nation that has made a headlong charge toward an industrial leap forward hasn't demonstrated much affection for the arts.

Poets, writers, and artists in general had to hide their weirdness and quickly learn an industrially relevant occupation.

Therefore, I'm re-publishing this tech article in order to prove to a new administration that I'm a latent industrial Titan.

"Margin of Error" first appeared in the May 2016 issue of Antique Power Magazine. It was published as "Margin of (T)error," editor Brad Bowling's idea. I told him that I had serious reservations about using the "T" but he went ahead with it just the same.

After reading my column about editors (Someday Maybe a Fish?) in the Sept. 28 Review, reader Bruce Mitchell of Kansas City, Mo., wrote to suggest that I hand out P.I.T.A. (rhymes with "rain in the grass") awards. But I'm sure that editors mean well. I had better stop here.

Margin of Error

It was the summer of 1988 and we had just finished an overhaul of a 6-71 Detroit Diesel in a tandem dump truck. We stood listening to the big 2-stroke purr. As an apparent afterthought, Detroit expert Jan McKee speculated as to whether the truck's Delco alternator was charging.

After opening his pocket knife, he then touched the blade to the back end of the alternator's armature (avoiding the hot terminal, of course). He explained that the presence of magnetism there indicated that the alternator was charging. However, he did seem to indicate that the test might have a very narrow margin of error.

Previously, I had always thought that a volt meter or some such instrument was necessary in order to see whether the charging system on a Diesel engine was functioning. This pocket-knife testing method has since served me very well for many years.

Ron is a full-time farmer and his main tractor at the time was a Massey Ferguson 175 Diesel. He had just gotten the newly repaired alternator back from the electric shop and had just finished installing it on the tractor. I happened by on other business.

"How do I tell if this thing is charging?" he asked.

Apparently, the dash gauge didn't work. I seem to recall that this is a fairly common condition on these tractors when stored outdoors. I picked up a tiny 5/16 open-end wrench and touched it to the back of the alternator of the running Diesel. The magnetism was so strong that the wrench just hung there.

"It's charging," I assured him.

Ron shut the engine off. In a few seconds, the oil-pressure-activated switch in the dash opened the excitation wire circuit, the magnetism subsided and the wrench fell to the ground.

Amazed by the simplicity of this test method, Ron asked to see it again. He started the tractor and I picked up the wrench.

Again, it clung to the back of the alternator. He shut the engine off and we waited for the wrench to fall. It didn't.

Something was wrong! After all of these years of successful testing was I now experiencing McKee's mysterious MARGIN OF ERROR? I worried and fretted. Half expecting to see a fatal puff of smoke from the alternator, I disconnected the negative battery cable. The wrench still clung to the alternator; Impossible! For the better part of a minute, Ron shared my befuddled, agitated state then suddenly burst into laughter.

The wrench is magnetized!" he declared.

Indeed, the tests had caused the atoms in the wrench to become polarized which made the wrench magnetic. Repeating the test with a screwdriver showed that everything was working fine.

Nowadays, most of those old Delco alternators have been converted to “self-exciting" units. These require no more circuitry than a connection to the battery through a fusible link. Still, the test is the same.

I never did find that elusive margin of error. o


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