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Electrifying!

I taught in three parish schools during my career. None of my buildings had a custodian, so some day-to-day maintenance trouble shooting fell to the principal. I never have understood why all the school furnaces with which I worked didn’t operate as smoothly as my home furnace.

Electrifying!Despite the fact that our school furnaces were regularly “tuned up” every season before the cold weather set in, it frequently ended up that the furnace needed to be restarted most mornings early in the season. Now you can’t be calling a repairperson or a trustee every morning just to hit a reset button. At least that’s what I figured. So I learned to do some things myself, but each furnace had some unique twists, not always as simple as just pushing a reset button. Sometimes there might be a lever or another thing to flip or move. But in my first school, it was just that red plastic reset button. Still, I didn’t get off to the best of starts early on in my career.

When I became principal in my first school, my predecessor had given me some instruction on restarting the furnace, but one morning early in the season, nothing I did worked. So I called Norbert, a trustee whose farm was just a half mile down the road. Norbert couldn’t get that red reset button to work either, so he removed the screws from the metal cover that housed the reset button. And unfortunately, that’s where I stopped paying attention. Norbert did get the furnace started that morning though.

A few days later, the problem presented itself again, and pushing the red reset button just would not start the furnace. So I found a screwdriver, removed the protective cover and…. NO, I did NOT push the metal switch beneath that plastic reset button with my bare finger! Do you think I’m stupid? It had been a few days, but I did recall that Norbert did NOT press that inner button, a metal one, with his finger. Give me some credit!

Unfortunately, I assumed Norbert had pressed that inner button with the screwdriver— and that was a bad assumption. Sparks flew; I got a jolt that knocked me to the ground. I smelled smoke, and when I looked for the screwdriver, I found it sort of melted to the button I had pushed with it.

“Teacher, you can ALWAYS call me. Please don’t ever take apart anything electrical again. You don’t teach science, do you?”When Norbert arrived, he turned off the power, removed the screwdriver, took an old wooden pencil from his bib overalls, showed it to me, and used it to press that metal button that got the furnace restarted. Norbert came back later with a local furnace repairman to fix the reset button for good. But before he left, he said, “Teacher, you can ALWAYS call me. Please don’t ever take apart anything electrical again. You don’t teach science, do you?”

One additional “electrifying” short story from years ago. We had just finished decorating the Christmas tree at home—a live one. Diane noticed a few low hanging, straggling little branches and asked if I could do some trimming. Did I mention that the tree was completely decorated? Well, it was. Anyway, I crawled under the tree and starting cutting. Unfortunately, I was new to wearing bifocals and…well, I got a little off target and snipped some wires. Once again, I saw sparks fly. All the lights on the Christmas tree as well as in the living room went out. Diane and Jenny started screaming: “Chuck!” “Dad!”

And at that very moment, only one thought came to mind: “Wouldn’t it be funny to just lie here real still and quiet under the tree?” Yeah, it turned out the ladies didn’t think that was funny at all. It seems electricity is pretty serious business.

Chuck Strohacker retired at the end of the 2014–2015 school year after serving 40 years in the Michigan District, 37 of those years as a principal. He and his wife, Diane, live in retirement in St. Joseph, Mich.

Illustration © iStock/tacktack