The Elevator’s Tale

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February 19, 2016 by phicks2012

portcullis-02Don’t worry. I’m not writing this in Chaucerian English, though I’ll admit that it might be challenging and entertaining. This is rather a story about how I wound up with what the Brits call a Lift — and why I’ve possibly decided to call it Achilles — and about the semi-heroic quest for repairs. Prepare yourself!

When I was building The Castle, I decided it might be nice to have a dumb-waiter. After all, the laundry room was going to be in the basement (two levels below the bedrooms) and that was also going to be the location of the great-room where any entertaining/partying was likely to occur. Sending trays down from the kitchen level, or heaped laundry baskets up to the bedrooms would therefore, I reasoned, be easier if some technology existed to help out, and I would have been just fine with a pulley operated system. That would, in fact, have neatly fit my definition of “cool”.

However, at the time my mother had already had both knee joints replaced and had, in any case, an abiding dislike of stairs — a noticeable feature here even from the beginning. I knew that if I ever wound up caring for mama in extreme old age, she was going to give me ten kinds of hell if she had to climb stairs — even assuming that she could manage it — so I allowed my contractor (hereafter to be known as “Shifty Jim”) and a supposed friend (hereafter to be called “Dirty Daryl”) to talk me into having an elevator instead.

Jump forward ten years to the point where (after having been royally fleeced) I finally saved up the funds to finish the house enough to move in. My new (and this time ethical) contractor finally got the elevator fully assembled and working, but shortly before I was able to move in I lost my mother (and I won’t even dignify the doctor involved with a nickname), so I probably could have made do with a dumb waiter after all. Of course, by that time the elevator was already there.

Elevators are useful when you have to haul things upstairs, and have rather a lot of stairs to haul them up. Moving furniture up (and even down) curving staircases can be awkward and result in a lot of damage to walls, and if you happen to sprain an ankle, twist a knee, or pull a butt muscle, then climbing (or even descending) stairs can be interesting, so it’s nice to have an alternate method of ascent and descent, even if you rarely use it.

Of course, my elevator had to be quirky though — even before we got busy and wrote with felt-tip pens on the shaft walls at each level: things like Household Appliances, Livestock, and Men’s Lingerie (and if you’re old enough to remember riding in department store elevators with actual attendants, you’ll get the reference). For example, it canted just enough when used to rub occasionally against some of the wiring in the shaft and caused the front door bell to ring, and when it was taken or called to the basement it sometimes just kept going.

Okay, that’s not to say that it descended into the bowels of hell, or even into some subterranean dungeon level. The latter would admittedly have been cool, but nah. It just dropped a few inches below the spot where it was supposed to stop, and that was a problem. The builder hadn’t created a hollow area for the stuff below the cab to settle into, so we had to add two steps up from the basement foor to begin with to bring us level with the floor of the cab when we got in or out. Still it would have been easy enough to step down again into the elevator if it was still working. However, every time the cab did this it triggered an automatic cut-off (its Achilles Heel, if you will), and forced someone to hike up to the attic to reset it. To add to the annoyance, this was more likely to happen if someone was riding in the elevator, in which case the basement elevator door might well refuse to open because the safety latch was by then re-engaged.

We figured out, eventually, that riding the elevator TO the basement was probably not the best idea in the world, though riding it up FROM the basement (if we could get it down there without having it cut off) was generally fine, and we learned not to rush to answer the front door when the elevator was running. In short, we learned to adapt.

However, we recently, in January, started having further issues with the old boy — like pressing a call button and getting no response — so we set about trying to figure out what the problem might be, and (given that the thing has no known computerized elements) this ought to have been fairly straightforward. Jason has worked enough with wiring and with mechanical contrivances to be able to figure out most things, but the original contractor (“Shifty Jim”) had never given me any paperwork at all on the contraption, so we weren’t sure exactly where to start. No owner’s manual. No schematics. No clues.

Jason tried running it up and down to diagnose the problem, but it seemed to be working fine until it hit the basement and “did its thing”. Then, when he went up to reset it, he found the motor smoking. Bummer. He turned everything hastily off, yelling and making rude gestures at the equipment (not sure what good that did, but it was entertaining), and said he was afraid I was going to have to shell out $300-$400 for a new motor — assuming we could figure out what kind of motor to buy. Funny thing, but someone had removed the data plate from the motor, so we couldn’t tell who made it, or much else about it. Surprise!!.

I looked the thing over and pointed out some grease fittings, suggesting that maybe a lube job might help if the motor wasn’t actually fried, and Jason agreed, but without any sort of manual we had no idea what weight or type of grease to use. In any case, we decided to let the motor rest, and then try again later, just to see if it was still working. A few days later we did just that, and the elevator (and motor) seemed to be working fine. In fact, the motor didn’t even THINK about getting warm, so we shook our heads and said (collectively) “Well, Damn!”

So Jason got a pen and paper and started writing down model and serial numbers, names of manufacturers, and other mystical information inscribed on various surfaces, and I got busy Googling, and started calling local elevator companies, not one of which was really all that local. Let me tell you, these people aren’t used to folks having elevators who don’t also have 6-figure incomes. Remind me that if reincarnation exists I want to come back as an elevator repairman and make over $200 an hour, okay? Hell, even if the company gets a chunk of that, we’re still talking serious cash, right? I was quoted $224 per hour, $192 per hour, and $215 per hour (not counting any parts) with estimates of 2-3 hours minimum. Can you say “Cringe”? However, I did learn a few things.

One was the make of my elevator, and that allowed me to call the manufacturer and ask for an ower’s manual. Of course, I was assured it would really only tell me only how to press the buttons and other no-brainer points of elevator operation, but I had to ask. Another, and more useful tidbit, was that there’s a “limiter switch” in the basement under the elevator that stops it from descending too far, and that it can quickly and easily be adjusted. The manufacturer couldn’t, however, send me schematics, because they didn’t know which ones to send, and I was about ready to scream.

But then I got a call from another elevator company — this one wanting to sell me a “maintenance agreement” costing $1200 per year, and only available after they did an equally expensive repair job and brought the system “up to code”. I didn’t laugh, but I did explain to the caller that I didn’t own my own mint and frankly didn’t use the elevator often enough to justify that sort of expenditure. THEN, I laughed.

The good part was that once he realized I wasn’t going to fatten his company’s coffers he suggested (rather condescendingly, I thought) another company that might be “more economical”, and when I called THEM I got a pleasant surprise. They already had a file on me, because they were the company who’d installed the thing 25 years ago in 1991. They knew what model I had, and what motor I had, and what the set-up was, and they emailed me a manual that was actually semi-useful. They also told me they’d come out and service the elevator for a flat per job rate of $225-$250. Okay, so that was still not cheap, but when you considered the alternatives it started looking like a serious DEAL!

So in early February I decided to bite the bullet and schedule a visit — only to be told that the person who’d given me the original quote (see above) no longer worked for the company, and (basically) didn’t give me accurate information. Yep. The real (verbal) quote was $350 including the replacement of batteries that the elevator doesn’t have. They insisted upon including that even though I told them there WERE NO BATTERIES — just in case I was wrong, I guess. I asked her if the price of the nonexistent batteries (around $100) would be deleted if I didn’t need them, and she said it would, but I’m afraid I’m not sure I believe that, and the written quote does not make that clear. In fact, it looks like the repairs would be $350 PLUS any batteries or other parts

So we’ll see what happens. Maybe Achilles will be running again in, say 2017.


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I am an active, outgoing person interested in all sorts of things and all sorts of people! I'm constantly discovering new interests, and expect that to continue right into the grave!

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