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An Explosive Situation

Part of the preparation for the trip to Italy and a ten day shutdown at the job site was making sure I had an adequate supply of propane to run the Norcold refrigerator in case we had a power outage. I use dual Extend A Stay adapters and reserve the 40 gallon onboard tank for emergencies. I am especially aware of keeping that onboard tank full during hurricane season — it sure saved my butt last year during Hurricane Ike.  I prefer the 40lb external bottles because they are about as big and bulky as I want to manage.  Shortly before my departure date, I made the trek into Jasper and filled one of the big bottles.  Connecting a fresh bottle to the Extend A Stay gave me some peace of mind because I know one of those 40lb bottles will last months during the warm weather .  The only draw on it is the hot water heater for 15 minutes a day and the occasional refrigerator changeover if the electricity is interrupted.

The end of the first day at work saw my brother and I observing happy hour outside the Fish Bus when a gust of wind brought a strong gas odor to us  – I mean really strong.  I immediately went over to check the bottle and found out it was almost empty!!! after only 8 days.  Something was definitely wrong here and I shut the propane bottle off immediately.   The next day I got out my spray bottle filled with soapy water and started looking for leaks.  As soon as I cracked the valve open on the external bottle, I could smell gas.  In the past, I had some minor leaks around the fittings where the Extend A Stay is plumbed into the lines and I was confident that was going to be the case this time.  I figured it would be a quick easy fix.

Yeah right!  It wasn’t any of the fittings in or around the main onboard tank, none of the valves on the external tanks were leaking yet I could tell the propane smell was strongest right around the tank area.  WTF?   Nothing to do but crawl under the Old Girl with a flashlight and the spray bottle and man oh man I dreaded that on those gravels.  The smell was really strong and I could hear gas escaping. Well great, I was laying on my back underneath an incendiary bomb so far out in the middle of nowhere even the fireball rising into the sky would go unnoticed.  I took just a few minutes to determine the gas was escaping from the regulator.  Not the greatest repair scenario but I was grateful I had found the leak quickly and it was at least reasonably accessible.  After all, I reasoned, that Marshall Brass regulator was probably OEM and had served a good duty cycle of 16 years.

So wiggle out from under the Old Girl and turn off the gas. Go inside and fire up the Internet and research my options. Well, it seems clogged regulators are fairly common and you can clean them out with compressed air being the most mentioned option. I thought to myself ” If I am going to the trouble to take the regulator off, I am going to replace it. No question!.”  A quick search showed several available and I eventually got a new one off eBay for less than ten bucks. Now I hate to admit this but I did not take cold showers for the seven days it took me to get the new regulator. Yeah, I know. I could have gone into town and picked one up immediately for about thirty bucks but I didn’t. Instead, I would go out every day after work and turn the bottle on for ten minutes to heat the water and then turn it off. I moved my chair out across the driveway and just sorta incorporated this little added inconvenience into Happy Hour. Maybe I was far enough away to escape the explosion and maybe not; guess we will never know bit I sure did have a ring side seat.

Yesterday was the day to replace the regulator.

Not pretty but functional work area

Not pretty but functional work area

I had a new regulator and pipe dope for the threads. Just a note here: You must use pipe dope to seal the threads– not silicone tape! Make sure and get the pipe dope that says it is OK for LP gas fittings.

I was still carrying bruises on my back from the gravels on my last trip under the Fish Bus so I made sure I had a piece of plywood to lay in this time. It went amazingly well actually. Old off / new on in about 15 minutes.

New regulator in place

New regulator in place

Quite honestly, propane scares the bejeezus out of me. I remember a year or so ago in Dallas, a propane distributorship caught on fire and those propane bottles were exploding and going every which way. It was some scary stuff. Most certainly, I did not handle this little problem in the safest manner. Continuing to use the hot water heater with a defective regulator was not the smartest option. However, if we had gone crispy, I would have been the only one affected. It was not like I was ten feet from my neighbor in an RV Park or hurtling down the highway with a trial of explosive gasses billowing out behind me. I played it safe and let the pipe dope dry for several hours before I tentatively open the valve on the bottle. No leaks folks! I am good to go again.

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1 comment to An Explosive Situation

  • don

    Well, you’re sure right that I’ve heard of smarter ways to deal with leaking propane but all’s well so I guess you were successful. I think I would have coughed up the $30 for the locally available item but that’s just me. Maybe I am even more concerned about propane than you are. Aren’t you glad you weren’t in a boat where the propane could accumulate in the bilge until something ignited it!

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