Zach Asks: Is your generator ready for winter?

Zach Says, Our Standby Generator is AOK, it ran for 50 hours last year, and now with my Sister Ava, it’s nice to know we can make a few KW to run the fan in the gas furnace, run the lights an more if we need to.
















Zach’s house has a small diesel gen set that sits outside in it’s own dog house. The fuel tank is topped off so the tank can’t breathe and condense water into the fuel, the lube oil level has been checked, the start battery is fully charged, and Dad or Mom only need visit the remote start panel next to the transfer switch to make the lights come on.

As I think about preparedness, that call from rancher and friend in Montana this week  rings in my head.  Now is the time to think of what can go wrong and be prepared. Keith has an 85kw KatoLite PTO generator that is not making the right voltage, it dips far below ANSI standards for Voltage.

There are no non DIYer Ranchers, or at least I’ve never met one, and I never met a Rancher that woke up even one morning exclaiming he was bored or didn’t have something to do. With most Ranchers, it’s normally a list of things to do far longer than he has time to accomplish, and there are times he thinks he may have messed up on his priority list.. it’s the norm!

Keith has a Katolite 85KW PTO generator that has given him good service for a dozen years. but now, here we are at a time of year where it can get cold and dangerous in the back country of Montana, and we have this little problem.

Calling a generator man in Billings (a LONG drive) he doesn’t have a tractor there to test drive the Gen set, so Keith is considering putting the tractor and PTO on a trailer and heading off to Billings, we note, if the Gen man isn’t able to fix it pretty much on the spot, Keith may be best off spending the night there, or making a second trip with trailer to pick it up when it’s ready, and risking no coverage back at the ranch.. The cost of hours away, fuel, and inconvenience adds up.

The majority of Generator troubles look easy to fix once you find them! Learning how simple a rotating machine is, and how it works is key in fixing it in the field, and most of the time you can. Here’s some advice.

There’s generally no banging and clanging, no smoke, no smell of burnt components or plastic, and you don’t need much advice when these things happen. What frustrates a man is a problem like this one where it almost works.

What every rancher should know is how to measure the excitation power from where it’s made, where it’s rectified, and how it’s delivered to that rotating field normally found in your generator. A cheap multimeter is NEVER a good investment, you need something you trust when you have a problem. Especially when you’re measuring field resistance, and that cheap meter can’t make up it’s mind.

My advice is this, the time to negotiate for a service manual, is at the time of sale, and simply letting the salesman know that you need that in your operation, and want it to be part of the sale is a good move.

But now, there’s that one other step that so few of us take, and later we might wish we did.  Go through that manual, and learn where those parts are that fail, that simple and normally inexpensive rectifier, they do fail, and you could stock a spare on site.  You can learn to measure what is supposed to be on the AC side, and what it looks like on the DC side. When all is working, you get to see what the reading looks like when it is working 🙂 

If it’s a brushless design, you can know about that little access door found in a lot of machines where you can check a diode, and know how to do it.

Make a decision as to what spares you will stock on site.  It’s a lot harder to fix something when the lights are out, your wife is cold and impatient, and the kids are watching the snow drift across the road, erasing it’s every sign.

Ninety Five percent of what stops a generator looks like an easy and fast repair when you know your machine well and have the part to fix it. Consider learning about the field excitation, and stocking the cheaper parts involved as a first step in being prepared. It may save you a lot of time, and make you look like a hero when your family sees the lights back on so quickly..

Zach’s Sister Ava wakes from a nightmare.. the generator didn’t work!


Zach’s sister Ava

Thank Goodness it was only a bad dream 🙂





 Zach Shares how to wire a home Transfer switch:



This entry was posted in Buyer Beware, Critical Thinking, DIYer Generator, DIYer Skills, Generator Realities, Generators, How Tos, Off Grid Power, Survival Skills, UtterPower Articles and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Zach Asks: Is your generator ready for winter?

  1. Alan Becker says:

    Great article!!

  2. Butch says:

    Looking out my kitchen window about 1/2 mile away is a rental store that is a source for both generators and repair. When the power goes out they send a guy out with and hand full of orange cones and he sets them right down the middle of the driveway about halfway to the road. At the end of the line of cones he stands up a half sheet of plywood that has painted on it- Generator sales and rental (arrow to the right) Repair work (arrow to the left). Sure saves a traffic jam,
    Being of the mechanical mind set is a gift the DIYers should bet thankful for and not sell short. We put up a little 6×6 shed for our 1115 and ST head over the summer. I ran power to it, put a light bulb right above the fuel tank. On the wall is a spare belt and a small shelf with 4 brushes, couple rectifiers and a battery mainatainer. Was test running it back in September and a fellow next door came over too see what was going on, “problems with the genny”??
    Nope, just a test run.
    “why? wasnt it working when you shut it off”?
    Yes, we just like to keep it limbered up and makes sure it runs
    “Oh OK,,,, having troubles with the battery”? ( he just noticed the charger)

    I don’t look down my nose at those types, I feel sorry for them,,and me too, when my phone rings on a cold damp night. “hey glad I caught you still up! my generator won’t,,,,,


    • George B. says:

      Routine runs really protect the machine, here in washington, the moisture and air temperatures cause a lot of condensate issues, and that routine run should last long enough to drive out the condensate. Machines that set for too long can have problems, and one bit ofdamage that can be visible are ‘etched’ crankpins. Of course, I need not tell you any of this Butch, but if it helps even one reader, maybe worth the time to add the advice! Telcos, the Military, other commercial entities live by their scheduled routines. That log book is a very smart investment.

  3. Mike L. says:

    Hey George!!! A big hello from your NJ friend here.

    Winter???? Ha ha, 9 days no power here from Sandy, then the nor’ easter knocked us out for 3 more days. We were warm and toasty, we ran flawlwss etc…

    Most neighbors seamed mad I had my front light on at night but I did it for saftey reasons.

    Any way I am the guy with the small 3250 watt gen that you assisted me in modification to operate 120v only, since I have no 240v loads.

    See here.

    Now I am not that smart, but am actually going to take the head apart to see whats in there. Here is my schematic. This is a brushless design. Could you tell me what I may be looking for to test?

    I believe I did see two diodes when I took the back of the head off to have a look.

    There is also something attached to the front of the gen with two wires going to who knows where. Looks like a capacitor. Mine have the wires embeded in the casing and there are no tabs. Not sure of its function.

    Looks like this.

    The good thing about having a small gen as I have is that the whole state was out and fuel was at a premium. ( My gen sips fuel. 6 hp briggs) Rated 14 hours at 1/2 load, I easily could run probably close to 24 hours on the 4 gallon tank.

    Geez I could tell you storys of what happened here with gens blowing up from people back feeding with out the main breakers off…etc…

    It was terrible.

    But if you could detail on what to test and a better understanding of what parts may fail it would be appreciated. ( I have since not located a rectifier, but perhaps that is used in a brush type gen head.)

    Because I would think other then those two diodes and that capacitor there is not much I need!!! No AVR you know.

    Thanks George… Oh I lost your # . I always like to have a helping hand on file. If you could shoot that to me I will return mine. Remember I am a plumber and any help you need, I am a phone call away.


    Your friend Mike NJ

    • George B. says:

      Mike here’s fair warning, I’m going to answer with a rant, mixed in is why it will grow far worse, and why everyone should invest in a small transfer switch. The key to understanding is to study how the PUC oversaw some of the utilities, and failed to assure there were incentives to maintain them! We note the FED has decided to grant entitlements we can NOT afford, and the so called big rich corporations like the energy sector will be robbed of more incentives to assure the outside plant is maintained yet alone upgraded as it desparately needs!

      I’m glad we got your gen head converted to 120VAC only, and some who read this won’t understand how important it can be WHEN only 120 VAC is required. . Zach’s house is a great example of the flexibility a small generator running 120 VAC only can offer, no worries of load balance and more current available to start a 120 VAC induction motor like that found in an emergency pump you might need to keep your home dry.

      The most important message you help share here is how important it is to be ready and have a plan! We can trust that things WILL get worse, as we never really found the money to modernize much of the outside utility we had, and now we shift a HUGE part of the National budget to more entitlements! For those who read this and don’t put at least a minimum plan into place, well… you were warned.

      People who know wealth re-distribution is right to do are the ones who will steal your generator and fuel in the dead of night, so don’t put your portable generator on the street when you might easily put it in the back yard and let the dog watch it for you. Yes, they claim to be the compassionate ones, but just wait and watch them when trouble hits!

      Mike, that drawing you share looks exactly like a typical brush type generator we expect to find at the big box store. Some notes, a rectifier is nothing more than a package of diodes, and in our world of small generators, it’s normally four of them, and the name ‘full wave rectifier bridge’ is typical. Just Google this term to see how one works. It’s job is to condition the power (rectify it) to direct current (DC) so it can be used in the rotating field of your generator. The polarity need remain the same because we are powering an electro magnet, and the north and south poles sweep our stator winding to make the current flow.
      Now, if you look closely at your field, you’ll see little boxes at each end of the winding, this is typical of how an engineer depicts ‘brushes on slip rings!’. So I think that’s what you have.
      I note in this article that the service manual is what we need! The service manual tells us what to measure, where to measure it, the part numbers, and where you can order them. A great way to approach buying a generator is to ask the salesmen if the service manual is available and if he can include it as part of the sale? He doesn’t know? Next question might be.. “who does know?”
      Diyers get by, they even take a file and make larger brushes into smaller brushes that fit when they need them, or they understand that any rectifier that meets current and PIV rating will likely work fine! That radio shack rectifier than has been stocked for 30 years works well as a replacement for most small generators you find in the box store, my Coleman has one installed ?
      All that follows is a rant, a message as to why it is even more important for you to prepare for outages! IF you believe American is on the right road now, do not read a word of it!
      Mike, it’s time to get ready for the next outage, those in power, want to stay in power, and the money grows tight! Money for electrical power will be diverted to other things, and maybe the excuse will be that those big wealthy power companies need be punished ? When you see government take them over worry most!
      A small investment in a generator transfer switch is a great investment in dollars right now, dividends paid might make it a far better investment than gold.
      For you who think you can trust government to look after you and infrastructure, look at some of the telephone offices at the heart of the storm. Flood waters entered cable vaults, and now they say they are NOT able to rehabilitate the communications outside plant! What does this do to business in the area? I say it WILL force some into bankruptcy. Certainly, they will make every excuse, global warming, whatever, but huge vaults like this best be designed to keep water out, and to have pumps and standby power to keep them dry! The entire area depends that they are prepared, and history tells us the real truth, this storm was over due, and had the seas dropped an inch from the 1800s, this storm would have flooded that poorly designed, and poorly maintained cable vault!

      Engineers of the past were Vocal and empowered! A power engineer, or outside plant engineer could call any power onto the carpet just a few short years back.. If they entered a major switching center cable vault and saw open splices, cables not properly sealed where they entered the vault and more, they’d send the report to the CEO and powers that be, and document the fact the work was critical and needed. I can assure you, there were a ton of violations in that area because anyone who really knew the outside plant has long since retired. Since there hasn’t been any storms or floods for a while, all who knew the dangers are likely old, retired, or dead. It’s likely that those who have the responsibility to protect these critical assets (government oversees) have the same pathetic view of reality as Socialist Patty Murray. Since it’s not flooding today, we can divert our efforts and money to social issues.. where we can buy votes, and maintain them. What do we expect from a Senator who has a degree in physical education and believes fully that people need be taken care of? Who is it that she thinks doesn’t need to be relieved of being cared for?
      If you are looking for an answer as to what should have been done to protect the outside plant, I might suggest that government helped starve the outside plant when they told TELCOs that they didn’t own a thing! The PUCs had the attitude that this plant was owned by the public, and they unwittingly removed incentives to maintain it properly. Why is it a company like Verizon or anyone else would maintain something best they don’t own?
      So I think.. and I’d bet there’s letters of concern written by engineers somewhere, they being men who knew that a broken water main could have flooded that vault too..


  4. Mike L says:

    I replied but see no post….

  5. Mike L says:

    Seems like I cant add links to pics George. I can add text only. This is my 5th attempt. I am only adding text only here but tried with several posts with links to pics previously to no avail

    Site messed up????

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