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Dead Men Tales: A $50,000 Mistake

HeatingHelp Posts: 366
edited November 2020 in THE MAIN WALL

A $50,000 Mistake

If you're staring at an odd, old device and you don't know what it is, put your hands in your pockets and back away until you learn more about it. In this episode, Dan Holohan tells the story of a strange device and a $50,000 mess.

Read the full story here


  • SteamCrazy
    SteamCrazy Member Posts: 75
    Wow! Ouch... That's an expensive lesson to learn. Kool story thanks for sharing Dan
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 8,581
    Very cool and very $$$$$!!!!!
  • mitch101
    mitch101 Member Posts: 22
    We're always ignorant of something. Used to wash my hands in a pail of gasoline after playing in my dad's wrecking yard. Didn't know to put my dirty hands in my pockets and back away 'cause my mom would kill me for ruining my pants -
  • Dave_132
    Dave_132 Member Posts: 59
    It reminds me of the Honeywell gas and zone valves that were activated by sodium in the operator head. When the seals began to leak and come in contact with water, they would explode.
    In a world of compromise , some men don't !
  • Philco
    Philco Member Posts: 3
    Very well told story.
  • jumper
    jumper Member Posts: 1,593
    Real mistake was to panic?
    Clean the Hg yourself instead of calling TheMan?
  • Jackmartin
    Jackmartin Member Posts: 172
    I remember when this mercury terror was just beginning in Canada. We had to ,on pain of death ,take every mercury filled vial to the safety officer. This guy was about as bright as a pound of ground round, but he was the law in this here town. He used to take the sealed vials from us after he had put on his tyvex uniform and donned a respirator that the medical profession would love to have for COVID. He always made the same statement “ ya know, that here stuff can kilt you” probably as badly as he killed the English language. Stay Well and Be Blessed Jack
  • John T
    John T Member Posts: 6
    I can remember playing with mercury on the kitchen table after I accidentally broke mom's thermometer. Things we did 60+ years ago. Great story Dan..
  • luketheplumber
    luketheplumber Member Posts: 123
    I've been collecting mercury bulbs from old thermostats I find in dumpsters. I store the old bulbs in a double container. I know where I can bring them to to safely dispose of them and I should probably get around to it sooner or later.
    Learning about Steam and Hot Water Heating Systems. Will Soon be looking for an apprenticeship in Steam Heating as soon as I Graduate.
  • Tomato
    Tomato Member Posts: 17
    Dan, Thanks for sharing this story. Do these look like tall mushrooms?
    Mercury has been used for so many devices. It is probably impossible to be able to recognize all of them. Hence your advice to put our hands in our pockets!
    I saw some good looking 30,000 gallon tanks which were abandoned. When I asked why, they said that the tanks were contaminated with mercury and it would cost more than the tanks were worth to clean them. I asked where the mercury came from and was told that the tanks were equipped with level gages that were filled with mercury until someone used a vacuum truck to clean the oil out. They decided to walk away from the job and leave the cleanup to someone else.
    Owners should require all contractors to have Errors and Omissions insurance.
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 15,206
    Here you go:

    Retired and loving it.
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 15,206
    And what goes on inside of it:

    Retired and loving it.
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 15,206
    Here's one at the top of the system with the open expansion tank:

    Retired and loving it.
  • Dennis
    Dennis Member Posts: 98
    The same type of mercury contamination happened in the next neighborhood over from where I currently reside. However lucky for the homeowner the fault was that of the gas utility company, While testing the gas line, some device used spilled a small amount of mercury. The homeowner recognizing it as mercury called the local fire company, they in turn called the EPA. Needless to say the year long ordeal to clean the house ended with the utility company throwing in the towel, purchasing the property, raising the property and carting off the entirety in several sealed hazmat certified dumpsters. 5 years later a developer built a new home, wherein one of my customers resides.
    My customer said the whole affair including the multiple attempts to clean the property before giving up, and legal expenses ran near a million dollars. I guess mercury is good work if you can get it.
    Just do it, right.
  • Leon82
    Leon82 Member Posts: 684
    My 3rd grade teacher had a jar of mercury in her desk. She let us all touch it. I believe she commented how the oxidation transfered to our fingers as it was shiny again.
  • Steve_Wheels
    Steve_Wheels Member Posts: 20
    My early days as a plumbing and heating contractor I came upon one of these. It was just standing there, alone, in the corner, just staring at me, beckoning me to look at it, to play with it. So I did. Just a little. Just like the plumber before me did. He shoved it in the corner and promptly ran away. I however went back to fixing the 100 year old vertical thrush circulator and left my beckoning black cast beauty in the corner. When done, I looked up (yes in a thing called the library, there was no google back then) what this tall skinny thing was. It took hours, but then I was happy I didn't play too much with this thing. Who knows, maybe the mercury was still in there. Maybe today, 40 years later she is still in the corner... looking for someone to play with her, becoming her, like a shed full of running chainsaws.
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,191
    Luke....I return Hg tstats to wholesale houses, some will take them, however they want the tstat to be intact.
    Not just the bulb they would not take. There may be some sites that will take the bulbs alone.
  • ratio
    ratio Member Posts: 2,732
    JUGHNE said:

    Not just the bulb they would not take.

    Kinda makes ya wonder, doesn't it?
  • gypsydoctor
    gypsydoctor Member Posts: 5
    My dad left a roll of asbestos paper down in the basement. After he passed away, I was cleaning up and found it. I called around and it was going to be a big hassle just to dispose of it--several hundred dollars.

    So I had an idea: I listed it on EBAY and sold it for $75.

    I think they have since made a rule against asbestos. And mercury too.
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 2,686
    There are probably also federal laws involving mailing asbestos.
  • LS123
    LS123 Member Posts: 339
    thank you for this info @DanHolohan ....Note to self... if buying a house with old heating system...check for this device and get lots of home ins.... :)
    Steam Heat Enthusiast
    -- In Learning Mode --
    " Trust But Verify " Suzanne Massie, an American scholar
  • tim smith
    tim smith Member Posts: 2,360
    Dan, well told story and mantra. I too have been known to move forward when I should look, learn and listen. Thankfully I think I learned many years ago to stop and find out what I am looking at. I have never ran into one of those. New piece of history in my head, yay. Your stories read like we are right there with you. I feel engaged every time I read them.
    Thanks again Dan
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 15,206
    Thanks, @tim smith I am right there with you. :)
    Retired and loving it.
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