My Ten Problem Call from Hell

Most of my posts are positive examples of overcoming challenges with victorious endings.

I wish every call could go that way, but sometimes I get that call where nothing goes right, and in the interest of keeping it real, that’s just as important to write about as all the cool victories.

The two-part customer complaint seemed simple enough: the fresh food cabinet was too warm (55 degrees), and the icemaker wouldn’t dispense ice cubes at the door.

PROBLEM #1:  THE DISTANCE  The location was 45 miles away (a 90-mile round trip). That’s 180 miles if I had to return (which I did).

PROBLEM #2:  THE DOGS  When I arrived I was greeted at the door by two hyperactive wiener dogs that would not give me an inch of privacy anytime I got on my hands and knees to inspect things.

The customer told me she had to leave but I was welcome to stay and complete the repairs.  All she asked is that I lock the front door when I go, and DON’T LET THE DOGS OUT  (More on this later.)

PROBLEM #3:  THE LOADED FREEZER  The refrigerator was warm and the freezer had the classic signs of a defrost system failure with frost built up on the back wall of the freezer.

The freezer was stuffed to the hilt with food, and I had informed the customer that I needed to take everything out of the freezer section to access the evaporator coil.

She had no ice chests so everything had to just get scattered about the kitchen.

PROBLEM #4:  THE MASSIVE ICE BLOCK  With everything out I removed the back panel of the freezer and saw the biggest block of solid ice encasing the top half of the evaporator coil I had ever seen.

I’ve seen lots of frosted-up evaporators, but I wasn’t sure why this one was had solid ice as opposed to the typical snowy frost.

The relevance of this is that a solid block of ice is 10 times slower to defrost than the snowy type, and manual defrosting took me and my steamer almost 1 hour.  The ice cream on the countertop was now just chocolate soup.  (More on this later.)

PROBLEM #5: THE PREVIOUS TECH  After studying the situation, I noticed that the defrost heating element was undersized, and only covered the bottom half of the evaporator coil.

It appeared to be working OK because the bottom half of the coil had no frost built up on it. That explained why the top half had solid ice.  When the unit went into defrost, it only partially melted the frost on the top half, and then that refroze into ice once the defrost cycle ended.

I investigated further and saw that the previous repairman rigged a non-conforming defrost element in place and figured it would work good enough (he probably didn’t have the right part with him).  I did have the right defrost heating element with me, but now I had to go in behind him and clean up his technical mess.

The first complication was that when he installed the element, he cut away 20 inches of extra wire he didn’t need.  Now I needed all that wire to make my factory authorized part mount where it was designed to.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any of that type of wire with me, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to make that connection.

After some frustration and head scratching, I remembered that part of this service call was to haul off an old dryer and electric range they no longer wanted. I could just take some wire from the old dryer and replace it later.

With that good idea, the heating element install was done quickly.

PROBLEM #6:  NO ICEMAKER PART   Now I moved on to the non-distributing icemaker. Everything was working fine except the motor was not turning. I diagnosed it may be bad but I didn’t have that part with me.

At that point, I reluctantly accepted the fact that I was going to be driving 45 miles back again to complete this call.

PROBLEM #7:  THE ICE CREAM EXPLOSION  I started to put all the stuff back in the freezer, beginning at the bottom and working my way up to the top.  As I was finally finishing up the top shelf, the last thing left was the melted chocolate ice cream.

Normally I would have asked the customer if they wanted to keep it, but since she was gone I didn’t want to make that assumption, so I figured I’d put it back in and they could decide later to throw it out.

Looking for somewhere in the overwhelmed top shelf to put it, I see a small space toward the back and start to slide it into place. Like some bad scene from a sitcom episode, the bottom lip of the container snagged on something.

My forward momentum tipped and dumped the entire half gallon of sticky chocolate soup, which ran from shelf to shelf covering as much as it possibly could before pooling up on the bottom shelf.

Everything now had to be re-emptied from the freezer and hand washed INCLUDING the wire shelving and mounting brackets.

PROBLEM #2 CONTINUED:  THE DOGS  After what felt like a lifetime cleaning up the ice cream mess, I took the faulty icemaker out to the truck.  The dogs bolted out from under my legs into the yard.

Since this was a very open and rural location no fences to contain the freedom intoxicated dogs, they played “run from the stranger” for 45 minutes.

I finally caught them and got them locked back inside the house.

PROBLEM #8:  THE RAIN  Just to make things even more fun it started to rain.  I now had to load the dryer and stove onto the truck on the slick, steep driveway, so I proceed cautiously.

PROBLEM #9:  THE TRANSMISSION FAILURE  With the appliances secured in the back of the truck, I was ready to get the heck out of there.  It was then that the truck transmission completely failed, and I could only move in reverse.

PROBLEM #10:  NO CELL RECEPTION  Did I mention this call was in a remote rural area with no cell phone reception?  With the customer’s house securely locked, I ended up going to a neighbor’s house and asking to use their landline.  These nice folks helped me out, and I called for help.  Now I only had to wait an hour until my ride showed up.

But it gave me some spare time to think and review all that had just happened.  I ultimately decided this was truly an exceptional string of misfortune.

I realized just how good I have had it on other calls, and I went from feeling a bit sour about things to a little more grateful…hmmm…I guess it’s just a taste of the real world.

3 Replies to “My Ten Problem Call from Hell”

  1. Sir, this is hilarious! Thank you for sharing, and from a newbie appliance repairman to another your story is very inspiring! Please keep blogging, you have a gift for story telling!

  2. Haaaahaa!!! So funny! I have been there but your story tops any of mine and you wrote it so well! Uncle Harry should put it on his website under the category of “when Murphy shows up”. (He paints a picture that is a little to posive).I found your blog when looking for reviews of Uncle Harry’s training materials. I have been in the Appliance business for 29 years and am looking for materials for training my son who is 25 and is planning to go to work with me this summer. I really like your blog , research, resources and writing style. Email me, I would like to talk to you if you have the time. Larry

    1. Thanks Larry, always nice to hear seasoned professionals enjoy reading the blog! Yes, I agree that Uncle Harry is a staunch advocate of the appliance repair business and tends to spend his time encouraging, not emphasizing too much that it can be tough at times for a beginner. But he has great tools to really learn and gives you courage to actually start up your business. The edgier side of a technician’s early days in the business is one of my great inspirations for this site. I think I could have used a bit of this perspective when I was first starting out. Best of luck to you and your son!

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