And now this helpful Year 2000 feedback from my friend in the Heartland (yes! this East Coast boy has a friend in the Heartland!):

I’m very concerned about Y2K. On one hand, it seems absurd. On the other, how many broken down cars does it take to back up the freeway? And if you went into a gas station and asked them to manually pump you a gallon of gas they couldn’t do it. (Some do have backup electrical generators.)

Last winter a very bad ice storm hit Iowa City. Branches and power lines crashed by the zillions and we were without power for 18 hours. That doesn’t sound like a very long time, but when it’s still winter outside and you’re sitting there by candle light, and it’s eerily quiet, with the only sounds the occasional crash of a limb off in the distance as the weight of the ice finally makes it succumb to gravity during hour number 16, and you see the temperature on the thermostat dropping roughly 1 degree per hour, you think, “My God, what if it’s like it was up there in Canada, where the power was off for over three weeks after a bad ice storm?” It’s a miserable, rotten, near panicky feeling. It doesn’t help that when our power goes out our well-water goes out, too.

So when summer came around I went out and bought an electric generator for our home – a deluxe Honda 5500 watt model. I paid for the generator and Jack paid to have an electrician wire it directly into the fuse box of the house. Believe it or not, we’ve had to use it three times since then and it’s great peace of mind. Just before July 4th, when Jack was in Europe, Iowa City was hit by near-tornadic 80 to 100 mph winds. Again zillions of branches and power lines went down. The entire town was without power for at least a day, and for our house two days/nights. What a GREAT comfort it was to have power at night (and it wasn’t even winter, which would have made the situation far more serious). Ours was the only house in the area with the lights on, I was watching satellite TV, the refrigerator was humming away, and I could check my e-mail. I’m sure the few people who drove by (not recommended, as roads were blocked by limbs everywhere) did a double-take.

While I bought the generator for weather/disaster emergencies, it’s nice to know we have one when 1/1/2000 rolls around – when it could be 30 below zero outside. Assuming that natural gas is still flowing, we’ll have power for the furnace fan.

Some details: Knowing nothing about generators at first, I searched the Internet. It worked great. I decided on a Honda 5500 watt generator and found places charging from $2600 to $4500 for it. I printed off the pages of the discount company and took them in to my local dealer and asked if he could match it. He said that at $2600 he’d only have $90 profit, and would have to charge Iowa sales tax. I decided to go with him anyway since there was some assembly required and he’d deliver it to the house for free. So I ended up paying $2,750 plus tax. (You can buy cheaper generators at hardware stores but this one is a deluxe model and idiot-proof since I am a mechanical idiot.)

The electrician charged $500 to wire a connection into the house’s fuse box. It could only be hooked into 4 fuses, either by law or by wattage limitation or both, so we chose refrigerator, furnace blower, first floor lights and TV room (of course ). Of course, 5500 watts can’t power everything in our entire 4600 sq. foot house all at one time, but our generator will power every single light and appliance included in the 4 fuses it’s hooked into – we checked – and have power left over to run items off two extension cords, which we can run to specified extra areas (to open the garage door electrically, for instance).

The generator requires roughly a gallon of gas per hour of operation at maximum 5500 watt generation. Our model has a feature which makes it energy efficient – it burns gas according to how much power is being drawn. I keep 20 gallons of gas on hand (not inside the house) in four 5-gallon plastic gas cans. When 1/1/2000 rolls around maybe I’ll have double or triple that on hand just in case (and a good supply of low-tech fire wood – January can be COLD in Iowa).

Storing gas: I’ve learned a few things there, too. Obviously, due to fire hazard, don’t store it in the house; use a garage or outbuilding. Gas gets old after about 3 to 5 months so it must be rotated. I’m told Amoco Ultimate stays good the longest. I mark on my calendar when to rotate the old gas; every few months I empty the cans into our cars and fill them up with fresh Amoco Ultimate. And once a month I start the generator to make sure it runs. It’s a bit of a bother, but nothing compared to the awful feeling of being without electricity.

I hope that Y2K will prove to be less of a nuisance than an ice or wind storm, but we should all be prepared for a few weeks or even 3 months of emergency. And not just for Y2K but for any natural disaster. It makes our nation stronger to be prepared, ready and able to take care of ourselves – for an earthquake, tornado, or war; for Y2K; or for when some terrorist someday does something really awful. I don’t want to be paranoid, but we live in a dangerous world and should be prepared. A lot of disasters have hit mankind over the course of history and one may be in store for us.

A.T.: See? I told you many of your responses are much more interesting than my columns that provoke them. (I’d thank Bill more profusely and specifically, but he’s not too keen on having all the neighbors know where they can find a three-month store of emergency goods.)

For more on Y2K, you’ll find a collection of daily Y2K news articles at

Tomorrow: Pedal Your Own Kilowatts



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