The No-Nonsense Apprentice
A few years ago I received a call from a residential customer, complaining of intermittent operation of lighting outside the house. At the time, I owned the business and had many years of experience in the field troubleshooting. All my service teams were out on other calls so I decided to get out of the office for a change. I asked one of my up-and-coming apprentices to tag along for the field experience.
The customer told us the outside security lights would work and then for no apparent reason stop working. Switches located in every room of the house controlled the lights. Checking the feeder breaker revealed power out to the circuit. Not knowing where the switch leg left the house, we started to pull out all the switches, leaving them hanging on the wires to check the 3- and 4-way switch legs for problems. After about two hours we had traced out all the wiring and drawn up a quick sketch of the switch/wiring layout. However, I still couldn't pinpoint the problem.
It was at this point my young apprentice stopped to look at one of the 4-way switches and then turned to me and asked, “When is a 4-way switch marked NO?” Come to find out the homeowner had replaced the original 4-way switch with a double-pole, single-throw switch. Installed upside down, the DPST switch read “NO.” The lesson I learned that day — and was reminded of many times over the years by my crews — is never assume the apprentice has less knowledge than other employees in your company.
A Shaky Toast
Many years ago, while working as an apprentice, I had the job of drilling through floor plates in a sorority house at the university where I'm employed. The senior electrician was upstairs in the chapter room getting ready to “old work” a receptacle once I drilled the hole and sent the wire up inside the wall cavity. After giving me some measurements and brief instructions, he cut me loose with a ½-inch drill and an 18-inch wood-boring bit. Instead of drilling up into the wall cavity, the bit went through a hardwood floor and right into the leg of an end table, which just so happened to display the house's collection of beer steins. Once the screw tip of the drill caught the wooden leg of the table, the steins went everywhere, few remaining unbroken. After cleaning up the mess and reporting the mishap, I learned to always measure twice — and then measure again — before drilling any holes!
Illustrations by Clint Metcalf