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Fire in the sky

In to the Wind

August 2, 2011
Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

Every time I think life is hard, I look around and see other people facing challenges far greater than mine. In the scheme of things, life is good for me, and recent events have been mere speed bumps on the boulevard of life. It would be easy to feel sorry for myself, and wallow in self pity, but in my estimation, always having a plan is a much better course of action.

Having had the opportunity to traverse some of the rural roads in the area helping some of my Internet customers get their home networks back on-line, I’ve seen some amazing displays of the power of nature.

Pieces of corrugated metal, sit in twisted hulks, blown from roofs and grain bins of structures which were once someone’s pride and joy. Homes sit dashed where once stately shade trees snapped in the wind and crashed onto the house they once protected. Not only is the house damaged, but the owner will no longer enjoy the comfort of that tree. Some homes had all or parts of their roofs blown off from the fierce derecho of 7-11-11.

Taking all of what I’ve seen into account, it is a marvel that there were no injuries reported as a result of the storm. Nature is indeed awesome!

I think it helps to appreciate that acts of nature are not solitary events focused on one individual or one family. In the wake of this recent event, it is crucial to understand, from your personal perspective, that this event was not focused on you, and was purely a random act of nature. Something like this may happen again, but the odds are it won’t, at least for a long time.

Trees will grow, new roofs will be put on homes, grain bins and barns will be replaced, and life will go on.

From a strategic vantage point, which is hindsight, I feel fortunate that things weren’t as bad as they could have been. When my tower folded over, the equipment at the top of the tower was not damaged. If it had been, it would have been replaced, at no small expense. Instead, we recovered the tower and got back up within three days, with equipment intact. It wasn’t until eleven days later, July 22, 2011, that the second event befell us and did way more damage than seven eleven eleven.

Early that morning the weather radio went off. My mind these days is on high alert. At least for now a sense of complacency no longer rules. I pay attention to that annoying little device.

The alert said northeast Marshall and north Tama counties were going to get a thunderstorm capable of producing winds in excess of sixty miles per hour. Hmm, I thought, north Tama County doesn’t include me. I got up anyway.

As I am prone to do, I opened the front door and stood on the front porch to watch the approaching storm. What I witnessed was awe inspiring. Once again nature demonstrated just how sudden and violently things can change.

The rain started. Immediately the sky was afire with bolts of lightning. Instead of coming down from the clouds and striking random objects in single strokes, the entire sky was electrified. It was like this huge cloud had rolled across our hill and we were inside it. The lightning was more intense than I had ever seen.The bolts of lightning were criss-crossing the sky horizontally. It looked like a web or veil of lightning. The electricity in the house flickered several times but did not go out. The lightning was so intense I feared I was going to be hit, so I back peddled into the house to watch from there. The incredible lightning was of fairly short duration and moved on.

I looked at my utility which tells me the state of my network, and discovered the entire thing was down. It was still raining, so I grabbed an umbrella and hurried out to my office which sits at the base of the tower. I immediately noticed a burnt smell. One of the power supplies for one of the radios on the tower was blown apart. There was no power in the office.

The power for the office comes underground from the large machine shed on the property. I went to the fuse box thinking I would just have to replace a fuse and everything would be OK. Boy was I wrong.

The fuse for the circuit feeding the office had vaporized. The only thing left of it in the box was the brass casing which screwed into place. I pulled the main fuses, and found a pair of pliers to unscrew that brass fitting from the holder. I replaced the fuses, and went back to the office. Yes, there was power! Unfortunately, MOST of the equipment controlling the network, including the radios on the tower were dead.

My core router was destroyed, my gateway security device was fried, and the network lay fallow, broken and bleeding.

I had a spare for most of the equipment, including the radios on the tower which belonged to me. Unfortunately, the dish at the top of the tower which feeds the network with bandwidth from Marshalltown was hit. My upstream provider, Keyon (formerly Dynamic Broadband) was alerted. They scrambled to find a replacement and did. They sent one overnight delivery from Omaha.

I made a trip to Cedar Rapids to get a new core router and buy bulk communications cable in case the cabling to the tower we had just put up was destroyed.

Saturday morning, my tower climber Derrick was here and we discussed our plan. The only missing part was that radio the Fedex driver was supposed to deliver. It never came. Calls to Keyon left me assured the radio had indeed been sent, and tracking numbers confirmed it was somewhere in the Fedex system.

The radio did not show up until Monday. Derrick climbed the tower, replaced the equipment, and we were back in business once again.

One of my friends, also a customer, told me I was doing a good job getting things fixed and the network running again, but that I needed to have some sort of fund raising drive to pay for all the expenses these two storms wrought on the business. He said he would even contribute! Thanks Brandon! I smiled and thanked him for the kind words.

It will be months before the business recovers financially. It probably won’t make any money the rest of the year, considered the expenses of a tower recovery and THEN having to replace most of the equipment! I don’t think we can stand much more.

Maybe we should throw a big party and pass the hat! Would you attend?

Despite the hardship, despite the expense, the business is back, and the network is running! I thank God it wasn’t worse! I’ve taken some steps to improve my grounding, and have done everything I can to limit any damage in the future.

Thank you to all of my understanding customers who have had to endure Internet down time. We’re back!

Until next time--

You can read past columns by visiting and clicking on the “Local Columns” button at the bottom of the page.

In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2011 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at: via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342.

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