Thursday, June 24, 2010

Legendary Service

Lock tender at work

The place where I work trains employees to provide “legendary service.”  Parks Canada must do the same with lock tenders, because each one we’ve met has gone above the call of duty 

At last report we'd limped to a mooring at a lock a few miles above Trenton. The diesel engine refused to start, and our solar system was essentially out of juice.  The forecast for the next day: “rain.” 

Lock 8 is in the wilderness, at the edge of a lake, accessible by a narrow road paved with gravel that runs past derelict farm fields. No town of any size for miles. Coyotes howl at night.

Quite early the next morning, the Captain descended into the engine room.  Loud clanking sounds and loud, frustrated muttering ensued.

Don't mess with this man--he has a wrench!
The Captain had concluded the diesel engine needed a new cranking battery.  One such battery had been purchased.  Yet the engine was still dying at inconvenient moments.  Could it be . . . the solenoid?

The solenoid is part of the starter system. That’s all I can tell you; for technical details check with the Captain. 

After the new cranking battery failed to solve the engine problem, the Captain discovered that messing with the solenoid sometimes did the trick.  

Messing with the solenoid involved much agile jumping, into and out of the engine pit. Below decks, the Captain was assaulting the solenoid with very large screwdriver. On the stern deck, he was operating the starter. Very exciting . . .  but not exactly convenient when you are dead in the water before open lock gates.

And now the diesel engine was completely dead.  The skies were gray.  The clanking and the muttering continued.

The Crew did what any sensible wife would do--vaulted up the 100 or so concrete steps to the top of the lock and consulted the lock tenders.

Lock tenders on the Trent-Severn present a perpetual air of summer camp; their uniform consists of forest-green khaki shorts with very large cargo pockets and a white polo shirt with the Parks Canada logo, accented with mirror shades and beach sandals of their choosing. These lock tenders were camped out in a couple of plastic lawn chairs beside the lockhouse, enjoying a smoke.

The younger one, with shaved head and multiple earrings, quickly offered me his seat, his phone, and a long list of phone numbers for auto parts stores and marinas in the next two towns, along with helpful commentary about which guy at what store would be most likely to fix us up. “Call Brad,” he urged.  “Course he might not be up yet, or he might be taking the day off.”

My calls reached shopkeepers who did their best to help but failed to yield a promise of the desired part. The locktenders dug deeper into their collective knowledge of local engine gurus.

Hours later, we had a line on a shop in Campbellford. Much banging and muttering had failed to revive the engine, but though the morning was cloudy the solar panels had gathered enough juice that we were able to limp away.  Our new friends waved us off.

Lock tenders call ahead to let the next lock, to let their co-workers know when to expect the next boat. (We are a constant source of amazement to the lock tender community for how long it takes us to move from lock to lock.)  This day, at each lock upstream, we were greeted by solicitous inquiries about the state of our engine, suggestions for businesses that could help, and offers of use of the phone. 

At Campbellford, our destination, the lock tenders were hovering, consulting their watches.  It was the end of the day. The auto parts store of choice was closing soon.  Could they offer us a ride?

I was so impressed by the kindness, I sent an admiring email to Parks Canada.  

But this wasn’t the end of the story.  The next morning, as we ate breakfast at the Campbellford marina, a pick-up truck pulled up with a little screech, and we heard a banging on the roof.

 “Ahoy the Dragonfly!”  It was the next lock tender, an athletic-looking blonde woman with a weathered face and a smile.  She was just stopping in to see if we had gotten our engine part  . . . and whether we needed any further help.


  1. Hi Cynthia and Bill... The Solenoid problem was the bane of Mom's existence with our old Pontiac. A couple times a day you had to open the hood..tap on the solenoid with a screwdriver..restartt the engine and move on.
    The solenoid in Dragonfly must come from that old Pontiac. Dad

  2. I thought that was the purple and white Studebaker?

  3. Well, Mom should definitely come crew on the boat then, since she's a certified expert in Solenoid Repair!