Hanging out in Rockford: Born again—Part One

Hanging out in Rockford: Born again—Part One

By Mike Leifheit, Columnist

I almost didn’t write a column this week. I had too much going on. It didn’t leave enough time for me to be me. There were coolers in Rockton, two of them. Both got new compressors. Then they needed an extra day to get tuned in; that sometimes happens when you mix new equipment with old. I have, for the most part, always had to deal with old. Fortunately, I am certified to work on refrigeration equipment.

This all started when I owned the State and Madison Building. Besides the 19 urinals, the building had 40 refrigeration compressors. The first refrigeration call I had was an awakening. With labor costing as much as it did for a professional company, I had better learn about it if I was going to survive.

My restaurant in Rockton is a long way from anywhere, anywhere that sells replacement parts. The procedure usually goes like this: drive to Rockton and identify the problem. Drive back to Rockford to get the parts, and then drive back to Rockton to make the repair. Of course, you are bound to forget something. (I sometimes have trouble remembering what it is I have come into a room for.) And then sometimes you break something, and the only places you can get it are closed! Two times in this recent repair scenario, I have been bailed out.

I have just replaced the compressor on a three-door cooler that is our main prep table at Norte. I am gloating at my technical wizardry. I am doing the final tweaking before I charge the unit. The detector picks up a very slight ring at the top of the sight glass. Always the perfectionist, I give it a little additional pressure with the wrench. It gives way like cheese. It is too late to purchase a sight glass; all the dealers are closed. There is no hope in sight.

I walk next door to Ray’s Family Restaurant, cutting in through the kitchen back door. I ask Larry if he has any old compressors downstairs I could steal a part off, but he doesn’t. I walk down to Bill and Jann’s; a lot of the refrigeration guys hang out there, but no such luck tonight. In desperation I go to the Rockton hardware to ask Don if he knows somebody who might have the part on his truck. He comes up with a couple of numbers, but phone calls produce no results. Don looks at the part. He says, “I think we could put a fitting in it and make it work.”

He goes into one of his two workshops and gets a drill set. Then he takes me to another in the back of the store, stopping only to grab a fitting out of one of the many little boxes on the way. Next, he finds the right size bit and drills, then taps, the hole for the new fitting. Twenty minutes later, I leave his store with a manufactured part that saves my day. Instead of having wasted a day, the job gets completed.

As things go, especially in the spring, another cooler disaster awaits. The second prep cooler fails and calls for a new compressor also. I have already installed the compressor and have returned to fine tune an already working cooler. (With old stuff, it is nice to let it settle in for a day, and then come back to it.) I hear a clicking sound from the evaporator fan. Ever the perfectionist, I unplug and remove it from the case. (Sound familiar?)

Whoever worked on this cooler the last time (I don’t think it was me; this has been a pretty good cooler. I don’t think I have ever worked on it while I have owned it.) left the screws holding the evaporator fan too long. They are scratching the fan blades and have, on at least one place, begun to cut the blade. I try to take the fan apart without the proper tools and finally give up and head for the hardware again.

He doesn’t even hide from me. I wouldn’t even blame him if he did. He fixes the fan blade with some aluminum weld, extricates the motor from the blade, and finally reassembles my electric motor so it runs again. Then, while cleaning my fan cage, he notices that one of the cage supports is severed. For the finale, he whips out his brazing touch and seamlessly braises the support back in place.

I won’t tell you what he charged, but it was shameful I would say that at the very least, I owe him and several of his friends dinner, and I’ll go on record for that.

Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Irish Rose North (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are also available on his Web site: IrishRoseRockford.com and featured on the Chris Bowman Show, WNTA talk radio AM 1330.

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