Centripetal disaster – Part 2


 While I was busy unplugging and re-plugging the centrifuge, Jeff decided to actually do something constructive and called the manufacturer. He determined that the problem was related to a bad connection and could (theoretically) be fixed with a bit of soldering. So began our quest for a soldering iron. We found a guy on a tractor, who sent us to a guy at a nearby fish hatchery, who didn’t have an iron but thought he could help us fix it with some tools he had on hand. Standing there helpless, I felt like I was watching a life-or-death surgery. The centrifuge was belly up on the counter, with all its wires hanging out like intestines. After about a half hour on the operating table, we put the centrifuge back together. I held my breath as Jeff plugged it in and turned up the speed dial… And it worked! Relieved, I scrambled to get the samples loaded. But after just a few minutes of spinning the centrifuge sputtered to a stop – oh noooo, a relapse!!! It had spun just long enough for today’s samples, but we’d need a second surgery if we were going to collect anything tomorrow.

We said goodbye to our new friends at the hatchery and headed to the closest town, where we succeeded in finding a soldering iron. As we were making our way back to the van, we met up with two guys on motorcycles who had seen all our gear and were curious to know what we were doing. Their names were Joe and Wayne, and, having grown up in southern Virginia, they had plenty of hellbender stories to share. Wayne had never heard the term “hellbender”, but had seen plenty of these “hogfish” when he was growing up. He didn’t hesitate to tell me that after catching a hellbender on a fishing line, he and his friends would drag it up to the bank, sharpen a stick, and stab it through the brain. (I know, it sounds awful. But they didn’t know any better, and that’s why we need to extend our education efforts beyond the National Zoo.) Joe, on the other hand, said he knew that hellbenders (which he called “grandpas-es”) weren’t no trouble, and killing them was “something that us nice guys don’t do”. Joe had also spent every single day since his retirement fishing, and seemed to have a greater knowledge of the natural world than did his spear-throwing counterpart. Joe was really interested in learning more about the surveys, so we exchanged phone numbers and I promised to call him when I was back in town next summer. With that, we resumed our centrifuge mission.

We finally got back to the house just as it was getting dark, and Jeff spent the next several hours working on the centrifuge. After several more bouts of starting and stopping, he finally got it to work by bypassing every switch in the machine (meaning that it was constantly running when plugged in). Relieved and exhausted, we trudged to bed. I was so thankful to have someone on the crew with some wiring skills.

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