Grandma’s Power Meter

Regular readers of this blog may have figured out by now, I was a pretty inquisitive kid. If something piqued my interest, I explored it to its fullest. As I said in some other post on this site, to ask a question of an adult in my childhood to often resulted in the answer.

“I don’t know!”

Therefore, when I discovered the power meter on my grandparents’ house, I am unsure whether my grandfather told me what it was, or if I learned it on my own. See, the power meter was the coolest of all things attached to a house. It had dials, numbers, and back then a wheel that spun horizontally when electricity was passing through it into the house.

In those days, that basically meant that something was running.

Look at you meter now; it never stops spinning…ever!

When I discovered the power meter on the side of my grandparents’ house, I had to know the whys and wherefores. My grandfather may have told me what it was. But I needed to know what it did.

Since most of my observations of said power meter back then were during the day (I was five), the horizontal wheel rarely turned. But sometimes, as I rushed by while playing tag, or chasing the dog, something was different. The wheel was turning. Oh so slowly, but it was turning.

I would pause, watch for the black mark on the wheel to come back around. Ugh, sometimes it would take forever! I had to find my cousin, please come back around so I can know there is an end to the power meters wheel.

Black mark, back to the game!

The little dials with numbers never seemed to move. But occasionally the wheel did.

I wanted to know why.

On days when it wasn’t moving, I would watch and wait. Wondering if it would move at all. Then it would slowly start to turn. Black mark slowly moving from left to right as it followed the arc of the horizontal wheel. What caused the wheel to spin? Why did it turn so slow?

At some point, I figured it had something to do with lectricity (that is electricity for a 5-year-old). To test my theory, I made sure the wheel in the meter wasn’t moving. An easy task since way back then, it rarely did. Satisfied that the little black mark wasn’t making its slow circuit, I ran into the house and turned on a light.

Feeling that the integrity of the experiment was at risk, I ran back outside and positioned myself in front of the meter. Low and behold it was slowly turning. Really slowly, but it was turning!

I ran back inside and flipped off the light. Ran back outside, and as I huffed and puffed, noted that he meter was once again, stationary. The little black mark lost in the mysteries of the hidden workings of the meter.

Part 1 of the mystery of the power meter solved, what it did. Part 2 was why it appeared to run in the middle of the day when there were no lights on.

As I think back to that era, all the clocks needed winding. While the clock on the stove never worked. The only thing that ran during the day was grandma and I don’t think she needed electricity.

And the fridge!

One day I was watching the meter and it wasn’t running. My little black dot was front and center…immobile! Life was in perfect balance. Then, oh so slowly, the little black dot moved. It wasn’t long and it disappeared into the inner workings of the meter. But this time it was moving a little faster than the light bulb experiment and around it came.

Quickly I ran into the house. I cast myself about, looking for any light that may be on. Yet all lights were off. The creepy sounds of my uncles psychedelic music was nowhere to be heard. What was the culprit?

Then I heard it. Hardly noticeable to the average untrained ear since it was the sound of daily business in my grandma’s house. Still, my keen senses picked up the difference and took note of the steady hum. My grandmother’s fridge laboring to keep my popsicles frozen in the summer heat of July.

Side note: when grandma switched from regular freezer pops to Bill Crosby’s Jell-O Pops, my thoughts were, let the bastards melt!

Like any good scientist, I made several observations before concluding that; if the horizontal wheel in the meter was spinning during the day (I was not allowed outside after dark…I was five!) it was because my grandmother’s refrigerator was running.

I look back fondly on those days when my grandmother’s horizontal wheel on her power meter was stationary. Have you looked at yours lately? It functions as a gyroscope. I looked at mine just before writing this piece. If my grandmother’s meter spun as fast as mine does now, I would have thought the house was preparing for a moon launch.

I am frugal. I only use enough lights to keep me from running into stuff. When a light bulb burns out, I replace it with a florescent or now an LED. But every single appliance with the exception of the fridge has a clock. Those clocks do not run on batteries’.

I was really surprise to see how fast my meter was “spinning”. What was my grandparents’ electric bill? $0.50

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