I grew up believing electric garage door openers were only owned by the rich. In the Prytania neighborhood where I grew up, no one had a garage door opener, some didn’t even have a garage (we being one of those).
Some garages have doors that have a wheel bearing assembly on their tops where the wheels ride on a rail. This allows a person to pull aside the door, opening access to the garage. Most garage doors though open from the top, the full weight of the door itself being lifted off the ground. Let me tell you, they’re heavy; even those made of thin aluminum will typically weigh at least 75 pounds. If they’re wooden? Whoa, some can weigh upwards of a couple hundred pounds, especially if the door is older. Kids – call a trained professional and don’t try this at home.
Most electric garage door openers are added ‘afterwards’, meaning that they were not the primary method of opening the door. Most garage doors are aided by a spring. Yes, a spring. Don’t believe me? Go out to your garage and walk inside. Now look up at the very top, above the door. See that long, (possibly rusty), tubular chunk of coil? It’s a huge spring, technically it’s called a torsion spring. Torsion spring – it’s what they use for catching mice and rats only a million times larger and deadlier. Don’t let a door fall on you and do not try to install a spring on your own unless you’ve been trained (or have a lot of cheese to eat while you’re waiting for someone to find you and save your ass).
In one of my recent stories, I documented all the places my family and I have lived. My first exposure to garages and garage doors was in the very first house we lived in. It was a rented house in Millville, Ohio. We moved there a few years after our first child was born, leaving apartment living forever. The house was older, maybe 40 years old at the time. I can only assume that the garage was just as old. Judging from the look of the torsion spring, I’d have to say that it too was 40 years old. It had the look of metal forged in the 30’s or 40’s; bulky, heavy and tough looking.
The house was a rental. We couldn’t afford a mortgage in 1985. Believe it or not, there was a time when fixed rate mortgages weren’t even being offered by the banks due to rampant inflation. In 1985, the rates were continuing to drop from the unbelievable 19% high, (I’m not making this up), but still they were about 13% for a 30 year fixed rate mortgage – ridiculous! So we rented. We found the Millville house vacant, affordable in our budget and ready to move in to.
My first garage, wow! The garage, like the house, was totally old school meaning that the garage was made of heavy, durable wood. The door was no exception. It must have weighed 200 pounds; it was solid and at least 2-3 inches thick. As it turned out, I got to find out firsthand the third week of living there. One weekend day, I went out to mow the grass. I bent down, placed my hand on the handle and then lifted up on the door. The door always felt heavy to lift, even with the old school torsion spring help.
On this occasion, no sooner did I get the door hefted up, there was a huge TWANG followed by an immediate CRASH! I had just moved inside to get the mower. The spring had finally twisted its last turn and the metal broke, releasing it’s massive energy. The garage door fell and had missed me by only 2 seconds. That was close. Luckily the garage had a side door to walk out otherwise I would have needed help getting out. I tried lifting the door from the handle, but I could get it up off of the ground only a foot.
Luckily, subsequent garage doors on our homes were less aggressive towards me. That is, until we moved to California. This might get me kicked out of the Man-Club, but I am sharing a secret that we all try to guard – most of us men are idiots. We don’t read the manuals, we don’t read instructions and we don’t perform proper risk assessments. That is why so many of us get hurt at home. We think we’re indestructible, that we can still do everything we could do when we were teenagers. You’d think someone like me, someone who’s had so many close calls, would do a better job at being careful.
One morning I went out to get my motorcycle out of the garage for my morning commute to work. I had walked over to the bike before hitting the opener button when I noticed the left side cable had only one screw attached to its bottom bracket. The garage doors typically have a right side and left side cable which are attached to a bracket at the bottom of the door. These cables are attached to the torsion spring mentioned earlier. When a garage door is closed, the spring is wound at its tightest, making it most dangerous. At this point, the cables are fully extended and would have the most tension on themselves.
What I ‘should have’ done would have been to open the door to relieve the tension in the cable. The cable’s bracket had two screw openings and one was missing. With that said, the more safe action would have been to find a second screw and tightened it into the opening. Instead, (displaying the manly hidden idiocy characteristic), I grabbed a screwdriver. I saw the lonely screw sitting in its hole a bit lopsided so naturally, I thought I’d unscrew it so I could line it up properly. Wrong! With only a half turn, the screw was relieved and the amazing tension built into the cable was released, zipping the screw directly past my head….landing into the ceiling!
I guess I’m rich because now I have 3 garage doors and 3 openers. Being rich in garage door openers, it would appear, does not alleviate my level of idiocy. Getting hit by a school bus, losing a small chunk of eye from a cat, getting hit head on by a drunk driver, sliding (and crashing) in a car several hundred yards on ice, breaking my leg in 3 places while playing softball, developing severe blood clotting in the same leg and gaining admittance to the hospital and garage doors gone wild. Why am I still on this planet? I know why – so I can share my stories with you and you can laugh at my ignorance and carelessness.
Humbly submitted….maybe Prytania wasn’t so bad?