I’ve always had a little pang of envy when I go past the coffee shop in the morning and see the parking lot filled with construction guys’ pickup trucks. Even in the winter they sit around the outdoor picnic tables and lean against their vehicles in easy conversation, steam rising from the heavy ceramic cups. It looks so damn collegial.

Then, recently, I had occasion to need to change a 40-amp breaker on my main electrical panel — it kept tripping, leaving the hot tub cold.

For some inexplicable reason I thought, “I could change that out myself.”

This was a very dangerous thought.

Not that I don’t have some years of experience with construction-related matters having built a house, renovated an early-1900s log home and more recently a place in the desert. My wife is in fact somewhat in awe of my handyman prowess, as I’ve heard her quietly refer to me, with what I believe is a certain amount of pride, as a “one-tool Wonder,”  which is to say I seem to be able to fix just about anything with the telephone.

After all these years of construction experience I have learned to recognize a dangerous idea, so I resisted the urge to simply pop off the panel and start poking around with a screwdriver. Instead I called my friend Murray of the Many Tools and asked him to come and supervise my efforts.

In short order we — well, Murray — had the faulty breaker out and I was informed that we were dealing with a 240-volt 40-amp GFCI stab-point breaker that cost somewhere in excess of $200.

Off I went first thing the next morning to the building supply store and, lined up outside, were a dozen construction-guy pickup trucks — the guys all loading up with supplies for the day.

The place had the kind of comfortable atmosphere I imagine one of those old country general stores would have had. Free coffee from the pot on the counter, the guys kibitzing, the smell of cut lumber and roofing tar.

“What can I help you with, young feller?”

Apparently irony is much appreciated in these environs.

“Well,” I said in my deepest voice, “I’m gonna need a 40 amp stab-point GFCI breaker for the panel I’m workin’ on.”

“They ain’t cheap ya know.”

“Nope, somewhere north of $200 I guess eh?”

“Yup. The old one wear out?”

[Geez. I had no idea these things could wear out. Was this a trick question to flush out an amateur?]

“Well the old one’s been in there over 10 years and its trippin’ for no good reason.” [Pretty quick eh?]

“Yeah, well you get 10 years out a anything nowadays and you done good! How long you been married?” Har, har, har.


“What’s your name?”


“Okay Al, gonna have to order it in, be here tomorrow. Call me, ask for Raz. Get a coffee, I’ll write this up for ya.”

I poured a coffee, leaned on the counter, soaked in the early morning bonhommie feeling very pleased indeed to be part of it all, thinking, “A guy could do more of this handyman thing.’

When I go back tomorrow I’m going to borrow Murray’s pickup and stop in at the coffee shop on the way. “Yeah, just goin’ up to see Raz — gotta pick up a 40 amp GFCI stab-point breaker for a 240 volt panel I’m workin’ on.”

In his previous life, Al Wiggan was a serial entrepreneur, starting or buying, building and selling a number of businesses mainly involved in advertising, graphic design or public relations. His current life on Salt Spring Island with his wife of 40+ years features fishing, boats, binge reading and unpredictable golf.