My Kingdom For a Spring -or- Locked In

Yesterday was a long day.  I worked a day shift and then got home in time to make myself some food, check out my new health insurance on the internet (thank you, Commonwealth Care!) and then get ready for my concert and leave to walk there.  As I locked up the house I remember the distinct feeling that the deadbolt caught a little strangely when I locked it.  More on that later.

I got to Sanders Theatre and met up with my group.  We had our warmup, went over a couple of things, etc.  The conductor noted with some humor that this was the first time in her life she’d been in a Green Room with a dressing room, and that said dressing room had its very own bathroom.  We all sort of laughed and one of the sopranos noted that the dressing room was also a good place to put on makeup.  Then the singers began to file upstairs to get into position.

I was futzing around, drinking my water and getting all of my various stuff situated in my folder (and about to leave myself) when the conductor comes running out of the dressing room.  Turns out that, with 2 minutes to curtain, that the soprano who had commented on the makeup mirror had gone into the bathroom in the dressing room and the deadbolt had gotten stuck fast.  She was locked inside the bathroom.  Our conductor was running to find someone from the university, anyone, who might be able to get her out.

You see, we opened the concert, so they couldn’t start unless we were all there.  I told everyone to stop, pulled out my multi-tool, and went to work.  In about 45 seconds I had the door open (no damage to the door or lock) and we were ready to go.  From what I could tell it looked like the spring mechanism that usually causes deadbolts like that to unlock and open when the handle is turned from the inside had failed.

I didn’t really have time to analyze it any more since we had to be upstairs and ready to sing ASAP so I tossed my multi-tool back in my bag, grabbed my stuff, and headed out to the astonished looks from the trapped soprano, the conductor (who high fived me) and her husband.  We duly reported the problem to one of the staff and made sure to warn everyone else in the group at intermission that if they were going to use that bathroom they couldn’t lock the door while in there.

Fast forward to when I got home after the concert about 10:15 or 10:30pm.  Geoff had hopped into the car to give Amanda a ride home (she’d come to the concert and there was no point in making her take the T home when it’s such a short drive.)  I unlocked the door, walked into the hallway, turned around to lock the deadbolt behind me and… nothing happened.

You can imagine that at this point that I was really, really tired.  However, I have some experience with locks and, as the top deadbolt had failed about a year and a half before, it was now exigent that I fix something so we could safely lock the building for the night.  I pulled out my trusty multi-tool, tossed my backpack into the house, and went to work.

I called Geoff while he was out in the car to see if the local Home Depot was open.  The large lower deadbolt that had just broken had died of metal fatigue.  There was nothing I could do to save it.  The upper deadbolt, however, the one that had been dead for about a year and a half?  That turned out to be a much simpler mechanism with only a little metal fatigue.  That one had failed because whatever spring mechanism was inside had died years ago and someone had rigged it with another spring that had also given up the ghost.

Once Geoff got home, no Home Depot or other hardware store was open for about 25 miles in any direction, we set to work.  All I needed to fix the top deadbolt was the proper spring.  I should add here that when the lock-set on our apartment door had died about a year ago I had the same problem, broken spring.  As that lock-set was original to the building (late 1800’s) I was able to fix the spring and it now works beautifully.  This deadbolt?  It’s more modern and not made as well.  Go figure.

The major factor in getting this fixed was in getting a spring for the lock.  This is a much trickier task than you might think, especially at 11:00pm on a Saturday night.  We started taking apart small broken electronics slated to be trashed or recycled.  We tried taking one of the broken straight springs from the trashed lock and bending it into the proper shape, no dice.

Then Geoff had a brainstorm.  We took apart a click pen and there it was.  Not perfect, but good enough to get the thing working temporarily.  After another 45 minutes or so of tinkering with the lock and the door we solved the problem.

Sort of.

You see, the front door to the building is two side by side doors in the townhouse style popular in the 20’s and 30’s.  When leaving the building we use the left hand door.  The right one is locked shut with throw bolts and can be opened from the inside only.  Once we rigged the top deadbolt to work again there was only one problem.  As the spring was not ideal, the bolt didn’t clear the latch all the way.  So, you could get the building locked no problem.  Getting out of the building was another matter entirely.  Geoff and I have 2 other doors that leave our apartment so this wasn’t a huge issue for us, everyone else has to rely on the fire escape.

We figured out that the way to get out of the building was to pull the two throw bolts and then pull both doors open.  It worked – for a temporary fix – but it was absolutely a fire hazard of the highest order.  We talked to our upstairs neighbors and explained to them how we’d gotten it to work and what one had to do to leave the building.  Essentially, we were just short of being locked in to our own building.

Then, finally, after getting covered in grease/graphite/things I don’t want to think about, we were able to go to bed.  Of course, Geoff had managed to not only stab himself on a spring, he’d also managed to pinch his thumb in the door while initially closing the newly improvised deadbolt.  And he had to get up for work in the morning – fun all the way around.

Our landlord is having all of the locks replaced tomorrow morning.  The lock-set and the two deadbolts are going to be taken out and new ones put in.  Hopefully these will be ones that will last a long time as my days of emergency locksmithing/picking/etc. are probably numbered.

The moral of the story is this: if you have any springs around the house from old pens, random computer parts, or other things DO NOT throw them out.  You never know when you’ll need them.  Also, always carry a multi-tool.


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