How To Rig a Gas Button Push Stick for Lighting a Propane Refrigerator

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The gas button push stick had to be invented quickly. The refrigerator flame had gone out, run out of propane. But…how to rig such a thing? That was the question.

Still, it was time to fish or cut bait. My wife and I live off grid. Our E-Z Freeze propane powered fridge is a jewel, works great, but the striker system failed about a year after the unit was purchased. In the past, neither Pam nor I worried about that. We’d had plenty of practice at manually lighting older propane refrigerators, so there seemed little point in ordering replacement striker parts that might fail again. Instead, I’d open the burner box access hole on the back of the fridge, stick a lit barbecue lighter flame in there, and she’d push the little red gas button on the front of the appliance.

After the fresh tank full of propane had been hooked up to the supply line, of course.

Admittedly, there had been a few minor glitches over the years. Once, when I was off on a business trip to Los Angeles (we live in southeastern Arizona), Pam’s son Zach had to come out to our place to help her relight the fridge. Zach is a top hand, but he wasn’t familiar with the lighting process, having never been around propane refrigerators before. Pam is familiar with them, but she’s also suffering from a number of disabilities, including brain demyelination.

In other words, her brain doesn’t always work as well as it did in earlier years.

As a result, they almost blew Zach up. Pam had the gas button pushed for a number of seconds before Zach lit the barbecue lighter. The pooled propane flashed him pretty good when it went up, not enough to burn him or anything, but enough that he nearly needed a change of underwear.

“What are you trying to do, Mom, kill me?!”

He was more than leery after that, but not wishing to have his mother’s entire food storage rot in place, he bucked up and tried again–and did get it to light just fine.

Another time, it was the middle of the night when I realized the fridge was out. “Honey…could you get up for a minute and push the gas button?”

She did, with no complaint. My redhead is a trooper; no doubt about it.

This afternoon, however, that was not going to happen. We’d taken a vacation day and checked into a hotel in Bisbee, a room with a Jacuzzi bathtub to swirl away some of her aches and pains. It did, too, but then she felt so much better–and so excited to be out and about for the first time in nearly five years–that she hung out with guys in and outside of the bar for the rest of the night. Really. First, while I was chasing back home to feed our critters, she met an 81 year old man called Shorty (five feet tall, like her) with healing hands. Shorty is on oxygen, probably near death himself, but he was able to knead her arthritic hands until she was able to fully make fists for the first time in years.

Later, for a little while, I stayed close, so that if she was outside our room door, enjoying a cigarette (yes, she still puffs, though only a few a day now), she could tap on the glass if she saw a possible threat coming her way. She did once, too, and I hopped up from where I was sitting on a leather couch, reading. Stepped outside with her, me being a tall cowboy, hat and all, and looking even taller next to her diminutive form. There were three young dudes sauntering up the street, and yes, they had eyes for my obviously doable spouse. In fact, we saw them double back briefly, around the end of the block, just to see if I was still standing guard duty.

They saw I was, gave it up, and moved on to some other part of old Bisbee.

Even later, she found a different protector, a truly cool guy named Matt. I went to bed, but those two hung out, sometimes in the bar, sometimes on the street, just talking…until the hotel bar closed at 2:00 a.m.

Since my Pammie had gotten up at 8:00 a.m. and didn’t call it quits until 2:00 a.m. the following morning, that’s an 18 hour go-go-go shift for her…and her illnesses have progressed to the point that she’s seldom awake for more than 4 hours at one stretch here at home.

One thing led to another, but by the time we got her back to her own bed at 3:00 p.m….she wasn’t going to be getting up again any time soon. I could maybe have picked her out of bed, left her sound asleep, and propped her up against the gas button somehow, but that was about it.

Ten minutes after she collapsed into bed, I discovered the fridge was out. The propane tank had been changed in late August; it was time to change it again.

Without Pam’s help.

Which was fine. Much of my thinking revolves around ways one man alone can survive and thrive. It’s always been this way for me, as far back as I can remember, at least by the time I was nine years old, perhaps even earlier.

Pondering on how to get it done, I thought of using PVC pipe in some way…nah, probably not. Wire…no…and then my eye fell upon a scrap piece of OSB strand board that happened to be lying around on the kitchen floor. Why I’d left it there, I had no idea, but that would slide under the crosspiece that held the gas button, wouldn’t it?

Yes. Yes, it would. Not only that, but at three inches wide and four feet in length, it was long enough to extend out in back of the fridge as well. If a wooden block system could be attached on top of the scrap strand board….

Minutes later, the tool was built. How to rig it had turned out to be stunningly simple once the concept got straight in my head. Here are the photos to show how it works.

The four foot stick with blocking added at one end.

The four foot stick with blocking added at one end.

Close up of the blocking end.  The top piece "juts back" at the right height, pushing the gas button when the stick is pulled from behind the refrigerator.

Close up of the blocking end. The top piece “juts back” at the right height, pushing the gas button when the stick is pulled from behind the refrigerator.

The gas button push stick in place, ready to be used.  With the strikers not working, the spark button is useless and entirely ignored.

The gas button push stick in place, ready to be used. With the strikers not working, the spark button is useless and entirely ignored.

Inspector Gato cat makes sure everything is done right.

Inspector Gato cat makes sure everything is done right.

With the gas button push stick in position, lighting the propane burner turned out to be unbelievably easy. Instead of announcing to my partner, “Okay, I’ve got the barbecue striker flame in position; push the gas button,” I just pulled lightly on the protruding end of the stick (behind the fridge) with my left hand while directing the striker flame through the port to the appliance’s propane burner with my right.

Amazingly, I felt a sure sense of control I’d never had before. The burner fired up in three seconds or so, and we were in business.

The protruding gas button push stick is pulled (lightly) with the left hand while the flame from the striker (red) is directed through the access port to the burner.

The protruding gas button push stick is pulled (lightly) with the left hand while the flame from the striker (red) is directed through the access port to the burner.

Three seconds of striker flame application, and the propane burner for the refrigerator is up and running again, simple as you please.

Three seconds of striker flame application, and the propane burner for the refrigerator is up and running again, simple as you please.

This simple, basic redneck fix for what promised to be a vexing problem (needing two people to start the burner) took almost no time at all to put together…but it required almost three years of procrastination to figure out prior to assembly. Certainly, the gas button push stick was worth keeping handy, so it’s now hanging on a wall stud in the front porch.

I’ll use it to relight the burner every time now, and I’m betting Zach will, too, on those rare occasions when he needs to help out his Mom.

After all, it beats having her try to blow up her only son.

The propane refrigerator's gas button push stick now hangs on a nail (on a wall stud) in the front porch, ready to hand.

The propane refrigerator’s gas button push stick now hangs on a nail (on a wall stud) in the front porch, ready to hand.

5 thoughts on “How To Rig a Gas Button Push Stick for Lighting a Propane Refrigerator

  1. Ingenious approach to do-it-yourself. I like that idea of yours. I would probably fix the striker though, just because it was easier to do by myself. I am not much into invention on thing that could go “boom”. Not familiar enough with it to do that.

  2. Thanks. Fixing the striker does sound logical, except that it would involve remove-and-replace work that is (to me, in this case) mildly intimidating. However, all the striker does is provide a tiny spark to the same burner area we light up with the torch (barbecue striker). And as long as the torch flame is present near or on the fridge burner BEFORE and during the pressing of the gas button, the manual lighting is actually safer, and even less work.

    Of course, you’re exactly right; it does help to be familiar with the system and how it works. Pam’s demyelination, leading to her brain being less familiar with the “go boom” part of it, is what led to nearly blowing Zach up in the first place. Also, years ago on the mountain in Montana, she once blew herself up so effectively with a stovetop propane burner (pooled propane before getting it lit) that the major POOF! blew her back the length of our cabin (16 feet) and fetched her up against the door. She’s always been a bit on the dangerous side with things that could go “boom”.

  3. I scorched a brand new sweater once while lighting an oven pilot that had gone out. I usually waved a hand fan around to dissipate the gas before striking the match. I guess I didn’t wave it long enough, it poofed and scorched my sweater sleeve.

  4. lol. I’m making a mental note of your clever solution for when the day comes that we have the same problem with our fridge. Thanks!

  5. Becky: Yeah, propane is a heavy gas; a hand fan would take a while. Instead of hitting the air, most of the propane pools at the bottom of wherever it can reach a bottom.
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    LongTimeMother: You’re certainly welcome! I still don’t know whether to be more pleased with the solution or more puzzled as to why it took me so long to get around to inventing it.

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