My nerves are bad as it is. I just read this thread after needing to find an answer to essentially the same problem, and I'm really going to be sick.
This morning, when I put an empty ash bucket in, and also 2 days ago, with a bucket change, I pulled the fines lever, and heard quite a lot fall in. I took out the bucket right away, and noticed quite a bit of coal in with the fines. I went down again this evening, pulled the bucket, and pulled the lever as the auger was running, and the coal just kept coming, including red hot coals, so I just let go of the lever to stop it.
The auger and both tubes were changed about 4 years ago, and the mechanic said the grates would go a few years yet, and he was pretty much on the mark. The fire seems to be burning well. I'm wondering what this will cost, as I am in extremely bad health, no credit, and only about $300 in my checking. The auger and tubes job was about $840, 4 years ago. I would like to think I can go until spring.