If this water heater is a Suburban, like the one in Steve's photo, it is a newer model of the American Appliance unit in my 1979 Boler
. With that design, the pilot flame is clearly visible inside the burner tube, and is deflected by that do-dad onto the thermocouple. In mine, the pilot flame is quite visible and you couldn't possibly miss the main burner firing up - it looks like someone has a flamethrower stuck just into the opening of that tube.
If the do-dad is not directing the pilot flame onto the thermocouple, then the pilot will still light, but it will go out when the button is released. Since the pilot flame is visible (again, in the American Appliance / Suburban design), this is straightforward to diagnose.
So maybe the problem has nothing to do with the controls on the appliance, and is the same thing that got me the first time I fired up my furnace
: the shut-off valve
. In my Boler
, each appliance (range, refrigerator
, water heater) has a shut-off valve in the gas line feeding the appliance. If it is closed (and no, they're not marked in any way to indicate which appliance they feed or which handle position is "open"), then there's no propane
reaching the appliance.
By the way, I use the stove-for-bleeding
method which Darwin described, because the stove burners are easy to light, reducing fiddling time with other appliances (especially the refrigerator).