Saturday, July 5, 2008
A Patriotic Red, Black and Blue
Coming up on the long holiday weekend -- that mainstay of all emergency repair guys -- the pump to my well sprung a leak. I had been antsy about it because I’d been warned when I bought the place that using the sprinkler would turn the pump motor “on and off”, shortening its life, and of course with the heat wave, I’d been using the sprinkler a lot. So when I could hear it turn on/off even when the water was all shut off, I started wincing even before I finished clearing away the lumber, boxes of photos and other doodads from in front of the pump house door. As dark as it was in there, I had no problem interpreting the sound of rapidly dripping water on a subterrean lake. Looked like it was rising almost to the level of the motor - talk about life-shortening! I panicked very efficiently, and tried to simultaneously turn off both water shutdown valves while tearing away at the heavily duct-taped bubblewrap with which I’d insulated the pipes shortly after I moved in. Only partly succeeded at either. Time for Plan B.
I need to describe this “pumphouse” so that you can get the full effect:
A lean-to or bump-out off the garage, about four feet by 8 feet, with the doorway about 3 feet off the ground on the garage side… and about 4 ft above ground on the pump side! Someone had installed a bathtub handle on the left wall, testifying to years of insanity trying to get in/out of this damn crypt to fix problems! There is an open (!) juncture box on one wall, and the pump is propped on plywood about 6 inches off the dirt floor (more on that later). The walls had been insulated, but due to the Night of the Living Carpenter Ants last winter, that had all been torn out (rather quickly and inefficiently, I might say), but otherwise, it’s studs and exterior siding. No light, of course, and the choice to work within is either to lean over on your stomach on the doorsill, or step awkwardly into the 1x2ft space on either side of the large pump and primary pipe. If, in that position, you try to bend down, you will bump your head on the pump tank and simultaneously rip your jeans on the rusty stud nails. Has this become clearer? All you need to add is a few thousand dead ant bodies, enough spiderwebbing to decorate Castle Dracula, and you’ve got the photogenic situation facing me.
As far as I could tell, the water wasn’t draining nearly as fast as it was dripping, which puzzled me since it was plain dirt under there… but I raced to the main fuse panel and flipped off the pump switch, then called Bob, an 80-something repairman who had helped me when the toilet had shattered, and when the bathtub was discovered to be draining directly out onto the subflooring. He asked how big and long the piping was, and what kind - I had to confess I hadn’t gotten all the duct tape off yet. He says he could come out and fix it sometime that day or the next, but knowing pipe specs would help. So I went back to the flood and this time attacked it with scissors - finally pulling off enough insulation to see that it was another pipe entirely that was leaking… about 12 inches of “klassic kludge” - there were three (count em!) joints along that one stretch, none of which were needed, that I could see… of course, that triples the chance of leakage… but on the other hand, a short straight length of PVC pipe would easily fix the issue. Hurray!
Then I tried to figure out why the soil wasn’t draining… and dear readers, you will never guess -- that four inches below the soil was the most amazing hard surface, which after a bit of nasty, filthy digging revealed itself to be the concrete pump house floor! At this point, I stopped, too flummoxed to continue. What plumbing textbook would recommend dumping four inches of dirt over an entire concrete floor?? Was this some sort of crude insulation? Was this - perish the thought - a leftover from some flood of decades past? Could the carpenter ants have banded together with the mice to create a mini Club Med? I couldn’t wait to ask Bob. But meanwhile, since I couldn’t see the sense of it, I began to dredge Lake McGuire with a dustpan -- a trowel was about as effective as a teaspoon, and I wasn’t really enjoying hanging over the doorsill reaching into a dark, wet, smelly unknown. I actually cleared down to floor on the side that I could reach, and found the place where the main pipe came through the floor - and water started to gurgle away. I left it to gurgle and tottered back inside. Overheated and bruised from having to balance on sensitive bodily areas, I was approaching the requisite coloration for the holiday.
Meanwhile, I’d started to copy some files to disk, and had obviously totally forgotten about that! I took a break and checked on it… and watched with growing fear as it sat there with “5 seconds remaining” on the screen for a good 5 minutes! When the system wouldn’t even shut down, and had to be cold rebooted, I started thinking in terms of voodoo curses. But more likely it was just the “long holiday sensor” that has been designed into every piece of power equipment since the first Model T. I got the CD glitch to repeat - and since it was a 25 minute save-to-disk operation, that was one hour gone - so now I can’t save anything. There are days when you push the envelope, and days that you sensibly hide as deeply in the envelope as you can burrow. Today you will have to do quite a bit of digging to find me.. I’m burrowed in and waiting for the experts.