Sometimes You Have to Improvise

I despise plumbing.

That is, unless I really need to use it, and then like most people I generally don’t think about it.  This past week life once again intruded into The Wood Shepherd, even as I was stroking and tweaking a new podcast that was (is) surely going to titillate the masses.  Life has a way of intruding on life, doesn’t it?

When was the last time you tried living without water for four days?  For my part, I remember it well… I was in my mid-teens, and our Boy Scout troop was taking it’s annual canoe trip up into some of the higher reaches of the Adirondack Mountains.  Stillwater Reservoir, actually — a man-made lake.  But even then, in that adventurous time of my life, we had the lake; we took our shampoo and soap and jumped in the lake.  Bob’s your uncle!

Wednesday evening we noticed that the water pressure in the house was unusually low.  Summer in South Texas, especially in the worst drought anyone can remember, low pressure isn’t that unusual; just

The well head, with new electronics (after re-plumbing.)

The well head, with new electronics (after re-plumbing.)

keep everything turned off and eventually the well will recharge and the pressure will be normal.  Except Thursday morning it wasn’t normal.  It was low again, low enough that I new something was happening.  After dashing out to the wash house, which houses the pressure tank and the breaker for the pump, I determined that the pump was running constantly and the pressure was still dropping.  I flipped the breakers off and put in a call.

Soon we had Kerr Country Pump here, and they were pulling the pump (we had gone through this in 2006 when the last of the galvanized well pipe opened up with a 4″ hole in it.)  When the pump was up and the well sounded, we knew we had a 305′ hole, 200′ of casing (from the top of the ground down) and 100-125′ of water (from the bottom of the hole up.)  The pump showed evidence of being burned; possibly a lightening strike.  We’ve had a few around here, I have no problems with that one.  So we replaced the pump with one that could handle the additional depth, hung it 5′ above the bottom of the hole, and turned it on.  It worked — for a minute.  It looked as though stuff was getting into the pump (we pulled up a 4″ piece of metal well casing earlier.)  We wound up hanging the pump at 280, and still having all kinds of issues.  Quitting time for the well guys, try again tomorrow.

Mid-afternoon the well guys show up again — they had been slammed with all kinds of emergencies.  (Have you ever noticed that nobody seems to take your emergencies as seriously as you do?)  This is a different crew — they do things differently, try some other things, and about 5:30 pm

This area looked like the opener of the Beverly Hillbillies... except I'm not rich now.

This area looked like the opener of the Beverly Hillbillies... except I'm not rich now.

leave, but without much confidence.  They had installed a pump saver and a new pressure switch, re-hung the pump at 280′, tweaked and fiddled, and figured we might be able to limp along for a while until we get more rain.  Should only be a week or two, right?  That night the pressure in the pressure tank plummeted.  Actually, the pressure bottomed out — no water at all.  A quick trouble shooting on my part revealed the why: we had water bubbling up through the ground right along the feed pipe from the well head to the pressure tank.  Aha!  The photo on the right shows where the ground was literally burping a geyser of water.  I dug a hole hunting the pipe.  12″ bury.

The following morning (that would be day 3 without water, Saturday morning) I woke up fulling intending to dig up the old galvanized feed line and replace it with PVC.  Lacking access to a backhoe (and skills to operate it) I had a startling thought… why not lay PVC on the ground until the landlord decides what he wants to do about all of this?  And, with the very real possibility of the well going dry before we get enough rain to raise the water table, why not add plumbing now to insert a poly tank in later?  Brilliant!

Between my trip to Lowes and a few other obligations, work didn’t start until about 6:30 pm, with my brother-in-law’s assistance.  Some people cringe at the thought of a know-it-all BIL messing with what you have to do.  In this whole

The Offending Connection.  I tricked them though -- I made it work.

The Offending Connection. I tricked them though -- I made it work.

sordid story, that’s the one bright spot — my BIL one of those guys who can fix anything.  What’s more, he wholeheartedly approved of my design.  So got into the demolition phase — cutting old galvanized out where we can tie in with the PVC.  Work progressed smoothly until we discovered that the 1-1/4″ galv. pipe on one end had been reduced from 1-1/2″ downstream.  Go figure — the problem was that we had a 1-1/4″ connector, and Lowes closed in 1/2 hour.  Liz’s mom made it in time (it’s a half-hour trip,) and we talked her through what we needed.  The Lowes guy assumed that  since she was a woman, she didn’t know what she was talking about and therefore everything needed to be filtered through what he thought we needed.  He was wrong.  End of the workday for us..

Sunday morning dawned without the prospect of church — the Scripture says, “Be not of this world,” and that’s exactly

50 Lbs!  Yee-haw!  Time for a shower...

50 Lbs! Yee-haw! Time for a shower...

how I smelled.  This was day 4 of no water, and sponge baths just weren’t cutting it.  Lowes opened at 8:00, we were there after a couple of excellent breakfast tacos at 8:15.  After very carefully double-testing the pieces I thought we needed, and having BIL triple check, we were back on the ranch assembling the last of the redneck water main.  We plugged the last length of pipe in, double checked for rigidity, and flipped the breaker on.  The pressure gauge shot up like a rocket to 50 lbs, and finally topped off at 60.  Life is good.

By noon I was sitting down to lunch freshly cleaned and shaven, 4 days after the water “ran out” and the well guys (actually, the first of the well guys) looked at me with long faces and shook their heads.  I doubt we have many more weeks on the well, but this week we are going to try to add a poly tank (after removing the old, rusty cistern) and be prepared.  I did say I had been a Boy Scout…

Galoot woodworking content: None, except I can get back to it now.  Hand tools used: pipe wrenches, cheater pipes to turn pipe wrenches.  Lessons learned: 1. If you’re going to live on a ranch that was plumbed in the late ’50’s or early ’60’s, be prepared for things to break.  2. If you know what you need, don’t let the guy at Lowes talk you out of it.  3. Two heads can be better than one.  Two people breaking apart old galvanized pipe is definitely better than one.  4. Your well is no good unless you can get your water to where you can use it.  5. I hate plumbing.  (Okay, I already knew that.)

How I got water to the house without a bucket.

How I got water to the house without a bucket.


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