Archive for June, 2011

Graywater saga – part 11

Here were the steps that would need to be taken after YMA had completed the draining of tank #2, according to Mr. R&H:

(A)  Hire an electrician to:

1.  Confirm that the live wire in the smokehouse really was going to the pump.

2.  Locate and repair the short in that line.

3.  Confirm that the pump was getting power.

4.  Find out if the pump had a float.

5.  Determine whether or not the pump would run, and if not,

(B)  Call R&H back out to:

6.  Determine whether the problem was with the pump (clean it? repair it? replace it?) and/or the float (clean it? repair it? replace it?).

Note that anticipated finding the pump sitting on the bottom of tank #2, and the only way to do #6 would be for someone knowledgeable to climb down into the empty tank.  Yuck.

Mr. R&H further told me that IF I could get an electrician to come out today (today being the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend), and if that person could complete #1-#5, he could come back and do #6, but if he did it that day, it being a weekend, he’d have to charge me the commercial rate, and he was quite sure that I really did NOT want him to tell me how much that would cost.  (Since he said I didn’t want him to tell me, I didn’t ask.)  But he could come back out on Tuesday at the residential rate.  That was nice to know.

Jodi called me aside.  I was glad to be called aside, as long as aside meant farther away from that stinking hole in my backyard!  She said quietly, “Bob is an electrician, and he says he can do all that work.”  Really?!?!?  WOW!  “So you don’t need to call an electrician out and pay the big bucks.  Bob has all the tools and equipment, and if he doesn’t have some part or something, he can go to town and get it.”

I often thank God for our very kind and very skillful neighbors.  This was a day when I thanked him many times.

As YMA finished pumping out tank #2, he asked me what I wanted to do about the septic tank.  I told him that if he didn’t mind, I’d like that pumped out, as well.  The more the merrier, I figured, when it comes to pumping tanks.  And besides, Scott had given me the green light to do whatever I thought was best.  I knew that I did NOT want anyone to have to pump anything out of my yard again for a very long time.

Yong Mr. ACME (YMA) went to his truck and wrote down some stuff, then came back with a very long heavy metal pole.  I showed him roughly where the septic tank was, and he shoved his pole into the ground like a javelin.  With a couple of violent stabs, he hit the concrete lid of the tank.  Having thus located his target, he traded out his spear for a shovel, and started digging like a machine.

I have never seen anyone dig like that.  It was the middle of the day, blistering hot, in full sun, and he dug with a rhythm that can only be described as machine-like.  He didn’t stop, or complain, or even pause.  He just kept digging and digging and digging.  I even offered him water or lemonade and he politely declined.

Meanwhile, Bob was carefully studying the now-empty tank #2.  Actually, he was studying the wires (there were two, it turns out) and the connections thereof, coming up out of tank #2.  He was very quiet and thoughtful for quite a long time.  Then he sent his wife to their house to get his bag.  What she returned with was amazing!  It was a big bucket-like affair, with all kinds of leathery pockets and pouches and dividers, and it was full of every kind of tool, wire, connector, and plug you could imagine, plus a voltmeter and a little gizmo that looked like a fat pen and which glowed red when you touched it to a wire that had current going through it.  Incredible.

While GMA quietly sweated and dug, Bob quietly figured out what the Friendly Plumbing bozos had done eight years earlier.  It seems that they had set the pump in the bottom of tank #2 with a loop of wiring coming up that in theory worked like this:   When the water level in tank #2 rose to the top of the pump, a float would rise, thus closing a solenoid which completed a circuit that sent a current up a wire to a coupling that sent a current down a different wire that turned on the pump.

Those electrical connections , which hung few feet down from the top of the tank had been made with standard household (not waterproof) parts, probably because the bozos “knew” that the water could never rise high enough to submerge them.  Of course, the water had risen much higher than the electrical  connections and had left them under standing water possibly for months, thus shorting out the system, possibly damaging the float mechanism, and possibly damaging the pump itself.  There was also a lot (many feet) of extra wire involved, and some of it had looped around and caught on part of the pump and/or float, so the whole thing was like spaghetti.

Bob’s first task was to take the connections apart and let things dry out.  Then he had to determine which unlabeled wire went to the pump and which went to the float.  Next, he would need to figure out a way to test both the pump and the float.  It one or both were toast, he’d need to repair or replace them.  He would then have to re-do all the connections in a waterproof way and hope that the newly re-assembled system would PUMP!

If it did, we’d have to hope that the pumped water, one in the leach line, would be able to drain out.  Of course, Mr. R&H had already told me that there was no way to know if the leach line was damaged until the pump was working.  If we were able to get things to that point, and if there were no obvious problems, we’d assume the leach line was okay.

Jodi and I were able to follow Bob’s logic as he explained all the steps of what he intended to do, but the only positives we women were able to contribute were prayer and words of encouragement to the various menfolk at the gathering.

With all known power shut off (and confirmed off by the nifty little red pen thing), Bob began testing, and YMA kept digging.

(to be continued. . . )

12 hours down!

Yesterday, Jessica received notification that she passed her English Composition CLEP test with flying colors!  That one was good for three hours’ credit, the American Government one was good for three hours, and the American History one was good for six hours, so for a total cost of about $330, she already has 12 hours (a light semester’s worth) in the can!

And there was MUCH rejoicing!

Graywater saga – part 10

In fact, although none of the breakers were tripped [Note to all grammatically correct relatives:  I am not sure if that should have been “were tripped,” or “was tripped.”  I always struggle with “lay” and “lie,” too, to the point that I go to great lengths to choose wordings that avoid them words; but I couldn’t figure out how to avoid the “were tripped/was tripped” conundrum.],  only about half of them were labeled.  Sigh.  Bob and I studied the situation for several minutes.  We could tell which one went to the air conditioner, and the well pump was labeled.  A few others had names, and Bob was able to deduce by process of elimination which one went to the dryer.  You would think that after living in a house for fifteen years – and actually paying it OFF – a person would at least have the presence of mind to label his breakers.  Sheesh.  I’d do it, but the only way I can figure out to do it would be to start turning them off and then wandering around the house trying to discern what wasn’t working.  Not very efficient it you ask me – which may be why nobody has done it yet!

So after Bob confirmed that everything was set and not tripped, we decided that there was no way to know how to turn off the power to the (supposed) pump down in the murky depths of tank #2.  I was also starting to wonder about the whole deal of electrical lines running under water.  It seems like in about 4th grade we were taught something about not mixing those two. . .

Back out in the heat and stench, we announced that no breakers were tripped and that I didn’t know how to turn off the power to the pump.  Mr. R&H and Bob began discussing the matter.  Maybe the reason we couldn’t find a breaker for the gray water pump in the breaker box was that the pump didn’t get its power from that breaker box.  Maybe it got its power from somewhere else.  Hmmm. . . ?

Mr. R&H asked me where else we had power.  As usual, I had no idea.  I told him that there had to be power to the well house to pump our water up out of the ground, but I wasn’t really sure where that power came from.  There was that breaker in the laundry room labeled “well pump,” so I guessed that there must be an electrical line that went from there out to the well house.  There are overhead lines that go out to the well house (and get in the way when the big guys play kickball), so that must be how the power gets out there.

I was thinking all this out loud, of course, and I told Mr. R&H that I couldn’t remember any power lines being run from the well house back to this part of the yard when the Friendly Plumbing bozos put in the tank and leach line.  I mean, they would have had to dig yet another trench all the way across the middle of the back yard to do that, and I didn’t think that had happened.  Mr. R&H then asked where else they might have gotten power, if not from the house and not from the well house.  Did any of the other buildings – and we do have quite the assortment of buildings; much like our assortment of vehicles – have power?

Well. . . I had to think again, and it was really hot, and my brain was pretty fried. . . no. . . well, the shop had power, but it was back by the well house.  The lawn building didn’t have any power.  The “garage” didn’t have power. The smokehouse. . . hey wait!  The smokehouse had lights.  In fact, it had the old single incandescent bulb that had hung from the ceiling since dirt, AND it had a nice new fluorescent fixture that Scott had hung up for me about a year ago when I took over the smokehouse as my “garden shed.”  Hot dog!  Maybe the smokehouse was where they got power for the pump!

Bob bent down closer to the stench and said, “Look.  This wire that comes up out of the tank goes straight into the ground right here.  Maybe it runs over to the smokehouse.”  Mr. R&H stayed there with YMA, peering anxiously down and seeking evidence of a pump, while Bob and I walked over to the smokehouse.

Just inside the door, mounted on the wall, what do you think we found?  A breaker box!  With two breakers inside!  (unlabeled, of course) And just to the right of the breaker box was an outlet with two receptacles.  One had my fluorescent lamp plugged into it, but the other was empty.  In fact, there was a flat, gray cord propped up near it, but not plugged in.

Bob took one look at that cord and said, “Hey! Maybe this is the power to the pump!  And he grabbed it and plugged it in, and got a fantastic blue spark of a shock, enough to chip the side off the switch plate and send him staggering backwards!    Considering what he could have said, it was remarkable that all he said was, “There’s a short in that line.”

I asked if he was okay and he said he was, that he’d been shocked before.  That blue spark had been about six inches long, though.  It was a sight to see.  Bob left the gray cord unplugged, turned off the breakers in that box, went back out, and told Mr. R&H, “I think we found the power for that pump.”  Pointing to the ground beside tank #2, he said, “See that wire?  It’s really dirty, but it’s that same gray wire as in the smokehouse.  There must’ve been some problem, and somebody unplugged the pump.”

His analysis was superb, but I thought Bob was wrong.  I was pretty sure that what had happened was that a year ago, when My Hero was installing my fluorescent garden shed light, someone had unplugged something when he was testing it out (not knowing it was the gray water pump), and we just forgot to plug it back in.  Maybe what had happened was that the pump had just been unplugged for a year, so that when tank #1’s water overflowed into tank #2, instead of being pumped out the leach line, it just sat there, until tank #2 filled up.  At that point, my morning’s washing machine spin cycle was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and it all erupted out the top of the tank.

Now, the three overriding questions in my mind were, (1) “Did our stupidity ruin the pump and/or the leach line – and what would it cost to repair or replace either or both?  (2) Had God perhaps had mercy on us and protected us from either or both of those disasters?  (3) WHY did these types of things have to happen when husbands were gone?!?!?

YMA announced that, although he had initially told me that we had a 1000 gallon gray water tank, he now realized that it was actually a 1500 gallon tank (divided into two 750 gallon sides), and since it was bigger than anticipated, there would be an additional charge.  I had been quoted $150 to pump out a 1000 gallon tank, but because the cost was based on the amount pumped, I would have to pay more.  Did I realize that?  I thanked YMA for the clear explanation and said that yes, I realized I would need to pay more.

And just then, Mr. R&H cried out, “YES!  There IS a pump!”  The water level was down far enough that he could see the top of the pump.  Now that he was certain that a pump did exist down there, he carefully explained to me what would need to happen to get our system up and running again.

(to be continued. . . )

Graywater saga – part 9

So we brought YMA our hose, and he began hosing down the sides of tank #1.  I could tell it was very important to him to get the tank as sparkling clean as possible.  With all the grease that had been in it, I was only sorry that my hose didn’t dispense scalding hot soapy water.  = )

Oh, I forgot to mention that YMA had taken the caps off both tanks before he began pumping, and after he heard my explanation of how the gray water had been divided from the black a few years back, he asked me to go inside and flush the toilet, so he could see if tank #1 bubbled.  (He wanted to make sure I had my story straight and that our “black” bathroom water wasn’t actually going into tank #1.  I flushed, it did not bubble, and I was vindicated.  Whew!)

Eventually, with the full audience watching closely – Bob, Jodi, Andrew, YMA’s girlfriend, Mr. R&H and I – YWA completed his work on tank #1 and moved his pumping hose over to tank #2.  Thankfully, although it did stink to high heaven, the water in tank #2 wasn’t near as nasty as the water in tank #1 had been.

Mr. R&H then reiterated to me his suspicion that grease and/or food may have migrated into tank #2 and thence out to our leach field, which could have been fatally compromised.  I understood, but what could I say to that?  If, indeed, a dead leach field was what we were looking at I only hoped I could get Mr. R&H to break the news to Scott, rather than me.

Staring at the gradually descending level in tank #2, Mr. R&H suddenly called out, “There’s a wire!!!”

Like much of the commentation offered that day, that sentence did not convey an inordinate amount of information to me.  “There’s a WIRE!” he repeated, almost shouting.  Wow.  Evidently this wire had some significance.  Pointing, he asked, “Do you see that wire?”  Well, yes, I did.  He continued, “There’s no pump mounted here, and no junction box.  Do you have a pump?”  Now, that was a question I had no idea how to answer.  I tried to sound intelligent as I said, “Um. . . I don’t really know if I have a pump.”

He then asked me where the leach field for the gray water tank ran, and (with all that Friendly Plumbing fiasco gradually coming back to me) I told him that it wasn’t actually a field, but just a long straight line, and I pointed to where the line ran, along the trees.  Mr. R& H became more animated.  “Ma’am,” he said, “maybe the leach line wasn’t laid far enough below this outflow pipe,” (he pointed to it and I saw it)  for gravity to do its thing, so maybe they installed a pump to pump the water out of the tank and into the leach line.  That would explain why there’s a wire going down into this tank.”

I could follow that logic, and, come to think of it, I did vaguely recall something about a pump.  Hmmm. . . think, think, think. . . now what was the deal with a pump?  Oh, for more fully functional gray cells!

Mr. R&H continued, “Assuming there is a pump down there, there are several possibilities of what has caused this problem.  It could be that some grease or food from tank #1 got over into tank #2 and burned out the pump.  It’s designed to pump liquids, not solids, you know.  It could be that the pump just died for some other reason.  It could be that there’s a float on the pump that has gone bad, so the pump’s just not turning on.  Or it could be something unrelated to the pump – like the leach pipe is plugged up with grease and food and so the water is backflowing from the leach line into tank #2 and there’s nowhere else for it to go, so it spewed out the top of the tank.”

My brain can be a little slow, so it took me a moment to process the ramifications of the various options.  He sure was doing a lot of detective work for a guy who had just dropped by and wasn’t on the clock!

Mr. R&H’s next comment was to tell me to go turn off the power to the pump.  At that point, I looked helplessly at Bob.  Sensing my uncertainty, Mr. R&H said, “Just go turn off the breaker for the pump.”  At least I knew that the breaker box was in the laundry room.   I asked Bob to come help me.  Bob knows everything about home repair stuff (he used to be a maintenance man for a hotel in town), and surely he would know how to turn off the proper breaker.

There were a lot of breakers in that box, but most of them weren’t labeled.

(to be continued. . .)

Graywater saga – part 8

The gray water leach line is very long and very straight, and the pipe is very big – maybe almost a foot in diameter(?) – with holes drilled into the whole length of it every few inches on one side.  Once the gravel was down in the trench, the Friendly Plumbing guys had laid the pipe on the gravel.  It was late in the afternoon, and they had actually left for the day and I guess were planning to shovel the dirt back in the next day, when I happened to go out to survey our kingdom.

Now, I am most definitely not a plumber, but when I looked that that pipe down in that trench, there was one thing I could not figure out.  The holes were running all along the top of the pipe.  It seemed to me that it would be awfully hard for the water to run out the top of the pipe. . .

We ended up calling a friend who does excavation and asking him about it, and he showed us that not only had they laid the pipe upside down, they had not dug the trench properly to have it drain correctly!  So much for Friendly Plumbing!  For a small fee, our friend fixed the problem, we called a different plumber to finish up the job, and we were good to go.

We’ve been good to go ever since, and now I think I have finally given our reader(s) enough historical background for them to grasp the full significance of what happened next in our recent saga.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . .

So, I was standing a little ways off (because the ACME suction pump was so noisy), having just been told by Mr. (intelligent-looking-but not-on-the-clock) R&H – who, by the way, had nothing to gain by giving me this advice, since his company emphatically doesn’t pump – that I should really have my tank(s) pumped out every four years.

I was also still on the phone with Scott, who had finally reached me from Who Knows Where in the boonies of eastern Taney County.  I had just finished explaining the whole thing to him, and I had asked him what he wanted me to do.  He, being the consensus king, asked what I thought ought to be done, and I merely said that since the gang was all at our house, and since the tanks were supposed to be pumped out every four years, and since they hadn’t been pumped out in eight years, and since the gray water tank had just overflowed rather violently, I thought we should go just ahead, cough up whatever it would cost, and have both tanks pumped out while the manpower and super-sucking ACME vacuum pump were both on premises.

He told me to do whatever I thought was best, and then, to his credit, he did apologize profusely for leaving me to have to deal with all of it.

We hung up and I returned to the scene of the crime.  The level of muck in the first side of the tank (that would be the side that the kitchen and laundry waters go into first) was steadily decreasing, and Young Mr. ACME (YMA) told me that there was more grease in our “gray” water tank than in the worst restaurant grease trap he had ever cleaned.  Talk about making a housewife feel like a failure!

Mr. R&H then pulled me aside and asked about our wastewater configuration.  I told him essentially the background I just gave our reader(s) in part seven – BUT, you must remember that at that time, I didn’t really remember all those details.  All I told him was that ALL the water from the house used to go into the septic tank (and it overflowed and had to be pumped out every three years), that we had had problems about eight(?) years ago and had a separate tank for graywater (kitchen and laundry room) installed, that we hadn’t had any problems since then, and that neither tank had been pumped since then.  That was the sum total of what I remembered, and, as mentioned earlier, the Only One who might have remembered more was away and inaccessible.

Mr. R&H kindly told me that if there was food waste going into the tank – which there obviously was – then it wasn’t technically a gray water tank.  I guess “gray” water is ONLY laundry room water.  He said that our “gray water” tank was actually functioning as a septic tank, and that that was probably why they had installed a two-chambered tank.  The water (including food waste) would go into tank #1 and settle, allowing the actual water to rise and overflow into tank #2 and then flow (as far Mr. R&H knew and as far as I remembered at the time) out into the leach line.

Mr. YMA overheard us and commented again that there was an AWFUL lot of grease and Rid-X in tank #1.   He told me that I should NEVER put grease down my drain.  Mr. R&H agreed, stating that NOTHING greasy should EVER go down the drain, because if the grease happened to overflow out of tank #1 and into tank #2, it could flow out into the leach line, where it would plug the holes and render the whole system useless, possibly even causing water to backflow into tank #2!  In addition, grease and/or food in the leach line would gun up the whole leach system, and the only way to fix that would be to dig it all up and re-lay new pipe.  Mr. R&H was quite concerned that those disasters may already have occurred.  I really did not want to think about those possibilities, and especially about the possibility of my having to tell Scott that that was what had happened.

I did venture to display my full ignorance and ask how, if I couldn’t rinse anything greasy down my drain, I was to wash dishes.  After all, half of what we eat leaves grease on a plate.  Mr. R&H said that at his house, all dishes were scraped off into a trash can and then wiped off with a paper towel before they ever went into the sink to be washed.  Sheesh!  I cannot imagine doing all that extra work!  But I didn’t say that to him.  I just nodded knowingly and thanked him for the advice.

At that point, Mr. YWA chimed in to say that some people even put disposals on septic systems!  Perish the thought!  I chose not to tell him that we’ve had a disposal on our system since we bought the house.  He went on to say that dispoals are really bad, because they grind the food up small, but then it can still go out and gum up the leach lines.  Of course, in our two-tank system, in theory that would not be a problem, because all the food stuff would stay in tank #1 and be pumped out every four years, LONG before it every overflowed into tank #2 and potentially went out to the leach field.

But obviously SOMETHING had gone very wrong to cause that nasty water to shoot out so violently a couple hours earlier.  Hmmm. . .

Mr. YWA had been pumping tank #1 for over thirty minutes, and he was finally getting near the bottom.  Did I have a garden hose he could use, he wanted to know?

(to be continued. . . )

Graywater saga – part 7

With Bill’s and Phillip’s help, we were able to completely unearth the offending pipe, and Mr. Ruby came back and did his magic and all was well, except that he pointed out that it might be better, in the future, to send the graywater to a separate tank of its own.  Again, it’s been a number of years, and I don’t recall all the details, but when Scott got home from his trip and found out what all we had had to do, he was motivated to divide the gray water from black water, so to speak.

At that point, as we had been fairly under-impressed by Ruby Plumbing, Scott called Friendly Plumbing to get an estimate on what would be involved and what it would caused to part the waters, so to speak.  The following may not be all correct in detailed and logical order, but I’ve had a few memory lapses since then.  Here’s what happened next:

It was decided to install a separate tank for the gray water (kitchen and laundry room) out in the side yard, past the smokehouse.  The challenge would be to properly locate a leach field for this tank.  Water tends to flow downhill, so a leach field is generally positioned downhill of a tank.  The only space downhill from the proposed gray water tank location was filled with (A) the septic tank, and (B) the septic tank’s leach field.  What to do?

Well, the new tank could be put somewhere else, but doing so would require longer pipe(s) with more convoluted angle(s) to get the gray water to it.  And, the farther you run the pipe from the house, the deeper the tank has to be, in order for the gray water to run downhill into the tank.  Any different position of the tank would require it to be set lower down into the earth, which would require the leach line(s) to be even deeper, all of which would cost more money.  Cha-Ching.

At this point, some brainiac came up with the idea of positioning the tank as planned, and running a single very long, straight leach line, from the tank toward the back of our property, parallel to Coffee Road and just inside the row of trees that lines Coffee Road.  Yes, there would be a lot of roots to deal with, but if the trench were dug deeply enough, water would still drain properly.

The Friendly Plumbing guys hired someone with a backhoe to come and dig the hole for the tank and the trench for the leach line.  It was quite the operation to behold, and what with all the excavation, the mini-crane lifting the tank off the truck and into its hole, and the pipe-laying (all general science), and the exposure of ALL those tree roots for our examination (biology), I’m sure I gave the kids lots of homeschool hours.

We got to watch them connect everything up – and redo our glorious hand-dug ditch (sigh) – and lay gravel in the leach trench.  It took a LOT of gravel, and after they had a truckload delivered, we still had some left.  Yes, that extra gravel is still piled over beside the driveway, right near the dead swingset.  Anyway.

This whole project stretched over the better part of a couple weeks, as I recall, and it was a royal mess in the back and side yards.  I’m not sure at what point the pump was brought into the mix.  Maybe it was planned all along, or maybe the light bulb came on when they had dug the leach line trench halfway to China and realized the pipe still wouldn’t be sloping downward enough for it to drain.  In any case, the decision was made to install a pump, so that when the liquid in the gray water tank came up to the level of the out-going pipe, it would be pumped out and uphill into the leach line.  This was done, but before continuing the story, I must explain why we found Friendly Plumbing to be so poorly named.

(to be continued. . . )

Pitbulls on the Porch

So, this afternoon, Jessica informs me that there are two pitbulls outside our back door.  Sigh.  As you may know Scott was seriously bitten a few weeks ago, by a Great Dane, a breed not normally known to be aggressive.  Pitbulls, on the other hand, have a pretty bad reputation.  And, as Jessica further said, “Andrew’s out petting them.”  Lovely.

Having effectively killed three goldfish in less than three weeks, I really don’t think we’re up for pets today, so I went out to try to find out if they had any identification on them.  By this time, they had migrated to the front porch (it was raining), and they smelled strongly of wet dog.  Neither had any I.D., but they were both wearing shock collars.  One female, one male, and both actually extremely friendly.

I still didn’t want them on my porch, so I came in to call animal control.  The number I have is at the actual shelter in Branson, but I don’t know what hours there are people manning that place.  It was after 4:00 PM on a Thursday.  I let it ring 15 times and got no answer.  I called back and let it ring ten times with the same result.

My next thought was to call some Taney County government office to see if they had a different number I could call.  I called the county clerk’s office – the office that normally deals with things like absentee voting, and told the lady that I had two pitbulls on my porch, that animal control wasn’t answering, and did she have any other number I could call.  She told me that I should call the health department, because animal control now falls under the health department.  She gave me a Forsyth health department number, which I called.  I explained to that lady that I had two uninvited pitbulls on my porch and that animal control wasn’t answering.

She told me I needed to call animal control in Branson and asked which number I had called.  I gave her the number and she told me that that was for the actual shelter.  (Well, yes, I knew that.)  She gave me a different number for the BRANSON health department, and told me that I would get a recording and should press #3.

I called that number, got the recording, pressed #3, and got to yet another nice lady.  I told her that two pitbulls had just appeared on my porch and that I had called animal control, but that they weren’t answering.  She told me that they were probably out (rounding up animals, I guess), but that animal control’s number should roll to their cell phones.  I told her that that might be the case, but that when I let it ring 15 times one time and ten times the next time, no one every answered.

She them said that I really didn’t need the shelter, I needed to talk to the actual animal control downstairs, and she would transfer me. Which she did.  I then got a gentleman’s voicemail, on which I left the following message:  “This is Patty Roberts in Walnut Shade.  My number is…  I have two pitbulls on my porch.  They have no identification, but both are wearing shock collars.  One female and one male.  They seem to be quiet friendly, but as I do not want these dogs, I would like to know what can be done to remove them from my porch.  Please call me back at …. I am calling at 4:27 PM on Thursday, June 16.  Thank you.”

We shall see.

Graywater saga – part 6

At some point in the colorful history of our home, someone had a septic tank installed.  It’s just outside the laundry room door and its leach field is also there in the side yard, roughly between Jessica’s bedroom and the plum trees along Coffee Road.  We bought the house 15 years ago, and at that time, and until some time that was probably about eight years ago, ALL the discharge water from our house (showers, tubs, toilets, sinks of all persuasions, and washing machine) all went directly into the septic tank.  The solids sank, the liquids went out into the leach field, and all was well – most of the time.

Every three years, like clockwork, sewage would – very suddenly and with no warning – back up into Jessica’s bathtub.  This was not a pleasing experience, to say the least.  It would stink, we would panic, Scott would call a pumping service (I don’t know if it was a nasty Christian one or a kind other one or not), they would pump it out, and we would pay the bill and clean up the mess.

Then there was the issue of the ditch.  It happened, as challenging things usually do, while Scott was away on an extended business trip.  I don’t remember the details now of exactly what went wrong, but it had to do with the pipe behind the kitchen that drains all the water from the kitchen sink and the laundry room.  At that time, as previously stated, all that water went – with all the bathroom waters – into the septic tank.

Something serious happened that made me call a plumber, and at that time, the plumber I called was Jay Ruby (who also happened to be Josiah’s Cub Scout leader).  He came out and determined that there was a blockage somewhere after the vertical pipe.  That pipe comes out of the back of the house several feet off the ground, runs down into the ground, goes through a 90 degree elbow (underground) and then runs along the back of the house, turns somewhere, and ultimately empties into the septic tank outside the laundry room door.

Mr. Ruby figured he’d need to cut some pipe to clear the blockage (and then replace the pipe), but since the blockage was in a section of pipe that was underground, the pipe would have to be dug up to locate the problem.  THAT lovely little chore fell to the kids and me.  Mr. Ruby plumbs, but he doesn’t dig.  Of course, I probably could have hired someone with a backhoe to unearth the pipe, but I didn’t know who to call for such a task, I couldn’t reach Scott, I didn’t think he’d want to pay a backhoe fee, and I’m stubborn and bull-headed.  If a ditch had to be dug, surely the kids and I could do it.  Ha.

It was summer, it was hot, the ground was hard, and our attempts to make headway with shovel and trowels was pathetic.  We kept it up for a couple days, working in shifts.  No one was having fun.  We did eventually get down to the pipe and I gleefully called Mr. Ruby  to tell him we were done, but he informed me that we had to dig the pipe completely out – as in, excavate all the way UNDER the entire length of it.  Sheesh.

I can’t tell you how discouraging and draining this task was.  To make matters worse, we ran into roots, the bane of all underground plumbing events.  Despite heroic efforts with a standard big saw, a hacksaw, and some other little rusty saw that I don’t know the name of, it was just too hard to wedge a saw down into the trench at the right angle to make any significant progress.  I called Bill for help.

Bill is our neighbor down the road who can fix anything.  They moved into the area a few years before we did, and their family has always been a huge blessing to us.  I knew that if anyone could get through those roots, it would be Bill.  He came down with his teenage son and a Sawz-All, and did major root damage in just a few moments.  Whew!  But when he saw the whole project we were involved in, the two of them went home for more shovels and came back and helped us finish the ditch.

(to be continued. . . )

Graywater saga – part 5

Mr. R&H walked over toward us and said to Young Mr. ACME (YMA), “So, we’re moving some tomatoes, are we?”  At which point he, too, crouched down, joined YMA in grasping the near tomato barrel, and together the two of them grunted and lifted it down from its perch.

As the second barrel plunked resoundingly onto the ground, and as YMA and Mr. R&H jointly wiped sweat from their brows, Bob and Jodi pulled up in their van along Coffee Road.  Bob, to help move the tomatoes, you know.  Also, about this same time, Andrew returned from Bob and Jodi’s house with Charlie (15 and wiry) and Gracie (11 and not quite so wiry) , so now that the tomatoes had been successfully relocated, we had plenty of help to move them.  In some situations, timing in everything.

Now that the tomatoes were out of the way, YMA went to move his truck from our driveway to Coffee Road.  He then returned and fell to unscrewing the caps.  He opened the near one first.  It stunk to high heaven and was brimful of what looked like chunks of white cement laced with hot pink.  Simply lovely, I tell you.  YMA immediately said (looking accusingly at me), “That’s grease and Rid-X.”

Once again, I wasn’t sure what, if anything, I was supposed to say, so I just replied with a knowing, “Hmmm.”  He repeated himself.  “That’s grease and Rid-X.” Now YMA was not proving to be terribly verbose, but it did seem like a response was indicated.  I said something erudite like, “Really?”

“Yes, ma’am.  That’s a LOT of grease and Rid-X.”

“”Ummmm. . . what’s Rid-X?”

“It’s stuff some people put in septic tanks to treat ’em, but it’s REALLY bad.  See, it’s pink.  Only Rid-X’ll cause that pink.  You shouldn’t EVER use Rid-X.”

(feeling a bit defensive) “Well, I’ve never put anything in any tank to treat it,” (although I was thinking that maybe that’s something I should have been doing but didn’t realize) “and I’ve never even heard of Rid-X.”

“Sometimes they put it in the tank when they install it.  Maybe some bozo did that.”

“Well, that was installed by some bozos about eight years ago, and it’s never been pumped out or had anything added to it.”

At this point, both YMA and Mr. R&H looked purposefully at each other, then slowly at me, then back at each other.  I am fairly certain their look(s) meant something like, “People this ignorant shouldn’t even be allowed to visit rural areas, much less live in them.”  But they were both totally polite to me.  Mr. R&H said, “You really should have your tank pumped out every four years.  And by the way, I’m just stopping by.  I’m not on the clock or anything.  I was on my way back and was driving right past here, so when I heard you were having problems, I thought I’d stop and take a look.”  I thanked Mr. R&H and told him that R&H Plumbing had done a lot of work for us through the years and that they’d always given us great service.

And as we were talking I noticed his eyes.  They were striking.  Now most good ‘ole boys’ eyes look like, well, good ‘ole boys’ eyes.  I don’t mean to say that good ‘ole boys aren’t smart; they certainly are; but this man looked different.  Mr. R&H had what I can only call a distinct look of intelligence in his eyes, and I wondered to myself if he’d always been a plumber, or if this was a new line of work for him.

About this time, my phone rang.  Over the past hour, I had left multiple messages on Scott’s voicemail, hoping that someday, somewhere he’d get the news that things were messy at home and that that fact would motivate him to try to go to somewhere with a signal and call me back.  I knew I would need to make some decisions, all of which would probably cost money, and it would be really nice to find out what he wanted me to do and to hear him tell me (even if it were a lie) that everything would be all right.  Sometimes when things like this happen, I cry, and I’d much rather cry to Scott than to a bunch of service men I don’t know.

So, in the midst of it all, Scott called, and I began – for the 4th or 5th time now – to explain what had happened, what I had done, and what was going on at the moment.

At this point, for the sake of any city-dwelling readers, a bit of explanation about septic systems in general and our septic system in particular would be in order.

If you don’t have sewer service, all the water and waste that goes down your various drains has to go somewhere.  In some rural areas, it just runs out on the ground, but we’re not THAT hick around here!  Generally, a large (1000 gallon?) concrete tank is set down into the ground.  Your sewer line runs into that tank.  Relatively high up on the side of the tank is an outgoing pipe.  In theory, the. . . um. . . solid matter eventually sinks to the bottom, and the liquid (effluent) rises in the tank till it gets to the level of the outgoing pipe.  It then flows (theoretically downhill) through that pipe to a series of very long pipes laid in a downhill pattern underground that have holes drilled all along their bottom “sides.”  These pipes are the leach lines, and the area of the yard in which they are laid is called the leach field.  The liquid slowly drains out of the leach lines into the yard, which is often an area where the grass is thick and lush.

The septic tank has a concrete lid, and on top of the lid is a foot or so of dirt, with the rest of your yard on top of that.  Your average, run-of-the-mill septic tank will fill up (with mostly liquid) in about four days’ of usage, and it stays full all the time.   However, when the solid matter gets up to a certain level, you have to have the tank pumped out, which involves something having someone (like ACME Pumping Service) bring a truck with an enormous tank on the back.  They uncoil a one-foot diameter pipe (looks like a huge version of the self-serve vacuum hose at a car wash), stick into the opening on top of the septic tank (once the lid has been dug up and removed), turn on a big, noisy pump, and suck the contents of your septic tank out into the tank mounted on a truck.  When their tank is full, they drive it to (in our case) the Branson wastewater treatment facility where, for a fee, they are authorized to dump it.  And, as Mr. R&H so kindly informed me, this should be done at least every four years, whether you need it or not.  (Please note that Mr. R&H works for a plumbing company that does NOT pump out septic tanks, so he gained nothing by urging me to pump every four years.  Furthermore, his plumbing company emphatically does NOT work with ACME Pumping Service, and in fact urged me to call ACME’s main competitor.  All that to say that I believe Mr. R&H was sincerely interested in solving our problem and was just being a nice guy.  This will be important later.)

So that’s how septic systems work in general, but our situation is quite a bit more complicated, or, as I would prefer to describe it, “much more highly refined.”

(to be continued. . . )

Graywater saga – part 4

It was Charlie and Gracie from next door.  Evidently Bob had called their house from wherever he was, and asked them to come over and help lift whatever I needed moved.  I explained the situation to them and thanked them for coming over, but said that I really thought we’d need more muscle (i.e. Bob) to move those tomatoes.  I told them they could go on home, and I’d call them when Bob got there.

They left and the phone rang.  It was Mr. Boerman, returning my call.  Like his wife, he was extremely kind.  I had liked her immediately, and I liked him, too.  I also felt horrible that I had already arranged for his competitor to come.  It was one of those sick-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach feelings.  Yuck.

“I understand from my wife that you called about a full tank that needs to be pumped.

“Yes, I did.  But right now, there is another pumping company on the way to my house.  I am very sorry that I retained them before you were able to return my call.  I apologize.  My plumber actually recommended you, but I gave it to pressure from another company.  I feel terrible, and I am sorry.

“So, you don’t need me to come?”

“No, sir.  I don’t. . . and I’m sorry.”

“OK, then.  Goodbye.”

I hung up, feeling like I had made a huge mistake and had mistreated a really nice lady and her husband.  I had given my business to a high-pressure jerk, and now I felt like the jerk.  Sigh.

But there was no time to lament, because just as I went back outside to do a few minor gardening tasks while waiting for the ACME pump guy to arrive, sure enough, the ACME pumper truck backed cautiously into our driveway.  A short, stocky guy who looked to be about 18 descended from the cab, with a cigarette dangling from his mouth.  Uh-oh, I thought.  This doesn’t look good.  Sliding out after him was a wispy-thin lady, also smoking, who appeared to be about 16.  My overriding thought was that I REALLY should’ve waited for Mr. Boerman to call back.  Minute by minute, I felt more and more guilty.  Ugh.

I walked over to the truck and introduced myself.  Young Mr. ACME (“YMA”) said he understood I had a problem, and I walked with him around to the side yard to show him the caps (still wet), with their coverings of very heavy tomato planters.

“That’s a thousand gallon tank,” said YMA, surveying the scene.

I wasn’t sure if that comment required a response on my part or not, so I just told Andrew to run next door to get Charlie and Gracie again, and told Mr. ACME that my big, strong neighbor was also on his way to help move the tomatoes.

YMA grabbed the far tomato barrel with both hands and rocked it back and forth a bit.  Then he crouched down, gripped the barrel firmly halfway up, grunted a bit, and rolled and lifted that puppy down off its perch.  If I had not seen him do it, I NEVER would have believed that any lone man could move that barrel – much less short, portly YMA!  I was truly impressed, and my respect for YMA moved up a notch.

I said something about how amazed I was that he could lift that, and he said nothing; just sized up the second barrel and bent down to attack it in like fashion.  Before he could grunt, however, I noticed an R&H Plumbing truck pulling into the Casa de Luz parking lot next door. Now, I am fairly familiar with the various gentlemen who work for R&H Plumbing.  They are all polite fellows, and they seem to do good work, but I will confess that – purely from their appearances – one could easily classify them as “good ‘ole boys.”  They just have that “good ‘ole boy” look about them.  I guess you either know what that looks like or you don’t, so I won’t spend any more keystrokes trying to explain it.

Two things were odd about the man who hopped out of the R&H Plumbing truck:  1)  I had never seen him before in my life, and 2) with his ponytail and round wire-rimmed glasses, he looked much more like a leftist college professor than a plumber.  However, if there’s one lesson I have thoroughly learned, it is not to judge a book by its cover.

(to be continued. . . )

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.