One of the first jobs that had to be
tackled on the farm after we bought it was to gut the
barn and turn it into a stable. The first task was to
move the existing water supply twenty-five feet from the
center of the barn to the tack room in which our
saddles, supplies, sink and bathroom were to be placed.
No problem, I thought. Iíd just dig a trench from the
base of the existing freeze dry hydrant to the planned
tack room. As I would soon learn, many things are easier
said than done on a farm and moving the water supply was
no exception. At times during the excavation, I
seriously considered dynamiting my way through the
rock-hard clay that formed the floor of the barn. Three
days, two pick axes and eight blisters later, the trench
for the new pipe was finally completed. Then the real
Because the original line had been
covered by concrete, I had to tunnel underneath it to
get to the base of the faucet and its PVC water supply
pipe. In spite of my best efforts, the tunnel turned out
to be too small for the saw I intended to use to cut the
pipe. After an hour of fruitless attempts at cutting the
pipe, I reached the limits of my patience. Racked with
pain from bleeding knuckles and an aching back, I
grabbing the digging bar and quickly tore the tunnel
open wide enough to wedge in my circular saw. With a
click of the sawís trigger, the pipe was cut.
Unfortunately, I had forgotten to turn the water off.
Dropping the saw, I ran to the house
to look for the shutoff valve for the barnís water
supply. Having not been turned in years, the valve was
rusted in place and just as I realized that a wrench
would be necessary to turn it, the lights in the house
went off, a result of the still-plugged-in saw shorting
out in what by now was a water-filled trench. Needless
to say, my wife, Audrey, was not very pleased. The power
interruption and resultant loss of water pressure came
just as she had stepped into the shower and was
shampooing her hair. As I fumbled in the dark for the
circuit breaker, I was greeted by a rather chilly
"Congratulations! Youíve really outdone yourself
this time. Weíve owned the farm for only two weeks,
and youíve already managed not only to lose power, but
water pressure as well."
My thought that things couldnít get
worse was proven wrong the next morning when I was
greeted by the sight of a now frozen trench, the
offending saw fully visible under two feet of ice. Two
weeks, eight space heaters and twenty-four propane
bottles later, the trench was once again free of ice and
efforts resumed to run the water line to the tack room.
Much to my chagrin, in spite of following all the
directions given to me by Paul and Mark - Mr. "Sure
Anyone Can Do Plumbing" - Zurgable, the junction of
the old and new piping leaked when the water was turned
Remembering to turn the water off
first [Contrary to the rumors Audrey is spreading, I may
be a neophyte but I can learn new tricks.] I
re-cut the line, dried it and re-glued it, all to no
avail. It seemed the more pipe I cut and re-glued, the
more it leaked. Before I knew it, my sixteen-foot pipe
had been whittled down to ten feet. Finally, out of
desperation [read: I was running out of pipe, and the
trench was filling with cold water from the leaks, thus
beginning to refreeze], I grabbed a roll of duct tape
and wrapped the pipe until the leak had slowed to a
trickle. Before I could regain my sanity, I had refilled
the trench and was headed off for a well-deserved gin
Now, moving the water supply to where
the tack room would be was only the beginning.
Determined to regain my technical credibility with
Audrey, I spent days designing how all the valves and
pipes for the hot water heater, sink, toilet, and hot
and cold faucets for the horsesí wash stall should be
arranged. Drawing upon my expert nuclear engineering
background, I set about putting together a first-class
system. For every valve, I had a backup valve; that way,
if the first failed, the second could be used to shut
off the water supply. For every valve I had a bypass
valve, so if the first got stuck shut, the bypass could
be opened to allow water to flow. My system was so good,
I could even run hot water to warm the toilet in the
By the time I was finished, the
entire wall was covered with valves and piping going
every which way you could imagine. Standing back and
admiring my work, it occurred to me that I probably had
the only nuclear-grade barn plumbing system in
Emmitsburg. Audrey, however, had another opinion.
"What is that?! Did you really have to buy every
valve Zurgable Brothers had? This is supposed to be a
tack room, not a nuclear submarine!"
My highly logical explanation as to
why I did what I did fell on deaf ears and the hot
toilet water didnít move her much either. Most galling
of all was her pointing out the fact that when the sink
and water heater were installed, most of the valves
would be unreachable and, therefore, unusable.
"Didnít think about that, did you Mr. Nuclear
Hmm ... I hadnít thought about
that, but Iíd be damned if I was going to admit it. It
did, however, occur to me that, being smaller then I,
Audrey could reach the valves if she could learn to
contort her body and lost a little weight. Discretion
fortunately got the better of me and I kept these
thoughts to myself and ceded the argument while I was
Since fixing water problems in the
barn always gets top billing on Audreyís "Honey
do" list, Iíve found "creating"
problems with the barnís water supply a good method of
getting around my Zurgable Brotherís allowance. When I
find my Zurgable allowance for a month Ďmaxed outí,
but still have things to buy, all I have to do is
realign the valves so hot water comes out of the cold
faucet and vice versa. Since anything out of order
drives Audrey crazy, all I have to do is say that the
repairs will require some spare parts from Zurgablesí
and my allowance ceiling is waved for that month. After
purchasing what I really wanted, I realign the valves,
once again pronounce the systems fixed and everyone is
happy. Although, after she reads this, Iíll never be
able to use this ploy again.
Much to my surprise, the water system
in the barn has worked pretty well over the years,
though in the back of my mind Iíve always dreaded the
day the duct-taped joint, now under two feet of
concrete, would give way. Many a night Iíve awakened,
dripping with sweat from nightmares of the effects of
years of dripping water underneath the barn floor. I
convinced myself that one day, a hole big enough to
swallow me will form as punishment for not taking the
time to glue it right. Needless to say, when Audrey
informed me one day last winter that we had lost water
pressure in the barn for a few minutes, I was convinced
that my worst fears were about to become reality.
"What do you mean you lost water
"What do you think I mean? One
minute water was coming out of the hose, the next it
wasnít. The water pump must be going bad."
Unwilling to admit to her my true
fear, I wanted to ask her if there was any possibility
that she could have absently turned the water off
without knowing it, but thought the better of it.
"It was probably just a fluke. Letís wait and see
if it happens again." And happen it did, repeatedly
over the next several weeks, though only to Audrey. Each
time, she insisted that the water pump was the culprit,
and each time I replied that she was only being
"We live on a farm. Things like
this happen on farms. Besides, Iím the nuclear
engineer, and water pumps donít stop and go, when they
go, they go!" Then it happened to me on Christmas
I was watering the horses when the
water suddenly stopped. After verifying that the hose
was not kinked, I headed off to the basement to check
out the water pump controller. No sooner had I reached
the basement than I heard the pump turn on. I was lazily
checking over the system when I suddenly remembered that
I had never shut off the hose in the barn. Running
quickly back to the barn, I was greeted by the sight of
the hose wildly whipping around, like a cobra out of
control. It was dousing everything in sight, and before
I could subdue it, it sprayed right into an electrical
outlet. The resulting short circuit once again left me
wet, cold, and in the dark.
Needless to say, Audrey was not
amused. "Merry Christmas, Mr. Nuclear Engineer. Now
will you please call a plumber and get the water pump
The following morning I was up bright
and earlyówell early for me at leastóand began a
thorough check of the farmís water supply. First on
the agenda was to figure out whether the well was going
dry. My flashlight was pretty useless, since it only
illuminated the top ten feet of the pipe. Instead, I
resorted to dropping stones down the well pipe. After
dropping my 17th stone and hearing no "ker-plunk,"
I made the bold assumption that the well had to be okay
and turned my attention to the piping system. Although I
was in the vicinity of the system itself for only
fifteen minutes, I nevertheless somehow managed to break
off the pressure-sending unit and the handles on three
valves as well as crack one solder joint. A rather
productive morning, if I must say so myself.
After checking out everything
imaginable, and with the pump now cycling on and off
every thirty seconds, I finally conceded defeat and
called Reckleyís Plumbing to the rescue. Within an
hour, Joe Reckley was examining the scene of the crime.
Nodding knowingly as I explained what had transpired,
Joe smiled and pronounced the water pump as the culprit.
"All the signs point to it, but
being a nuclear engineer, you must have already figured
that out, right?" I confirmed that I, too, had
suspected the water pump all along, but Audrey had
doubted me. "I donít want to rub it in that I was
right and she was wrong, so letís not tell her the
pump was the problem. Weíll replace it anyway, only as
a matter of Ďformí, since, weíll say, itís old
and we already had it out of the well anyway."
The failure of the water pump blew
one of my last illusions of the farm. Over the years,
one of the treats of having well water had been the
illusion that it was free. Now I had to pay the piper,
or should I say - the plumber. Showing his years of
experience, Joe quickly opened the top of the well and
began the long, arduous task of pulling the pump out of
the well. My offer to help pull out the pump was
"You drive a desk donít you?
... This is manís, uh .. eer, heavy work, and Iíd
hate to see you hurt yourself." So while Joe and
his helper got the glory of pulling the pump, I had to
settle for the menial task of struggling with the hose.
By the time the 200-foot marker had been reached,
however, the hose was becoming rather heavy. I was
moving so slowly that PJ, my trusty Jack Russell, had
given up watching me and went off to play a game of
chase the cat. By the 300-foot marker, I began to thank
my lucky stars that Joe had considered me a weakling and
swore that I would never again complain about having a
An hour after his arrival, Joe had
the offending pump lying on the ground and a new one was
being lowered back into the well.
"Do you have kids?"
"Well, the top of the old pump
was covered with stones. Iíve found from past
experience that stones on top of pumps come either from
kids throwing them down for the fun of it or from morons
trying to figure out if their well is dry or not."
Fortunately for me, PJ chose that moment to sprint by
with Tony, our Siamese whatever, hot on his tail, so I
was able to evade Joeís question. As I went off to PJís
rescue, Joe went about fixing all the damage I had done
that morning, as well several other items that had been
on Audreyís "Honey Do" list for years.
Several days later, we received a
nice thank you note from Reckleyís and a bill about
1/5 of what I expected.
"Wow! Michael, Reckleyís was
really cheap. At these prices, why donít we get the
pump replaced more often." A quick examination of
the bill revealed that Reckleyís had failed to bill us
for the pump, which I mistakenly pointed out to Audrey.
Audrey ignored my sinister suggestion that we wait and
see if they would bill us for it next month and, after
lecturing me on how cheap I was, she called to find the
price of the pump and added it to the bill. I meanwhile
returned to writing my paper on business ethics.
With the water supply now restored,
things quickly returned to normal around the farm.
However, as I have learned over the years, when one part
of a system is replaced, the next weakest component will
usually fail. So now every time I turn on the hose and
feel the gush of water pressure, I cast an apprehensive
glance towards the barn floor, under which lies a
duct-taped water joint, which is dripping, dripping,
dripping . . .