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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Well Done…

The Beast

In this confusing age of ours the world’s a much smaller place. Gone the old isolationist days of pre-WWII. What happens a half hemisphere away affects our daily lives, Valley folk included. Those big farm tractors and shuttle trucks used in daily farm operations are petroleum powered and a gallon of gasoline or diesel these days comes dear. The political turmoil in the Middle East has us crying “Uncle” at the gas pumps. At today’s prices twenty dollars bought me less than six gallons of  “go juice.” Eight bucks just to fill my gas can so I can fire up the riding lawnmower and tiller. $3.65 a gallon.

But nothing’s cheap these days, especially Valley water as I found out yesterday. Our faithful old Gould submersible pump gave up the ghost over the weekend. For thirty-five and a half years the little half horse pump delivered Valley water to our taps with nary a hiccup. Early Sunday morning  I awoke to a frightful chattering coming from the pump’s electrical box. Then quiet. Then no water.

The average household must use a prodigious amount of water in a twenty-four hour period. A hydrated home is one taken for granted: you turn on a faucet and expect to be served, much like “let there be light” when you flip a light switch.That both utilities are taken for granted becomes obvious when neither is available: a power outage, “Where are those candles?” and force of habit you flip a useless switch to look for them. Who knows how much water rushes through your plumbing system daily? Water to moisten your toothbrush; water to clean your eyeglasses; water to fill the little watering can to water the houseplants; water to fill the cat’s water dish. When your faucets are dry, your household, so to speak, is dead in the water. We used a liter and a half of bottled water just to make the morning’s coffee! And a gallon will hardly make a toilet gurgle: you just better not go there!

Spring of 1975 our retired dairy farmer neighbor, Mr. Herman Zylstra, assisted us in our quest for the water table. Herman was our unofficial foreman when the place was being built. During the construction phase while we were away at work, he would wander over, take note of the progress, and then share a “You might want them to do such and such…”when he next saw us. Old Herman had the gift of water witching; he was a water witcher, could find water using a forked withe, and volunteered his services when it came time to drill our well. Who could refuse such talent? We didn’t and Herman brought his forked stick over to the property. Back and forth, fork foremost, he coursed over the place. I had heard that some witchers would have their forks ripped from their hands when they passed over a substantial aquifer. But Herman’s fork never left his hands, so gentle did the Valley waters speak to him. Where the water spoke the loudest, he would set a flagged stake in the ground. After a half dozen or so flags fluttered about, Herman chose the most promising one. “This is where you want your well,” he advised.

On that very site well man Rob Aurdal drilled our well. At a shallow twenty-seven feet he stopped drilling, said we’d have all the water we could use at that depth. (I must admit learning that our Valley had such a shallow water table did take some of the wonder out of Herman’s “gift.”) Our “Un official” wandered over, and not wanting his new neighbors to have a watered down well, told Rob he should drill four feet deeper. “Nope,” Rob said. “Plenty of water right where she is.” With that, he set and sealed the well casing, packed up his drilling tools, hopped in his rig, and drove away, leaving old Herman standing in the mud, chewing on his pipe stem.

From this point on Herman Zylstra officially became our “go to guy” and took charge of the project. He sauntered over with a rope and an iron weight—some sort of small boat anchor—and lowered the weighted rope into the well casing. When the rope went slack, Herman retrieved the weight, noted the juncture between wet rope and dry, and marked the rope at that point. A measurement from the rope gave him the pump depth. Herman allowed leeway for unit submersion, measured and cut the steel pipe accordingly. The sections were threaded and coupled together. Then came the pump, which Herman threaded to the deep end of the pipe. A safety cable was attached to the pump. The cable and rubber coated wiring he lashed at intervals to the pipe. Three of us: Herman, his son-in-law Ron Whitman and I lowered the pump into the casing. Since that day… out of sight… out of mind. But never out of water…until last Sunday.

Dave Berg and his right hand man Tom of Ralphs Well and Pump came to our water rescue. Years ago Ralphs [sic] had done some repair work on our water system. Jim Repp, a onetime colleague of mine at Snohomish Junior High, replaced a bad pressure switch on our pressure tank. Dave Berg, owner, was a burly, gruff-looking guy with a sense of humor. Dave Berg (In crisis mode I called his number before noon on Sunday, hoping against hope someone might answer on the weekend. I fully expected to leave a message on the machine, but Dave answered. I was so taken aback, I blurted, “Oh, I didn’t think anyone would be there!” Dave: “I’m either here or you’re talking to a very good answering machine!”)

Tom had arrived a couple hours before at 7:45 a.m., fifteen minutes early in fact. While he was assessing the problem, I asked Tom if he knew Jim Repp.Tom Repp “He’s my dad,” Tom smiled.

At first it looked like a quick fix, replace a defunct power box: ninety bucks plus the service call. Whew! But we all know life seldom goes that direction. The pump was alive but instead of decreasing the power load as pressure built, the pump became an electricity glutton. “You’ll be out a new power box in no time,” Tom warned. That would put us right back where we were now: dry. I gritted my teeth, patted my wallet and said, “Let’s do ‘er!” Shovel in hand, Tom headed for the well.

By the time Dave arrived with “The Beast,” his term of endearment for his boom truck, Tom had done the preliminary grubbing. In no time the old pump was “out of the hole” into the light of day, high and dry for the first time in nearly thirty-six years.

Faithful for 35 years 

I look at the rusty old gal and wonder how many times she has sucked for us in thirty-five years. The average number of heartbeats in a seventy-year old’s lifetime is 2.52 billion; I’m sure the old Gould never approached that staggering number of cycles, but let me say, for three and a half decades she pumped her heart out for us.

I meet her replacement, but there’s no sentimentality here, just a practical machine to give us our six glasses of water a day, allow us to wash behind our ears.New pump Dave and Tom know their business and to my amazement go about it smartly. New pipe, non-corrosive plastic this time around, is measured, threaded, and the new pump attached.Tighten 'er down 

Tom does the electrical work (“I’ve never seen wire like this before!” he exclaims). A baffle, which I always wish we’d had, is attached to the pipe at the pump’s head. The baffle holds the pump stationary against the casing; the old pump swam around at will. Gimme pipe Slowly, into the well casing, Dave lowers the new pump. Pipe me aboardThe new wiring, as before, is  taped at intervals to the pvc. “What about the safety cable?” I asked. “Don’t need it,” Dave said. “The plastic pipe won’t corrode; the pump can’t break free.”

Well doneIn less than four hours our faucets spew water. Granted, it is red water—we flush and reflush the lines—but the faucets are splashing again.

Last evening I filled the coffee pot with tap water—ah, but a little extra iron is good for a body, isn’t it? But all this, too, shall wash away.

The work is winding down and Dave says, “Our job is to do the work, make it right. It’s the customer’s job to sign the check.” (I told you the guy had a sense of humor.) Before I head for the pen, I ask him: “So, do you think in my situation I’m ahead of the game than if I’d paid city water and sewer utilities all these years?” Before Dave can answer, Tom interrupts: “In Snohomish I pay two hundred dollars a month for water and sewer!” He doesn’t know if garbage pickup is included in the monthly fee. I think, “That’s a pretty hefty amount to subtract from one’s monthly budget.”

When we took out a mortgage on our home, we increased the total to allow for the drilling of a well and installing a pump. Our records show we allowed an extra $2,500 for that expense. Yesterday I wrote a check for slightly more than that amount. I consider Tom’s $200 a month cost for his water, and our thirty-five and a half years of plentiful, potable Valley water. “Pennies a week,” I think. Besides, dare one put a price on a hot, refreshing morning’s shower? Not to mention fresh laundered underwear?

Afterthought: When Lester Broughton, my old beekeeping friend would leave town for a Valley visit, without fail his immediate request would be: “Could I have a glass of that good well water?”

“Help yourself, old friend.”And welcome!

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