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Friday, July 26, 2013

Plumbing Problems in the Valley…

Summer attireAs Gladys and I cruise by Tony Broers’ neat rows of blackberries, who should we see standing among them but the Master of the Patch himself. Now no one takes better care of his blackberries than Tony. His jurisdiction consists of fourteen well-tended rows of the crop. Tony prunes his blackberries; he wraps the new canes; he buzzes away the weeds around the stalks; he mows the row middles; and at harvest time he’s plucks the ripe fruit from the vines. When he strolls among the rows, the berries seem to smile as he walks up. And this year Tony’s fourteen rows are loaded with fruit.Broers' blackberries

Today he’s on the irrigation detail, doing his best to see the thirsty canes get a drink. The first half dozen rows are planted on a sandy berm and because of the long, dry spell this July, Tony has heard their cry for water. I find him now, as I roll up, standing in a snake’s nest of hoses: green hose, white hose, black hose…. In the midst of that serpentine snarl there are male fittings, female fittings (too many of these, in my opinion), hose splices, hose extensions. Tools, too: a wrench, a screwdriver, pliers. There are enough hose and fittings, it appears, to snake all the way south to Ed’s house and irrigate his blackberries. Tony stands in the middle of it all wrestling with a sprinkler standpipe. The pipe sprouts from an old tire rim that functions as a base.

“Could I give you a hand?” I ask as I settle Gladys on her kickstand. “See if you can get it to work,”Tony says. I can tell by the  tone of voice he’s exasperated…like he’s at the end of his rope, although that would be “hoses” at present. I stride up the row to assess the situation. Tony’s pretty handy; he’s a farmer and farmers have to be handy because on a farm there’s lots that can go wrong and usually lots does. If it’s a job Tony can’t handle, I doubt there’s much I can do to help.

Plumbing problems top my list of troublesome home maintenance issues. A task as simple as switching out a sink stopper can mean three trips to the local hardware store. Four trips if your destination is Lowe’s: three trips to get the right parts and one more to the ER to have your blood pressure checked after dealing with Lowe’s. (Oh, how I lament the loss of our local Coast-to-Coast Hardware.) Tony is attempting to thread a two-way connection onto the standpipe. Two ends of hose are at the ready.This has me puzzled: a two-way connection, like a You Tube picture of a two-headed snake or turtle…but only one sprinkler? I notice each outlet has its own separate shutoff valve and think, “Tony must know what he’s doing.” I help him thread on both hoses. “Let’s give ‘er a try now,” I suggest. Tony follows the long hose back t0 the spigot. I wait. Nothing is happening, yet I hear the sound of rushing water. Twenty feet away water gushes from a hose midsection. When I investigate, I find a splice has burst loose; the hose clamps have slipped. “Shut ‘er off,” I yell and head back to the pile of tools. A few twists of a screwdriver and the splice is again secure. “Hit ‘er,” I shout. This time water gushes from the end of the shorter hose. No problem: I’ll just flip the little diverter valve, stop the flow, watch the sprinkler head spurt, cough water, and lo and behold, we’ll have irrigation. I flip the switch. The sprinkler head, gurgles, and drools down the standpipe. “Off!”I shout. I flip the left hand switch. “Ok. Now.” Suddenly, I feel a cold stream of Valley well water jet up the back of my shorts. I turn around to see a geyser spurting from a hole in one of the hoses.“Whoaaa…shut ‘er off,” I shudder, quickly stand, brush the droplets from my back, and scratch my head.

As we stand there among the coils of hose, puzzling over what to do next, a pair of bicyclists stop: my environmentally-sensitive friend Nancy L and husband Jack out for a ride, taking advantage of the cool Valley morning air. Jack takes one look at the hodge podge of vintage hose, shakes his head, and being the practical fellow he is, advises, “It’s a good idea to replace your hoses every ten years or so.” Tony and I exchange glances. His hoses no doubt date from the days of residence at the old homestead, probably migrated up the road from there to his new spread. I purchased my Sears’ “kinkless hoses” years ago when there was a Sears store in town: two fifty foot sections, although now each is most likely two or three feet shorter thanks to thirty years’ worth of replacing connections at both ends. “Where’s the challenge in that?” I reply. Now it’s Jack and Nancy L’s turn to exchange glances. They decide it’s best if they get on with their ride and off they go.

The Valley is full of visitors this morning. Two more stop by, and while they chat with Tony, I reassess the situation: the problem seems to be that two-headed fitting. Two hose leads, only one sprinkler.In this case, more is one too many. Berryman BroersWhile Tony and friends admire his bumper crop of thirsty blackberries, I switch out the double-headed doohickey, sort through the tangle of hose until I find a loose end with a female connection. A few steps back up the hose to make sure there are no “interruptions,” and back to the standpipe where I quickly connect hose to sprinkler. “Now try it,” I shout. Tony leaves off the conversation and heads to the spigot. Soon I hear a promising gurgle, then a hiss of air, and the sprinkler springs to life. A stream of cold Valley water arcs over the parched rows and the sprinkler begins to rotate. blackberry heaven

When I leave, both Tony and the blackberries are smiling. Plumbing problem solved…without a single trip to Lowe’s.

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  1. I sympathize with your attitudes both about plumbing and Lowes. A good local hardware store is a valuable asset. I'm grateful we still have McDaniel's Do It Center here in Snohomish. Every one of their employees seems to be very knowledgeable and helpful. We don't have a Lowes but we do have a Home Depot in Snohomish. Their employees are much sparser and very few of them seem worthy of the appellation knowledgeable. Shopping at Home Depot can be a very frustrating experience if you don't already know exactly what you need.

    1. Yes, Jim, our Coast-to-Coast Hardware Store has been--excepting the prices--reincarnated as McDaniels' Do-It Center. And while Home Depot's staff assistance can't hold a candle to either that of C-T-C or the Do-it's, I hear they're having a great sale on toilets. Thanks for the comment. TMJ