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Fall Home and Car Care Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, September 23, 2010

Well done: My husband gets a little help solving our water woes

By Jo E. Prout

Our electric bill was $500. We spent two months turning off all the lights and appliances we could think of. We lived like bats in a cave. The next bill was $450. Something was wrong.

Summer arrived and the giant, loud furnace was silent. Then, we heard it; the constant whining of a small motor. The well pump.

On Friday evening, my husband, Robert, went to Tractor Supply for a new pump to begin the weekend’s project. I started a tally on the number of trips he would make to the hardware store for parts.

He’s a good guy; he waited until I’d showered Saturday morning before he started working. We both knew, but didn’t say, that it could be a few days before I got another decent shower. We both knew that, with the lack of water pressure we’d had for months, no one had really taken a decent shower for a long time.

Being a handy guy, as well, Robert hooked up the old hand-dug well to the house plumbing, using a garden hose and the pump we keep in it to water the garden. Now, we could continue to flush toilets and wash hands.

Robert opened the family-room window so we could hear him if he yelled for help out in the well pit. The pressure was 15 pounds per square inch; the 15-year-old pump was designed to kick on if the pressure dropped under 20 psi. No wonder our electric bill was high. Parts were rusted through, and some were rusted together, impossible to remove with our tools.

Within 20 minutes, Robert was on his way to the store. Tally number one. It was chilly, so I closed the window.

I opened it as soon as he got back.

“You closed it?” Robert was incredulous.

“I opened it, again!” Geesh, some people.

The sun was shining, and beautiful days will be fewer and fewer as winter approaches, so I sent the kids outside to watch. I figured that, even if they didn’t help much, they’d have a frame of reference for the future, and expand their world watching a project, rather than Sponge Bob.

The first thing we heard was, “Why doesn’t it fit?” That was Robert, mumbling to himself.

“Why do I have to sit here doing nothing?” Our 12-year-old has a real work ethic.

“Don’t,” I said. “Pay attention. Ask what he’s doing.”

“Dad, what are you doing?”

“I can’t keep answering little questions,” Robert grumbled, not mumbling.

“Fine,” I said to the kids. “Be quiet and pay attention so you’ll know what to do someday.”

“When I’m rich, I’ll pay someone to do it,” our 12- year-old said.

“How are you going to get rich? Rich people aren’t lazy,” I said.

A glance from Robert quieted everyone.

Woops! The baby dropped the pliers down into the one of the openings in the concrete blocks that line the pit.

“Just get it out,” I said.

“It goes all the way down to the bottom,” Robert said.

“Well, they were cheap ones, anyway,” I said. “You weren’t using them.”

Luckily for everyone, I took the two youngest kids to a birthday party then. I let the eldest read his latest fantasy book while he sat outside with Robert. Secretly, I had told my son to stay there no matter what, in case he needed to call 911. You never know with these weekend projects.

My son was glad to see us after the party. He complained that he’d been outside all day. He complained more when I loaded all the kids into the car, again, to go apple-picking. I said good-bye to Robert, who was sitting in the pit like an errant child in a corner. He followed us to the driveway, on his way to the store for more parts. Tally number two.

That evening, dejected, Robert came in for supper, then changed into his lucky shirt to watch the Irish lose in overtime.

Sunday morning, after two more hours in the pit, Robert decided to call in help. He made a call to a handy friend with bigger, better tools, but there was no answer. He made another trip to Tractor Supply, instead. Tally number three.

By Sunday afternoon, Robert was on the phone with John Duleba, owner of OnCall Heating and Plumbing in Athens. John and Robert are on a first-name basis, because we live in a dinosaur of a house. We’ve called John before.

This time, Robert couldn’t saw off the rusted bolts on the cap blocking the foot valve, which needed replacing. He admitted defeat.

“He didn’t get all the parts he needed, and he got the wrong ones,” John said Monday.

Aside from removing the bolts and replacing the foot valve, the pipe on our well is a six-inch pipe, not the standard four-inch pipe. A lot of the parts were the wrong size.

“I never thought to measure it,” Robert said. “But, I couldn’t get that cap off, anyway.”

Would Robert have gotten them right? Sure, eventually. But we only alloted one weekend for trial and error. When time was up, we called the professional.

John said that many people try to replace their well pumps, but that he is the only New York State Department of Conservation-certified well pump installer in our area. Good to know, although he said that a few well drillers also have certification.

I hope he bit his tongue. I don’t want to dig a new well.

As soon as John left, with my $400 check that will surely be made up for with a lower electric bill, I turned on the faucet, ready to take water out to the animals. The faucet, now hooked up to the new, regular pump instead of the hand-dug well, let out a faint trickle. The phone was in my hand in a second, as I grabbed up John’s invoice, looking for his number. I dialed Robert’s work number, instead.

“Make sure the hand-dug well pump is off, and unscrew the hose,” he said.

Right. I tried to unscrew the hose. Wincing in pain, I looked around for a pair of work gloves, used my sweatshirt sleeve, and tried, again.

After making sure the ancient water valve above my head in the basement was righty-tighty, I unscrewed the hose. Water sprayed all down my arm and shirt. Still using my shirt sleeve, I screwed the hose back on, and got on the phone to Robert, again.

Next time, I unplugged the hand-dug well pump first, then checked the righty-tighty valve, and unscrewed the hose above my head. I heard the water draining away, and it didn’t dump out on my head.

Feeling relieved, but annoyed and thoroughly wet, I went back into the house (having had to enter the basement from outside), and tried the faucet, again. Absolutely nothing came out, this time.

Why am I the one who got stuck dealing with this? The pump was Robert’s project. These thoughts and a few choice words are what Robert heard when I called him a third time.

“I’m coming home,” he said. I went to Wal-Mart, because I know how to buy toilet paper and peanut butter without a coach.  

When I got home, I heard water running, hard. The shower was spraying like it had never sprayed before. The sink faucet worked, and the toilet flushed even when water was running. I was giddy.

Robert came in from the well pit and announced that the pump had shut off, properly.

“It raised the pressure, then turned off, just like it’s supposed to,” he said.

“What John did was all right,” Robert said. “Air got trapped in the pump. I bled the air off, and the pump started up. Everything’s working now.”

Good. I need another shower.

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