Seek the Silver Lining — Also the Bats and Iguanas

First, find the pipe at the wet end. Turn the pump on for a moment to see where the water comes from. In this case, from the well side, not the wall side.

After several weeks of serious winter here in Indiana, with lows plummeting frequently to -10, I was washing dishes on a relatively nice sunny morning with outside temps almost up to the 20’s, and suddenly the water from the tap faded to a trickle and stopped. NOOOOOOO! I said, as I ran down to the basement to see what was happening. A pool of water was forming in the corner where the supply pipe from the well comes through. I shut the pump off and spent a few minutes cursing whoever built this system forty years ago. I’ve replaced nearly everything in it, including the pump. About all I haven’t done is to dig a new well, and I’m looking into doing that.


Think of the bright side of global warming, not just increased polar storms but heat waves that knock delicious bats out of their trees. Why is no one eating these?

Within a few hours I had calmed down a bit. The well still works and the pump still works. If I had been ambitious this past summer, or the summer before, or the several summers before that, I could have avoided this issue. The floor in that corner has been unexplainably damp for years. It was enough to make me suspect a leak but not enough to prove one existed. Could have been condensation on the cold pipes or the cold pressure tank, in the summer. Could have been flow from a faulty downspout. I wasn’t sure. I did some exploratory digging once a couple of years ago and got down to the pipe outside the wall, after moving 33 inches of clay, and it seemed pretty dry down there. Damp but not unusually damp. I dug down beside the wellhead also, another 33 inches, and patched the gap the professional plumbers hadn’t filled, the one that let surface water and mud get into the well during storms. But it was acceptably dry there also, and I let myself believe that everything was fine, even though every time I was down there to check things or grab some jars of food from my basement storage shelves, I looked at that damp spot and wondered.

Hoped to find a joint close to the wall, but no. Pipe heads off to the well now and the break is up that way somewhere.

So, now I know. Yes, there was a leak, and it has been leaking slightly for years. This winter I have the privilege of fixing it. I’ve already dug out both ends down to the pipes. The well end is dry, but at the basement end, when I turn on the pump a gush of water comes out from somewhere up the line between the two. That’s about 25 feet of black plastic flexible pipe buried three feet deep under Indiana clay. Right now, the top inch of that is mud, the next six inches is frozen clay, and the rest is the good stuff, just damp clay that cuts like cold butter. Well, plus all the tree roots, I’ve already chopped out one that was six inches in diameter.

So calm down, settle in, and think of the iguanas. Down in Florida the delicious reptiles are falling from the trees. Pick them up behind the shoulders and you’re safe enough. They taste like chicken. I’ve caught them this way before.

The weather gives me two days to find and fix this, plus an emergency third day of dismal cold rain if I do need it. I have to get this done before the weekend, because on Friday that cold rain turns to ice and snow and on Saturday we are back to below zero.

Today I’m a little sore from the unexpected hours of hard work, and it feels pretty good. I’ve done some workouts this winter but workouts always seem kind of pointless, like being a hamster on a treadmill. I’d rather work and accomplish something. It’s 31 degrees out with a heavy ice fog hanging in the air, but it’s kind of a nice day. When I finish my coffee I’ll get out there and dig this sucker up. There ain’t nuthin quite so good as a good hole diggin on a nice winter’s day. I’ve done the hardest part, the first holes are always difficult and of course my post hole diggers broke a handle on the first day of this project but I fixed that and did a job I’m proud of.

When I dug down to the pipe exiting the well head, I found normal damp soil, no leak. So there is a break somewhere in that 25 feet between well and wall. Covered everything with hay and plastic and plywood scrap. Today is a beautiful day for some massive hole digging.

Today I’m a little smelly but I’m full of coffee and warm noodle soup, and I’m seeing the amazingly good luck of all this. That leak has been there simmering for years, and it chose Saturday to give way. Could have been any time, but it went on Saturday. Could have burst in the heat of the summer when the ground out back is as hard as concrete. Could have burst last week when the high temps were about five. It seems like the perfect time for this to happen, this week out of all weeks.

Soon as I finish my coffee I will get out there and dig a lovely big f-ing hole and fix a pipe. With any luck and a lot of hard work, I’ll have running water again before the next storm hits. A day to flush the silt out of the pipes, and a potential shower on Thursday. Life is good.

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About JTHats

Avid backpacker and outdoorsman with old skills and interests in old ways of doing things; equally fascinated by electronics, from the days of Sputnik, to the Zilog Z80A, to the present day of black box circuitry. Sixty years of experience with growing my own food and living simply. Certified electronics technician, professional woodturner, woodcarver, and graduate of two military survival courses -- Arctic and Jungle.

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