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Sunday, October 26, 2008

All's well

[posted by risa]

Our current adventure is reviving the old well. We have a nice ninety footer with a 220 volt jet pump, but when the power is down, no water!

The water table is only about 23 feet hereabouts, and most of the wells have been driven to 33 feet. We were clearing blackberries fifteen years ago, and found one of these, apparently abandoned, just behind the barn (not the best location, to be sure), and when we added a tiny greenhouse, made up mostly of three sliding glass doors, to the potting-shed end of the barn, the well platform became the floor of the sunny end of the greenhouse, and remained undisturbed from then until now.

Lately I noticed that the two-by-four frame of the greenhouse windows is rotting at the ends, so this seemed a good opportunity to work on the well. It had a jet-pump system at one time, and the two pipes, suspended from the top of the well casing, had been sawn off and posed a difficulty in getting a new foot valve and flexpipe down to the water.

I would need to raise the pipes, but had put this off while the windows were in the way. Now I took them off and stacked them against a willow tree, set a multi-position ladder in folded configuration above the well, hung a chain around the ladder about 2/3 of the way up, hung a come-along from the chain, tied a rope securely, wound around several times for the sake of available friction, round the two pipes, hung the looped ends of the rope from the bottom hook of the come-along, and cranked. Everything groaned a little as the slack was taken up, and then the pipes began to move, one quarter of an inch per click.


After the pipes had been raised two feet, I faced the issue of how to secure them without letting them crash back into the hole, so that I could unhook the come-along and reattach it to pull the pipes another two feet. I could use another rope, tied to the ladder, but might lose a few inches every time I had to reset, plus having to do quite a bit of untying and re-tying.

This problem occupied me for about half an hour, but was solved as I rooted about in the garage: one of the many tools given to us by my parents and seldom used over the years, a chain vise-grip wrench. This works just like a vise-grip, but includes a length of motorcycle chain, intended to provide a grip on larger cylindrical objects. I last used it to remove a stubborn oil filter from a GMC truck -- or was it an International Travelall? -- twenty-five years or so ago. It worked very well for that -- overkill, really.


The wrench made everything simple -- up to a point. Over the course of the day, whenever I had the energy, I would stand over the hole and crank. Ultimately, the pipes towered over me like a flagpole, and leaned suspiciously toward the chicken pen. No one at home --free range -- and I had chased away the curious hens, who were determined at first to examine my work while standing on my feet, but I didn't care for the idea of two hundred pounds of pipe crashing down through all of their nice wire netting. So I found another rope, and tied the pipes off to lead them in another direction, just as I've done sometimes with wayward trees.

When the old foot-valve, slimy and dripping wet, cranked into view, I could see why the well had been abandoned. The 3/4 inch injection pipe had corroded through, and rather than go to the trouble of raising the pipes (which would have been inside a well-house at the time), the owners had simply drilled another well.

I now had about four inches, or some sixteen clicks of the come-along, to go.

This was beginning to make me nervous -- there was a lot of iron waving around in the sky now. I reset the wrench, the rope and the come-along, left the setup overnight, switched to making seven quarts of tomato puree -- not very successfully, as only three jars sealed. I had been impatient with the water-bath -- a no-no. So I froze the other four jars and went to bed.

In the morning, I waited until after the dew had burned off (the day eventually went to 75 degrees -- on October 25!), to give everything a chance for maximum friction. I cleared an escape route through the potting shed, checked around me to make sure my clothes would not catch on anything, grasped the handle of the come-along, and cranked slowly -- one click, two -- watching the base of the jetpipes intently. The foot valve was an old type, shaped like a coiled spring. No telling when the behemoth would let go and tip itself over.

Click -- click -- click -- szloop -- out it goes! Eek! I backed away through the shed, but everything went as planned. Drawn by the tightened guy rope, the pipe assembly flung itself out into the pasture, with a most satisfactory "whump." I could now snake a garden hose down the well, fill it up and flush it out, and go shopping for some 1 1/4" flexpipe.

In the afternoon, for a change of pace, I dibbled some broadbeans into the winter beds, kneeling on an old pillow stuffed into a feed sack.

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