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At Home in the Woods: Home Improvement

Fri, Jan 31st, 2003
Posted in Columnists

The severe frost of last night had not damaged the pump as the check now seems to be sufficient to prevent any pumping and filling of the pump-head with water."Former Lanesboro physician, Johan C. Hvoslef, March. 31, 1907

Time seemed suspended, as it always does between Christmas and the New Year, until one morning when we turned a faucet and no water came out. Being prepared for such an emergency, we dragged out our standby water jugs and a pail to pee in. Because the water had been alternately surging then trickling out of our faucets for about a week, we had known something was going wrong, but had shoved it to the backs of our minds. My husband, Art, immediately called Richard Larson, the well driller and pump man who had installed a new pump for us in the summer of 2001. He came out with his son the same day. They decided that the problem was a malfunctioning part of the pitless mechanism. This mechanism came with our first pump 26 years ago and is no longer being manufactured. Richard, however, had a similar part, so he installed it. My unpro-fessional understanding of a pitless is that it's the big iron knob above ground attached to an iron tube reaching below the frost line. Its purpose is to allow a cap of air to form from below the frost line up through the above ground mechanisms so the water doesn't freeze. Because of the malfunctioning part, our water had frozen, so Richard and his son thawed it with a propane canister and hose that blew heat on the pipes. We soon had running water again. We learned that it might take awhile for the mechanism to work properly, that we should run the water frequently to help build up the necessary cap of air. Conditions improved as the day went on. The water still surged, but not as much as before. Two days later, we were in the same fix, so we hauled out the standby water and the pee bucket and called Richard who returned with his wife, thawed our frozen water and said he would try to get the correct part from one of his suppliers. We then had about a week of warm weather, but colder weather was coming. Art decided he would use his air compressor to blow the pipes free of water in hopes that the compressor would add the needed cap of air. Our first step was to turn one of our faucets wide open. The one that would work best, we decided, was the faucet with a hose attached that we use to blow water into the toilet when the drain begins to freeze. The water can also run from there into the bathtub where it wouldn't make a mess. However, when Art turned the faucet, it broke off and water gushed through the opening in the pipe like it come out of a fire hydrant. Art tried to hold it back with his hand while shouting at me to turn off all the water that led to the house. Being shamefully ignorant when it comes to such things, I didn't know where the lever was and his yelling only made me less likely to find out. He finally let go of the pipe and turned the lever himself. Our next step was to go into town for a new faucet and the necessary connectors. We left the water to sink into the bathroom floor. When we returned home, our first job was to unweld the old parts and weld the new parts together. Finally, we were ready to blow out the pipes. We happily succeeded, but to our disappointment, the water immediately went back to its old tricks. Luckily, the next day, Richard called and said he had the correct part. He came out as promised and installed the part, but it didn't seem to work. He reminded us that it might take awhile for the cap of air to form. We learned that we could replace the whole top of the pitless for about $200.00. If that didn't work, it looked like repairs would cost thousands of dollars. By the next day, our pump and the pitless were working as they should. We are still nervous, though. We often go outside and listen to the pump to make sure it's working correctly. We have both learned more than we ever wanted to about pitless mechanisms. And we are very grateful to the pump man.

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