Friday, April 25, 2008

It's a Gusher

The good news is the screaming has stopped.

The bad news is that it started about 2 AM.

This is not your every day screaming either. It's like a persistent dentist's drill right to your brain stem. It's like one might make as shards of glass are inserted under your fingernails and then said nails are slowly and inexorably pulled out of your fingers. It's a "wake the dead" scream. It's our septic alarm.

Now, those of you who have been reading this blog for a while might recall that sometime last winter during the last real cold snap (temps dropping into the minus 20's F, or minus 30's C) that the pipe that goes from the septic settling tanks to the drain field froze solid where the pipe ran under our driveway.

That was our first experience with the septic alarm - a marvelous piece of technology that has many interesting applications. For example, a perfect alternate use would be to mount one of these right under my son's bed and rig it to a simple push button control. Then instead of yelling at him every morning to get his lazy ass out of bed, I would just have to exert a slight pressure with my thumb and listen as he launched himself straight up, covers and all, and crashed into the bunk directly above him.

As it is, this little devil is mounted in a regulation outlet box in our utility room, behind a stout door on our lower level, one floor and many inches of wood and concrete away from where I lay my weary head, and it still screeches loud enough to raise me from a drug induced slumber. Most annoying at 2 AM.

My choices were simple. I could get up, go find some ear plugs, go downstairs, pull it out of the box, and disconnect the wiring to make it stop; or, I could get dressed, get a headlamp, put on my rubber boots, go outside and try to hook up the septic pump; or, I could roll over, put a pillow over my head and go back to sleep. What would you have done? Right, let it torture my two larvae who sleep downstairs on the same level as the torture device.

A few short hours later, after I made the morning oatmeal and tried to listen to the latest disasters on NPR over the background wailing of the alarm, I found my headlight, my rubber boots, a small socket wrench, and trudged outside and down the hill to the settling tanks. The pump and the alarm switch are both located in the third tank, which in theory contains mostly fluid - the chunky stuff having settled out in the two upstream tanks.

The tanks are protected from meddling by heavy cement covers weighing in at approximately 100 pounds (or roughly 45 kilos for you drug dealers out there), and to remove one, you must bend completely over, grasp two iron rings embedded in the cement, and give a mighty heave, accompanied by the same sounds one hears from those weight lifters as they try to lift things with the same mass as the Queen Mary. One day, I am sure, I will attempt this act only to hear pieces of my lower back ripping themselves clear of my body and launching themselves into the tree branches above - kind of like that scene in "Alien" where the little monster pops out of that guy's chest - only on my backside.

So there I am at six in the morning, in the dark, in the rain, preparing to engage in an unnatural act with a cement slab, and it occurs to me that the combination of the lift and slide movement of the cover and the rain slick mud upon which my feet were tenuously perched would produce certain motions that Newton's Laws would describe as action and reaction that could have the effect of propelling me head first into a deep, dark tank filled with unmentionable substances.

And who would know? Certainly not my little lovelies inside, filling up on hot oatmeal. I hadn't told them where I had gone. They would finish their breakfast, do the last of their morning routine, and head off to school with an over the shoulder "Bye, Dad" thrown through the garage door - never thinking that their loving father was already past hearing, just another piece of detritus in the waste stream of life.

With those thoughts running through my head, I executed what might be my final act and managed to get the cover off the tank without adding myself to the contents. Good I said to the dog who was patiently watching in a non-judgmental sort of way.

The next step was to connect the pump to the pipe that led to the drain field. This required laying down and reaching into the perfumed opening of the tank and trying to wrestle one end of a pipe that came up out of the roiling mass below to it's mating cousin which protruded from the side of the tank wall and traveled then uphill for about two hundred feet to the drain field. The actual connection was a rubber hose coupling covered by a flexible metal sheath with a hose clamp on either end.

The whole operation was made somewhat awkward due to the logistics. I was hanging partially into the tank with very little leverage, trying to keep my headlamp from sliding off and adding to the toxic mix below, trying to maneuver the coupling over the end of the drain field pipe and then tightening the hose clamp down before the whole thing pulled apart. This last bit required me to remove the glove on my right hand whilst holding things in place with my left, and somehow finding and using my little ratchet wrench without dropping that into the soup as well.

It took several tries accompanied by various comments to the Wonder Dawg in terms that I normally didn't use within her earshot. Eventually, the connection was made and I was able to return from Hades to the wonderful world of the living. Rain never felt so good.

There remained only one final step in this little experiment. That was to plug in the power cord that ran down to the pump and sit back to see if the pump was able to start moving the liquid uphill to the drain field. It was with a bit of trepidation that I carefully inserted the plug, hoping that the current would run to the pump instead of to me as I crouched in the rain - a rather good ground path for sure.

With a sigh of relief I heard the pump start to hum and I once again leaned over the opening, shining my headlamp down into the gloom, trying to ascertain whether the level of the tank was dropping. It took a couple of minutes before I was able to make out the top of one of the float switches just below the surface of the fluid. I was staring intently at this when it all let go and a huge geyser of effluent shot up around me as the connection between the two pipes parted with a bang.

A distant part of me admired the volume of fluid that the pump discharged out of the pipe that still held the rubber coupling on its end. It was an impressive amount that met its counterpart flow as whatever had been pumped up the hill now attempted to return to its source by flowing back down. The two streams met just below where my face had been a moment before, producing an interesting experiment in fluid dynamics.

Looking back on it, what seemed to stretch on over a interminable time actually lasted seconds as I was able to reach out and unplug the power to the pump, leaving only the gravity fed stream of liquid flowing downhill.

I squatted there on my haunches reviewing my options. I decided that it was time to go back in and pour myself a hot cup of coffee before attempting round two.

That's how I started my Friday.


Blogger KAS said...

Yikes, what a way to start the day! I hope you get your septic problems sorted out soon and that hopefully no more unmentionables make attempts on your life today. There's a lot of Friday left! Thank God you moved your head in time to avoid that face-spray of disgustingness. I think when I was younger that my mother would have wanted a septic alarm under my bed, too.

11:34 AM, April 25, 2008  
Blogger Cheesy said...

Oh lawrd....I'm sorry but hopefully it's all "uphill" from there!

I once heard a horrible sound while trying to remove my septic tanks lid....

It was a horrid sound....

The collapsing sound of iron rings separating from cement..It's a sinking "oh chit that's gonna cost me" sound...

2:08 PM, April 25, 2008  
Blogger Moosekahl said...

I would come up with an appropriate comment but I'm laughing too hard...

9:00 PM, April 25, 2008  
Blogger Kristie said...

Yuck. Did you spike your coffee, after all that? I think I might've

10:04 PM, April 25, 2008  
Blogger lime said...

all i can say is, "oh shit!"

11:39 AM, April 26, 2008  
Blogger NYD said...

All you needed was a fan.

Hillarious. Glad I have a sewer at my service.

7:51 AM, June 09, 2008  

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