Monday, February 14, 2011

Welcome (to my water problems)

Welcome to my blog. I've been thinking about doing one of these for awhile. Then I put it off. Then I think about it. Then I put it off. Then I think about.... well, after some prompting from my daughter, I have made the step to Blogdom. In this blog, I'm going to talk about ranch life, spiritual issues, guitars, falconry, and anything else that pops up.

Life on a ranch is a lot like being a fireman. There are long lull periods followed by emergencies. Every emergency is different and you just have to deal with what comes up. Such was the past week. The weather took a turn for the worse two weeks ago with sub-zero temperatures and way-sub-zero wind chills. We recorded -65 F wind chill on our Weather Wizard. For the first time since I've been here on the ranch (15 years), we've had animals to take care of over the winter. On our ranch we summer yearling cattle. That is, people send us calves weighing about 350-450 lb and they spend the summer gaining weight on natural grasses. In October, they're gathered and shipped off to market. Last year's batch of heifers evidently had more than a passing acquaintance with a bull at some point in their young lives and we ended up with 14 baby calves. As a learning experiment, we decided to buy those calves, over winter them, and sell them next fall. If any of them look good, we'll keep them and use them to start our own small breeding herd.

Sounds good on paper, but none of these calves were weaned so it was going to be up to us to get them that way. Weaning is an interesting process as the young calf has to actually develop a ruminant digestive system. It's not just a matter of "oh, let's quit drinking milk and start eating grain." We lost one of the calves fairly quickly and another developed digestive problems that were starting to look like coccidiosis. And then along came The Big Storm. It's hard for anything to survive in -60 F wind chill and in spite of us getting the calves into shelter, we lost the smallest calf. The others did okay, but us humans were having our own set of problems what with water freezing (gotta get water to the calves, right?) In addition to the calves, we also have 4 adult and 2 weanling horses to take care of. The adult horses are pretty tough and they found shelter in the pasture. The weanlings huddled in with the calves and they all rode it out together.

On Day 1 of the storm, I went down to feed/water. Within an hour of returning- and, let me tell you, -60 F wind chill takes your breath away!- I was shaking with a mild fever. Then the sore throat developed and the cough started. I was miserable. The doc said "bronchitis" and gave me an antibiotic and cough syrup. The latter nearly made me delusional so I quit taking it. My wife herbed me up with slippery elm, elderberry, fennugreek/thyme, and so forth. But, really, there was nothing to do except ride it out. So, I plopped down on the couch, laid out all 6 Star Wars and set about recovering.

A week later, my wife and daughter we off to Santa Fe for a week for "Teen Pact", leaving me and the 2 boys at home alone. I was starting to get a little better and the weather was slated to take a turn for the better about Weds, so we figured we'd be okay. Tues night, I took a late night bath to run some water. Weds I woke up and went to get a drink. No water. Great. Our well is about 1/4 mile from the house and feeds both our house and a couple of stock tanks in the pasture. It turned out that a valve at one of those tanks had worked loose (cold made the plastic pipeline contract and pull loose) and our water had probably been running non-stop for who knows how long. It was a flooded marsh out there and I couldn't even get to the valve thru all the water, so I had no choice but to turn the water off in the well house. So, coughing and wheezing and spitting phelgm, that's what I did. At least the temp was close to freezing instead of 40 deg below.

Next day, I had some help and much to my pleasure I found the ground drier. What water was left was still frozen and we were able to toss the ice out of the way. After several trips back to the house for more tools and parts, we had the pipeline capped off. I turned the well on and we drove back to the house. There, I was greeted by my two young boys yelling "there's water spraying all over the bathroom!!!" Muddy boots and all, I ran to the bathroom to find water exploding from the valves under the sink. Of course, that's where we keep our spare towels and so they were soaked (but they also kept the water contained). I opened the faucets to relieve the pressue, and then my boys called me to the utility room where water was also flooding out. Same deal- blowing out of the valves under the sink. I knew what the problem was- the pressure switch at the pump was stuck.

If you don't know anything about pumps, there's a switch at the pump that turns on when pressure falls below a certain level and turns the pump off when it hits a certain level. If that switch goes bad- as it's likely to do when the pump runs too long (such as when a valve fails in the pasture...)- the pump will not turn off and pressure will continue to build until something blows. Having been here, done this, once before, I recognized the problem. So, after opening all the faucets in the house to relieve pressure I ripped back to the well house and shut the water off once again. At least we got the toilets flushed (and boy did they flush with all that pressure!!!).

Back at the house, I called our well man and lo and behold, will miracles never cease, but he was able to come right out ("right out" being a 45 mi drive). Three hours later, we had a new pressure switch, pressure gauge, and running water at the house. Of course, some of the shut-off valves were damaged and dripping and my task for this week is to replace those. This is going to be another new experience as the plumbing in our mobile home is PB plastic and the valves are crimped on. I'm going to replace everything from the valve on up with "Shark bite" connectors and real valves. I'll keep you posted.

No comments:

Post a Comment