Saturday, January 24 2004
This morning Gretchen was engaged in one of her epic baking endeavors, the kind that proceed a wedding or party for one of her friends. In this case the event was for a surprise birthday party for Mary Purdy that would be happening later tonight down in Manhattan.
At some point in the heat of the baking and inevitable real-time dishwashing, Gretchen noticed that there was something wrong with the water flow coming out of the kitchen sink. It had dwindled away to a fraction of its usual power. She wondered at first if I'd made some error when installing it. Then she wondered if it might be problem stemming from our Water Solutions filtration system (whose main side effect has been fierce air pockets traveling through the plumbing).
Down in the basement, I soon discovered that the well pump had ceased operation and any pressure remaining in the plumbing system was a legacy of when it had last run. Had the pump motor burned out? I knew from my childhood that water pump motors last a very long time, but they can also die at any time. Since temperatures had rarely risen out of the single digits in a couple days, it seemed most likely that whatever the problem was, cold weather had played a role.
Gretchen urged me to call the former owner to find out if he'd ever had problems with the well. I ended up talking to both former owner and his father (our downhill neighbor) and they'd never had any trouble with our well.
I thought perhaps this was the sort of problem I could fix. Out in the yard, I removed the cap from the well shaft and shone a flashlight into its depths. I could tell it went down a hell of a way based on the slow delay experienced by my voice as it echoed off the bottom. (It was unsettling to hear such an audio effect achieved without the assistance of electronics.) When it was on, I could hear the motor down there making a stagnant humming noise. Other than that, nothing was out of the ordinary. The wires going to the pump had some ice accumulated on them, but it seemed unlikely that cold air could have settled more than a few feet from the surface.
Still, on the odd chance that ice was my problem, I arrived at a makeshift solution. I salvaged a stock pot full of water from the back of the main floor's powder room toilet, raised it to a boil, and dumped it slowly down the well shaft. It did no good. In the boiler room I kept flipping the circuit breaker on and off hoping that I could jolt the motor to life, but it refused to respond. As far down that well as it was, it might as well have been on Mars.
When it comes to the DYI ethic, I'm about as fearless as anyone, but in this case it seemed I'd met my match. I called a well drilling professional in West Hurley named Tony and left a message on his machine, certain he wouldn't call back until Monday. But no, this guy was on top of his game. He came out a couple hours later and had a look at the situation. His first response was to do exactly what I'd done: dump hot water (salvaged from the hot water tank) down the well. He knew exactly where to dump it, but he didn't have any more luck than I'd had. He thought perhaps the pipe had frozen somewhere between the well and the house, but he didn't have the equipment to investigate further. We'd have to spend the night without water. You don't know how much you take water for granted until you don't have any.
Actually, I'd have to spend the night without water. Gretchen went off to the City for Mary Purdy's surprise party and I spent the night sitting near the fire investigating what could be done with my Vaio's infrared wireless port. I was listening to the living room stereo and really wanted to change the volume from across the room, but its remote had been misplaced long ago. I'd naturally assumed that there was a vibrant hacker scene writing code to turn laptops into unwieldy universal remotes, but the pickings I found were decidedly slim. I found one site concerning the control of a PC using a remote (not exactly what I was looking for, but interesting), and another detailing a very primitive universal remote control system written in DOS.
For linking purposes this article's URL is:feedback
previous | next