Under the Pump

A few days ago I started the ram pump and went away expecting it to to fill up the depleted tanks over a couple of days.  By the time I realised that it had stopped working, the top tank which supplies Maple Cottage was perilously low just a couple of rungs above the outlet.  Guests arriving and I am sure they expected water when turning a tap.  I was pretty sure the problem was in the drive pipe where I had been bodging the last threaded connection before the pump.  I had used pipe clamps and epoxy resin, rubber gaskets and twisted wire and even cling wrap and bits of string and they had all worked over the last couple of years.  But now I realised that my bodging resources had reached their limit as corrosion took its deadly course and an engineering solution was required.  I had been putting this off because of the heavy labour required.

The actual repair was to cut 150mm out of the 75mm diameter steel pipe containing the rusted and threaded connection and weld the bare pipe ends together.  Doing the cutting, shaping the ends and  welding would only take a couple of hours and I really like welding.  It is such fun to see the molten pool fill the gap and build the joint, and such satisfaction to get a strong and useful solution.  To keep the arc, to build the weld and to hear the constant sound like sizzling bacon, feels like recreation to me.  The heavy labour was just getting the job to the workshop and assembling the pipes later and took 2 days hard yakka.

To disconnect the pipes of 6.5m length I needed to use my 2, 1 meter long pipe wrenches working in opposition.  Unfortunately, the workplace was on the waterfall where there are three levels of traction.  Dry rock traction is very good, wet rock is treacherous especially with wet rotting leaves, and rock that is permanently wet smoothed by the water and debris over the ages is coated with slime mold and the traction is like ice.  Close to zero.  Cannot even stand still on the 30% slope, let alone move or work.  Of course the pipe went right down the permanently wet bit and the threaded joiner was 1/3 the way down.  To get there I had to belay myself to the pipe further up.  Fortunately I remember my rock-climbing days a did a nice tight bowline knot round my waist.  A bowline because it is a secure knot that doesn’t slip or tighten up and cut me in half.  And I did slip over several times even steadied by the rope, but I didn’t go bouncing down the rocks to the pool below.  I was encouraged by a first ever bone density scan just a couple of weeks ago kindly provided by the government now I am a septuagenarian.  I have strong bones which is handy with rock collisions.  With a big heave of my big pipe wrench I got the thread moving a few degrees, so I knew that it hadn’t frozen rusted.  When assembling I had coated the thread with Stockholm tar, usually put on horses hooves to keep them in good condition, but also used by plumbers to stop corrosion even years later.

The next problem was that the pipe was bent for the last 1.5m to fit the profile of the waterfall and still meet the pump on the horizontal.  So I had to elevate the pipe so the end was about 1m high so I could turn it.  I constructed a wooden tripod connected by bolts so I could alter all the lengths and angles with multiple holes drilled in for legs of different lengths because it had to sit in the pool where I couldn’t even see where the legs grounded.  So now I could turn the pipe and get it disconnected.  The pipe weights about 80 kg I think and I had to haul it up the waterfall with a piece of rope, and then the 100m to the workshop 5 m at a time with much gasping in between.  I knocked off for the day.  During the day I had serviced a cottage for the next guests.  These special emergencies I have to fit in the middle of my normal workload.


Next morning was the good bit of cutting, grinding and welding and only assembly required.  Only…. I wish.  I grunted the pipe back to the waterfall 5 m at a time.  Just screw it in.  Except that the free end had to be 1 m in the air to rotate, that the alignment of the pipes had to be exact to prevent cross-threading which would be disastrous, and the 80 kg pipe had to be thrust firmly up the hill to engage the threads, when it’s natural inclination would be to slide down the hill.  A strong assistant shoving the pipe up from the bottom whilst allowing rotation of the bent end while I rotated the pipe with wrenches would have been ideal.  I was lacking the strong assistant as I usually do.  I set up the tripod again at the bottom end and elevated the pipe threaded junction the just the right height using the log round in the picture and other shims to get perfect alignment by sighting along the pipe.  Then I rigged a rope from above and below the junction and tightened it using a truckie’s knot, which give a 3 to 1 increase in tension like a pulley system, to stretch the rope like a strong spring so it wouldn’t slacken off as the threads engaged.  All the while belayed on the waterfall skating rink.  Carefully, carefully I turned the pipe getting about 3 turns before the rope had spiraled round the pipes fortuitously tightening the rope and it’s pulling power, but now threatening to snap.  I was feeling for resistance from crossed threads as well as one can with 1 m wrenches.   All good, so I released the tortured rope and could now pull the pipe up with the thread.  The rest was easy except that I lost one of my nuts in the pool.  No, not a painful accident, just careless handling of the flange bolts.  Then refill the system with water and see if it works.  It did.  Better and quieter than it has worked for years.

I give you this labourious and perhaps tedious account to be able to brag about the numerous practical skills I have acquired in my decades of independent living.  Beginners guide to building pyramids.  You have got to start, you have got to believe you can do it, and you need the stamina to finish.


  1. You started, you believed you could, you had the stamina to finish – Go build a Pyramid now Paul, there’s nothing stopping you! Your account is not the least bit tedious, in fact it’s dramatic enough to keep me interested even though I’ll never need such knowledge in my lifetime – And after building that Pyramid, go join the Aussie Olympic skating team, you’ve got the skills, could be Gold, Gold, Gold? I worried about that lost nut for all of a second, then aaawww not the fleshy kind, thank goodness – having no strong assistant is the bane of your life, I suggest you adopt the next big strong guy or gal who books in to Possum Valley, make them an offer they can’t refuse, and voila! Problem solved….The use of Stockholm Tar way back when, was ingenious, who would have thought it would save the day! So farewell to Bodging, sad but true that it comes back to kick you in the arse when you least expect it…..Magic that you managed to keep the guests in water, even under such unidyllic circumstances – If I ever need a Magician, I know to call you Paul!!

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