By John Floyd
Winter is most certainly here on The Ridge. With a foot or better of snowpack on the ground and daily temperatures struggling to reach double digits, Old Man Winter snuck up on me this morning and gave me a friendly kick in the rear end.
“Hope you didn’t need water this morning, Johnny!” he said, as I turned the kitchen faucet on. Nothing. Not even a drip. We were, as my dad would like to say, froze up.
My wife asked, “Do you think the bulb blew out in the well house?” Sudden fear gripped me as I realized I hadn’t turned the light back on after an unseasonably warm 20 degree afternoon several days ago. We watch every bit of energy we use, Maine’s soaring electricity costs being a constant challenge in a rural area.
The well house is a smallish structure roughly four feet square across the driveway and about fifty feet from the cabin. It houses our above ground jet well pump and tank. While insulated when initially built, the field mice have had their run at it for years and the evidence of their nefarious activities litters the floor from time to time.
In addition to insulating the structure, we use a single incandescent bulb in the secondary enclosure during the dead of winter to keep the well pump and lines from freezing. This isn’t the most desired solution I know, but when you live out here you just do what works.
And it does work, when you remember the light.
As I pulled my boots on, I ran through the possible scenarios. Where is the freeze up? Did the water line under the house freeze? If so, how can I get under there with 2 feet of frozen snow pack drifted up to the access door? Maybe it’s just the well pump frozen? If so, how am I going to thaw it out?
Lastly, the biggest and scariest question of them all; What if the pipe split from freezing? It’s one thing to get the freeze up thawed out. If that pipe or well head is damaged, I’m really going to be in trouble.
I headed into the shop in search of the Mr Heater. This marvelous invention is a must have out here in the Maine woods. It is a simple propane burner and igniter head that attaches right to a 20lb propane grill tank. I use it to heat small spaces outside on the property when I’m working, to warm the engine block of my diesel tractor in the winter and as back up heat source in the shop.
I grabbed the heater and headed to the well house figuring I’d hope for the best, that the well motor was frozen and all the lines were intact. I opened the secondary enclosure inside the house and peered in. No light on and the pressure gauge on the pump pegged to the red line.
I lit the heater and set it on the low setting. If the metal on the pump housing heats too rapidly it could crack. Similarly, if the water in the lines heats too rapidly the result is hot steam. That also can cause damage to the lines. I positioned the heater in a corner and closed the door.
Back inside the cabin, my wife and I opened some faucets and crossed our fingers. Opening the faucets would help the water expand as the freeze up melted. We still didn’t know if the freeze was all the way through the lines, so it seemed a good idea to be safe. We settled by the wood stove, thankful it was a Sunday and wondering when and if the water would return.
As I ran through my mental check list of supplies I might need and various repairs I might need to make, the tell tale whoosh of running water came from the bathroom faucet. Only twenty minutes had passed. We had water!
While happy to have running water again, I was cautiously optimistic. I still had to check the lines and pump to see if there was any damage or leaks. Back to the well house I went.
I checked the pump housing and lines inside the well house. No cracks or visible damage to the lines were present. I monitored the pressure gauge after the water pressure had built back up and the motor shut off. If there was a break or leak under the driveway or under the house, the pressure indicated on the gauge would slowly drop as the water leaked out. After 15 minutes I was satisfied we didn’t have any breaks. I turned off the heater and pulled the string for the well light.
As I walked through the front door, my wife was putting a fresh pot of coffee on for me. We looked at each other and grinned. We had gotten lucky this time.