Thawing a Frozen Water Line (Part Two of Two [or Two of to be continued…?])

So yesterday I was at Mummu’s at 8:30 for water. She thought I was up pretty early – or maybe just out of the yurts early? In any case, I was psyched up for a long day of fritzing with the water line, and it seems the universe wasn’t out to disappoint me. I returned with the water and Donna fired up the woodstove and put the kettles and stock pot on. Kind of like a midwife preparing for labour in the old days, I knew we were going to need lots of hot water, I just didn’t really know why.

While waiting for the water to heat up, I decided to tackle a side project at the power station. I had found an inexpensive amp hour type of battery meter on ebay, and decided to purchase it and install it so that I could have a better idea of my state of charge without having to open up the box and take various measurements from here and there throughout the system.

It involved a shunt – which if you aren’t up on your solar power, is basically a bar of copper with what I suspect is a wire or wires or toroid wrapped around it to measure the magnetic field and deduce the power passing through the bar. You ensure that all your power passes across this bar by wiring the negative pole of your battery bank to one side, and all loads and chargers to the other side. Then attach up your meter, and you’re all done. Well, aside from programming the meter with your overall battery capacity.

Magically, your meter can approximate the charge in your batteries (I hope it did that…) and then it watches current in and current out and state of voltage and deduces how much gas is in your tank, so to speak.

At first it thought I was about 75%, which at 12.5 volts seemed about right.

Then, as I was closing it up, Grandpa showed up, gracious enough to offer to help with the water line situation. I was ready to start on that, so his presence was welcomed not quite profusely enough. I don’t think I can really ever express my appreciation for everything he has done to help this venture. It would surely not be able to succeed without the assistance of either him or Mummu. I cannot fathom how pioneers could break into the bush and survive without the help of friends and neighbours. I really want to remember to pay this forward someday.

So first we played at doing actual work. Walking up and down the line, tapping here, prodding there, sweeping off snow and vaguely hoping that the sun would melt something when it came to shine on the black hose. Of course, the sun doesn’t get high enough to see the hose until after lunch, and then only shines on the line for about a half hour before it is behind another group of trees, and it was still well below zero all day anyway.

Finally we opted to work at things logically/lazily. That is to say, start with the easy stuff first. Assuming I had put in a 200 foot long hose for the first section, we found the coupling between it and the “last mile” so to speak. The next, short length bridged the final distance to the yurts, about 25 feet away. It was really unlikely that a blockage existed there as we could tap the hose and it really felt and sounded empty.

I opened up the hose, and blew into it towards the yurts. Easy work, and the yells of Donna from inside the yurts when a small blast of air and water droplets came out of the faucet confirmed my fears. The blockage was elsewhere…

Next easiest was to look down the well. Grandpa and I headed down, and I took off the cover. It was nice to see that we had about two feet of water in there; it was interesting to see that it was covered by a thin skin of ice. I postulated that perhaps some ice was inside the hose at the water level, and so we brought down two kettles and poured them in. That produces quite a bit of steam, let me assure you. By the time I finished, I could barely see inside.

Plugging in the pump, we could see the water and ice moving ever so slightly, so we assumed that the pump was still running, but alas, still no water.

Now the job was going to start getting real. Bearing in mind that I had no couplings, cutting my water line was not high on my list of options. Instead, I retrieved my ladder and actually went down the well to see what I could see. (I was very careful to make sure that the well pump was unplugged and unpowered up at the yurts, and at the power station, to be certain that I wasn’t going to be poached.)

I disconnected the water line at a ninety degree coupling just inside the well wall, where it enters the well horizontally, and then climbed out and had Donna plug the pump back in. Voila! Water came out the top of my 3-4 foot section of hose – the pump was fine, and the blockage was now narrowed down to somewhere in the remaining 200 feet of hose! I had eliminated the easy 25-30 feet of possibilities.

Next up – I grabbed the tent pole that my friend Jeff and his family had left behind on their visit. It was broken, but still had lots of life yet in other capacities. Breaking it down into 2 foot sections, I was able to take it down in to the well and begin to feed it up the water line from inside the well towards the outside. I was a bit happy to realize that it was blocked only a few inches into the line – I had found my first (only?) blockage!

I returned to the yurts for more kettles, and on the walk there, realized that my electrical fishtape would be an even better probe than the tent pole, so I fetched it as well, and returned to the well with kettles and the fishtape.

I poured hot water over the foot or two of water line inside the well casing, and also directly into the hose itself. Then I even blew HARD into the hose, but still the blockage persisted. Finally with a really surprising blast, four big chunks of ice flew back out into the well, exciting me tremendously!

Alas, the tale of the tape (fishline?) was different. It went in a few more feet before being blocked.

By this time Grandpa had fetched Mummu’s hair dryer, and noted where he heard the fishline rattling. We plugged it in for about a minute (while I watched the battery bank capacity plummet) before I turned on the generator and gave him permission to proceed.

While he was heating the water line, I returned for more hot water, and also to check on the battery meter as it charged up. I was a bit disappointed to see that it was dramatically underreporting the charge amps. It seems like it reports the charging amps as being about half of what they actually are. I’m not sure why this would be. As my charger went from 45 amps to 20, the meter reported 22 to 10. It predicted 13 hours to charge, and this number only INCREASED the longer the generator ran. I was getting very disappointed, but no time to dwell on that just yet.

We moved and removed blockage after blockage, feeding the fish tape further and further up the line until it ran out at about the 25-30 foot mark. Grandpa said he thought it sounded like I was actually pushing ice along with the tape, and I agreed that it felt that way too.

By this time we were well into the afternoon, and Grandpa took his leave. We were thinking that I would try to buy a longer fishline and some couplings on a trip to town today.

I had two kettles left, and decided to just dump them where we left off. As I walked down the water line with the two kettles, I noticed a previously unnoticed coupling in the line – I didn’t have a 200 foot hose – I had 2, 100 foot hoses – of course! I forgot!

I returned the kettles to the stove, and came back with the fishtape. I disconnected the coupling, and again blew towards the yurts – no problem! I fed the fishtape down the other direction and hit a blockage. With Donna and Kenny rattling the fishtape, I poured out my last two kettles on the section of hose from the blockage down towards where Grandpa and I had left off with our previous kettles and hair dryer work. Donna pushed the entire fishtape down the hose; I emptied the final drops of the kettle and asked her to return to the yurts to plug in the pump one last time.

Suddenly, slowly, the fishtape began to back out of the hose on its own volition! Inch after slow inch snaked out, until finally the tip fell. And then – nothing!

I looked into the hose cautiously, and saw ice, right there! I stuck in my finger, but couldn’t do anything. I started to twist and tap the end of the hose, and then, just like delivering quadruplets, four compact small pieces of ice slowly exuded from the hose, and then a stream of water! Yay!

I directed Donna to turn off the pump, reconnected the couplings, and then told her to pump everything in the yurts full of water – even the washing machine! She wisely decided to do a load of laundry right then and there.

As she was working at the laundry, Kenny and I added multiple tie wraps to the water line, and with the help of another set of tent poles, smoothed out the final few feet of the water line and proved it to be on a constant downward slope with the help of my level.

Using a long-handled cultivator, I wedged the butt of the cultivator under the lid of the well, and the claw end pushing down on the ninety degree coupling inside the well, so that water shouldn’t (couldn’t, wouldn’t?) settle inside the well hose either.



I closed everything up, and then returned victorious to the yurts, where Donna and I agreed I should still head back to Mummu’s for some drinking water. Yes, we still haven’t had the requisite three clear tests of our water for us to feel safe drinking it. I’m sure with all my activity down there yesterday, I also stirred up some turbidity as well. Coming back from Mummu’s, I was happy to see that after the generator had been shut off, the meter somehow recovered from its faulty interpretation of events, and was now showing my batteries at 90% charge, which made sense, with my ammeter saying that the generator was down to less than 5 amps of input.

Then, with the sun setting quickly, I entertained Kenny by pulling him up and down the driveway on the sled, until I grew tired and pointed him in the direction of a small hill instead.


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