Thawing a Frozen Water Line (Part Three of… let's not go there.)

So, earlier in the week as I set off through virgin turf to get the logs near the property line, I started up the generator and got Donna started on pumping water for a load of laundry. As I passed by on the tractor, she began to frantically flash me some hand signals. At first it was double V for victory – I was impressed with her enthusiasm for laundry, but her facial expression didn’t match her hand signs. Then she turned them both upside down.

I’ve never seen an upside down V for victory, but logic would say it would have to mean defeat, right? And double defeat in this case?

The look on MY face brought her out of the yurts to inform me that it was obvious she was signing W – M… Washing Machine. I guess I am a little slow sometimes.

Of course, further interpretation was in order. As it turns out, the washing machine worked fine. It was the well that didn’t work. She should have said her sign language was indicating “Well Malfunction”, that would have perhaps met me halfway.

I continued on the journey, and hauled home a few logs. Some others we have had to leave in the bush, as the tractor couldn’t budge them. Grandpa has informed me that he took out his come-along and staggered them out a bit, which should help. As my faithful readers will recall though, there are a few “monsters” dating back to confederation that may be a bit much for the tractor to pull up some of the slopes, or across some of the rough terrain between my sawmill and where they currently are lying.

Next up was to look down the well. As always, try the simple stuff first.

Looking down the well revealed no surprise – a layer of ice, not TOO thick, but clearly still water in the well.

Donna plugged in the pump, and I could hear it trying to work against whatever blockage existed.

Halfheartedly I poured a warm stockpot of water onto the ice, deducing that the blockage had to be in the pipe where it passed through ice. Surely ice outside a pipe would mean ice inside?

Anyway, my wimpy warm water didn’t have any effect. I closed it up, and added a 100′ fishtape to our shopping list. That, and a tiny 800 watt Chinese generator I had seen at Tool Town. The previous attempt to start our generator had me pulling the starter cord 120 times. Not good for the generator, and certainly not good for my shoulders (well, maybe it would be good for them, if I considered it exercise, which I didn’t…). I knew that my charger only drew about 600 watts at the beginning of the charge, tapering down quickly after that. As long as Donna didn’t try to start the well pump or washing machine right after I started the small generator, things would be fine.

Donna and Mummu delayed their trip to town by one day, which was fine, and on sauna night I waited patiently for their return to retrieve my goodies.

It was too late to do anything that night, so we enjoyed family steam, Mummu’s pastries, Coronation Street, and then snuggled to bed.

The next morning, I retrieved the fishtape and generator, and, with Grandpa’s timely arrival, set to work. This time I think I accurately applied the V for victory sign, or maybe it reflected my second attempt at opening up the water line?

First I disconnected the water line 100′ up from the well. I was confident that the water line was frozen below this point. I was able to blow hard uphill, and Kenny reported that he heard and saw the small spray that came out inside the yurts.

I began feeding the fish tape down the water line towards the well. Talk about something ELSE not easy on the arms and shoulders… In any case, I managed to unwind about 97′ of the fishtape before encountering an obstacle. I guessed it was the elbow in the pipe, inside the well, and that the blockage was indeed where the pipe passed through the layer of ice.

Madly rattling the fishtape, I had Grandpa stationed at the open well, and he confirmed that to his ear, the end of the tape was at the elbow.

I returned to the yurts, grabbed two steaming kettles from the stove, and poured them carefully around the pipe. This is more difficult to do than you would suspect. The instant the first bit of boiling water hits the ice, the entire well fills with steam, and I have to just guess where to most efficiently pour the remainder.

I emptied the kettles, and then, using my genius system of yelling uphill through the well hose, screamed “O – N” into the pipe.

Nothing happened.

“O – N”.

Nothing happened.

“O! – N!”.

Nothing happened.

“O!!!!! – N!!!!! (gasp, gasp)

I heard the pump kick in, and listened carefully to the hose coming up from the well. I could hear ice tinkling inside, which was exciting. Then I heard water gurgling inside, which was more exciting. At this point, I realized that it was probably better to be patient and just watch the end of the hose, rather than holding it to my ear, current situation considered.

After a moment, a trickle, and then a flow of water! Yeah!

I reconnected, closed everything up, and Donna was back in the laundry business! I’m sure she was beside herself with joy. It was double joy too – she had brought back more than just a fishtape and generator – she also returned with another clean bill of health for our well. The second one! One more clean test and we are confident that we can drink our water! It would have been too cruel an irony that we get our clean test just when we can’t pump anymore.

I hooked up the generator, and it worked a treat for us. It finished off charging our batteries and was able to run most of the household appliances. We didn’t test the big one – the washing machine. That’s likely for today. Cross your fingers for us on that count. It was much quieter than the big one and much smaller (so I can just carry it to shelter when not in use, or even inside the yurts to briefly warm up if required…) It also is a smaller, two stroke engine (!) and thus can use the same petrol/oil mix that the chainsaw uses. I hope it’s a bit easier on fuel, being a smaller displacement and all.

Things have cooled off slightly overnight here, but it will remain to be seen if Grandpa says it is cold enough to return to the bush for firewood. We are back to burning slabs from the sawmill, so that means I need to cut more big trees so we can have longer lasting fires. I have been researching rocket mass heaters a bit lately, but am still not sure. They sound great, but there are also some reservations about burning softwoods in them, which puts me on the outs with the concept. If anyone has any experience or thoughts on the matter, I’d be all ears. We’re still in the design stages of the cabin, so it is a good time to incorporate things of that nature if desired.


3 thoughts on “Thawing a Frozen Water Line (Part Three of… let's not go there.)”

  1. I agree, and I'd extend it to cover all two stroke engines, not just those from generators. On the sliding scale from white to black, where most everything is grey, I'd say that running a two stroke engine to power your fridge and washing machine is further towards the acceptable end of the scale from the leaf blowers and dirt bikes of the world though.
    Regardless, this generator is mostly temporary until next summer when the cabin is built. I plan on double or tripling my solar array then, and hopefully that should wean me off of the generator as long as the sun co-operates :).
    Thanks for reading, and thanks even more for commenting!

  2. I like your blog and commend the challege and the balls it took to undertake. Just someone who feels all two stroke motors should be banned, now.


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