Welcome back. Everyone survive the turkeys and cranberries? PtP was moving a little slower in all the snow but happy to share with you again.
In his last post the author had some things to say about stoppages. And/But, he’s never sure what most readers would prefer more: the shortest possible, immediate dive to the hard truths or a rambling cornball infused story via plebeian spin. When nearly completing Stoppages the author rationalized: Well, it’s still a lot shorter than the one on choosing and installing basket strainers. Haven’t gotten any complaints for that one, yet. So, methought, this time, I’d take another chance. PtP has chosen to tell you about his discovering (at the time) a novel, highly promising (stoppage related) drain cleaning device; and, how much deep doo doo he promptly got himself into upon its first deployment.
Yes, this is that ‘funny’ story Pete so mercifully spared you from at the end of Stoppages. Like his father used to tell him: “Don’t finish your dinner? You know what’s for breakfast.” (Turkey and cranberries?!*#)
The author remembers how interesting some factory rep’s new display on a Will-Call counter appeared, even from way off. Closing the distance to the (perennial) big pink box of doughnuts (near), Pete could see the open, threatening maw and beady glowing blood-red eyes of an anaconda. It was rendered within the requirements for plausible. (As an adolescent the author used to catch and trade in snakes.) This scary dude’s head seemed to protrude off the top of a self-standing poster/display (near eye level). The printed background of the poster at first appeared to be a jungle scene. It made it look like the serpent was reaching right for you, menacingly, from inside a pipe. Then the author had to laugh. All the jungle trees and foliage were assemblages of cleverly rendered pipes and fittings, but so well executed that it could have come from Disney Studios.
A yellow plastic, faux bamboo tower-works, (cubby holes), rose up from the display’s base almost two-thirds of the way to Mr. beady eyes. This cubby rack was separated in the middle by a ‘waterfall’ of ‘tug free’ overlapping handbills mimicking a waterfall. In each cubby was a genuine Anaconda Industries Ltd., SA, PLC. Drain Serpent. Two sizes: one for 1&1/2-in. to 2-in. drains and another for 3 to 4 inch drain lines. The folding, full-color hand bill/brochure showed a handsome ‘thirty-something’ attaching a Drain Serpent to the end of a garden hose, then inserting it down a clogged shower drain. Also represented was a pair of hands, turning on a hose bib. Following this in an even bigger rendering, one saw a blast of brilliant, chrome-blue water obliterating a blockage (of undetermined origin) in the drain (smiling plumber in coveralls). (Next to was a smiling heroine in bath towel (ruby red lips). Did Pete read the whole brochure? Do men read instructions? “I’ll take one of each of these Richard.”
(The author was positively sure that some smart person/people had a dynamite idea and their invention was going to save PtP lots and lots of time.) (And his customers a lotta bucks.)
View From The Top
Manufacturers wrestle/hustle for the privilege of hawking their wares, under plumbers’ noses (on the Will-Call Counters of Wholesale Plumbing suppliers.) Those lucky-enough-to-be-there displays have served two purposes. During rush business hours it gives (hopefully) the impatient in line something to keep them entertained while awaiting their turn to belly up to. The second angle is (hopefully) the hand bill will leave with a customer and like dandelion seed blown from a stalk, end far and wide and possibly germinate a/an additional sale. (If the convincing artwork doesn’t end up a mashed mess on the floor of the cab under the brake pedal.) (Like so many perished in Pete’s rigs).
Homeowners and plumbers, alike, have historically tried or succeeded in introducing garden hoses into clogged drains. And, with pressurized water, many forced open blockages and flushed them. The author had carried several hose coils of different diameters and flexibilities just for this purpose. But now, according to this new jungle display advertising, ole Pete just had to stuff a properly sized Drain Serpent into an open San Tee branch or drain and turn on the hose bib! Yea! House Pressure Hydro Rules! Well when Pete did eventually try out a Drain Serpent, this wasn’t what really happened. That isn’t quite how it worked out. Two interrupting factors tripped him up. One was a topic briefly mentioned in the previous blogpost and another was a topic of much ink in Plumbing A House, neither of which pried their way into Pete’s consciousness, in time.
Any fly fisherpersons amongst the readership? If so, you then know how that newly tied/purchased/gifted ‘special fly’ (Lefty’s Deceiver?) can drive someone mad, waiting for “opening day” to be able to fish it? Well, that was sorta what Pete was feeling when he was anticipating using one or both of his newly acquired Drain Serpents in actual battle. Ohhhh, the agony. Following the purchase, for week in and week out: no stoppage calls. “This can’t be.” Well it was exactly that for a couple of months. (Pete should’a been really happy.) It’s not that PtP likes cleaning drains. He’d really prefer to have a one year minimum between calls. (This particular new Serpent itch however, having spent the months & money, and then hoping a call would soon vet his decision/conscience (for making the purchase), got more acute as time marched on.)
“All This Will Pass”. Yes. Thankfully, with its ever slow passage, the issue eventually lost its first place in concerns because of any number of other really pressing responsibilities, fully/always occupying the author’s ‘peripheral’ conscious state.
Now, at this ‘Drain Serpent introduction time’ of Pete’s career he reasoned there were still going to be needs/desires for all of the real ‘neat junk’ that presents to plumber’s in general, and expressly to Pete, through the trade. Things like 1890’s flash coil hot water heaters, piano’s, chandeliers, tools, welders, lathes, drill presses, appliances, bicycles, carved teak chests, antique lamps, antique radios, etc. etc. etc. Stuff people finally tired of hoarding for decades. All of a sudden it’s a: “…deduct $$ from your bill and please haul away.”
(The all time champion was Pete’s super/neat/great/wonderful/fabulous discovery he mentioned in his children’s tale: Pete And Coco Save The Day. It was so special that thinking about it gives him the jitters (pleasure).
Pete’s ‘corporation yard’ these years would have been a good film set. (“Sanford and Son”?) (And It was not without a little pride.) Then, the author used to cruise several local emporiums of ‘juntique’ just for the pleasure of it. Pete would occasionally spy articles of a plumbing nature that he could see benefiting one of his long time clients, and he would barter for it with items of his own ‘collection’ (meager by comparison). One such entity of the author’s jealousies was ‘Mack’s Antiques’. Mack had a 1/3 rd. block ‘gallery’ on a major thoroughfare in a prosperous business district. Mack and his wife and young son lived in a big Berkeley ‘Victorian’ on the corner of a leafy, ‘South Campus’ neighborhood. Pete and his wife Katherine also belonged, at the time, to the same babysitting co-op as that of Mack and his wife. To put it comfortably, Pete and Mack were “paisanos”.
On To The Eye Of The Storm
One Saturday morning the author’s office got an emergency drain clog call. Pete was on his usual stool at the Homemade Café. Every morning without fail, sometimes seven days a week, at 7:00 AM a double-latte would silently be placed before him, silverware and napkin were set, Shirley would ask: “The usual?” More often than not it would be a flirting-friendly: “Sure Lady.” But sometimes, Pete would ask for something not a menu item. He had some fantastic combos, like: four egg, Swiss, blue, guacamole, bacon, and pesto omelette, or six poached ‘swimming in Hollandaise’, with side of ‘sour dough’. Or, a crab/lox/pesto 4-scramble and toast. Also like clockwork five days of the week stoolmate ‘Dr. Fred’ (Conrad) (Toothman), would glide in fresh from a 2k meter sculling (Berkeley Rowing Club), order his fruit bowl, oatmeal, and double-order of brown bread toast, chuckle, and begin a story. He and Pete had exactly thirty-seven minutes to commiserate before Doc had to be heading for his office. The Good Old Days? You bet! The author would put his lunch-to-go order ‘in’ when Doc vacated his stool.
This was long before cell phones, though Pete had a beeper. Calls would be taken by wife Kay in the office and depending upon the nature and seriousness of the request, she would either deal with the client: notes that could wait until day’s end, or if a super pressing need arose, it was beeper time.
Pete hated having to slide off his breakfast stool and go get in his truck. How much coffee and coffee cake could one consume before it was impossible to hang any longer? Go it must be. Well, one particular Saturday the beeper beeped (terminated breakfast) and PtP checked-in. Kay’s reply: “Mack has a clog emergency. I told him I’d get you right away.” The news was what PtP had been waiting to happen. “Oh Man! Just maybe!” then flashed in the author’s brain. He could maybe use one of his new Drain Serpents! (And PtP with much ease was able to fit Mack into his schedule, mid-day.)
In a way, if the stoppage had to happen, this particular time was made for it: ‘Mrs. Mack’ and son were out of town. From the client’s front door the author followed his friend. “Oh Pete, thanks for coming. After doing breakfast dishes the sink wouldn’t drain.” And then, heading on to the kitchen: “Hey Pete, before you get going on unclogging the sink, got time for a cold one?” How could the author have replied no? After some small talk and the brew, in Pete’s cabeza, it was: Yes, this situation looked like the perfect application for a Serpent: soft foods scraps.
Mac’s Victorian house had ten-foot ceilings (with fancy shapes and symbols of antiquity, in zinc), tall, big, stained/wavy glass windows, and the kitchen was cavernous. The dining room (on the way to the kitchen) reminded the author of Hearst Castle: tapestries, opulent drapery, oriental rugs, columns supporting sculpture, long, carved sideboards, carved wine cabinets, gilt framed paintings, and large, elaborate, swinging doors to the target of our call, the kitchen and the offending sink drain.
Due to my client’s business acumen Mack was able to furnish his home to his liking, and it wasn’t modern, but all real cool (genuine) stuff like you’d see in old black and white movies. Mack’s sensitivities. The kitchen sink was a gorgeous cast iron, three-bowl wall-hung with legs. There were two really fine Chicago wall hung KS faucets. The continuous waste (“tubular”) for this sink was all 17 gauge with solid brass slip nuts. No ‘frick’n’ cabinet doors to have to mess with. Pete the Plumber thought he’d “be outta here in half an hour.”* This, thanks to his new assistants: The Serpents.
*The BEST EVER advice this fossilized plumber could give the world: Whenever assessing a plumbing repair and you hear/find yourself thinking (or being told): “I aught to be out of here in a half’n hour”, there’s an increased chance that that job could give you one or two ‘black eyes’. Talk to someone who has ‘been at it’ for decades and you’ll hear some real doozies (‘war stories’) to support the author’s claim. (Even publishable? by others?)
As PtP made clear in his website tale: “Me and Angie”, he had a ‘thing’ about hoses and in particular: garden hoses. Quality underwrites performance and longevity. Pete’s truck was well supplied with them. After perhaps an anemic assessment of the clog complaint Pete felt more encouraged to give the Serpents a go. So (fatefully) it was: “Eh Mack, I got just what we need for this job.” Pete casually coupled the necessary yardage of his onboard hose to span the distance from “the best” outside hose ‘bib’ (faucet with hose threads) and the San Tee under Mack’s kitchen sink. Upon the author’s request (for passage) Mack opened one of the swinging doors (and with the fancy bronze toe hardware for that duty) set the stop.
With hose lain at the ready and with the continuous waste out of the way, Pete, on his knees, inserted the Serpent into the San Tee’s breech. “O.K. Mack, you go and turn the water on and count to one minute and then shut it off.”
This Mack did. Pete then removed his Serpent and re-assembled the continuous waste and opened both the hot and cold on the wall hung faucets. Expecting a fast drain time, Pete was very pleased to witness the next thirty seconds or so. Then it was “Oh no/Oh boy, gotta do it again, for longer.” The water began climbing out of the basket strainers and forming pools in the bowls. Waiting several minutes, the water was once again “outta” sight. Reluctantly, once again, the author took down the “tubular” and re-inserted his Serpent and Mack was instructed to let the water run for a full five minutes before turning it off. On this second ‘time around’ Mack again stayed at his post, governed by his wrist watch. And, after this second ‘blast’ Pete then quickly re-assembled the tubular waste and resumed faucet flow for a second test. After a full minute, once again, the devil reappeared.
Egg On Face
At this juncture the author was sincerely embarrassed by the failure of his attacks and his choice of weapon. Thoughts of: “Should’a got ‘the 3/8ths’ (powered mechanical snake) instead” were now mocking. After several deep breaths and before he’d let himself totally surrender, the author decided to give it “one last shot”. “O.K. Mack, this time we’ll do it again and turn’er on and let ‘her’ run for twenty-minutes.” Which the two Paisanos did. Twenty minutes for waiting was a long enough spell for Mack to wanna “do the time” in the dining room: “ Hey Pete, while we wait, how’s about another cold one?”
This the author and his “paisano” did. At the twenty-minute mark though, the author was enjoying himself SO much that he decided to let the water go for a full half-hour instead (resulting in another, you guessed it: ‘cold one’). That, as following examples of applied physics proved, was not a good choice. The author and Mack had done their gossiping/imbibing at the dining room table. The ‘inducted to duty’ Dacron fabric reinforced, one-inch, all rubber, ‘contractor’s’ hose passed by and right up to a couple of chair legs. Upon the finally agreed time, Mack, back at his ‘station’ again, turned off the hose.
No! This Isn’t Happening!
Whoa!!!!!! Who would have thought! The instant Mack did what he was asked, Pete’s ‘reptilian hope’ (following a loud, soggy bang!) came jetting out of the drain, flying out from under the sink, landing with an ignominious thud five feet out on the kitchen floor.. .A horizontal, solid stream of water, 1½-inches in diameter shot out of the KS’s San Tee branch, and crossed the entire kitchen floor, airborne. It passed unopposed through the opened half of door way, and whence in the dining room chose to dive under the edge of the big luxurious carpet.
“Oh S**t !!!!! T’was TOTAL SHOCK! NUMBING… In a flash the opulent carpet appeared to come to life. As more water continued diving under, undulating woven waves lifted and fell as if squirrels were running all around underneath. The frilled edges were flashing on agitated waters. (This instant, plus one more previously mentioned in an upstream blog, were life influencing.) The water ran everywhere, into the living room and hallway too. The author’s immediate reaction (movement) remains an ‘unanswered’. (Same syndrome PtP experienced in Me and Angie.) This time, he just remembers awakening in terror and rushing around madly. Furniture to rescue, rolling soggy carpets, dropping drapes, fans, and hours and hours of floor squeegees. The water had even drained down the floor registers of the furnace and flooded it.
What caused the now shocked and humiliated Pete’s Serpent-failure, aside a good dollop of poor judgement? “Just soft food scraps?”
At the Root of the Problem
In conjunction with the author’s bad ‘call’ was what should have qualified as a ‘four letter word’:
roots. They proved the devil. As the author mentioned in Stoppages, at times, DWV clogs can form anywhere from San Tee branch to way downstream in the MBD (Main Building Drain). In Mack’s case the Sewer Lateral, outside the house was the culprit. It had been taken over with roots. The entire lateral was a mass of roots, finger to tiny. Mack’s breakfast food waste that morning was what broke the camel’s back.
PtP’s first two attempts using house-pressure water to clear what he thought was a branch line problem instead delivered and positioned the offending food scraps and then compressed them into enough filtering roots to stop almost all flow. The longer the author left the hose charged, the greater pressure he was applying to the clog, as the increasing water had nowhere to go but back higher up in the DWV system. With the waters increasing volume its weight also increased, applying ever more pressure on the weeping clog.
If the Serpent hadn’t blown outta the drain, every minute longer it ran would have proved more disastrous. With sufficient run time the water would have climbed high enough to have overflown the toilets and tubs. And, probably would have run on for some time before detection (compounding the water damage). (The accumulated energy in the laterals compressed root system may have even contributed to the power of the discharge?) A second black eye (as noted upstream) was having to service the furnace. Mack had an extensive ‘scorched air’ floor grill served system, with of course those of the fancy, Art Deco bronze kind. (Never before saw such fancy drains.)
What did PtP learn from this mistake of judgement and resulting disaster? Let Serpents reside in the wild, and/or stay in their vivariums. When a need arises: Stick to snakes of coiled steel…
Final Word (Thankfully, Eh?)
Quite interestingly, Pete and Mack remained paisanos for years following, until Mack and his wife retired to a villa in Italy.
With this tale told, the author would like to announce that he will now take a hiatus from his ‘In The Pipe’ missives. He has decided to pluck a couple of low-hanging, high priority Bucket List pleasures. (Having to do with fishing). However, thanks to our “electronic devices” PtP won’t be far off. Happy he’ll be to answer any questions through these marvelous technologies while he’s in the chase (and return even more grateful and ready to pick up the quill).
Remember, until next time: “No wooden nickels.”
Pete the Plumber
Peter Hemp is a San Francisco East Bay residential plumber and plumbing author and former R & D steam vehicle plumber. His hobbies are ocean kayaking and touring the Left Coast by bicycle.
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