Most folks take their water supply for granted. In the city you can simply turn on the spigot and water pours out, hot or cold. Take a shower or wash the dishes. The toilet flushes. Bye-bye, swirling turd! The waste water drains through the pipes into a municipal sanitary sewer system with never a thought about where it goes from there. Indoor plumbing is a modern convenience most urban and suburbanites take for granted. In rural and remote areas it’s not that simple.
Since my country bunker is located barely within the Valpo city limits we enjoy the luxury of a municipal well and sewer system. Outside the limits all homes need a well and septic system, most of which are installed by professionals.
While on a trip to help install a pier and shore station at a friend’s lakeside cabin in Michigan on Monday morning the bro and I were greeted with that “we have a well problem” smile. After two decades of enjoying clean, clear well water the rustic lakeside cabin well became clogged. The lowest section of the well, called the well point can be treated with conventional treatments when clogged by mineral deposits but those had all failed. The only solution was to drill or drive a new well. Drilling alone costs over $3000 if installed by a professional with power drilling equipment. Driving a well cost $250 in pipe, connectors, pipe dope and raw labor. It’s a simple solution but one that requires time and muscle. I had no idea what we were in for. Our host and his buddy are both past sixty and in no condition to drive a well so out of kindness and gratitude for many fishing trips we enjoy at the cabin we were committed to driving the well for them.
I am three years past working out in a gym daily with free weights. Out of shape big time, I saw this as an opportunity to begin a new workout regimen since the muscle soreness from driving the new well would go beyond the first strength training session after a long gym absence. We would be lifting, curling, twisting and moving large weights and heavy pipe in many positions for hours. I was so busy there was no time to take photos.
The task at hand required pounding a well point (30 feet deep in this case) into the ground backed up by lengths of 1 1/4 “ galvanized pipe in five foot sections connected by screw on connectors. A well point is the pipe with a spiked tip below a hollow perforated galvanized pipe section lined with a fine metal mesh to keep out the dirt and sand. This is the object that allows the natural aquifer to supply the water source for the well pump.
I had a notion on how a well worked but this was going to be a first hand lesson.
In professional drilled wells a larger pipe is lowered into a pre-drilled hole and the pump sits inside the pipe. For our rustic, backwoods well we would pound the pipe 30’ into the soil. The pump resides above ground in an outbuilding along with the holding tank. From there it is piped into the cabin through an underground supply line.
If a well is to be drilled specialized power equipment does the job easily creating a deep hole in which the pipe is lowered into. Driving a well means using a 3-5’ rod that fits snugly within the well point and pipe. On top of the rod is a 50lb. weight and on top of that is a t-shaped joint with 90 degree pipes as handles. It was a borrowed homemade tool. The rod is placed into the drill point and by lifting the driver and dropping it into the well point the pipe is driven into the soil. Each drop drives the well point anywhere from 1/4" to 1” deep. Do the math. Lifting a 50lb weight and letting it go is work, hard work. Standing on top of a picnic table creates an awkward leverage position for lifting 50 lbs. especially when the lifting point constantly changes. as the section of pipe gets driven further we climbed off the picnic table to finish driving it at ground level.
All in all it took three hours to pound enough pipe to reach the aquifer. The second day we connected the well pipe to the pump. Nothing cold about a well digger’s azz. I was sweatin’ with the oldies that played on a nearby radio. It felt good to work hard.
Fortunately, one friend had prescription painkillers (darvocet), which made the day after tolerable but I am aching today without them.
It was an education for me but after all was said and done, it was a very rewarding experience. I’ll tell you what, if we ever show up and he greets us with a “we have a septic tank problem” smile, I am turning around and heading home.