It’s been said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. It could also be said that the belly flop off a high dive begins the same way, and that’s why today’s tool is the pipe cutter.
When I was a little snot, and indeed we all were at some point, one of the bathrooms in my family’s house began to lose hot water pressure. Upon investigation, my father deemed that the issue was a small, but terminal (for the pipe anyway) patch of corrosion around the joints in the pipes from the hot water heater. The entire line would need to be replaced soon due to the corrosion.
Now, there may be folks who would call a plumber to take care of this sort of thing, and for some that might be well advised. We weren’t that family though. My folks were the kind to buy a house, turn it into a home, and then move on when the time came. If my father really needed the help, which he rarely did, he had the option of turning to my mom or my older siblings. This time however, my sibs had moved on to their own houses so he turned to me, the youngest.
On the next available Saturday, with ample time to work after declining his weekly 2 PM tennis game, my father enlisted my help. After breakfast dad began assessing the situation to me and going over the tools involved. (Sort of a precursor to the MANVIL cards) The first forty minutes of the project included learning the requirements to complete the task, and a quick lesson on soldering and pipe cutting. With the wheels set in motion, and the water system turned off, he handed me a tape measure. Grabbing a small notebook and a pencil, he prepared to ask me for dimensions.
As we both looked into the dark, dirt covered crawlspace underneath the house that held the workings of the plumbing from the hot water heater to separate parts of the house, I paused. My father had once been hospitalized by an enormous centipede bite, so we were both kind of cautious about diving into the dark. My dad looked at the dark passage, looked at me, and nodded. “You should be good, centipedes like warm places, it’s kinda cold a barren in there.” Just then, my mom chimed in that there was a call for my father. With a quick shrug and a roll of his eyes he wandered upstairs to get the call. “I’ll be right back” he said.
I decided not to wait. I crawled through the basement access door under the house with a flashlight, the measuring tape on my belt and a small notebook stuffed into the pocket of my old “Hang Ten” tee. Wriggling on my back over the dirt, between the cold dark dirt and the 60 year old redwood floor joists I was able to shimmy out to the rotting ell joint that turned the pipes up into the bathroom. The place was confined, and a bit chilly for Hawaiian standards, but not too bad to get a round in.
As my eyes adjusted to the unusual combination of refracted sunlight and flashlight glow I began measuring the length of the pipes. I marked lengths and measured, made notes and slowly crabbed my way back to the light of the basement. When I got back through the access door to the crawlspace I dusted myself off a bit, grabbed the pipe-cutters and crawled back in to get the old pipes out.
With little real effort, but a lot of awkward maneuvering in tight spaces, I was able to get the old steel pipes separated and ready for removal. They were badly rusted at the joints, and in fact the ell that had elbowed the pipe up into the bathroom failed completely when I applied pressure to it. We had evidently chosen the right weekend to do the job. The pipes and their pieces were corralled and eventually dragged to the basement. As I cut the pipes down to be thrown away for scrap my father returned from his phone call. It had been work related, and he wasn’t excited about the intrusion on his spare time. (It should be noted that ‘mobile phones‘ at the time were only owned by the government, hotel magnates and the cartels)
“You’re done measuring?” he asked, with some concern in his eyes.
“Yeah, I think so.” I replied, not sure what I possibly could have missed. I offered up my notes in order for him to verify that I’d covered my bases.
He studied my numbers for a bit, scratching his chin and furrowing his brow in attention. His focused eyes arose with a kind of bemusement.”Well, alright. Let’s go to the store and get what we need, and maybe we can wrap this up before dinner.” It was about 10:30 AM.
After the quick trip for copper pipe, welding material, a series of pipe fittings and more gas for the torch we were back in the basement in an hour. As we unpacked and I organized the material, my dad re-approached my notes and did a bit of mental math in his head. He shrugged, smiled and shook his head while smiling in a sign of agreement. He then excused himself and wandered out to help my mom with gardening as I set to work placing and soldering pipes before their installation.
Within an hour, with the pipes soldered and installed, I was ready to subject my project to a pressure test. My dad was as anxious for success as I was, partially for the fix, but I also suspected he would be able to make his tennis game if there was success with the plumbing. As I watched for leaks from under the house, dad cautiously turned the water back on and yelled for my mom to turn on the sink. I could hear the water in the pipes as it first passed over me in towards the bathroom.
As we tried putting stress on the system, none of us saw any signs of failure. I reviewed every joint under pressure, and without pressure. The entire system worked without a hitch, and every joint was dry. It was 1:30 PM. If he’d hustled, my dad could have made his tennis game. Instead, the three of us went to lunch at the beach, which was pretty cool, but not as cool as hearing my dad say I’d done a good job. I got lucky on the start of my journey.