In which we naively thought that if possession is nine tenths of the law, then 90 percent of our troubles ended when we became the proud possessors of a KX-41 excavator. What fools we were.
The next morning, David was up bright and early and ready to begin digging ditches. He spent a few minutes figuring out the controls, then drove the excavator off of the flatbed and over to where we wanted a ditch and started digging. And he dug, and he dug, and he dug. After awhile, I went down to see how he was doing. And he hadn’t gotten very far. So he turned off the excavator and we stood around and looked at the ditch from several different angles with our hands on our hips and discussed it for awhile and figured that “once he got out of the clay…” things would go faster. We repeated this process several times: dig, dig, dig, discuss, discuss, look, look, look, hands on hips, discuss, “you’ll get out of the clay soon…” Finally, it became patently obvious to both of us that David wasn’t EVER going to get out of that clay.
David dug with that excavator for 9 hours and we barely had 100 feet of ditch. Moreover, instead of getting OUT of the clay, it was getting worse. He finally reached a point where he would raise the bucket up, then pound it down…whump! Into the ditch, where he would begin dragging the bucket back and the excavator went “Eraaawwwk!” (Which based on many hours of scientific research watching Jurassic Park Movies is the noise that your average T-rex makes.) Anyway, this T-rex definitely sounded injured as he scooped the bucket along the bottom and up the leading edge of the ditch and pulled up… one teaspoon of dirt. And doing the math—letsee, feet of ditch dug divided by time, three teaspoons equals one tablespoon, carry the five, time left to complete ditches? Somewhere between forever and infinity. And since you rent the excavator by the number of hours on the meter, we stopped right there, rinsed off our poor injured T-rex and loaded it back on its trailer. The only consolation was that it allowed me to say my favorite worn out movie line one more time:
“We’re gonna need a bigger boat!”
Monday morning, David hauled the KX-41 back into town. (At least the road was finally open.) He called later to say that he had rented the KX-91 for the following weekend and that it weighed only 7100 pounds and hopefully the flatbed could handle that. And NOW you know why I want a flatbed trailer that can haul more weight: David, being your basic intelligent guy, had done the math. GVWR minus weight of trailer equaled something like 7800 pounds, so theoretically it should work right? I, on the other hand, had done the “real world” math which involved hauling hundreds of bales of hay using the trailer and I can tell you pretty definitively that that particular trailer maxes out at somewhere around 6000 to 6500 pounds of loaded weight. In fact, it positively creaked and groaned under the 60 bales of hay I was carrying each load.
So after all that “saving the money…being the guy…doing it ourselves…” talk, we ended up paying a boatload of money to have the KX-91 delivered, in addition to the rental fee, in addition to the money we had already spent renting the KX-41 for 9 hours. Now I don’t have a clue how much our local backhoe guy would have charged us for the job, so maybe we saved money in the long run anyway. I certainly DON’T plan to “do the math” on that one. I figure I’m entitled to my little fantasy. In the end, the KX-91 did get the job done.
Of course, the job got a little technical as we got closer to the corrals. David realized that once he dug the ditch across the road, he couldn’t use the road or maneuver the excavator at all without falling into the ditch he had just dug, so he had to stop and lay pipe in that section, then fill it back in so that he could drive on it before proceeding into the corral area.
I wasn’t able to help because, naturally it was homecoming. I was busy doing my part trying not to get run over by homecoming floats at halftime while simultaneously trying to keep them (the drivers of the floats) from running over any sprinkler heads or spectators or encroaching on the sacred and hallowed ground which is the football field. After wrangling the floats onto the field, I got to sprint back to the sideline in time to organize flowers and crowns before the floats made it around the field all the time praying that none of the girls would accidentally go splat while attempting to step down from the float wearing a tight little dress and impossibly high heels. It all went well, but you can see why it was actually a relief to return home and find the property all torn up with ditches and holes and piles of dirt all over the place.
To install the waterers, it was necessary to dig about 400 feet of ditches and two large holes. The holes had to be deep enough to add 18 inches of gravel in addition to the 3 or more feet of waterer and about 6 feet in diameter. One of those holes had to be long enough to install two waterers. The main ditch came in straight from the well area to the corrals, and then we made a ditch that T’d off the end of the main ditch where the waterers would be installed. We also dug a small side ditch in order to install spigots for both hot and cold water at the corrals. I had rearranged the pipe corrals to give us room to work while keeping the horses safely penned up away from the ditches.
It all sounds simple until you realize that there was NO ROOM TO WORK! You couldn’t maneuver a large piece of equipment in that small an area without hitting a pipe corral, a horse shelter, a tree or the perimeter fence. I pitched in by helping glue some more pipe, then jumping on the tractor and filling in that section of ditch. This involved scooping dirt off of the piles David had made in creating the ditch which were invariably under a tree or right next to the fence where you couldn’t get at them. The most frustrating pile was located in the perfect place to simply push back into the ditch, EXCEPT I couldn’t get the tractor into position on the other side of the pile. So first, I pecked away at the edges that I could reach until I thought I could sort of get by. Next, I had to back over the pile since there wasn’t room to turn around on the other side. I backed slooooowly with one tire on the ground and the other going up over the pile, tipping the tractor over at a frightening angle farther and farther and keeping the bucket down for balance until I finally got scared to go any further. Then I gingerly hopped out of the tractor and even more gingerly dug at the pile behind the tractor tire until I was pretty sure the tractor would untip as I backed it further. Then I ever so cautiously climbed back on the tractor and continued to back slowly until I felt safe again. Whew! Then I gleefully pushed the pile back into the ditch.
While I was triumphing over the giant pile of dirt, David was off digging even more ditch. We alternated digging, gluing and filling back in for the rest of the day and well into Sunday. (Did I mention that I “got” to chaperone the homecoming dance Saturday night too?—uggh!) The digging got technical again where we had to join in to existing waterlines down by the well. David seemed to be trying to answer the question “I don’t know… how many times CAN you hit the water line and break it?” (I think the answer was four—not sure.)
But by the end of the day, we had water coming out of pipes at the corrals (intentionally), even if they (the pipes) weren’t, technically, connected to anything yet. We had our holes and ditches dug and now all we had to do was tap into the well for the hot water line (we have a hot well), buy and install a spigot for the hot water (the old one we planned to use had given up the ghost), dig out the waterers, put landscape cloth down, put in the waterers, connect them up, cover with a protective sleeve, backfill with pea gravel, fill in the holes, fill in about 300 feet of ditch, and reassemble the corrals. Egads! Once again, a simple plan had gone and complicated itself while we weren’t looking. To add to the fun, the weather guessers were predicting possible freezing temperatures later in the week and the last thing we needed was to have any of our new pipes freeze and burst!
We spent the next few nights scurrying around using shovels trying to get enough dirt over our precious new pipes to prevent freezing and trying to figure out how to get the silly waterers to work. Remember how we stored them for about two years? Turns out that might not have been the best idea. Or perhaps we should have stored them in a slightly more pristine environment than a three sided shed? Perhaps we’ll use a hermetically sealed bank vault next time! When we removed them from their gnarled and decomposing boxes we found that the inevitable Nevada winds coupled with a less than ideal environment of desert mixed with dried out horse poop had managed to breech the boxes and infiltrate every possible nook and cranny of each device. I hooked them up and began testing and found out that none of them worked! We spent the next two or three nights disassembling, flushing, scrubbing, flushing some more, reassembling, redisassembling, etc… until we had them all in working order.
After that, we would put them into the ground, surround with landscape paper (to protect the drain field) put on the protective sleeve, and… oh, yes, the protective sleeve… We had thought to buy some 18 inch PVC sewer pipe. We needed three sections about 3 feet long each. So David called the local plumbing supply and found that for some inexplicable reason PVC type sewer pipe is outrageously expensive. So we got the corrugated metal kind which was about a third the price. And I know what the horse people among you are thinking right now—EDGES! AAARRGGHHH! I had the same thought. The answer was to get old tires from Schwab and slide them over the waterers to cover the edges. But first we had to get the sewer pipe. I honestly don’t remember why David didn’t just pick them up one day, but they were to be delivered. There was some interesting back and forth over the phone about delivery—I think the plumbing supply company was a wee bit confused about our actual location in relation to the rest of the Planet Earth. In the end, I came home one day to find three nicely cut sections of sewer pipe sitting on a pallet all wrapped up like a Christmas basket in a straight jacket with that stretchy plastic stuff. They were sitting in the sagebrush by the side of the road about a mile from the house. They were, however, only about 20 yards from the Nighthawk Ln. sign, so A for effort, right? The next night, I spent a lot of time with a grinder seeing how many shards of metal I could embed in my arms and face trying to get the edges just a little less sharp.
So the process went something like: hook up the waterer, check to see that it works, check that it’s not leaking, check to see that it works again, level it, landscape cloth, check to see that it still works, pick up sewer pipe, put it back down and try to figure out how in the world to get it over the top of the waterer without falling into the hole, pick it back up and sort of fling it over the waterer, carefully pour bucketsful of pea gravel in between the sleeve and waterer, carefully shovel dirt into the hole to anchor the landscape paper, check level on waterer, check to see that it still works, add enough scoops of dirt to anchor the waterer, check level on waterer, get on the tractor and fill in the hole trying not to hit the waterer or the fence or any of the other waterers with either the front or back of the tractor, stop the tractor and cover the waterer with a plastic garbage bag because you forgot to, back on the tractor to finish filling the hole, check to see if the waterer works just one more time, and voila! You’re sort of done!
Eventually, we managed to get it all done. We still have random piles of dirt in inaccessible places that I guess I’m going to have to remove by hand at some point, but the waterers work and we now have hot and cold running water at the corrals instead of 300 feet away which nicely eliminates a lot of garden hose stress. And almost without exception, the waterers have performed as promised.
The only exception was Max. I came out on the first 0o morning to find Max’s water bowl full of nicely solidified ice. Hmmm… That’s not supposed to happen. So the first order of business was to get it thawed out. Oh, wait! I now have a hot water line to the corral! It only works when you are pumping water directly out of the hot well, so first I fired up the generator and got the well pump running. I thawed out the bowl with running water, but it still wouldn’t drain, so we removed the top of the unit and pulled out the guts and ran hot water over the drain pipe until it thawed out too. Then we tried to reassemble the thing and it fought back like an octopus on steroids. The “flexible” hose they use to join the incoming water source to the valve/drainpipe assembly is about as flexible as I am after running a marathon. We fussed and fumed and swore at it and finally got it into place, but weren’t really happy about how it had gone together. We were so relieved, though, that we just screwed the top back down and called it good.
In the meantime, we had the well pump running to fill the water tank. I realized that that was where the freezing problem had originated. You see, we pump our water out of the ground manually up to a storage tank. We originally priced a system which would run on solar power and top off the tank each day and then decided against taking out a third mortgage! So once a week, we fire up the generator and fill the tank. I now know that if the outside temperature decides to take an arctic plunge, I need to pump water sooner to keep the tank from getting so cold. The warm water from the well thaws the tank (where I’ve seen up to 4 inches of ice layered on the inside during really cold snaps) and the amount of water in the tank gives it enough thermal mass to keep it from freezing back up for a few days. Anyway, the water was so cold that when Max drank it, it couldn’t drain out fast enough to stop it from freezing. Max also seems to like filling the bowl all the way up as he drinks, so this habit probably meant there was more water there to freeze.
Which is what caused our second problem with the waterers—Max again! Sometime in March, I noticed that Max’s corral seemed to be pretty wet. After a few days, we had a respectable swamp going. I thought Max had found a new hobby—playing with the paddle and flooding the corral! After a couple of days, I got worried about the water level in the tank and, sure enough, we were down to less than 100 gallons. I pumped water until 11:00 that night. So we started brainstorming ways to outsmart a water loving horse. I e-mailed BarBarA and asked them if they had any suggestions and they sent a picture of a barrel someone had rigged up so that the horse had to put its head inside the barrel to drink out of the waterer. Caution and claustrophobia would keep the horse from standing there with his head in a barrel holding the paddle down. That Saturday, I dragged a plastic barrel up to the garage and cut the bottom out. Then I threw it in the truck and hauled it down to the corral to see if the hole I was planning to cut out would seem like it would work.
When I got to the corral, Max was just finishing a drink. He then walked away from the waterer… and it kept running… on its own… no horse required. And as we disassembled the device for the second time, it hit us. It wasn’t Max. We were the ones who had screwed it up. Basically, the hose was turning in the direction opposite of the way it should turn, so was interfering with the on/off valve. David had fought with it when he originally hooked it up, then given up when he thought it was good enough to work, but we’d made it worse when we put it back together after it froze. We still couldn’t figure out how to win the battle of the inflexible hose short of training weasels to scamper around in there and chew through the tie wraps we needed cut. The problem was that the tie wraps were at the bottom of the unit, 5 feet down and the whole unit was now embedded 3 feet into the ground. Cutting the tie wraps to allow us to try and wind it the other way was the only way we could think of to fix it. We even tried to duct tape a set of wire cutters to two broom handles–which was entertaining, but didn’t work. Finally, David was able to use a 6 foot rock bar and a hammer and break the tie wrap connections so that we had a little better movement with the unit.
Once we had it loose, we spent about half an hour fighting with the waterer and each other trying to get it to work. The octopus was winning! Finally, David did this weird zen/karate kid thing where he stood and moved his hands and visualized what he needed to do, then he went over to the waterer and just spun it into place. It was pretty cool, and the best part is that it worked. So the bottom line is that I may want a heavier duty flatbed trailer and a bigger tractor wouldn’t go amiss, but I’m pretty good with the husband I’ve got!
Since then, the water system has worked with absolutely no problem. After we thawed it out, we had several more really frigid mornings and it never froze again. I suspect we’ll need to disassemble and clean the waterers once a year to keep them in good working order. We’re getting pretty good at taking them apart now, and as long as Zen Boy is around, they should go back together nicely. And next time we have a bad cold snap, I’ll pump water twice a week and make sure the tank stays thawed. Now I think I’d better go give Max about a dozen cookies to make up for giving him such a bum rap!