Great moments in building history: Maps? Who needs them?
I come from a long line of know-it-alls. Consider Grandpa. At 17, he thought he knew a better way to extract stubborn tree stumps from the tough glacial till of northern Wisconsin. While others were breaking their backs digging and their horses’ backs pulling, Grandpa was busy in his backyard lighting dynamite.
At the start of the 20th century, this method of stump removal was common in rural areas, but it meant carefully proportioning the ratio of dynamite to stump girth. Of course, Grandpa knew all about that. But he had to hightail it to upstate New York when an extremely difficult stump removal left shell-shocked neighbors picking up scattered dishes and shards of glass from shattered windows.
If some traits skip a generation, then I submit that the know-it-all-do-it-yourselfer gene is among them. We afflicted ones know our way around a toolbox, but we consider seeking advice or reading directions tantamount to waving a white flag. Inevitably, a pivotal series of missteps makes this character flaw as obvious as a smashed thumb. For me, that moment arrived as a loud gurgling of air greeted me from the water faucet in our older home one morning.
The well pump had blown. To change that compact, stainless-steel workhorse dangling from a pipe that could be buried hundreds of feet beneath the lawn, I first would have to find it. Modern wells have an access pipe that sticks up from the lawn. My well is not modern. The well “head” is about 5 ft. down, unmarked, with a supply line that runs into our basement.
I enthusiastically engaged in the task of replacing the pump myself. Following the path of the supply line from the basement would be a surefire way to locate the well head, I figured. I carefully set the topsoil aside in one pile. Then I excavated the subsoil sand and rocks to other piles directly over the path of the pipe, as it happened, because it took a 90° turn that I didn’t know about. After about three hours of digging 10 ft. of trench 4 ft. deep and tracking the pipe away from the basement, I had not found the well head. Of course, I knew it was just a matter of time. And of digging up plants and dirt.
At about this moment, my wife produced a map left by our home’s previous owner. The map depicted the well as a small square 10 ft. to 15 ft. from the northeast corner of the garage, alongside the driveway, about 80 ft. from the house. I considered this information as would any fully committed, know-it-all do-it-yourselfer: extraneous. Maps? Who needs them?
The next morning, I proceeded to extend the trench by 8 ft. in the general direction of the garage before I lost the pipe as it inexplicably turned and burrowed deeper at a severe angle. I tunneled on. After 3 ft., the pipe’s downhill slope persisted. I began losing interest in crouching at the bottom of a narrow pit whose crumbling sand walls would muffle my shouts for assistance after the cave-in. I debated acquiring a shovel with a longer handle. I wished I had bought that used backhoe I saw for sale. I was tired, and dishes were piling up in the sink, in the dishwasher, and on the counter. I had spent half the weekend with a shovel and had no well pump to show for it. It was getting dark. Reluctantly, I gathered my rake, shovel, ax, geologist’s pick, and flashlight and relocated to the little square on the map. I found the cement well-head box in about 14 minutes.
Painfully, sheepishly, humbly, I hunkered down at the counter of the local plumbing-supply store. I learned about voltage, wiring, well-head seals, two-wire vs. three-wire pumps. I turned into a knowledge-acquiring-do-it-yourselfer. I carefully replaced the pump. It is still pumping today. And, however loath I am to admit it, I now read directions and maps first.
Drawing by: Jackie Rogers