All’s well

Of all the essential infrastructure that we take for granted — I’m including Taylor Swift here — perhaps none is more important than soft water.

I’m among those who says a prayer of thanks every time I turn the tap and water comes out. This is because running water wasn’t always a part of my life.

The farmhouse where I grew up lacked running water until I was 5 years old. I was potty trained in a privy, which, during the bitter winter months, teaches one the value of such things as focus and expediency.

When indoor plumbing was finally installed in our house, water was drawn from an ancient underground cistern. The cistern was replenished by rainfalls that were often sporadic. Cistern water was a precious commodity.

All eight of us kids used the same bathwater for our weekly baths and frivolous toilet flushing was frowned upon. My family were the Ebenezer Scrooges of water use.

The farm had a well that had been hand-dug by my homesteading ancestors. Its square concrete casing was topped with a conglomeration of rickety planks that served as a platform for a clattering old pumpjack that supplied water for our livestock.

We would drop pebbles through gaps in the planks and listen for the distant, echoing kerplunk. It took forever for the pebble to make a splash. Thinking about the possibilities made us shiver.

Dad told me that wells could contain dangerous gases that seep in from the earth. He said that well diggers of yore would check for “bad air” by lowering a lit lantern or a trussed-up chicken in a bucket down the hole. If the lantern went out or the chicken went silent, it likely wasn’t safe down there.

The farmhouse where my wife and I live had a cistern system when we purchased the place 40 years ago. One of the first things we did was hire Torgrude Well Drilling to bore a well.

There are folks who can witch for water, but I’m not one of them. I have tried, and it appears that don’t have the gift. The well guys simply selected a convenient spot near the house and began to drill. At 90 feet the drill bit hit a water-bearing seam of glacial gravel. The well guys said that the seam contains all the water we will ever need.

As soon as the new well pressurized our pipes we began to indulge in such luxuries as flushing the toilet with impunity and taking long, hot showers. But all was not well with our well.

My wife learned the hard way that our water is extremely hard. She used bleach while doing laundry and it resulted in permanent rust stains on the clothing. We either had to do something about this situation or wear clothes that made us look like a tinman.

I called a water softener guy who offered a free water analysis. We were informed that each gallon of our water contains approximately the same amount of iron as a horseshoe.

The water softener guy — surprise! — recommended that we install a water softener. We followed his advice and our water quality improved markedly.

Nothing is free. We’ve paid for our softened water in the form of bags of salt that were lugged down the basement stairs and dumped into the brine tank. The only good thing I can say about this chore is that it’s all downhill.

Slowly, imperceptibly, our water quality began to decline. This despite the fact that the water softener consumed salt like a famished sumo wrestler at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

A web search revealed that water softeners generally last about 15 years. So, thirty-some years was a bit of a stretch.

I went to a home improvement megastore and purchased a new unit. I decided to install the softener myself.

After all, how hard could it be?

It simply involved a couple of water lines and a brine pickup hose.

Removing the old softener was a snap, mainly because it involved the use of a hacksaw. Installing the new softener also went smoothly. That is, until I pressurized it.

The brine hose connection had a small leak. Not a big deal in the scheme of things, but annoying nonetheless.

I went to our local farm supply store’s plumbing section and puzzled over their selection of brass fittings. It took some mental calisthenics, but I managed to concoct a solution to the leak. This proved to be an extremely satisfying part of the experience.

All is well with our well water. My only concern now is that lugging fewer bags of salt down into the basement will make me soft.

— Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at http://Workman.com and in bookstores nationwide.


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