Thursday’s forecast was warm. Today was even warmer but in case this turned into a major repair, I wanted to have Friday as a back up day. At about 9:31, the backhoe came down the drive way and we went to the back of the cabin.
The dogtrot has a bisecting deck that extends 24 feet to the west and 10 feet to the east. The water line, on the east side, splits near the north end of the big cabin, and then wraps around the shorter deck and to the little cabin.
Because the ground is still frozen at the surface, approximately 24 degrees, even with the backhoes’ stabilizers and the front bucket down on the ground, the backhoe still slid sideways as it began to break the ground. The frozen earth looked more like pieces of shale than soil as they were scooped and dumped.
In time, the first hole was nearly 3 – 4 feet deep, and 6 – 8 feet long. Russel, the contractor who is by far the best digger and linesman in the area, got out two to three times and probed the softer deep earth for the water line. And not finding it was a good thing.
We now had about 20 feet between the hole and where we estimated the line rejoined the main line back to the street. Russel moved the back hoe and as I watched from in front of him, began to scrape at the frozen ground.
On the third scrape, which just a few inches of soil removed from the surface, I waved him off to stop digging. In front of me was an amazing sight: a severed waterline, frozen, sticking out of the ground. It was now 10:04, less than 30 minutes after we started digging.
Water pressures in the earth can do interesting things. Poorly placed septic tanks can surface in hard rains, caskets can be un-earthed in the right – er – wrong conditions. And the water line had floated to nearly the top of the trench.
In hind sight, Russel explained and I remembered, he had changed plans when we lay the lines originally.
A year ago in April, when we burried the lines, we started a day early because there were few other sites where his crew could work. It was wet and sloppy. As they did the prep work on the site, all was well, but as they started to use the wheel driven trencher, it took nearly 2 hours to lay 20 or 30 feet. So the crew left and came back the next day with a track driven trencher and finiched the job.
The smaller trencher — while still digging a 5 foot deep trench, made a narrower cut in the ground. The narrower cut did not fill with dirt the way the wider trench did and with a very wet spring and early summer, the line worked its way to the surface.
The gallery below includes images of the repair and the solid tube of ice that blocked the water line.
There are some lessons to be learned. It always pays to hire local experts rather than brining in your own from far away. Local people know local conditions. I had piece of mind knowing that since the conventional fixes to frozen pipes wer enot working, something was indeed out of the ordinary. Having the trust in Russel made it easier to call him for help. Preparation is still part of the planning. And while it didn’t matter in this case, I’ve made some plans to adjust how the water lines enter the cabins as soon as it thaws and we can dig more easily.