What a week!

Brian Harry

Every year, on the farm, I pick a few “big” projects to do.  Earlier this year I built cattle handling facilities.  I’m also building goat fencing – and if you think that’s a small feat, you just haven’t been around goats.  A friend of mine says if a giraffe can’t get over it and water can’t get under it, it will hold goats 🙂 But I digress.  My big project for this summer is getting water out to all of our fields for the cows.  For the past several years, we’ve been using hoses.  I have over 1,000 feet of hoses and every week I have to drag them to a new field (cows have to move fairly frequently).  This makes what ought to be a 15 minute exercise into an hour long one, at least.  So , I set out to run underground, permanent water lines out to all of my pastures.  For most of them I’m just putting in frost free hydrants but for my winter pasture, I’ll be putting in an underground waterer that the cows can drink from even when it’s well below freezing. All told, it’s probably about 3,500 feet of underground water lines, broken up into 3 disjoint sections.  This week I undertook the largest of the 3 sections.  I rented a trencher on Friday and, over 4 days, trenched about 2,700 feet.  Trenching is a slow process – especially in the rocky soil I have.  I’d guess that, on average, I was able to trench about 3 feet per minute; divide that into 2,700 and realize how much time I spent behind that trencher :).  I laid the same amount of PVC pipe, laid almost 2,000 feet of 10-2 wire and installed 11 frost free hydrants.  I’m tired and sore 🙂  As of 8:00 last night, I finally got all of the bugs worked out and was able to move the cattle into one of the newly irrigated pastures and let them drink. It was, by no means an event free process.  I started trenching about 11:00am on Friday.   By late afternoon (about 4:00), I had my first mishap – the chain came off the trencher.  Now this is no small chain.  It weighs at least 100lbs.  After calling the rental company to figure out which bolts had to be loosened and fighting with it for about 2 hours, I finally got the chain back on and continued trenching until about 8:00pm.  I started again first thing Saturday morning and my mid afternoon had the second mishap – the trencher just up and died.  I couldn’t restart it.  After some diagnosing, I concluded that it had overheated and I checked the oil – it was nearly empty.  Off to the store (all told I, or someone for me, made at least 8 trips to the store :)).  I refilled the oil, lubricated all the joints and let the machine cool down.  About an hour later, I was able to restart it and finish out the day.  My last mishap – started yesterday and is still unresolved is that the cap on the top of the gas tank on the trencher started leaking.  I’m not sure why it has lost it’s seal but I was able to finish the last little bit without losing too much gas so I haven’t diagnosed it yet. Once the trenching was done we got to laying pipe.  If you’ve ever done plumbing then you know that was the source of many of my trips to the store.  Inevitably you forget or miscount fittings and you never seem to have what you need (or the store doesn’t have enough of them).  2,700 feet in 20 ft sections of pipe, with 11 spigots is a whole lot of PVC gluing.  Once we got everything put together and turned the water on (it takes a while to fill 2,700 feet of pipe by the way), we found two “bugs”.  At one end of the pipe the water started to run for a few seconds and then stopped and no more would come.  I knew it had to be some kind of blockage but before I could work on it, we needed to inspect the rest of the line.  At the other end we found water gushing out all over the ground – and filling the trench.  Upon inspection, we found a joint had been dry fit and forgotten and never got any glue.  The water pressure blew it apart.  Run back half a mile and turn the water off at the well 🙂  Dry everything off and a little glue and it’s good to go.  Now back to the other end to figure out why the water wouldn’t flow.  I really didn’t want to cut the PVC if I didn’t have to so I started by unscrewing the hydrant from the PVC.  As soon as the hydrant came out (and water came gushing out – did I mention how much water 2,700 feet of pipe holds?), I could see the problem.  I huge wad of grass was stuck in the end of the hydrant.  Some of the 1.5” pipe that I used was left over from my orchard irrigation project and I’m pretty sure a mouse built a nest in it.  That’s what ended up in the end of my hydrant.  A bit of lung exercise to blow the grass back out of the hydrant and just just screw it back in (while water was still gushing out :)) and all was well. Now the system fully works – no leaks and all I have to do is refill 2,700 feet of trench 🙂  Last night I filled about 500 ft – just enough that I could put cows in the pasture and not have them fall in the trench and break either their leg or my pipe.  I’m back at my normal job now but over the next few days I’ll be working in the evening to get the trench refilled and figuring out how I’m going to schedule doing the remaining (about 800 ft) of pipe. It’s always amazing how much longer this stuff takes than you think.  I originally planned 3 days for 2 of the 3 sections.  I took 4 days and didn’t even quite finish one section.  Oh, and did I mention, I’m tired and sore?  It’s good to be back at work for a little while.  My body can recover a bit 🙂



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