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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

That’s Funny. ‘Disastrous Ersatz Rube Goldberg Clusterfarge’ Is the Name of My Little River Tribute Band. But I Digress

Please note: We’re working on the plumbing today, but if any welding projects turn up, my able assistant Sophia is standing by, wearing all the protective equipment she’ll need to help me out. Actually, she may require even less than that to help me out.

Are we ever going to fix this pipe? Joke’s on you. I’m writing about it, and not from a homeless shelter, so I guess I fixed it, huh? It’s almost as if the whole enchilada is just an excuse to wax philosophical about a gaggle of extraneous topics, and to make fart jokes.

Fido, get away from that guy before he takes a dump on you!

Let’s go back in the hole shall we? It’s pushing 11 PM on Sunday night, we’ve slowed the geyser of toilet paper and congressional probity to a trickle. Now what?

First, you have to disregard some forms of personal comfort, and protect others. For instance, there’s no way I’m mucking around in sewage like the plumber I described earlier. I’m a generally fastidious person. I’m a slob, but I’m a very neat slob. I’m pretty tough, though, all in all. I’ve been willing to suffer through privations so terrible that they’d make your average cubicle dweller write a strongly worded Yelp review that would make Howard Beale sound like Howard Baker. I’ll go without rest and food and water and vacations and a million other things the general public takes for granted,  but I’m not going to smear excrement all over myself unless I get a pretty sizable NEA grant first. I’m also not going to suffocate myself and my firstborn to stay comfortable.

It was well below zero that night, but my first instruction to my son was to open the big swinging doors we had installed after we jacked up our house and slipped a foundation under it. That required a bit of doing, because snow and ice were bunged up against it pretty solid. My son dutifully squeezed through a crack we opened up by shoving like mules, went into the shed-type thing where we keep a disreputable assortment of broken tools, and got a pry bar and some metal shovels. After some chuffing, we got the doors to swing free.

See, this is where the plumber who wallowed in poop would have bailed out. He would have demanded the doors be kept closed because it was too cold. His type of tough guy simply like being dirty. It demands nothing from him. Intrude on his sense of personal comfort, and he’ll pitch a fit, just like anyone else. The only difference between his toughness and yours is what’s considered uncomfortable. He doesn’t mind being smeared with other people’s excrement, but forcing him to fill out a simple form after he completed a job would send him over the edge. He’d gladly risk suffocation to avoid having to dress properly for his job. His Megadeth t-shirt is his work uniform, period.

Me, I opened the door and was glad for the fresh air. My son got a few five-gallon pails of water, with a capful of bleach in each, and we dumped them on the floor behind the taupe lagoon that had formed around the busted pipe. We jostled the resulting roller out the doorway with a shovel and a broom. It started to perk up in there, I tell you what.

Then I told my son a story about plumbing. Of course it was a story about life, but I made it about plumbing because I’m a long-winded jerk. I told him that everything recent was bad and broken, and this was likely to be the case with everything we encountered. Our life is a monument to this concept. Our mission was to use our wits to trace a disastrous ersatz Rube Goldberg clusterfarge back to some place in its lineage that we could consider solid enough to build on. Everything before that, we’d work with, and everything after that would be torn out, root and branch.

Plastic plumbing pipe is pretty easy to work with, and easy to understand. There was a sheared off piece of no-hub, Schedule 40 PVC, 1-1/2″ pipe sticking out of a fairly sturdy looking PVC elbow, which in turn was glued into a cast iron elbow. I wanted less than nothing to do with the cast iron elbow. The sheared off pipe itself was useless. If they had sheared it off with 1/2″ showing, I could work with it, but they must have hit it with a hammer and broke it off half in, half out of the hub on the elbow. I had to save that elbow while removing the pipe. Easy to say, hard to do.

If the pipe talk is confusing, I’ll run it down for you. PVC is polyvinyl chloride. It’s the type of plastic the pipe is made from. The measurement, 1-1/2″, refers to the inside diameter of the pipe. Schedule 40 refers to the thickness of the pipe walls. That’s why you need different fittings for different grades of pipe. A Schedule 40 fitting won’t fit around a Schedule 80 pipe, because the thickness of the pipe wall increases the diameter of the pipe. [Update: Jon in the comments kindly corrected me on this point. Schedule 40 and 80 pipe has the same outside diameter. It’s Sewer and Drain pipe that has a thinner wall, and a different outside diameter, and can’t use the same fittings]

PVC pipe like this is called no-hub. It’s a straight tube. The hubs — the part that surround the pipes to join them together — are supplied by the fittings. Cast iron pipe has a hub on one end and a spigot on the other end. The spigot on pipe A goes into the hub on pipe B, and so on. The cylindrical part of the pipe between the hub and spigot is called the barrel. You can also buy cast iron pipe with a hub on both ends, or no hubs at all, but almost all of it will be hub and spigot.

Plastic no hub pipe is miles easier to handle than cast iron pipe. Cut the pipe with any old tool to the length you need, plus enough to fit into the hubs or couplings on each end, and then glue the whole mess together. If I could remove the no-hub PVC pipe from the elbow’s hub without breaking the elbow, and if I could find a piece of 1-1/2″ pipe, and if I could find a cap for that piece of pipe, I’d be able to seal this mother off.

And if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

[to be continued]

7 Responses

  1. At least you didn't tell me you had to reverse the osmosis. Which is the oldest joke in the book.

    Jokes always help, but your blog is the fresh air of my morning. Carry on, good sir.

  2. Looking back at Sunday's photo of this wonderfully constructed pipe edifice, is that a piece of gray, Sch40 electrical tubing in there? Cast iron pipe. White Sch40 pvc. Some other kind of pvc? Gray electrical pvc. Good grief.

    It appears that your motivation in all of this is to insure that your eldest son does not live in your basement until he is 26? A couple of jobs like this and he'll be outta there like a scalded cat.

  3. Schedule 40 and 80 1&1/2" pipe have the same outside diameter, 1.90". With schedule 40 having a ID of 1.590" and schedule 80 a 1.476" ID.
    About $1.00 a foot for 1&1/2 schedule 40 vs. $5.00 a foot for schedule 80.

    Many years of glue and solvent in confined spaces for me.

  4. I'm not sure it is necessary to understand the construction to follow the story, but, uh, I'm not understanding the construction. The picture seems to show only one cast iron elbow which is a 45 over in what appears to be the 4" part… Are T junctions technically called elbows? The only 1.5" pvc elbow I see is way up high, not near any other elbow, then there's the mystery of that electrical conduit Mr. Geiger refers to, and what's the 4" black shiny stuff? ABS? Is there a smaller piece of iron elbow hiding behind the stuff we can see in the picture? Inquiring minds want to know, or something…

  5. Hello Casey and Thud- I get my work done after writing a lot, real fast, early in the morning, and not checking my work, I guess. For example:

    Hi Jon- You're right of course. I should have written that schedule 40 pipe has a different outside diameter than drain and sewer pipe. Drain and sewer pipe has a thin wall and a diameter of about 4-1/4" for a 4-inch pipe, if I remember correctly, but Schedule 40 DWV pipe is about 4-1/2". The fittings are often confused for one another in the plumbing aisle at Home Depot. All the plumbing I eventually installed was Schedule 40 DWV. It's been a decade or more since I've seen a piece of Schedule 80 pipe.

    Hi John- I'm afraid that the illustrating pictures are confusing the issue. They are simply snapshots of the plumbing in the basement, taken five years ago when we moved in. The busted fittings I'm talking about are sticking out of the floor, about 25 feet from where the cast iron waste pipe in the picture (with the Christmas Tree of bad plumbing attached to it) enters the floor. I'll explain what we discovered in the floor tomorrow. Same bat time, same bat channel.

  6. It appears from the image that you are boldly venturing into an area where generations of plumb masters have tread ever so lightly, while still assuring themselves of a future income stream. An annuity, if you will. Or not.

    From the description however (as understood) it seems as if a rubber no hub coupling, one end larger than the other, would address the immediate problem, while leaving the annuity generator in place.

    Or, put sawzall and lead pot to work – Apocalypse Now!

    Ed Norton, Jackie's pal

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