Sippican Cottage

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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

The Pompeii of Plumbing

So I told you yesterday that we got really lucky.  Of course I’m lucky my wife stays married to me despite the myriad of reasons not to, and she’s lucky that I don’t mind that she can’t take a picture to save her soul. Like that last one, which appears to be taken underwater. Anyway, we were lucky together, at the local flea market.

They didn’t call it a flea market. They called it a barn sale, because that sounds better to tourists, I guess. Maine has plenty of places to flense the flesh from unwary antique lovers from out of state, but it’s also got all sorts of people selling all sorts of things for short money in sheds and mostly abandoned buildings and tents by the side of the road. The barn guy had all his stuff in a garage with a tent outside it. It was in an out-of-the-way place, in a slack season, so the proprietor was happy to see us and make a deal. He had this sink.

It’s a pretty big cast iron sink, with two basins. The left-hand basin is really deep. Unlike most old cast iron sinks, it wasn’t chipped around the edges or the drain holes, and wonder of wonders, it still had the sliding panel you can (almost) see on the left in the picture. If you’ve ever wondered why these old sinks have that thin, flat chamfer around the top edge, this is why. The panel is really useful, so people throw it away or lose it, because people. The panel slides back and forth on the groove, and entirely covers 1/2 of the sink at a time. If you have a cat that likes prospecting in the sink for bacon residue, it’s the perfect solution for hiding the pan until you get around to washing it.

Who, me?

It functions perfectly as a drain board for the dish rack, too, and that’s how we use it. It frees up two feet of counter space, and the sink is still always usable.

Kitchen sinks, especially big honking ones and Victorian jobs, are in high demand these days. If you go to an old house parts store looking for a sink like this, bring a grand or two with you. The fellow with the barn sale sign and no barn had been using the sink as an ashtray. There was about four thousand cigarette butts piled on top of an inch of sand in both sides of the sink. Wonder of wonders, the sink was sitting on its original steel cabinet. The cabinet looked like it had been thrown from a second story window, once or twice, or maybe a third time just for fun. The inside bottom panel was covered with many layers of shelf paper, dried chemicals, and rust stains.

“What do you want for this?”

He looked us up and down. I assume he assumed we were locals, and gave us the local price.

“Eighty-five bucks.”

“What about the cabinet?”

“I’ll throw that in, if you don’t make me help you lift this thing.”

You’d need a degree in quantum mechanics to figure out the portion of a second it took us to say yes.  We counted 85 bucks in his hand, and went home to get a teenager to help me muscle it into the truck. We were taking a bit of a chance on it, as pawing around in the ashes might not have revealed some rusty spot hidden in this Pompeii of plumbing, but it was worth it. Hell, it’s hard to find a crappy stainless steel drop-in kitchen basin for under a hundred bucks these days.

Once we got it home, we risked getting third-hand-cancer from the butts, but we cleaned it out thoroughly. There was caulking residue and various stains, but they came right off with a little acetone on a rag. The thing was essentially spotless.

The cabinet looked so rough that I planned on making a wooden replacement and chucking out the metal one. I decided to give renovation a shot, first, because even if I ruined it further by banging on it, nothing of value would be lost. We were playing with house money, as it were. So I banged the dents out of the sides. The thing started to sit flat after that. I took the doors off their pivot hinges, and did a little sloppy surgery on their hinge pins, and they started working again. I tried the acetone on the mess in the bottom of the cabinet, and the whole lasagna of shelf papers and goo peeled off in a sheet like a facial mask. The bottom of the cabinet wasn’t even rusty, another miracle.

After I got tired of beating on it, I went to the hardware store and bought some epoxy spray paint for appliances. I was really surprised, but the stuff really worked. The cabinet looked like new, and ended up with a very durable finish on it.

The sink required two hanging brackets to be affixed to the wall, and only one came with it. But it’s such a standard thing, still in use, that we were able to order one online for a few bucks. But the sink/bracket/cabinet combo would have to be assembled with a precision that my house laughs at. I’m not complaining, but I was planning on fitting the cabinet to the slope-y floors and cockeyed walls, not the other way around. Metal cabinets don’t do “fitting.” You adjust yourself to them, not the other way around, like the IRS or plastic Adirondack chairs. I’d have to fix the floor better.

[To be continued. If you enoy reading Sippican Cottage and want to help us out, tell a friend about us. Thanks!]

4 Responses

  1. oh goody more plumbing. I discovered this site years ago when The Cottage tale of basement plumbing woes entranced me.


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