t’s inevitable that the cold will come and slow the chore pace down. That day came mid-week, inside the barn the thermometer read 20°F. Jane’s leather halter is stiff from the cold. I toss it aside at night after taking it off her, and it’s warm and pliable then from her body heat, now by morning it’s hard to buckle, and she’s impatient to get to her milking stall where rolled barley and carrots await. I’m impatient to get my hands on those warm teats! Just keepin’ it real, it’s the truth. I didn’t want to roll out of bed, and start the day or the fire. Once I got going though, I had the same kind of feeling about quitting milking. When the last drop of milk is stripped, I have to anoint Jane with stiff-from-the-cold balm before she goes out for the day. Now she is impatient to go out, and I am on the fence about wanting the milking to be over, but also wanting to go in to get close to the stove. I’ll be going from warm to cold, back and forth all day. The weather reports from Portland don’t really cover our little spot of heaven, except to call us an “outlying area.” We can usually figure about 10 degrees cooler because the strong Gorge winds that moderate the temperature in Ptown, don’t affect us here at the farm too much. All day Wednesday I had been mindful of the water system. Also on my mind were things that needed checking or rounding up because of the cold. I needed to find my water trough sticks, barn tea kettle, set water buckets out in the sun to melt, and get our heavy water use out-of-the-way early so the overflow would start overflowing again by dark. Except the overflow wasn’t running…and it’s Thursday.
I go over the water use the day before in my mind as I’m milking. Two people home, showers early, one small load of laundry, normal dishes. The overflow should be running. That means a walk up to the tank, to see if in fact the ram is running, and since it’s really pretty obvious that it isn’t, due to the overflow being stopped, I need to see how low the tank is. (And then make plans in the already over-scheduled day to go down to the spring and start the ram.) That will tell me how much water I need to conserve this day to get that tank full and the overflow going again to the water trough. Mental note: Boil water notice, not because there is anything wrong with our water, but that I need to heat water to do dishes, it’s churning day, I will need to be washing lots of milk jars, cream jars, churn or food processor, that’s in addition to all the other dishes that cooking three meals per day from scratch require. If I heat the water on the stove that is just providing heat…I can turn that first tap water into hot water. I’ve done the same in the summer in low water times.
But before I can wash those dishes, I need to start the ram. This is where true self-reliance comes in. Not feminism, women’s lib and all that. Just plain self-reliance. My husband has to go to work to keep a water system flowing for people who couldn’t care less about their water, until it doesn’t come out of that tap. Trust me, they don’t care at all, and by darn sure many of them don’t go without. You would not believe the calls he gets in the evening or the middle of the night about people’s water supply. Not enough pressure, my toilet won’t stop running…too many to list really. And you know what? Most of them he can’t help them because IT’S NOT THE CITY’S PROBLEM. The municipal workers cannot do plumbing on the other side of the meter. Sure a main break, or some failure with the wells or sewer system, yes, those things need to be assessed and fixed, but those calls rarely come. Try diagnosing someone’s water system over the phone at 2:00 am when you’re groggy. One lady didn’t have any water, and it turned out her vindictive ex had snuck in and turned off the water. She didn’t even know where her main shutoff was. People have become pretty helpless these days…as I type this I can hear the weather report on the television and they are telling you what type of jacket to wear, if you need an umbrella etc. Gah.
If I don’t go start the ram during the day, that means my husband has to go do it in the dark after he gets home from work. Since there is a chance I can’t get it running, because I don’t know yet why it stopped, he may have to go down in the canyon in the dark anyway. But if I don’t go and at least try to start it, the chance he will have to do this task is 100% . He’s the ramologist, I’m not, I’ve lucked out lately I haven’t had to start the ram at all for a number of years. The ram is pretty much an automatic water delivery system until it’s not. We don’t have to wait for the wind to blow, or hope the electrical grid stays on, we just rely on the water to flow. Water flow pumps the water to a high point, and gravity takes care of the water flow to us. It’s so simple it is complicated.
This drawing depicts our water system fairly accurately so you can get an idea of using water to pump water from a low point to the high point on a piece of land. I guess in the south you would say our water comes from the holler. Here we call it a canyon. Where our farm is located the flat ground is on the ridge top, and the water is down deep in the canyons.
There are several differences between this drawing from our hydraulic ram manual and our system:
♥ Our water comes from a spring and our ram intake is tapped into the spring subterraneanly.
♥ Our tank setup is also a little different as ours is placed at the highest point on the farm instead of having a water tower tank close to the house.
♥ Our holding tank is also plumbed with an overflow system to provide water for the barn, and to give us constant idea of how the ram is running down in the canyon. The overflow system consists of a standpipe equal in height to the discharge pipe from the ram and has a separate line to the water trough at the barn. The parallel underground line to the house drains from the bottom of the tank.
Whether its summer or winter the overflow commands our attention on a daily basis, as it is the indicator of what’s going on down in the canyon at the spring. If we use a lot of water at the house, say laundry, showers, washing milk jars etc., it will stop the overflow at the trough. We are mindful of that, but if no one is using any water and the overflow is stopped we know something is going on at the ram. We watch the overflow summer and winter, in the summer it may mean the water level of the spring is dropping and the ram stroke needs adjusting. In the winter we don’t want the ram to stop during a cold snap and freeze the pipes, a stoppage in the winter may mean an intake screen is plugged or that the water flow to the ram has been stopped or slowed somehow. This system depends on running water. The overflow management has been part of my subconscious since I was a child. I can see the overflow stream sparkling from my station at the kitchen sink, and when I step out the door I automatically listen for the music of that water. Water makes everything on this farm flow.
Water is pumped 24/7/365 to the tank in the field above the barn.
We have water on demand at the house, and the water trough at the barn receives the overflow.
After seeing that the tank was down eight inches or so, I knew it had been stopped for some time, and that it would take many hours to replenish that eight inches. So it was up to me to make the jaunt down to the ram, and rack my brain on just exactly what to do. I know that when the ram is stopped air gets trapped in the drive pipe, so I would have to bleed the drive pipe to get the air out, and then try to get the ram to start. Sometimes but not always, there is more than one thing wrong at the ram, troubleshooting and eliminating possible causes is the name of the game. Ruthless went with me for moral support, plus it’s kind of fun to go to the ram anyway, until you have to climb back out of that canyon :p I was hoping it was just a water supply problem and not a leather gasket problem. Hopefully we could get the water flowing again.
I bled the line by opening the waste valve and letting the water rush through, hopefully carrying any persnickety air bubbles on out with it. At this point you shut the waste valve and if everything is right it will start opening and closing on its own and be pumping water again. The you listen and count. Does it sound right? Is it running smooth and even, or sloppy and uneven? Count to one thousand, or if it’s ccccold, you (or least I do) you count to five hundred. In the summer the cool canyon is a respite from the heat up above in the light, this time of year, when the sunlight never hits the stream, it’s cold down there. Does it sound right? How on earth can I explain that? Well, once you’ve heard good and bad you know what “right” is. It has a certain ring to it, and it’s a wonderful sound to behold…behear? In me it stirs the same tears, and gladness that the sound the baler plunger makes during haying season. Tears of gratitude, a comforting feeling that only a full tank of water and a barn full of hay can bring to a farmer. It’s also relief, that “it” works. Whatever “it” is. It makes you feel independent and free to be able to take care of yourself. There is nothing wrong with being dependent either, we are all dependent on others for many things. I wish more people could feel the independence though, I think that is missing in a lot of lives.
But I digress, the ram took off, although a little haltingly, so tired of the cold, I made my way up past the drive pipe to the barrel, and too my horror I saw there was no overflow from the front of the barrel. Uh oh! Brain racking time. Okay – ram stopped because it was out of water despite water everywhere! Okay – screen plugged. I should have went to the barrel first instead of just looking at the ram and starting it. In the summer this would have been critical, due to low water, but this is not low water time so I was safe, even though I did my troubleshooting backwards. I cleaned the screen and restored the water flow to the barrel. By this time the pipe was really ringing, and we had counted to three hundred maybe. We decided to just go back to the house and if I had to go back down to the spring later I would. Cows needed to be moved, fires tended. As it was, the water beat us to the tank. It was running into the tank by time we hiked back. Phew!
I saw this later – the ramologist notes in the ram notebook:
11-21-13 Lots of water but screen plugged stopping ram. Nita and Lyd cleaned it out and got it started!
The exclamation point says it all ;)