Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What does it take if you don't change a lightbulb?

A near-disaster, that's what.

I came home from a trip to the state capitol yesterday afternoon (for a renewable energy conference) to walk the dogs, check on the sheep and chickens, and eat something, before returning to college for a night lecture.

I gave myself lots of time because the weather was bad. I was glad I did, for two reasons.

A short while after I traversed the same bit of road, there was some kind of icing conditions on the freeway and it had to be closed because twenty or so cars were off the road. I missed all this, and so had an extra hour on my hands after my early dinner. The sheep's water needed changed, so I went to use my hour productively to do that.

And promptly discovered the heat bulb in the well housing had quit, and the recent very great cold had crept into the well pump and associated pipes.

Now I check this bulb religiously, every night before I go to bed, and it was on for sure the night before, so it had gone out in the last eighteen hours. But at -20 F (-28 C) Monday night, the cold will creep in quickly.

I quickly recycled the small electric heater that the chickens had been using, popping it in the well house and turning it on full blast.

Then I called to cancel my attendance at the lecture. Luckily, it wasn't me that was giving the lecture. Aimee, who is part of the same class, made sure my responsibilities were covered. That gave me the evening to put matters right, before they got much worse.

American above-ground farm well pumps are sturdy, made of cast iron, and ours is only four years old, but ice will destroy the pump by cracking the iron particularly at the outlets. And cold will seep into water pipes, following the pipes from the well housing to deep underground, where in the worst cases, thawing will have to wait for spring.

Luckily, there hadn't been time for any of these consequences. The extra heat thawed out the frozen pump, which started back up again without even a drip. Another hour of heat was needed to get the pipes ice-free, but they weren't damaged.

It took two hours, but by seven in the evening I was back inside, warming up, the sheep watered and bedded down for the night, all back to normal, the heat bulb glimmering through the top of the well housing, as usual.

Except for the fleeting feeling of insecurity, a little more tiredness than usual, and what now feels like the start of a cold.

Still, that's much, much better than a frozen well.

It's supposed to get warmer today, back up to 28 F. The warmth may come with four feet of snow if the storm that accompanies the southerly airflow veers west, but we can handle the snow. I'm looking forward to the reduced margin of heating needs and the increased margin of safety for our water supply.

We can probably find a way to survive a frozen well, too, but the additional difficulty taking care of our animals, while also doing our day jobs, would be very great.

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