Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 17, 2019

No limit!

Something happened recently that made me think of one of those “Far Side” cartoons Gary Larson drew. The event wasn’t funny, but I’m not complaining.

Forty-two years ago and long before I met him, husband Art accepted a teaching position at Kansas State University. He had always rented, so he decided it was time to buy a place.

But he said the process was discouraging as he couldn’t find what he liked. After the realtor took him to a new single-garage home in the country when he had specified that a two-car garage was a requirement, he was about to look for a new agent. But he noticed a new two-car-garage home nearby that looked empty. It turned out that it had been sold, but the financing fell through at the last minute. So it was again for sale, but not listed.

Art bought it, but looking back, he isn't sure if the whole situation had turned out to his benefit or detriment. The builder had a bunch of homes in progress when the housing market took a nosedive. He let many of his workers go, and the few that remained finished up the homes, often doing jobs they didn’t really know how to do.

Once people were in their new homes, problems began to surface. Others who bought one of the hurry-up places decided to sue the builder. But that didn’t go far because just as the homes were finished, he was diagnosed with cancer and died. His business quickly folded.

Art considered he was better off than most as he is pretty handy. Fixing electrical problems? No biggie for an electrical guy like him. The copper plumbing needed substantial reworking, but since electrical guys can solder and too much else isn't needed, Art did fine on that, too.

Some problems were a bit more challenging. The plastic drain pipes had all been fitted, but whoever did them forgot to add the cement to some of the joints. The home was built on what had been a hill with a moderate slope. The builder leveled it, but never compacted the soil. So, over the years, the home settled in a somewhat uneven fashion, causing cracks to appear in the walls here and there. Most of these problems have been easily overcome or compensated for with little effort.

But one was different. The septic systems weren’t properly installed. First one homeowner, then another and pretty soon another had unpleasant and expensive repair problems. But these didn’t show up until years after the builder had gone to his reward.

Art chose a different route. His was the “baby-it” approach. So while others have laid out big bucks and not always with great outcomes, we adjusted to four-minute-or-shorter showers. We limited the washing machine to only one full load a day. And the new low-volume toilets we bought cut down on water entering the system.

Art also added an “easy-access” entry port into the septic tank, making cleaning simpler. So when Leon “Shitty Smitty” Smith arrived to pump it, there was no digging to the access covers. He just snapped off the lid and got to work.

But even with these adjustments, problems arose. Art explained to me that rather than using an elbow to connect the sewer pipe to the septic tank, a tee-joint was used. The consequence is that if you try to clean the pipe, the tool just travels to the other end of the tee rather than turning into the tank. Another was the entry point in the basement was extremely close to the furnace, making it necessary to do some interesting bending with the cleaning cable.

But through the years, “babying” the system has seen us through.

Then, a few of weeks ago, I went to the basement to take the clothes from the washer and found the floor covered in water. It looked as if the washing machine had begun to leak. Being Sunday, I waited until the next day to call a repairman. He couldn’t come until the next day and Art’s curiosity drove him to investigate. He put the machine through its paces and, when it started to drain, the water came out - not from the washer, but the floor drain. Since the liquid level in the septic tank was normal, it meant we had a block in the sewer pipe.

It wasn’t a bad block as taking showers, doing dishes and using the toilets caused no problems. But a load of wash? That was too much.

Naturally, this happened just before we were to take a trip and we had some clothes we needed to get done. I thought of taking them to our daughter’s place in town, but Art wouldn’t hear of it.

The next thing I knew, Art had connected a hose to the washer drain and threaded it out the basement window and over the steep hill across our back yard. My immediate thought was the environment, but Art pointed out that since I don’t use any bleach and little soap, it was all quite benign.

He carefully monitored a small load and it worked fine. Then he did the clothes for the trip.

“Anything else you need to be washed?” he asked, “I’ll sit here and watch it.”

Woohoo! This situation was not so bad after all! As I scrounged up bed clothes and other items, that Larson cartoon came to mind.

In it, two fellows are sitting in a boat fishing and they look to the horizon to see a mushroom cloud. Not a good thing, but making the best of the situation, one of the fellows says, "I’ll tell you what this means, Norm! No size restrictions and screw the limit!"

A block in the pipe isn’t the best situation either, but Art volunteering to do the laundry with NO LIMIT? It could be worse!

Left: Art plays a video game while monitoring the progress of the wash. Right: The situation made me think of the 1986 Gary Larson cartoon.

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