Pumping Air

Apr. 2nd, 2011 02:16 pm
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Some time ago I was visiting a friend, elsewhere in a drier part of the country. I took a sip of the tapwater. "It tastes like it's chlorinated," I said.

"It is. Community water system."

Which kind of boggled me, because this was something like six miles from the nearest town. I figured most people in this country, who are urban, wouldn't know the joys of private home water systems, but if public water is reaching miles and miles from town maybe private home water systems are even rarer than I had thought.

Not here, in the State that Squishes Wherever you Step On It. Public systems go by the name of City Water, and we have laws banning private wells within the reach of such a system. But outside the city limits, pretty much all the houses have private wells. Usually these only go down forty or fifty feet; in many places, ten would be enough, if you weren't worried about that other feature of rural life, the Septic Tank.

Of course the wells come with associated water systems. Over the years I've become acquainted with four such systems. (And there's never a GOOD reason to become acquainted with one.)

There are other kinds, but the ones I've worked with all work in this wise: You have an electric centrifugal pump, which is Hardware Store for "Overwhelming amounts of electricity will move water, no matter how crudely that electricity is applied." Next to the pump is a pressure tank that contains water oh, about halfway up, air above that. Pump forces water into the bottom of the tank. Remember, liquids don't compress, but the air does. The compressed air above the water provides the "spring power" to push the water out again, and around the house wherever you need it.

Since the 1970s most of these have been bladder tanks, where the air is contained in a heavy-duty rubber balloon. Unfortunately, Ugly House is just old enough that they didn't have bladder tanks when it was built. It's got a plain old galvanized steel tank, which means that every couple years I have to pump air back into it. As the air goes away, that compressed air "spring" gets smaller and smaller, until eventually the pump is cycling off two or three times providing the amount of water you need to fill a coffee pot. You have to get more air into that tank, to return the pump to normal, longer cycles, or you're gonna be crawling under the house to pump more air into the tank AND to install the shiny new water pump you bought because you were idiot enough to burn up the old one.

So unfortunately, I have to pump air into my pressure tank every now and then. Doubly unfortunately, it is in the crawlspace under the far back corner of the house. Through the hole in the one concrete foundation wall that is small enough it almost pins me when I crawl through, around the corner, and then through the smaller hole that DOES pin me. At least I didn't wedge this time, like I did the last time I did this, when I weighed a hundred pounds more.

Triply unfortunately, creatures that crawl have taken the word "crawlspace" as a hint. I don't mind the garter snake I encountered down there once; go forth, multiply, eat lots of bugs and mice, and more power to you. I didn't get the snake fear when they passed out my instinct kit. Unfortunately I DID get the Spider Fear in double measure.

So let's do a checklist here; confined spaces, claustrophobia, heavy exertion in poor ventilation, loose fiberglass insulation everywhere, an electric air pump in direct confrontation with a water tank attached to a well that's the best earth ground in the world. And when things seemed to be pretty much under control... of course...


Well, OK, it was just a symbolic spider, one of the little tiny jumping spiders that are almost cute. But at that point I decided that yes, I can't tell how much air I got into the tank but it is ENOUGH, dammit, and I'm going home.

I am out now, and washing the fiberglass dust out of the jeans and jacket I wore down there. It will probably be two or three years before I have to do this again, by which time I will probably have forgotten enough about what that crawlspace is like to be willing to go down into it again.


Oct. 16th, 2010 12:06 pm
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Somewhere in my vast DeadJournal Bookshelf of Journals about Nothing, I stated their mission. In fact, I have them because I simply enjoy the act of sliding the point of a fountain pen across good paper, and so I have to come up with something to do while I'm doing that. That's the sad, futile truth of it all.

But my DeadJournal's other purpose is to document the obscure and forgotten-- such as the fact that the most common milk container of my childhood was the half-gallon paper carton. Or the way light switches worked. (Usually as the common flip switch of today, but in really old houses you'd come across pushbutton switches- on top, a big black button with a white dot in the middle, and on bottom a plain black one. Push 'em in and with a loud CLICK they'd turn the lights on or off. And there was one house I lived in that was built in 1954 and had these Atomic Age little knobs you'd have to turn. No, not dimmers; just left off, right on. They were internally illuminated and kind of streamlined, and only served to slow down the act of turning the lights on and off. But after a couple of months in that house you'd just hook a finger over them and spin them coming into or out of a room, fast as any other switch, without thinking about it.)

Think about it. In the future they'll know all about the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy's affair with Marylin Monroe, and the Vast Conspiracy of the Kennedy Assassination, whether or not any of what the know is true. But they won't know about PF Flyers or that Oxydol laundry detergent was white with green flecks in it.

So was born Old Fart Theater, wherein I will bore the one or two people who actually look at these entries with details of Deserves To Be Forgotten History, and how I walked thirty miles through deep snow uphill both ways to get to the computer bunker to submit my pack of punch cards to the Computer Acolytes. But we were GLAD to have our punch cards. We were THANKFUL. Because we knew there were people worse off than us who didn't have punch cards at all!

So what about boxtops?

In 1962 or so there was hardly a breakfast cereal that wasn't offering some toy or other in return for sending boxtops through the mail. The deal would be something like $1.25 and one boxtop, or 25 cents and three boxtops, to some address, and they'd mail you a toy in return.

I can remember two toys I got that way. One was a fairly large F-100 fighter plane toy that had a little spring gun in its nose to fire plastic darts; the extra darts snapped into racks under the wings, where the real plane carried rockets or bombs. It was molded in heavy mottled gray flexible plastic that was meant to be silver. A pretty cool toy for what it cost.

The other was a red plastic race car that had a rubber band powered propeller. Wind the prop up, let it spin, and off the car would go. The cool thing was that you could turn it upside down take the wheels off, take the snap-on driver's head off the top and put it on the bottom, and it became a propeller driven bathtub boat.

Of course it all went through the US Mail, because we had nothing else. And it always went to the other guy in town who had my name before he turned it around and sent it on to me. The postman (and they were all men) never read the actual addresses, he just knew where everyone in town lived. That was common in those tiny rural towns at that time too.

You sent actual money through the mail for this stuff. Credit cards? What's a credit card? Most private citizens didn't even have checking accounts back then.

Of course this sort of thing wasn't just for kids. Raleigh Cigarettes offered coupons on each pack you'd save up and send in for various prizes, if you lived long enough. Betty Crocker had coupons for different housewares. And of course S&H Green Stamps was the granddaddy of them all.

(to the tune of Greensleeves)
"Green stamps were all she gave
Green stamps were all I took
Green stamps that I could save
And I pasted them all in my Green Stamps Book."

And pasted and pasted and PASTED, every time Mom came back from the grocery store. Eventually we'd get enough Green Stamps for something or other. I presume you could mail them in, but as I remember it we'd actually gather up our sack of completed Green Stamp Books and go off to a department store in The City, where off in a quiet corner they had a room full of things you could get with your stamps.

We ate off plates we got that way, and lit the living room with lamps we got that way, for about 20 years. Wasn't the best quality stuff, but it wasn't throw away quality either.

About the only way you're going to run into references to that culture of boxtops, or coupons, or trading stamps, and the prizes you'd get for them, is the Green Stamps song I quoted above. I still hear that on the radio every once in a while.

And then there's the Rocky and Bullwinkle episode where Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale have a plot to destroy the American economy by counterfeiting boxtops. That one probably goes over the head of any modern viewer.

But you know what? It would have worked.


Oct. 9th, 2010 02:54 pm
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As I understand it, the sound of a car's turn signals is that of an electomechanical relay. Current flows through, heats a coil, metal expands, TICK, a leaf switch pops off its contact. The coil cooks, metal contracts, TOCK, the leaf switch snaps back down where it was, and the light comes on again.

So why do car manufacturers use such a piece of vacuum tube cleverness in modern cars? The answer is, at least usually they don't. Turn signals tick-tock because people expect that noise when the turn signal is operating. The sound no more signifies the presence of an actual electric relay than the kaKLICK-whirrr..rrRRRrrr..rrrriCK! sound a cell phone makes when it takes a picture signifies the presence of a folding mirror, focal plane shutter, and automatic winder for 35mm film. But people expect those sounds when you activate the machine, so the manufacturers provide an electronic noisemaker to make them.

Esmerelda, the Mustang (Esmerelda was beloved by Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, so calling her that tells you what I think of my physical beauty) is about as retro a car as has been made in the past ten years, but even she has the electronic noisemaker instead of the real thing. I found this out by practical experiment.

You see, Esperelda also has the nag chimes typical of all American cars (dagnappit). She bong bong bongs at me to fasten my seat belt. I believe in seat belts, but I don't wear one when I'm backing out of something, because it's too hard to turn around and look behind me with the seat belt on.

I'm also in the habit of having the turn signal that's on the car's outermost rear corner blinking away as I back out of a parking space. That way I have a flashing light out there, and if I didn't see some other car, maybe its driver will see me. An easy precaution to take, right?

Well, when I'm backing out of a parking space with my seat belt unbuckled and the turn signal going, Esmerelda is faced with a dilemma. She needs to tick-tock at me for the turn signal and Bong bong bong at me to nag me about the seat belt. But her noisemaker is single channel-- it can, apparently, only make one of those sounds at a time.

So she bongs at me for about ten seconds, as the turn signal flashes silently, and only then starts in with the turn signal noise. Busted!

January 2015

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