Ode to the Small-Town Plumber

True statement: I have an overly sensitive nose.

Because of this, when I began to get whiffs of sewage outside our house last summer, usually on damp mornings, J wasn’t quick to assume that there was a problem. “If we had a sewage problem bad enough that you could smell it,” he told me, “there’d be open sewage somewhere.”

He was right.

There was open sewage somewhere. It was just tucked behind an overgrown bush.

The discovery of this problem has led to a few months of annoyance. First, getting a well-known-national-company-that-shall-remain-nameless to come and unclog the sewage pipes. They scoped it, told us that tree roots were growing into our pipes, took care of the immediate problem, but suggested that the pipes needed to be completely replaced, the whole way out to the road. They also said the pipes were cast iron. Oh, and they gave us a quote. It was expensive–as much as a brand-new, small Ford. We didn’t take them up on it.

Within a few months, the tree roots had grown back, the pipes clogged again, and we were stuck. This time a local plumber, recommended to us by a friend, came to check out the problem. (Note: We had actually called him the first time around but he couldn’t come by that night, and we couldn’t wait to get the sewage issue remedied.)

Guess what? This guy has lived in our town his whole life, and his stepdad’s aunt’s cousin’s brother (okay, not exactly, but someone related to him) used to live next door to us. Next door. That means he knew exactly where the sewage line ran and what the pipes were made of–not cast iron, actually, but a weird thing called “tar paper,”* which was apparently common in our area for a few years when our house would have been built. You wouldn’t know this if you weren’t from here.

This is the first thing I like about small-town plumbers. They know these things. They know where your sewage line runs without a fancy scope. And they know it because of lived experience.

Because this story is getting kind of long, here’s the quick ending: we got a new quote for replacing the whole sewage line, and it was 1/5 of the original, mostly due to not replacing something that is cast-iron. We agreed to the project back in December. Unfortunately, the ground was frozen solid this winter, then the plumbers were busy, then the ground was thawed but flooded. Last week, a big digger backhoe thing arrived, and then a whole bunch of PVC pipe, and then assorted other things. They sat in our yard for about a week. Then Thursday, finally, the project was underway.)

Here are a handful of other things I like about our small-town plumber:

1) When he stopped by the house during the local public school’s spring break, he had his 14-year-old daughter with him.

2) He chews tobacco. I like the authenticity in that.

3) He’s chatty. He asked J about our cold frames, about the trees growing in our yard, and about exercise (since he found out J walks to school every day), among other things.

4) He told me all about his “fibulator” and how it went off during the UK game because he was getting so worked up.

I should write an ode, don’t you think? Ode to the Small-Town Plumber.

*Somewhat amusing side note: We thought the material in question was “tire” paper, rather than “tar” paper. For real. Say “tire” and “tar” slowly and with a charming Kentucky twang, and see if you can tell a difference.


4 comments on “Ode to the Small-Town Plumber

  1. Elizabeth's Dad says:

    For those inquiring minds that want to know: http://www.sewerhistory.org/articles/compon/orangeburg/orangeburg.htm

    • elizabeth says:

      Thanks, Dad. That’s definitely the stuff. I don’t know if you read the whole thing, but I particularly like this part, especially what comes in the parenthesis: “Thus, the manufacturer emphasized the need to properly “bed” the pipe — i.e., achieve good compaction all through the entire pipe zone — using soil free of rocks/debris. (Good bedding didn’t, however, prevent “deformation” of the pipe by tree roots.)”

      And thanks for the story about Mike Lockes and Sons!

  2. Elizabeth's Dad says:

    Even in larger cities you can sometime find ‘local’ craftsmen who can be helpful. And I like to go to the local shops who can be helpful..like a hardware or plumbing supply store. I used to go to Mike Lockes and Sons, plumbing supply. MIke was long dead and the 2 sons were old and their sister had joined them (she didn’t know as much as the boys but knew where everything was. You could take an old piece of some plumbing piece or gadget and they would look at it for a minute, tell you what it was and what it did and then get the replacement pieces and show you how to put them together. Customers stood 3-4 deep most of the day to wait for their advice AND everyone listened to the advice given to those at the counter. I learned a lot about plumbing at Mike’s.

  3. stephen says:

    I need to find a small-town plumber. I can’t figure out how to get cold water to the shower in our master bathroom. 🙂

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