Winter Water

The Grahams, who homesteaded this ranch, were brilliant.

Every day, clues of their vision impress me.

Water certainly was one of their visions.

While my neighbors haul water, the Graham Ranch has 16 springs. Six of those springs are piped to water troughs.

Water troughs provide fresh, clean drinks when they work. Life is good.

When they don’t work, I have a problem.

Or when I want to feed grass that is in a pasture with one of the 10 undeveloped springs, I have a problem.

So I’ve been chopping ice in the creek lately.

My biceps and abs will tell you all about it. They tell me about it every day.

Actually, chopping ice is fun – watching those shards of ice explode in the air, glistening in the sunshine and sliding across the snow.

I improve my aim with every swing, chopping at a chunk that is big enough to matter, but not so big that it won’t crack a little more by itself with the force of my swing. I like to see the axe blade hit and then watch the crack grow. It’s all about efficiency. And not missing my mark. Natural consequences of missing mean icy water splashes all over my boots, arms and face.

The other day, after I finished chopping ice, I checked on a water trough in the corral. It had frozen in the night.

Many times, the water in a trough will freeze on top, but still be fluid underneath.

Nope. This trough was frozen solid. It would take more than just a kick with the heel of my boot to break the ice.

Manufacturers make plastic troughs to keep them cheap and more insulated, less able to conduct heat from water to cold air. At least the troughs I have are plastic. Plastic is fine until cold weather hits. Then I have to treat plastic like glass. It’s so brittle.

I pulled the cover from the trough. Thirsty yearlings nosed up to view my progress. Their breath rose in the frosty, 10-degree air.

They nuzzled the culprit: A frozen float.

I chipped ice from the float and wiggled it. No water.

The plastic valve behind the float was frozen. I hoped ice had not backed down the pipe too far. I would have to thaw the valve and then work my way back until I hit liquid.

This trough stays open because warm water circulates from the ground so I don’t have electricity at this corral. As I gently twisted on the valve, I realized this lack of power could be inconvenient.

With other troughs, I had used a blow dryer to thaw pipes, but that option was out.

I couldn’t use a heat lamp – no electricity and a melted valve would be worse than a frozen one.

Hot water would work -- if I could get it from my kitchen stove, out to the truck, up and down a couple of hills, through the corral gate and to the trough before it cooled or spilled. That was a big if.

I tightened the screws on the trough cover so the yearlings didn’t attempt a bovine-inspired solution.

The teapot and the pressure cooker with a tight lid lent themselves to this project. Most of the hot water made it to the trough, although the floorboards of the truck are slightly cleaner now.

The yearlings supervised, circling the trough while I poured steam back and forth from the valve and down the pipe.

A drip, then a trickle, then a stream gushed from the valve.

The trough worked. No problem. Life is good again.

Lisa Schmidt