Like a lot of ranchers, I have a gravity-flow pipeline that undulates across a couple of hills to the cattle troughs.
The line doesn’t have a lot of pressure so periodically air builds up to create an airlock. No problem. I just take a pump to the spring and blow out the line so water can flow again.
While the pump runs, I release air from a frost free hydrant at one high point and from a push valve at another high point. I like to blow out the pump in the evening because sometimes I have to wait a half an hour or so for the pumped water to reach the trough. I watch the curlews chase a hawk or watch the resident bunch of antelope watch me. I turn off the radio and listen to the sounds of silence on the prairie.
Until the water doesn’t work.
I have struggled to get the pipeline cleared for most of the summer. No matter how many times I pumped the pipeline, only a tiny stream of water flowed to the trough.
I have plenty to do and I can get sidetracked with demands for my time easily. Hay is baled in the field and meat needs to be sold. I have lamb pelts I need to comb into fluffy soft seats. I want my daughter, Abby, to enjoy summer activities between ranch jobs.
Yet the cows must have water.
Every time I pumped the line, I thought I had it fixed, but I was wrong. I had the creek as backup water for the cows so I kept using the same technique, but now the creek is just about dry. I decided to delve a bit deeper into the problem before the cows got thirsty.
I found a mysterious puddle coming up from the ground near the push valve.
A leaky pipe would explain my low water flow.
Just about the time I made my diagnosis, my friend came for a week-long visit.
Katie and I used to play in the mud, among other adventures, when we were in diapers.
Fixing the pipeline would be a perfect project for us.
We grabbed shovels and headed for the push valve.
After a couple of hours of digging, the subject of a backhoe rental came up.
“Just try to hire a backhoe at this time of year,” I said.” And somebody would need to shovel around the pipe even after all that clay was scooped out. Besides, we’re almost there.”
The next day, we shoveled the hole deep enough that I filled buckets and lifted them up to Katie. Then I kept digging while she took the kids to town for a little fun.
After supper, we dug some more.
Katie posted our progress on Facebook. One friend commented that we needed a retaining wall in the hole.
“She doesn’t know this clay is what they use to make retaining walls,” I noted as I lifted another bucket of heavy clay over my head.
“Lisa, when do you plan to quit for the night?” Katie asked.
I answered logically, I thought: “When I find the leak. We’re almost there. I can see a puddle forming.”
“I don’t really believe you anymore. How about stopping at 9 o’clock?” Katie knows how to sound reasonable.
The next morning, I had uncovered the valve and saw water streaming through the layer of gravel.
“We’re almost there now,” I announced.
We scooped the water out of the hole, but I still could not find the leak in the pipeline.
Meanwhile, the red button on the push valve tempted me.
I knew if I pushed that button, water would fill the hole and I would lose potential clues to a leak.
It was so shiny.
“Push it,” Katie encouraged.
Boom! An air bomb almost blew my hat off.
“Whoa!” Katie cried. “Do it again!”
I cracked up, our childhood mishaps flashing before my eyes. I pushed it again.
By then, we needed to check on our children. We drove past the trough on our way.
Water gushed from the pipeline.
We had fixed it!
I knew we were close.