THE DISPATCHER handed Paul the emergency call worksheet. "Take our new one with you," she said with a wink. Once in the shop, Paul yelled out to the young apprentice, "C’mon Mike, we’re going fishing!"
Mike was new at this plumbing trade — this was only his third day — yet he had already come to realize how hard the work could be.
"Where are we heading, Paul?" he asked.
"Oh, you’ll get a real treat today, lad!" Paul said with a grin.
As Mike was helping load the equipment on the truck, he tried to figure out what it could be used for. There were racks of coiled wire cables that had interlocking ends, a rather heavy metal box, a long black hose with a flared end that had two long holes in it and a heavy machine on wheels that looked for all the world like a type of boring machine.
Arriving at the jobsite, Paul instructed Mike to offload the equipment beside a pipe sticking up out of the yard that had a funny looking cap on it. The area around this standpipe was wet and what appeared to be toilet paper was clinging to its sides. The bitter January air gave rise to a steam-like vapor from the raw sewage. The homeowner had come out to talk with Paul; Mike could hear her relating that her daughters were home on their holiday break from college. While Paul talked with the homeowner, Mike noticed the Christmas tree still standing and lit inside the living room window; the sounds of holiday music filtered through the crisp air.
"OK, let’s begin," Paul said. "First, remove the mushroom vent cap and check for the water level."
Once that was done, he instructed Mike to next remove the adjacent cleanout plug and carefully explained that this was the access point to the house trap. Paul was happy to share his knowledge and love of plumbing. Sure enough, removing the house trap cleanout plug brought forth a veritable fountain of raw sewage.
Next, Paul had Mike remove the last cleanout, one referred to as the "future" cleanout. It too was filled to the rim.
Mike helped as best he could and together they worked at laying out the equipment. Those wire-like cables were easy to uncouple and feed into the sewer machine. As each 15-ft. section was added, Paul would set the counter located on the machine’s side to record the number of cables.
Mike’s question about that led to Paul explaining: "That way, we’ll know how far down the line we’ve gone and can relate that to trees if roots are found, or to an unusual dip in the yard or driveway that might indicate a broken line.
"Hey, kid, c’mere," Paul said. "you’ll never learn what you don’t do in this trade!"
With that, Paul turned the reigns of the beast over to Mike. At once, he could feel the torque and incredible power that was spinning in his gloved hand. The glove itself was rather stiff because of its metal cleats designed to reduce friction and protect the user from injury.
"Feel the cable and let it slowly trail out through your hand," Paul admonished. "Let the machine do the work. Make your hand and arm become an extension of the machine. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to feel obstructions and know how hard to push the cables. Keep her in check and the cables in a short arc. Otherwise they’ll twist over, kink or even break your arm!"
Suddenly, the water that had been pulsing at the cleanout’s edge disappeared with a great sucking noise.
"See that, that’s you grinding through whatever had this line clogged."
Paul next showed Mike that retrieving the cables was just as important a task as was running them in and he made sure to instruct him about running the cables clockwise to keep whatever was caught firmly captured in the cable’s auger.
About 10 ft. from the end, there were increasing numbers of small white fibrous mouse-sized carcasses with cotton string tails.
"Get them off the cable and clean up the auger too," Paul instructed.
Mike had one devil of a time tearing off the stranded fibers. These things were tough as nails and he asked Paul what they were.
"Flushables," Paul said with a twinkle in his eye. "And since you’re the new kid on the block, you get to explain to the missus what was clogging her sewer line."
Mortified, Mike rang the doorbell. How in the world was he going to explain this to a perfect stranger? He wished he’d chosen just about any other profession at that moment in time.
"Yes ma’am," he heard himself say, "your sewer line is cleaned and open."
Then Mike heard the question that he’d been dreading, "What was in the line?"
Red faced, he stumbled for words. Once blurted out, they both froze for a moment and then she said, "But that can’t be, they’re flushable. It says so right on the box."
To prove her point, she retrieved the box and read the label out loud, Flushable and biodegradable tampons, applicators and wrappers.
Once back at the shop, the whole crew ribbed Mike. "Why, they’ve been great for the plumbing trade," quipped the men. "Who else could generate so much work through such a crazy notion? Flushable indeed!"
Dave Yates owns F.W. Behler, a contracting company in York, Pa. He can be reached by phone at 717/843-4920 or by e-mail at [email protected]