I knew this problem was going to come eventually, but with everything else I’m trying to do, I kind of hoped it would be a few more months before I had to face it. Today the water stopped. My guess is either the water tower we get the water from is empty or something in the system is frozen. We’re not going to go thirsty for a while. We have more than enough bottled water in the basement to last us for several months. The problem comes when we try to plant anything. I don’t know much about gardening but I do know plants need water.
The good news is the river is practically at the end of my street, about an eighth of a mile away. The bad news is the water is an eighth of a mile away. I guess what I’m trying to say is water is freaking heavy. That water is also not exactly clean. The river goes by us before it enters the city proper, but I don’t know where it’s coming from or what may be in it. Once again, my windmill will have to wait.
Something I learned this week while reading a physics book I picked up, a mile is 5,280 feet. That means I’ve only had to find a way to move water about 660 feet to where we need it. First of all, I know pumps exist to move water further than that. I’m also not stupid and know the water we drink has to be sourced locally. That would be locally from a time when fuel wasn’t so hard to come by. Even if I can track down the pump station it’s going to require power, I haven’t figured out how to generate. Even if I could generate enough for my house, I’m pretty sure running a pumping station that feeds a city is beyond my abilities.
This leaves me with only one option. I have to figure out how to make my own pump. I have a small hand pump for syphoning fuel. It’s made of a clear plastic that lets you see what you’re pumping. It also lets you see how the pump works. I spent several hours at the river with the pump trying to figure it out and here’s what I understand. The pump requires a few things to work, something to pull the liquid up the pipe, a way to close the entrance once the pump changes directions, something that opens to the outlet when the pump changes directions, and a way to direct the liquid as it’s pushed out. It sounds so easy when I write it down like that.
In my first attempt I used some pvc pipe in two different sizes. On fit pretty well in the other. I filled out the gap with some weather stripping held to the center with super glue. I capped the larger pipe on the bottom and glued a threaded nozzle to it. I then glued a piece of rubber on the inside over the hole, leaving one side unglued. That way when I tried to pull water in, the water would push it open, and when I pushed the other pipe in, the pressure should keep it closed. I did something similar to the top of the smaller pipe that went inside only in reverse. I hooked a short hose to either side and gave it a try.
I quickly realized I needed something to not only hold on to that wasn’t the pipes, but that something else would have to hold the larger pipe while I worked. I built a small wooden platform to secure the larger pipe too. Then I secured some handles to the smaller pipe with a large metal band and some glue. To my complete surprise it actually worked. It took a lot of effort and it leaked like crazy but this collection of plastic and glue actually moved water from the river through it and out a hose. I was so excited I didn’t even care I was soaked to the bone. Until I nearly froze before I got back to the house.
I was ecstatic to finally be on the right path for something. I had to rest for a whole day before I felt well enough to try again. This time I decided I would need better material. The hardware store didn’t have much beyond what I had already used. I thought I may try somewhere more specialized. I compiled a list of places I thought may have better hardware for my experiment. I knew there had to be one-way valves out there that would work better than rubber and super glue.
The first place I checked did medical equipment. They had valve that matched what I was looking for, in everything but size and material. The tiny plastic stuff they had would not be able to provide the amount of water we would need. I knew it was a long shot but they were the closest. I checked a smaller hardware store that looked a bit more… country. They have the weird hose hook up that went in the middle of the yard that you had to raise a handle to turn on the water, but little more. The store was pretty well cleaned out before I got there. If I hadn’t had to break the lock to get in, I could swear someone had beat me there.
The third place did nothing but plumbing supplies. After about an hour of searching I found some one-way valves in a few different sizes. They were all threaded and made of metal. I guessed I would have to use metal pipes at least for the pump. I found some pipes that would fit and even a few good candidates for the pump itself. I decided to have a more thorough look around. I found some small rings that I couldn’t tell if they were rubber or plastic called O-rings. They looked like they might fit over the pipes. They looked like they were used for seals in valves but this may work too.
After my trip I was ready for my second attempt. I spent a day laying out the pump itself. It turned out the O-rings wouldn’t just lay on the pipe like I wanted. I had to spend a few hours cutting a small groove at the end of the smaller pipe to get it to fit. This meant that I ruined several pipes before I got it right. By the end of the day my second pump was ready to be tested.
My new pump was a good bit bigger than my first one. I was very excited until it came time to pump. This one moved a lot more water, which meant it required a lot more work. After about two minutes of pumping, I was completely worn out, but the pump worked great. It leaked just a little but I bet if I put a second o ring on it that would stop. My only problem was how to power the damn thing. My idea was to use hoses I could run from my home to the river. After raiding all the hardware stores in town, I knew I had enough pvc and garden hoses to reach from my house to the river. There was also a very convenient storm drain that ran under the main road at the end of my street to I didn’t have to worry about running it over with the truck. Moving the water to my house would require more power as well. My street may feel flat but its actually a very slight incline, that’s going to make it more difficult.
I brought my pump home and I guess I was lost in thought through dinner because Ruth asked me how my experiment was going. I told her the pump worked fine but using it by hand was going to be an issue. I really needed something to power it but if we used an engine of some kind that would take away our fuel reserves.
Ruth laughed at me and said told me the answer had been in front of me all day. She told me to use the river. I thought she was making fun of me till she said I should make a water wheel to move the pump, that way the moving water would provide the energy to pump itself. I was flabbergasted. Could this actually work, how would I make a water wheel. She gave me a very basic description of how they work and I knew what I had to do.
The first thing I needed was something to hold up the waterwheel. I decided it didn’t need to be huge but I did need it strong enough to move the pump. Using the same technique, I used to make the new base of my windmill I cemented some posts in the ground as close to the river as I could. Then I built a basic platform onto using lumber I got from the hardware store. I will be the first to tell you I’m not going to win any awards for carpentry. I was following the instruction I found in a book about decking but I was using thicker boards and more of them. I didn’t want this thing to fall. The end result was ridiculously sturdy considering it had about half a hardware store’s worth of wood and screws in it. I also coated the whole thing in as much deck protector as I could. Now for the wheel itself.
I hoped I wouldn’t need anything huge. My platform came right to the water’s edge so I wouldn’t have to extend the axel for the wheel to far. The wheel was very simple. I basically made a bunch of flat paddles that met in the center. I used some wood to secure them in a circular pattern. It looked more angular than any wheel should but the important thing was I could fasten it to the axel which was the thickest pipe I could find and secure it through the industrial bearing I found. I was amazed to see that it actually turned. I was completely astounded to see I couldn’t stop the axel. I could stop the wheel but it took a lot of effort.
The idea I had was to secure a pole to the axel so that one side would spin around creating an arm I could use to work the pump. Getting the arm on wasn’t much of a problem. The big problem came in getting the arm and the pump to work together. I had to take off the arm and re-cut it several times. Once I thought I had broken the pump, but all I had to do was changed the seals and it worked again. After two days of tweaking and rebuilding the pump was finally working. Even better it would push water all the way up the street to my house. It didn’t do it fast, the amount of water coming through the hose was much less powerful than your average garden hose is used too, but it was water I didn’t have to haul.
I spent a day with the flat bed truck I used to move the greenhouse and I went to the tractor store. They had large tanks I think were meant to be buried and used to store water for animals, but they would hold up to two hundred gallons. I got two and placed them in the back yard. I spent an afternoon hooking the hose from the pump to one and watched as the water trickled in. Over the next hour it accumulated to an appreciable sum. I put in an additive from the tractor store that kept livestock water from freezing when left outside. Ruth said it shouldn’t be a problem if we boil the water first, besides I now had some time to think of a way to filter it so we could fill the second tank with clean water. I’m not ashamed to say I’m feeling pretty good about what I’ve done so far.
February 15, 2022