Thawing the Pipes

With the looming of the “Polar Vortex” staring us all in the eye on television, social media and the like, most of us shiver in remembering at least one episode in our lives not so fondly known as ” the thawing of the pipes.”

There was more than one episode on the farm in Maine. At the time, we had a tiny room, which housed the cupboards and a little black iron sink, known as the “pantry”. Our water was gravity fed from the hill in back of the farm. In other words, it was a perfect set-up for frozen pipes.

The temperature dropped several times to the below zero mark every winter, but usually if we let a faucet drip overnight, we seemed to make it through the coldest part of the season unscathed. Everything good comes to an end. …and especially if  you have four “kids” and you are 23 years old and floundering at the edge of hysteria. Hysteria re-produced itself every morning in late January with kids of assorted sizes tripping over pajama bottoms and fighting for that secret prize in the bottom of the cereal box. All I needed was frozen pipes. I got them.

One morning I turned the faucet for water to cool my own hysteria and there was nothing.   No. It could not be. The husband had to leave for work and that left me to morph into Josephine the Plumber. I grabbed a bucket and gloves. I knew that I did not want matches, open fires  under my sink. I also knew that the Ashley wood heater in the kitchen might warm the area by late afternoon..if then. What produced warmth but looked safe? AH ha my hair dryer! With four little ones, who had time to work on hair styles, so it may as well be put to good use. I found two blocks of wood and a long ( I mean very long) extension cord. Propped the hair dryer on the wood and angled it toward a mean very cold looking elbow.

Time went on; dirty cereal bowls accumulated on the sideboard. Nary a drip from the faucet. The heat provided by this dryer was equivalent to my breath after chasing a cow in a hundred yard dash. Something had to be done and soon. Patience had fled the scene and at this point, there was no describing my hatred for cold and snow.

Desperation set in and I searched through the husband’s pile of tools. There it was..the answer…a blow torch! I hasten to say right now, this is NOT the way to thaw pipes. I knew it then and I know it now, but I had five barn cats, one dog and  four “ankle biters” wanting water. One would have thought they had trudged in a desert for four day with each tongue hanging out.

I cleared the area of all four legged and two legged beings before I scratched the match to get this brightly burning flame. No I did not get on my stomach and use it in an enclosed place . With the hair dryer blowing below, I inched toward the upper part of the pipes, blow torch in hand. I let the flame lick at the upper pipes and slowly there was a drip and then a drip.drip.drip. and then success! We had water once more..actual flowing water.

Blow torch was extinguished; hair dryer put away and now I could walk around the pantry praising myself for actually bringing water back into the farm.  With almost a swagger to my step, I found the four little ones and offered them each a glass of water only to find “they weren’t thirsty anymore.”  That rather marred the joys of victory.

So here it is almost sixty years later and the Polar Vortex is threatening again. Somewhere tonight there are going to be frozen pipes, thirsty kids in the morning and desperate measures to get the precious water flowing again.

Whatever you do, leave the blow torch out of your thawing methods.  Remember, I was young, desperate and only owned one hair dryer.  As time and technology has marched on, surely there is an “app” somewhere that thaws pipes.  I don’t own a smart phone or I’d research the subject and report it.

When it gets really cold, there is only one thing to do: hunker down because there is not one thing you or I can do about it. We can think spring if that makes it easier.



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