Saturday, March 21, 2015

Robin's Little Shack Of Horrors.

    I lay awake last night thinking about it, and when I awoke, I lay there and worried about it some more, not entirely sure if I was going to be able to pull this one off or not. The dreaded day had arrived, and I felt like a death row prisoner about to meet the noose. I had worried lots about this particular little job for many years now. But it was a job that needed to be done, the plant was down and it was a perfect time, and couldn't be put off any longer, no matter how many excuses I came up with, and there were plenty, believe me. I was going to have to put my phobias at bay, keep a cool, clear mind under duress, and work quickly under adverse conditions. Today was the day I was going to venture into the pelton-wheel tail-race.
 The tail-race is what us independent power guys call the pipe where the water comes out after it goes through the wheel that generates electricity. This particular tail-race is a galvanised culvert that is plugged into side of a poly box below floor level the pelton-wheel dumps into.  

 With the inspection plate off, the wheel, the holding box, the dreaded culvert/tail race end.
I built this dump box and stuck the culvert into side of it back in 2000, filling over and around it, pouring a concrete floor on top and putting up a structure over the pelton workings. I had sealed the pipe first with some oakum or something that I had around and had second thoughts about it afterwards. Before the water was turned on for the first time I decided to wriggle up the tail-race pipe and slop some tar around from the inside. It was a tight squeeze and I had a little flashlight and I would get in a little ways, get freaked out and wriggle back out, saying no way. Going inside at some point had never occurred to me when I brought home the tail-race culvert, and I'm thankfull I didn't bring back the next size down. This particular death-trap is 18" (that's 46 cm for you young folks here in Canada) which may sound like a lot, but theres not much room in there, for me anyways, I don't know about you. The confined space, the fact normally 250 gallons of water pour through there and dead-ends in the dump box just creeped me right out. But I persevered onwards, had a look around in there at what I needed then started wriggling my way back out. I had a light jacket on, it began to ride up and bunch up on my shoulders as I worked my way down jamming me in the pipe, and all rearward motion stopped. I squiggled forward a little to work my jacket back down and started out again. The jacket rode up once more and I was stuck again, only now I was stuck even further from the entrance. My blood-pressure went into triple digits. Well I did with time manage to keep a cool head and work my way out, rolling the jacket up over my head and trailing off my outstretched arms and that sunlight sure looked good when I got out of that hell-hole. Of course there was no-one around for miles, and it would have taken a week or more before anyone would begin to miss me. I crawled in there once more to do the sealing, but I remember when I scrambled out of there I said that was the last time I would ever do that again. Famous last words.
Several years ago water began to trickle alongside the culvert, and the ground in front of the steps was saturated, and I knew it wouldn't be too long before I was going to have to talk some poor bugger into crawling in there and initiating a repair. 

You must be this small for this ride.
If you have been reading me for any length of time you will recall most often when 'poor bugger' comes up in the job description, for some reason, I am the one most highly qualified.
I had saved the disc I cut out to fit the culvert years ago, I thought it may be of some use down the road. It never did, but it did come in handy today cutting my rope gasket to size, and convincing myself this was a good idea. I stood there studying it for about 10 minutes, working my courage up, and willing myself smaller.

For real, just in case, and as I often do when I'm out and about and up to no good, I left a note on the kitchen table directing people to the mishap. I don't know what the hell 'COME QUICK!' is going to do for me, it would be 10 days or 2 weeks before anyone missed me, but at least they would know where to retrieve the body. I probably should have explained what the tail-race was though.
   The tanks running low on propane, but I figured the back-up generator would run for about 3 days continuous before my trouble-light down there went out. What a way to go, getting jammed in my pelton-wheel tail-race, that would be like Willie Wonka falling into his chocolate vat.

Through the inspection hole above, I dropped a trouble light into the abyss, and lowered a grocery bag down that held tools and cans of sealant. A last thought, I added the two way radio to call for help when the time came. It would come in handy for giving interviews to Fox News during the televised rescue attempt when they were drilling me out of there too. then took the long walk outside to the open end of the offending culvert.

Goodbye cruel world.
Before I lay down to crawl to my demise, I stopped for one last picture. A rainy, dreary day, what better time to meet your maker. A bat flew from the spider webbed opening, and my last thought before getting in there was..."I can't believe I'm going to do this".

Dead man squiggling.
I lay right down in the puddle at the entrance, may as well get the getting wet part over right at the start. Once I got in there to the dump box, I could roll over on my back and the water would seep through to the other side of my crotch, and I could be wet on both sides, what the hell. But for the grace of God, in I went a-squiggling, accompanied by much grunting, cursing, and multiple remarks of, "This sucks!".

Sucks big time indeed.
I held my camera out ahead of me, documenting the event for the up-coming coroner's investigation. There is just enough room to fit, rubbing on all four sides and moving yourself along with your arms out ahead of you pushing with your toes and nipples, a few inches at a time. Its hard work, and if you try to take a big breath, you jam in there. The spiral corrugation is none too comfortable to lay on, and theres a puddle in every goddamn one, but it does give you a toe-hold up the slight incline. At the half-way point there was a welcoming trouble-light dangling at the end of the tunnel.

I got in there with the top half of my old self hanging out of the culvert end and rolled over to take a shot looking up at the pelton-wheel and deflector, and immediately my hat fell into the water, I chucked it out the inspection hole above, then took a couple selfies in there, but decided not to use one here, as they looked like I was scared half to death for some reason.
I dropped the camera into the pre-lowered grocery bag and dug out the can of foam filler to start with to clog up the gaps, then I would wrap a marine grade dock rope around and spray it down with an aerosol roof repair product to saturate the rope and goo it to the side of the box. If you have a better idea, you are free to come show me how its done. I'll watch through the inspection hole.
   If you have ever used a can of foam crack filler, you will know that once you press the button, it is difficult to get them to stop. So I'd spray-foam fill a section then struggle to roll over so I could carry on, meanwhile, foam-can still slowly spews it's contents and I soon remembered not to hold it above my face and by the time I got a handle on things it was smeared all over my jacket in several places. You can't wipe it off either, I recalled after the fact. Pretty soon its all over my rubber gloves and I can't let go of the can. I pull it off my right and it sticks to my left. There was still some water in the bottom of the dump-box (I know because I was continually sticking an elbow or shoulder into it, and if I tried to lay my head back to rest my aching neck, it would jerk right up again, sopping wet on back) and as I would change position I just tried to hold it out over the water, forming a large floating foam replica of a dog turd I would suppose, if a dog were to stand very still say. This brought me a moments amusement, but I'm pretty sure a floating turd would wear pretty thin after 3 days stuck in there waiting for the generator to run out of fuel. I finished with the foam fiasco and tried to chuck the can up and out the inspection hole. It stuck to my rubber glove of course, and sling-shot it's self backwards into the water, making an ice cold splash that got me square in the face. After several attempts, and another splash in the face I finally managed to chuck the can, with two attached rubber gloves out the opening above. I pulled down the length of marine rope I had dangled in there and set it in place, then dug in the bag for the next part of the project.
   If you have ever used a can of aerosol roof patch, you will know that not all of it goes where you intend it. Holding the spray nozzle in the proper direction is a good start. By the time the tar-can was near empty, there was a black cloud in there that was dimming the trouble-light's glow, my glasses are speckled on, and from breathing the fine asphalt mist I was getting light-headed from the fumes, and not in an entirely unpleasant way either. By the time the large can was about empty, the rope and I both were equally saturated.
   Well it looked like I was done. And it was really awkward work. I pushed myself back into the pipe a bit to rest, laying my head back to ease my aching neck.
By now I knew how far back I could go before touching the water...
But I didn't factor in that goddamn floating foam turd being there. I jerked my head up and it was considerably heavier with all the mass attached. I remember saying something, I don't know what it was, but it was probably not good. I get an arm free and manage to liberate the back of my head from the object that sticks to my hand and as I was trying to shake it off I got a start when I noticed the floating dead mouse was stuck on there too. I guess I never mentioned the floating dead mouse did I.
   Well  guess I have to mention it now, the day before I had been trying to lower the level of water in the dump box using a drill powered pump, which are about half useless to begin with. I had a length of hose going down into the sump, and another small hose running out the shack door, and I had been doing my share of sucking on the hose to draw the water up to prime the drill-pump, getting various snoot fulls in the process. I never did get it working despite swallowing and wearing a considerable amount. I ended up making a little bailing can that I lowered down there on a wire, and it was during this procedure that I noticed the floating dead mouse. Yuk.
   I threaded my way back down the culvert and out to freedom. I went above and peered down the inspection hole with the trouble-light into where I had just been admiring my repair job. I was a bit damp, all over, I had hold of the cord and I knelt down on my wet knee to get a better look, completing the circuit. One hundred and twenty volts of startling electricity jumped from the cord into the palm of my hand, and I squealed like a little girl, dropping the works and falling over backwards. Scared me more than anything, normal household power usually not going to kill you, but it certainly gets your attention, and encourages you to put down whatever it is you have hold of. 
So my last big adventure up the tail-race was a great success.
Lets see..., I drank dead-mouse broth, got soaking wet, bruised up, cut up on the sharp edge of the culvert, blackened my glasses and splattered my face, got foam filler and a dead mouse stuck in whats left of my hair, and in the end I got nearly electrocuted by the backup generator. But I got out!
Turns out the squeezing into the culvert was the least of it. But I'm not going back in there again for a long time. Just to make sure, I'm going to crawl back in tomorrow with a half gallon of gummy roof fixing stuff I found around to smear around in there a little more. 
I better save that note.


  1. Living off the grid is all well and good -but- is it worth all you seem to go through? I think there must be an easier way no?

  2. Wow what a messy job. It's too bad you couldn't hire some kid from Skatin to help you with that? Casey

  3. Hey Robin,

    Love reading your posts! I occasionally consider going off grid, and then read stuff like this that scares the sh!t out of me back to reality. Thanks for keeping it real!



  4. Thanks for the comments. There were a couple more comments on this post, but I accidently sent them away with the spam. ;( Sorry folks, you know whom you are, feel free to comment again, I'll be more careful.
    Living off the grid is great, 97 percent of the time my system just runs away over there. Sometimes I get blown or or break down, this year has been paricularly problematic. Don't let my shenanigans scare you off, go green!