In the Paddock

The looks on the faces of the two men standing on the sidewalk here on Circular Street said it all, after this writer attempted to make light about water percolating out of the ground the morning after the Super Bowl.

“I’ve always wanted a fountain,” I said.

Bill Morris, who runs a local excavating company and has probably seen it all, didn’t say anything at first. He just looked at the small hole in the ground, filled with water, looked at me and looked down again before offering his take.

“Be careful, you might,” he said.

Fortunately the full-blown fountain never arrived, but the last few days certainly were a lesson in ownership of a home built nearly a century ago in a place with a clearly aging infrastructure.

The saga started last Friday after arriving back home from a night away and going to the sink to rinse out a glass. Immediately after turning on the kitchen sink it was clear something wasn’t right. The water flowed at about half-pressure, if such a thing exists.

Since the weather all week hovered in the single-digits during the day and below zero at night, the first thought was frozen pipes. Even though that seemed like more of a thing from time in Kentucky – with houses built on slabs and poorly insulated water lines – such a thing is reality in the Northeast. A main city water main recently broke two blocks over, flooding several streets and forcing boil-water advisories for more than a dozen residents, so it certainly seemed plausible.

A quick check of the outside spigots and basement didn’t reveal any flowing or standing water and I breathed a momentary sigh of relief.

“Surely this is from that water main on Warren Street.”

About a half-hour later I checked the faucet again, and a few others in the house, and noticed no change. Another check outside and of the basement yielded the same results.

“Ah well, maybe it’ll be better in the morning.”

After a fitful 6 1/2 hours of sleep into Saturday morning came time to check again.

“Come on, come on.”

No dice. Same result, maybe with even little less pressure.

A phone call to the local department of public works – relayed through the police department’s non-emergency line – promised someone would come out to give it a check. A few hours later the man arrived and gave the diagnosis after checking the basement water line coming into the house. He heard what sounded like water running and determined “there is no doubt something between the house and the main line.”

Good news, bad news. Good that there wasn’t any water in the basement, at least not yet, but bad that something was amiss under ground in the middle of winter with an estimated 2 feet of frozen ground under about 18 inches of snow.

Fast-forward to Monday – after not stressing (too much) through a busy Saratoga weekend filled with Chowderfest, keeping a running streak alive, volunteering at a snowshoe race and hosting a small Super Bowl party – and it was time to call the plumber.

“I don’t handle that kind of thing, you need to call one of the big companies in town.”

A similar answer came from one of the big companies.

“We don’t do that, but I can recommend someone. Call Bill Morris, he’s your guy. I’ll give him a call and a heads up that you’ll be in touch.”

Bill came out mid-morning Monday, with a nice fellow from the city’s engineering department, to locate the shutoff between the sidewalk and curb. They eventually found it, after removing a patch of melting snow and easily piercing the what-should-have-been-frozen-ground with a shovel.

“There you go, bingo,” one of them said.

Unable to shut off the water – no doubt due to the fact that the shutoff was old and deteriorated – Bill determined there was no other course than to “dig it up and see what’s going on down there.”

By 7:30 a.m. Tuesday a work crew that numbered between four and eight did just that, digging a five-by-five hole, removing a small tree and staying (relatively) dry in the process. The leak came from the shutoff connection, which one of the men determined was probably done in a similar emergency situation decades ago, and that they’d have to “fix it on the fly” since the water continued to flow.

Assisted by a giant truck with an earth-sucking vacuum – this was no Dyson – one of the guys cut the old line with a saw, added a new shut off and had the water flow stopped in the matter of minutes. All while standing in the hole with the water flowing and the vacuum doing its job.

“Makes you glad you do what you do, huh?” Morris said as I watched.

No doubt about it.

By 11:30 a.m. the hole was filled and a treated 4x4 piece of wood painted blue on top stuck out of the ground – not far from where the tree once grew – to note the location of the new shutoff.

Inside the water pressure returned to normal and everyone went about their business.

Phase 2 of the ordeal will come in the spring, when a galvanized water line that runs under the road and Morris called a “time bomb” will need to be replaced. Until then I’ll enjoy the water pressure and be glad for what I do.