Running Water

The well is finally completely connected and water… cool clear water… is shooting from the open outside clean-out valve. Um, I just wanted to write “cool clear water,” but it isn’t even close to clear yet as the pump is still pumping out the initial silty construction water. But we are advancing on our way to clear. This is a major milestone.

To accomplish the spewing water, in the past few days I connected an electrical sub-panel in container number 2, hooked up breakers, ran wires to the pump control panels (one pump controller, one pump over/under voltage protector, and one pressure switch) in container number 1, hooked up the panels, ran conduit and connection wire to the junction in the well enclosure, and finished up some water piping. Well guy Victor stopped by a few days ago and we drew a schematic that I could follow to wire the control panels.

When all was wired, plumbed, said and done, I flipped the breaker and… viola… I said viola… ahem… viola… nothing happened. No water pumped and spurted. I shut the breaker off immediately and troubleshot my wiring with a multi-meter. Ah, I quickly found an error; I had forgotten to connect a jumper wire on the pressure switch at the pressure tank. That done, I rechecked everything sixty-two more times then once again flipped the breaker to the “on” position. Within two seconds, viola happened and water was shooting out of the clean out valve I had left open. It was a wonderful sight.

Victor had suggested that I dig a drainage ditch at the high side of the well enclosure so that ground water wouldn’t get into the well. I did that this morning first thing before it got hot. Then with the big nine-inch monster angle grinder and a concrete cutting blade, I cut two good holes in the concrete foundation of the front fence so that rain water could escape from our sloping lot; one of the holes giving egress to the water in the new well drainage ditch.

After that was done, I decided that it was a good day to put the roof on the well enclosure. This is a slab of concrete that I poured in container number 2 some weeks ago. It is 54-inches square and 2.5 inches thick. I calculated that it weighs about 560 pounds. I wanted it heavy so that a thief looking to steal our pump would get a hernia. Anyway, Armando was off today, cleaning and prepping his orange finca (farm) I think. Cynthia had said she hoped that I would get four or six more men to help move the slab. So of course I went at it by myself.

First, using a long pry bar, I moved the slab back and forth until it projected out of the container about a foot and a half or so. Also, like initial sparing with an opponent in the ring, I was getting a feel for the weight of the beast. I decided that muscles would have nothing to do with subduing this giant. Then with the long bar (don’t worry, photos follow) I pried it up one side at a time and slipped a metal 2×4 under each side of the slab. I also got a few more 2x4s and stretched them out on the ground to the well like railroad tracks. Next, using the leverage of the long 2x4s under the slab, I tipped the slab and it slowly slid down the ramp to the ground. I tried to lift the slab to remove the 2x4s, but it had a lot of gravity acting on it. So I fetched from my car the come-along and two towing straps that I keep in the trunk. I slung the straps over a tree limb and connected the come-along to the slab. I raised the slab a bit with the come-along, removed the 2x4s, then, click by click, lowered the slab to the ground.

Excellent so far. No injuries, no hernia, The only thing I had broken was a light sweat from the humidity. I noticed that it was getting a bit dark even though it was only 11:30. I looked at the sky and yup, a storm was a-brewing. The northeast, the direction of imminent and definite downpours, was pitch black. So I quickly got two pieces of pipe and placed them under the slab and on top of the 2x4s. The slab practically rolled itself to the well as it is all downhill. It rolled right onto the well enclosure just like that. I removed the pipes, gave it a little adjustment with the pry bar, and that was that. I picked up all the moving gear, took some photos, and got into the car and got home just as the sky opened.

Midway through the storm I walked back over to the the construction site to check on the new drainage ditches and the holes in the fence. Everything was performing perfectly. Water was pouring out the new holes as if the flood gates had been lifted. But I did notice a large puddle inside the fence along side of the driveway gate. I’ll cut one more hole there to let the water out. These holes will be dandy escape hatches for the chickens, so I’ll eventually have to fit some wire mesh over the holes before we move into our new home.

On the short walk back home the sky was completely black with rain clouds. It was raining cats, dogs, elephants, you name it. I love to go out in these tropical downpours with not much clothing on. Why bother with clothes? It is not really that cold, and a quick toweling off gets you dry again. Several bolts of lightning hit very nearby in flash-crackle-no-delay-boom fashion. I began to wonder… today is May 21st, the day the world is supposed to end. At least one man has said it is so. So I wondered. Is this the beginning of the end? The rapture?

I wasn’t really dressed for the end of the world; a pair of bright Mexican print pants, a rain coat and flip flops. But no, the rain did let up and the only causality of the direct lightning hits in the area appears to be our modem, router, and the network card in Cynthia’s computer. I called it in to the phone company and was on the phone with a tech guy who tried to get the modem up and running, but no go. It was a casualty of the rapture. Or was it the rupture? Or the hernia? A technician with a new modem will be here in 24 to 72 hours. Promise. So this posting, pre-written in my word processor, will be posted bit tardily. (Ha! Tardily is a real word! Who’d a thunk it?)

We’re back on line now, obviously.

Overview: The slab is on its way out of the container. Desitnation is the well enclosure in the foreground.

Fifteen minutes later and the sunshine has vanished. Here, I am lifting the slab with the come-along.

The slab makes its merry way toward the well enclosure. By the way, one of my favorite Spanish words is ferrocarril (railroad). It is a good practice word for rolling the Rs.

Done and cleaned up, ready for the rain. Notice the well water flowing from the pipe! Also, notice that I built the small gate. Now we can secure the yard and Jabo can run free.

That’s all for now.

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Well… Done. Almost.

Victor has finished making our well. He had two days where he struck and struck and struck hard, dense volcanic rock, making only about 5-feet per day. He showed me some of the glittering quartz in the volcanic pudding rocks. But he prevailed and we now have our water well. It ended up at his prescribed 80-feet-deep. He installed a 6-inch PVC pipe casing, cutting 1/16-inch wide, 6-inch long slits here and there in the lower 60-feet to allow the water to enter. The top 20-feet was left un-slit so that potentially contaminated surface water wouldn’t enter the well.

After cleaning the last of the debris from the hole, he tested for volume. We have a very respectable 26-gallons per minute. There’s 60-feet of water in the pipe, meaning that we have several hundred gallons of water on tap. In the dry season.

Then he and the men packed the equipment and moved the rig away from the well. We had four yards of gravel delivered, and the men shoveled about three of it into the space between the dirt and the PVC pipe. They stopped the gravel about three feet down, then mixed a few wheelbarrows full of concrete, which they poured on top of the gravel.  This sealed the well from topside contamination.

Victor and I walked to my house where I logged on to my bank and transferred his fee to his bank account. Cynthia and I thanked them all, sent regards to Victor’s wife, waved them off, and they lumbered down the mountain.

Victor suggested that I get a submersible pump so that we wouldn’t need to build a pump house enclosure. Even so, Armando and I still had a bit of work to do to enclose the top of the well. We dug a hole about four-feet square and about a foot-and-a-half deep. (It is such a pleasure not to have to build for frost and freeze.) We mixed concrete and poured the footing. It was a warm day so the concrete set rapidly. After a quick lunch, we placed two courses of concrete blocks on the foundation. Then, while Armando was mixing more concrete and placing a 3-inch slab floor inside the block perimeter and around the well casing, I screwed some boards to one of the shipping container floors and we poured a concrete slab into this form. We will let the slab cure for a week before rounding up two more men to move it to be the “roof” over the well. Or perhaps Armando and I can do it alone if we use my little red wagon. The slab will be heavy, but movable enough should the pump need service in the future.

I went shopping one day and came home with:

  • a submersible pump and motor
  • a pump controller
  • a surge protector to protect the motor from our erratic power supply
  • a hundred feet of PVC pipe and various fittings
  • a sanitary cap for the top of the well
  • a hundred feet of submersible wire to power the pump motor
  • a hundred feet of plastic rope to attach to the pump for when we need to pull the pump
  • some electrical conduit
  • a pressure tank, pressure switch, and a gauge

I still need to install all of this, but I want to wait until the roof slab is cured enough to move it into place.

Here are some photos:

Victor and the crew hit rock bottom. This photo looks like a music CD cover shot: Victor V and the Rock Bottom Boys.

Cleaning the last of the debris from the well. This pipe has a valve on the bottom so they can pull stuff up from way down below.

The gravel goes into the hole around the pipe.Victor cut some bailing wire and draped it into the top of the pipe. Then he stuffed the empty cement bag into the pipe, resting on top of the wires. Then, he placed some concrete on top of the bag. This made a temporary plug to keep the well clean. When I install the pump, I will cut the pipe off close to the concrete floor.

Here's the well house. I made the wooden form to facilitate getting everything square. Armando fought the idea at first because he didn't understand how to do the job without a framing square, but I persisted. He got how easy it was when we laid the second corner in relation to the first. Tomorrow we will place some pipe and electrical conduit in the open space and fill in around it. Then Armando can apply the repello (stucco).

Not much to look at, but here is the slab for the well roof.

Bonus photo: sunset over the mountains

Stay tuned. A new post is in the works.

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With a top speed of 40 kilometers per hour (25 mph) and spewing diesel smoke, the vintage 1960s well drilling rig lumbered up the mountain and turned at our road.

Victor and I had talked back in November when he walked our lot and surveyed the lay of the land. “Marzo” he said, he should return in the month of marzo (March) to make our well. He said that yes, he could do it in rainy November and he would easily find water. But would the water still be there in March during the dry season? No way to say for sure. But if he gets water in March, it is sure to be there in November during the rainy season. Good logic.

So we waited until March. The land has dried out and the drainage ditch now barely trickles. And true to his word, Victor called a few days ago and said he was on his way. He had been working his way from the far side of Panama, drilling wells as he came our way.

Victor and I go back about a year and a half. I purchased a pump to move some water from a cistern. The pump came with instructions to hook it up to 220 volts. The instructions were tied right there to the wiring. So I did as they said and promptly burned up the pump. Seems it was wired internally for 110 and they put the wrong instruction tag on the pump. So I replaced the pump, but this time I called the number on the tag and Victor answered. He came right out even though it was a holiday. He correctly wired the pump and didn’t charge me a cent.

Some time later a neighbor had a problem with her well pump and I called Victor to help. He solved that problem, too, and I could see his 50-or-more years of experience with pumps was a valuable asset. We exchanged phone numbers.

Some time later, he called me. The engine on his rig had blown a head gasket and he wondered if I could help him get a new gasket from the States. I went online and found one for the old White (now Hercules) engine, paid for it with my credit card, and had it sent to a friend who was coming to Panama a few days later. Victor and I met on the road and I gave him the gasket and he paid me what was owed.

All these times I struggled with Spanish and he dusted off his very rusty English. He is one of the few Panamanians who will correct us when we make an error in speaking, and we like that. I did the same for him with his English. We got along well (no pun intended) and Cynthia noted that he and I were well suited for each other. I began to trust Victor.

Victor is in his early 70s and is a quiet and very gentle man. He has a great sense of humor. When I introduced him to Armando, he spoke in his broken English and told Armando, “I don’t speak no Spanish, only English.” Armando eyed him sideways and finally got the joke. Another time he told Romiro from across the street that he was 24-years-old but that the diesel smoke had aged him rapidly.

He and his crew arrived about 3:30 p.m. and they got right to work. Victor dowsed the well with two pieces of bent 1/4-inch rebar and stuck a stick in the ground where he said the best water was to be found. They set up the rig and started to make progress. By 5:30 they had accomplished 25-feet. The next two days they hit large, dense rocks and progress slowed to a total of 45-feet. Their goal is 80-feet, and I’ll put up a new post when they are finished.

The rig arrives and Cynthia daydreams about cool, clear water.

The Big Wheel

This is the business end of the works. This rig doesn't drill. It pounds like a pile driver. After each impact, the men turn the cable a bit to rotate the hammer.

Twenty-five feet the first day.

Victor surveys the progress, or lack thereof, and decides to switch to the heavier hammer.

Jose (left) and Miguel (right), a father and son team, keep the process moving. Miguel was particularly proud to have his picture taken.

More next time.