The first indication that something might be wrong with our plumbing was late last week.
It was early in the morning, before the rest of the family was up. I was doing a load of laundry. During the spin cycle, I kept hearing GLUG GLUG GLUG. What on earth could be glugging? I walked into the bathroom and heard the noise coming from the toilet. Lifting the lid, I saw big air bubbles coming up from the pipes.
Weird. But the washing machine worked fine, so I didn't give it much thought.
Then the toilet started acting up. Always capricious at the best of times, we had to plunge it after almost every use. Okay, doubly weird.
Then someone took a shower and the tub stubbornly refused to drain. This isn't anything unusual -- the drain often clogs -- but this time the tub hadn't drained after a full hour.
So Don snaked the tub. He has to snake the tub every few months anyway. Leaves a mess, but it always works.
Except this time... it didn't.
So the evidence so far: a toilet that bubbles when the washing machine drains; a tub that won't drain; and a toilet that needs constant plunging. The consensus? The septic tank is full.
Okay. Don called the septic guy and made arrangements for him to come out the next day. However this meant we couldn't use any of the facilities in the house.
And I mean nothing. We had plenty of water, but no way to drain it. This meant we couldn't use the toilets, the tub, the sinks, the washing machine, or anything else that required water to exit the premises.
Fortunately I had just washed the dishes, but we couldn't wash any more. Nor could we wash our hands (we used wet wipes). Braving the wind and rain, we used the barn's compost heap when nature called (one of the advantages of not having close neighbors). And we skipped brushing our teeth.
Meanwhile we had to find the septic tank. We had a general idea where it was -- just off the yard -- but didn't know specifically. So we got shovels and started digging. We dug holes here, we dug holes there, we dug and dug until it was too dark to see.
Don took over digging the next morning. He dug here, he dug there, all to no avail. Then he decided to try probing the ground to greater depths, rather than futilely digging in random spots. But what would press downward? He tried clamshells (too unwieldy). He tried a breaker bar (too big). He tried a well rod (too blunt). He tried brass rod (too soft). He finally hit upon an iron rod from an old wagon, of which he ground one end to a sharp point. This allowed him to hammer the rod into the dirt in various places and probe down to three feet.
After several hours, he located the septic tank. Success! Well, partial success. Next he had to locate the hatch leading into it. Using the iron rod and not a little sleuthing, he finally had the hatch located.
Next he had to dig it out. It was, of course, three feet down. Standing in the mud and muck, he dug and dug. (As an aside, I don't hear any feminists volunteer for chores like this whenever they complain about how men don't do enough housework.)
Finally he had a hole down to the cover. Because we've had lots of rain lately, it promptly filled with water.
Don spied a frightened little vole at the bottom. I took a shovel and gently scooped him up and released him. (Voles are annoying in the garden, but they're remarkably docile little critters.)
Finally, late in the afternoon, the welcome rumble of the septic pump truck was heard.
He backed his rig up to the yard gate and snaked his hose through the yard...
...and into the tank (you can see the tank lid on the left).
The pump operator was cheerful, friendly, and efficient. He had the tank empty in about fifteen minutes...
...then he was on his way to the next destination to rescue another desperate family (an unsung hero, in my opinion).
Delighted to have drainage back, I celebrated by doing the dishes and then taking a shower.
But wait! While in the shower, I heard the ominous sound of the toilet going GLUG GLUG GLUG.
Grrrrr. We looked out back and saw that the clean-out pipe was overflowing, indicating that there was a blockage in the pipe somewhere between the house and the septic tank. Don pulled the cap and tried snaking the toilet snake down the pipe, but nothing doing (the snake was too thin and too short).
Grunt. Back to square one, no drainage. Some dear neighbors told the girls they could come shower at their house. Meanwhile Don jumped in the car, drove an hour into the city and hit Home Depot for some plumbing supplies, and drove home again, arriving well past dark.
The supplies he got were a beefy fifty-foot snake, and a drain cleaning bladder (which attaches to a hose, snakes down the drain, inflates to the width of the pipe, and blasts out blockages as it goes). It was too late to fuss with this by the time he got home, so we went to bed with a clogged tub, dirty dishes, and unflushed toilets (back to the compost heap again, whenever nature called).
The next morning we uncoiled the snake...
...and Don started feeding it down the clean-out pipe.
When he thought he had sufficiently loosened up the blockage, he followed it up with the bladder.
Wheeee! At last the pipe was cleaned out!
...Or was it? I did a load of laundry and soon heard the ominous GLUG GLUG GLUG coming up from the toilet. We hastily turned off the washing machine and Don re-inserted the bladder into the clean-out pipe, snaking it as far down as he could, then blasting the water. We could heard it shooting into the now-empty septic tank. This time we let the water run, full blast, for five minutes before shutting it off.
And that seems to have done it. The facilities are working fine and we've heard no more air bubbles coming up from the toilet. It also gave us a DEEP appreciation for the wonders of working plumbing!
It also made me re-appreciate my clever and hard-working husband who got himself filthy on our behalf... and, not incidentally, solved our plumbing woes without having to call a plumber.