PHOTO: J. Keeler Johnson
May 1, 2018

We hobby farmers tend to be known as resourceful types, each a veritable “Jack of all trades.” We’re willing to learn a wide variety of skills to further our farming ambitions, whether it’s plowing fields or raising goats or building chicken coops. But have you ever considered giving simple plumbing tasks a try? Plumbing might not be a skill you’ve intended to learn, because in most cases we figure it’s something best left to professionals.

Then again, if you take the time to gain some basic knowledge of plumbing, you might be able to handle many small, manageable tasks, which could save you the time and the expense of summoning a professional.

For example, my farm contains a red yard hydrant that gets used multiple times each day. For the most part, it works flawlessly, thanks in part to its very simple design—the water line is buried deep in the ground, where it won’t freeze during the winter, and the water is brought to the surface by a long pipe topped by the hydrant.

The yard hydrant features a handle that easily snaps from “off” to “on,” letting you turn on the water in a single quick movement. The flow of the water is also adjustable, determined by how high you raise the handle. This is because the handle is attached to a rod within the pipe that shuts off the water deep underground. Raise the rod a little bit, and you create a small opening for the water to flow through. Raise the rod a lot, and you create a larger opening for a stronger flow.

Great, right? Sure, but a plumbing problem exists. See, on my yard hydrant, the handle is attached to the internal rod by means of a cotter pin, a design that works fine—except when it doesn’t. Once in a while, the cotter pin wears out, leaving the handle loose and unable to turn on the water.

Having the handle of your yard hydrant give out unexpectedly might seem like a big deal at first. Indeed, the first time it happened to my yard hydrant, I had a plumber come out right away.

But the truth is that this particular fix couldn’t be much simpler, as the plumber (a very helpful man) was quick to demonstrate. After shutting off the water pump to prevent the project from being flooded, I needed only to disconnect a short brass rod from the handle, unscrew the hydrant from the pipe in the ground, reattach the short brass rod to the long rod using a new cotter pin, and then screw the whole unit back together. Plumbing simplicity.

Since that first incident, the cotter pin has worn out on a few occasions, but with the right tools on hand (a pair of pliers plus two large pipe wrenches for unscrewing the hydrant—which is tough to budge), I can easily make the repair in about 10 minutes. That certainly beats calling a plumber!

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