What a Water Works Man Has to Contend With
The Superintendent May Have His Worries. But He Has Also His Laughs—Shrewder the Water Thief, the Quicker He Is Caught—Some Troubles Disclose New Problems
IN spite of his troubles and woes, the water works superintendent has his moments of gaiety; and sometimes it happens that the laugh is on the consumer. A few such cases are entertainingly cited in the article which follows:
Few fields provide as many fascinating problems as well as amusing incidents as does the water works field. The manager of a plant is expected to be a prophet, a conjurer, a philanthropist, and a reincarnation of Job himself. But the position has its compensations for him who enters it. in the proper spirit.
No greater thrill can be experienced than to be awakened in the small hours of the morning with the information that a 48-inch feeder has let go. Nor is it in every profession that a man can go to his office and be met by some of the leading citizens of the town, even though they are out for the scalp of the fellow who made their water bills so outrageously high.
But the water works manager occasionally has a chance to laugh up his sleeve. In one of the larger cities in New Hampshire a few years ago the water company was out for violators of the lawn sprinkling regulations, particularly those who were in the habit of using the rotary lawn sprinkler without possessing a permit for same. A photographer accompanied the manager around on his tour. In many cases where a sprinkler was found illegally operating a member of the family was present around the grounds. The men explained that they were securing pictures of the different residences in the city for publicity and that they were particularly impressed with the particular house and grounds they were visiting. In most cases the member of the family willingly posed near the sprinkler for the picture, it never seeping through his head that the picture was to be used as evidence against him for violating sprinkling regulation.
It Does Not Pay to Grab Too Much
At least such was the experience of an Italian workman formerly employed by a water department, and who tried to beat the meter in his home. The superintendent had spotted his man, but could never catch him at his work. Two bills were already suspiciously small, but the superintendent figured that if he let his suspect have sufficient rope he would hang himself. And that’s just what happened. Near the end of each quarter, for the meters were read quarterly, the Italian would remove the gear train from the meter and work the gears backward with his hands. When his instinct told him he was approaching the limit of his conscience, he would replace the gear train and make amends by using water liberally for the remaining few days of the quarter. But the flexibility of his instinct resulted in his downfall. On his third manipulation of the meter workings, he worked the dials so far back that when the meter reader came the reading was actually less than what it had been at the end of the previous quarter. Of course, the superintendent invited him to pay for all the water which he had used and which the meter records did not show, plus a little more, and this he willingly did—in the shadow of a court order.
Managing a water works plant gives plenty of variety. A different problem develops every day. But it is not work entirely, for there are plenty of amusing happenings.
Sometimes You Have Got to Show Them
In the State of Illinois there once flourished a health officer who was afterward mayor of the town in which he lived. He wanted to get a water works plant and a sewer system put in. His shrewd, common sense and other virtues later resulted in his promotion to the responsible charge of one of the largest charitable institutions in the state. Just after the close of his term as mayor in describing his troubles in installing water supply and sewers he said that the citizens objected to the improvement because they were perfectly satisfied with their cisterns and believed that they would not leak. He was equally convinced that the cess pools did leak into and comtaminate the cisterns. He thought it was useless to try and convince the objectors by words, and so, one night he sent a man around and had him dump a gallon of kerosene in every cess pool in town. The next morning everybody was tasting kerosene in the cistern water and the cistern question was settled.
Speaking of Puzzles
Several years ago a western superintendent set a meter on one of the hotels at a resort about one and one-half miles from the pumping station. A week after setting, he stopped to see if it. was working all right and found that it registered less than when it was set.
As the meter was placed properly and there did not. seem to be any indications that it had been tampered with, he concluded that he had misread the meter in the first place and merely took the new read as correct. The next week the reading was still less and things began to look serious. He took the meter out looked it over, and finding it all right replaced it taking the precaution to cover it with a strong plank box secured with a padlock. Two days later the reading was still less. He took the meter out and replaced it with another, and the day following the hotel had another bill against, the water works. The explanation was simple when once the key was found.
The main was a new four-inch cast iron pipe nearly one mile long from where it connected to a larger pipe. In a hollow twenty feet or more below where the meter was set was a fire hydrant. As there was very little water being used on the line the coating on the pipe imparted a disagreeable taste to the water and the superintendent had flushed the hydrant every time he was in the vicinity, which was nearly every day. He found that the water coming into the pipe was not sufficient to supply the hydrant and also keep the pipes full where they went up over the hills. Consequently whenever the hydrant was flushed every opening in the plumbing of the resort would suck in air causing the meter to run backward much faster than it would go forward with ordinary use. As the road to the hotel led past the hydrant he had always flushed the hydrant first and read the meter afterward. A good check valve was placed in front of the meter and no further trouble was experienced.
A New Use for the Sewing Machine
Suspecting that a certain laundry was beating the water department as to the quantity of water they were using, the superintendent discovered that in each month, along about the 20th, the proprietor of the establishment would remove the clock work, and sitting down to his sewing machine and holding the clock work against the revolving band of the sewing machine, would turn the clock work backwards until the registration showed a quantity that his pocketbook could meet, and this was usually very small. Lack of loyalty in his organization queered his game.
The Best Yet
The registration of a meter at a laundry had long been unsatisfactory to a water department, so unsatisfactory that it at last was ordered out for a special test. Instead of testing it for accuracy, the shop took it apart and found everything in first class shape; all parts were in good condition and wear was hardly noticeable. The meter was thereupon ordered back into service. But it still registered a very small flow for what a laundry usually requires. Not satisfied with the results, the superintendent had it brought to his office for scrutiny. He found that a 5/8-inch dial was registering the water passing through a 1-inch meter. After the usual exchange of greetings in such a case, the laundry paid up nearly a thousand dollars for unregistered water.
Not All Trouble is Hand-Made
A New England city has a gravity water supply from a reservoir, which at the location where the following incident occurred, amounted to 120 pounds.
One day the superintendent was called up by a business firm that had a fire extinguishing sprinkler system in their building and was asked what was the cause of the excessive water pressure at their place, He answered that there was none; that, from the fact that the reservoir was only 390 feet above the lake, 125 pounds was the most that could be obtained at the very lowest level.
The complainant was inclined to become indignant and said that the gauge on their fire system showed 160 pounds and he guessed he knew what he was talking about. The superintendent’s opinion at first was that something was wrong either with the gauge or the sprinkler system, but soon after when another firm shot the same information at him, he began to think some other cause was affecting these results.
Upon investigation he found that these systems were equipped with check valves that permitted the flow of water and increase of pressure inwardly, but prevented its escape. About a block away was a standpipe that supplied the track engines of a railway company. At its installation the department had required a relief valve to be placed thereon, which had gotten out of order and was leaking. The man in charge, to prevent this, had closed the valve nearly shut, and the result was that the sudden stoppages in the flow of water when the engines discontinued their supplies produced rams in the mains, increasing temporarily the pressures to over 160 pounds. These increased pressures were, of course, communicated to the water in the sprinkler systems and naturally remained there.
And So it Goes
Not only has the water works head got to match the wits of his thousands of water takers, and be on the alert to check the illegal use of water, but he must also be able to act as pacifier, counsellor and general encyclopedia. He has got to stop the unannounced before it happens, whether it be red water plague, “cucumber” taste, or minnows. He must be fully prepared to explain to any consumer, male or female, just why copper sulphate will plate metal but not the human stomach; just why chlorine gas kills soldiers but is not able to knock out the taxpayer who takes it concealed in water. He must also be equipped to fully explain why alum puckers up the mouth but does not pucker up the internal organs when taken in water.
He has to be prepared to meet any emergency, no matter what its size.
The above include a pretty good set of specifications for a water works manager; the average manager is well able to meet them. In fact, none of the above is sufficient to make him more than blink an eye.
But the eternal feminine who calls up just as an emergency repair is being made in a force main break and demands to know just why they had to go and shut off the water to work on the pipes when she had her week’s washing under way—well that’s the limit.