Interview With A Rural Water Guy On The Ranch Pen

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#2 with Nellie

Almost all of us in the USA take our water for granted. We turn on a tap and there it is. The process isn’t that simple, however, and I enjoyed finding out what goes on behind the scenes to keep us in clean, safe water. I hope y’all will, too.

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Today, I’m tickled almost completely to death to share a slice of my second son’s life as part of his birthday celebration this week. He is currently the system manager for our rural water district, but this is the winding road he took to get there:

#2 was born prematurely, but he soon took off and grew up doing the things most farm and ranch kids do. When he was a little pee-wee sized kid, #2’s nemesis came in the form of a big, white rooster with long spurs that cornered him up in the shed and soundly pecked his head. I don’t think he’s had much use for chickens–except the fried variety–since.

As soon as he grew big enough, he was riding a big gelding named Shorty in junior rodeos, milking our family cow, Peanut, slopping hogs, feeding cows, and hoeing in the garden. As a bigger kid, he rode motorcycles, took care of the overpopulation of varmints with his .22, used the roof of the house as a diving board to the trampoline, and did other stuff with his friends that seemed like a good idea at the time.

As a teenager, he worked on our family farm and cattle operation, logging in many, many hours operating tractors, combines, and hay swathers.  By eighteen, he already had a lot of experience with farm fires, so he joined our volunteer fire department and graduated from his home school as one of its best students.

In addition to his present occupation, he has been a farmer and cattleman, a custom hay harvester, a custom wheat harvester, a custom cotton harvester, a volunteer fire chief, a restaurant owner, has worked at a hot dog factory, and is a professional fence builder.

Presently, he lives on a small farm with his wife and the grandkids, Blondie and GitRDone. He is active in his church, and is an all around super-nice guy who loves the Lord.

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One of seven stand pipes in the water district’s area. They are used for water storage and to regulate pressure in the lines. The fence is to keep out meddlers, livestock, and–post 9/11–terrorists. Looking at that fence, I can only say, “Yikes”.

On the beautiful, 20* morning of this interview, #2 picked me up in his truck and I went with him to collect a Bac/T sample to test the water for the presence of E coli. (And yes, the sky was that blue.)

Danni: I know the water district is pretty big, but how much area does it actually cover?

#2: It’s huge. Takes in parts of four counties and has over seven hundred miles of pipe. It’s not unusual for me to drive two hundred miles in the course of the day.

Danni: What are your main duties?

#2: I’m mainly supposed to oversee the operation of the system and deal with the DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality), and contractors, but I’m shorthanded so a lot of my time is spent locating water lines and valves, and repairing leaks.

Danni: How many are on your crew, now?

#2: (grins) One besides me. I could easily use a four man crew, but the rural water districts out here (western Oklahoma) don’t have the money, or a pool of qualified people to draw from.

(The situation in many rural farm areas is pretty grim. Young people graduate high school and move away to college or better paying jobs, so there are few workers left to keep up aging infrastructures with money from diminished tax bases.)

Danni: What have been some of the biggest challenges you face aside from being shorthanded?

#2: Well, I wish I’d had somebody to show me the ropes a little when I first started, but the former manager was already gone. I’ve pretty much had to learn everything about water pressures and where all the lines and valves are by trial and error. Keeping up an old system is challenging, but I actually enjoy it.

Danni: Where does the district’s water come from?

#2: All of it comes from wells near the Red River that tap into an aquifer in the area. We have six active wells, two reserve wells, and three or four test wells

Danni: How is the water treated and filtered?

#2: Since it’s a ground water system (as opposed to lake water or another above ground source), we treat it with just chlorine gas. Sand traps are the only filters needed.

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#2 sanitizing a hydrant with bleach before taking a water sample

Danni: Why are you taking a sample from this particular farm hydrant?

#2: The DEQ mandates two Bac/T samples each month from sites they choose. I also take two daily samples from random hydrants to test for residual chlorine.

Danni: Have you ever had a Bac/T sample show positive?

#2: Not yet.

Danni: What would happen if you did?

#2: Well, just a positive test doesn’t necessarily mean there is E coli present…it could just mean there’s a bacteria there that could harbor E coli. But the lab would test it again. If it came back positive for E coli, I would have to report it to the DEQ then test all the wells and take multiple tests throughout the district and warn the customers.

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The Bac/T test jar is 100 ml and comes with a tiny white pill to neutralize chlorine in the water. Each jar is carefully labeled to avoid mix-ups with other samples at the lab.

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#2 also took a residual chlorine test. This sample, at 1.4 ppm chlorine, was in the safety range between .2 ppm and 4.0 ppm. Hot weather dissipates chlorine so more is needed then, but chlorine gas is expensive, so #2 dials down the amount used in winter to avoid waste.

Danni: Do you test the water for anything else?

#2: Yeah. We test the wells for heavy metals like copper, zinc, etc, every three years and nitrates once a year.

Danni: What do you enjoy most about this job?

#2: That I’m outdoors. Trying to turn around an aging infrastructure is a challenge I enjoy. I get to see a lot of differing landscape from one end of the district to the other and meet a lot of the old timers around here. They have some pretty cool stories.

Danni: What is your least favorite part?

#2: I’m on call 24/7, so that means fixing leaks in the middle of the night sometimes. Probably what I hate most, though, is having to shut off someone’s water meter for non-payment.

Danni: Do you have any advice for us consumers?

#2: Well, in the current drought situation, everybody needs to conserve as much as possible and keep an eye out for leaks. Enjoy your good water.

Danni: Well, we’re about to wind up here, do you have any water guy jokes?

#2: (grins) No acceptable ones come to mind, but I found this story interesting: There are dive teams who will dive into water towers to inspect them and what not. One of these divers was talking to a district employee and said that in a large northeastern city, his team was up in one of those huge towers that looks like a bubble on a stem. They found sheets of plywood covered in styrofoam floating on the water inside the tower. It seems teenagers were climbing through an unlocked hatch and partying on those homemade rafts. (laughs) Lots of violations in that story.

Danni: Ew.

#2: Yeah. The thought of a bunch of teenagers partying in the drinking water is kinda scary.

Danni: No kidding. Gross.

Happy, happy birthday, #2, and thank you so much for doing this interview, it’s been my pleasure. I appreciate you and all your fellow rural water guys out there in the freezing cold nights, up to your eyeballs in mud, and with water sloshing around inside your rubber waders just to keep all of us in water. (I also appreciate y’all poking your hands down into scorpion and spider infested meter cans in the summertime.) I think you guys do an amazing job with what you’ve got to work with and if there’s one thing I know about you, #2, I know you’ll do everything in your power to keep clean, safe water flowing.

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Thanks so much for reading and God bless all y’all. I hope you enjoy Jars of Clay doing Flood, because not only is it appropriate with all that talk of water and mud, it used to be one of #2’s favorite songs when he was younger.

[youtube.com/watch?v=EfAhpX_wIBk]

*These artists don’t necessarily endorse my blog, I just like ’em.

Mama’s In The Graveyard Again?

I hang out at old graveyards sometimes. And I homeschooled my three sons. But stay with me, now, the two are connected.

land run1892

The county in which we farm/ranch was opened for homesteading in 1892 in an event called a land run. Homesteaders raced to stake out the best claims, and soon, nearly every quarter-section of land (160 acres) in our county was homesteaded. People built homes, roads, schools, and had families, but then they began to learn western Oklahoma weather was a grinding, deadly force. Many of the homesteaders fought a losing battle with the hot summer winds that shriveled the crops in the fields and dried up water supplies, and the bitter winter winds that killed their livestock, their children, and them.

Little by little the population thinned as the homesteaders departed for friendlier country, leaving only crumbling dreams–and the dead–behind. Isolated and forgotten cemeteries abound in this area. The two cemeteries I visited today began to see use around 1900. Some of the dead had been born before the Civil War, but many were children and babies. Lots of them.

Rainey Cemetery  Lake Valley, OK

When I visit those quiet cemeteries, I imagine the hopes and dreams buried there. And while I can’t say I enjoy graveyards–not in the accepted sense of the word–they are peaceful.

So, why, I hear y’all asking, did you develop this morbid fascination with cemeteries, Danni?

Hello? The answer is obvious.

I homeschooled my three sons and I needed a place to go where NOBODY WOULD BOTHER ME!

As I stumbled around through the grave stones, I could put my problems in perspective. The twitching hands of my imagination gradually fell away from the throat of the son whose test question might have looked like this:

Ulysses S Grant was a general in which war: (a) War of 1812 (b) Civil War (c)War on Drugs.

C is circled.

No, my boys weren’t that bad. Not by the time they graduated, anyway. If they had been, I might have laid down in the chicken bus and just went ahead and let my hens peck me to death.

Actual chicken house on our outfit

Actual chicken house on our outfit

Inside of Chicken Bus

Interior of chicken bus, with nests, roosts and brooder cover. Handy wheel wells make chickens feel tall.

You may be thinking, “This lady is one cracked pot,” but I prefer to think I merely enjoy a dark sense of humor. The McGriffith clan is known for dark humor. (And crackpots, too, if you must know, but that’s beside the point.)

Two small examples: The young McGriffith boys’ favorite song when they were growing up was Garth Brooks Mama’s In the Graveyard, Papa’s in the Pen. And son #3 had a joke he shared with his grandpa, Earnest, on a regular basis.

He’d walk up to his gramps and say, “There were two maggots fightin’ in dead Earnest.”

That was it, punchline and all. Both of them laughed uproariously every time.

My goodness, with senses of humor like that, don’t let anybody ever say homeschooled kids aren’t socialized.

So, my advice to all you homeschool moms teachers out there in the rural areas of our great country: Just after the quiz–but right before you snap–run, drive, or ride your horse over to a lonely hilltop cemetery somewhere. Let the wind blow through what’s left of your hair for a while.

Enjoy the silence.

God bless all y’all and enjoy the Peasall Sisters (homeschooled, I believe) doing an awesome job singing, Where No One Stands Alone

*These artists don’t necessarily endorse my blog, I just like ’em.

Does Siri Have a Long Afro?

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siri (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

As promised last post, I conducted a very kinda scientific survey to determine how many people–homeschooled or publicly educated–actually know the definition of bootless as Shakespeare used it in Sonnet 29.

When in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state, And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries, And look upon myself and curse my fate…

Confronted with this massive undertaking, I first cast my brains back against the wall of science class to see if something stuck. Sure enough, the approximately one-hundred-year-old ghost of science class past, Mr. Emrick, raised a bony finger and told me to set up a control.

(I looked around the empty prairie surrounding my house and then at my iphone.) Ah, Siri, my personal guru.

To ascertain whether Siri was the perfect control, I asked her where she was educated and she didn’t know what I was talking about. She qualified as perfectly clueless neutral.

Then without further ado, I began to climb the mountain of rusting junk out there behind the barn where Siri lives at the summit, hidden by a cloud.
(I stepped up on the bed of the 1990 dodge feed truck, relieved of some of its tires) Oh, man, I was so excited to meet Siri face to face. She was probably a beautiful black lady with a long afro. (I puffed higher) Wow. It was a lot farther to the top of that mountain of junk than I thought. (I stopped to pant) At last, I pulled myself over top of the1963 grain truck–

Was somebody kidding me? That summit cloud wasn’t cooling mist. It was dust. I couldn’t see a thing. What a big hoax.

Oh, well, since I was there already…

“Siri? Do you have a beautiful Afro?”

“This is about you, not me, Danni,” she said

“Then tell me what you look like, please.”

“Shiny,” she said.

“How old are you?”

“I don’t see why that should matter,” was Siri’s stiff reply.

(Mmhmm…I decided not to ask her how much she weighed.)

“Well, then, what does bootless mean?”

“Let me think about that…” she said. “This might answer your question.”

Shiny Siri beamed her info screen through the cloud of dust. Bootless appeared to be an english adjective meaning unproductive of success, consisting of eight letters and hyphenated thus: boot-less. Siri included a handy chart indicating the peak usage times of the word. Bootless usage took a big spike during 1550-1600 A.D., give or take some years. Another small spike occurred in the late 1800’s.

Hmm. Why would that be…?

Okay, I see hands literally shooting up all over the place out there.

(Oh, man. He’s aways got his hand up in the air…)

“Gramps, why don’t you give somebody else a chance once in a while?”

“Because I know the answer this time. When the American West was settled in the 1800’s, the native tribes commonly practiced takin’ a man’s boots so he had to walk barefoot over anthills, and cactus, and stuff. Bootless.”

“That’s ridiculous. Put your hand down. I need to move along to my very kinda scientific survey.”

My survey consisted of twelve people:

7 Homeschooled

3 Publicly Educated

2 Homeschooled/Publicly Educated

From the Homeschooled group, I had 2 correct answers and one almost right answer from my six-year-old granddaughter, code name: Blondie.

From the Publicly Educated group, I had some good guesses, but no banana.

From the Homeschooled/Publicly Educated group, again, good guesses, but no bananas there, either.

Watch Christian comedian Tim Hawkin’s take on homeschooling.

But, what do y’all think?

  • Do these scientific results blow your minds?
  • Are bananas really good for you, or are they just a big hoax, too?
  • Could Gramps walk barefoot over anthills without further ado?
  • And finally (whispering so Siri can’t hear) is Google Search better than Siri, and does he have a long Afro?

Leave your answers in the comment box and enjoy Tim Hawkins doing my personal favorite of his songs, Hey There Delilah. Until next time, God bless.

Shakespeare and the Drought Map

And…I see all y’all out there scratching your heads and going, “Eh? What in the world has Shakespeare got to do with the drought, or really anything at all? The dude’s been dead for, like, a million years.”

Well, let’s get to it.

ShakespeareSonnet 29

When in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state, And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries, And look upon myself and curse my fate,

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope, Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d, Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope, With what I most enjoy contented least.

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising, Haply I think on thee, and then my state, Like to the lark at break of day arising From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

–William Shakespeare

Yes, we are in the dark red area

Yes, we are in the dark red area

The drought map above paints a pretty good picture of our weather situation these past few years. Probably all us farmers and ranchers in the dark red areas have, at times, felt as though we were troubling a deaf heaven with our bootless cries. But then, when we look around and see how we’re blessed, we remember heaven’s not deaf and it’ll open to us again someday. We’re one day closer to that Big Rain.

And that, dear friends, is what Shakespeare has to do with the drought map–

Okay, I see hands raised  all over out there in the dark red areas.

(Oh, boy, here we go.) “Yes, Gramps. What is it?”

“What happened to his boots, anyhow?”

“Well, for pity’s sake. Were you homeschooled, or something?”

Sorry, we’re all out of time for questions.

But what do y’all think?

  • Is Shakespeare awesome or what ?
  • Will the heavens in Oklahoma open again?
  • Do any of you publicly educated people know why Shakespeare would be bootless?
  • How about you homeschoolers? (And does your mom teacher still have to tell you to brush your teeth? Oh, my, goodness, she does, doesn’t she? You get in there right now and brush your teeth. Is she gonna have to tell you every, tiny, little thing to do all your life…?)

(Taking some deep breaths) Okay, I can see we have a real problem here, so I’ll conduct a scientific study to see how publicly educated people stack up against the homeschoolers on defining “bootless.”

I’ll start by contacting homeschooled Son 1, Son 2, and Son 3. (Oh, man…What if they don’t know the answer? That would make me look like an idiot as a mom teacher  blogger. Maybe I should call and tip them–No, Danni! Must not cheat on a scientific study…)

You may answer any, or all, of these pressing questions in the box below.

Join me next time when I’ll publish my honest to goodness findings. Until then God bless all y’all.