Hands: Free at Last

frost-free Above you see pictured the bane of my winter existence, the frost-free hydrant next to our barn. You will note that water is coming from its spout. This is a wholly new development. Since January 29, when it froze up, we hauled water down from the house in two pails six gallons at a time, at least three times per day. Some background might be instructive for those unfamiliar with the frost-free hydrant. In theory, and I say in theory because it never works out this way for us, the pipe that runs into the ground from the handle is into the ground deep enough that it doesn't freeze, at least three and sometimes four feet. Since this one was put in three years ago, it has frozen up around the middle to end of January. Now, you might be saying to yourself, if it happens each and every blessed winter, then why don't you dig the dang thing up and fix it. All I can credit is my natural Pollyanna-ism, which I've now been adequately disabused of; the thing gets pulled up and fixed this summer. And the funny thing is, I should have known better this year. The night before it froze up, our water pump in the house (the frost-free runs off our house water) kept coming on. This only happens when the ground gets really cold and causes the pipe down in the ground to contract and start leaking. Usually I'll then go down to the basement and shut off the valve that runs down to the frost-free. Now, I could kick myself for not taking the five minutes and turning it off in the basement each and every time I heard the pump kick on, but I'd followed that regimen the year before and it didn't ultimately make a difference except that I had to go down to the creepy basement 3 or 4 times a day. So that next day I got out the propane torch and boiled water and tried to heat the pipe. No dice. No water. For several days thereafter and intermittently through March and April, I'd go down to the basement, turn on the water and go out to the frost-free and wrench on the handle. No dice. No water. I'd curse it pull violently on the handle. By mid April when it still wasn't working, Rachael and my plumber friend Paul were convinced that I'd broken it and there'd be nary a drop out of it until we dug it up some time in the Summer. But then our friend Susan (a real Vermonter) was over last week and declared in that way that lets you know she's seen too many very cold, long winters that the ground might now be thawed down to the three or four feet. I figured she might be right since just a couple of weeks before we couldn't sink a post for a new gate for the cow more than twenty inches. So this week I made the trip down to the basement (while Rachael was milking so she couldn't laugh at me should I fail), flipped the valve on the pipe and walked down to the frost-free. Lifting the handle, I heard a gurgle and I'll be damned if the water didn't start flowing. "What's that?" Rachael called from her crouched position next to the cow. "Oh nothing," I replied, "only I just fixed the frost-free." "That's nice," she said. -jason