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Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Gas Line

I'm working on the gas fireplace in the basement under the watchful eye of my daughter this evening. I reach for the BIG RED HANDLE to turn on the gas and suddenly she wants to know what I am doing. Huh.

When we were in San Francisco a few months ago there was a big, huge, ginormous gas explosion about ten miles from where we were staying. Took out several houses, killed a couple of people. It was big enough to warrant the Governor's attention, or maybe the Lieutenant Governor, I've forgotten. I guess it made an impression on her.

Well, this triggered a dump from the memory banks.

Forty-five years ago, when I was a sophomore in high school, my Dad threw in the towel on his engineering career and bought a farm 40 miles NE of Columbus, Ohio. The farmhouse had an old coal burning furnace. My mom, the sophisticated urban woman that she was, wasn't having any of it. As there was a high pressure gas line running across our property, why can't we just tap into that and get gas heat? So we did.

A trench was dug the 200 yards from the house to the pipeline, then the gas company sent out a couple of guys in a truck to make the connection. I got to watch. They dug down to the pipe, it wasn't very far, which was kind of weird, because they were on a slight rise just to the side of the road. The pipeline route was perpendicular to the road, maybe there was a special go-under-the-road kink in the line there, I don't know.

Anyway, they uncover the big pipe, clean the surface down to bare metal and weld a short stub of pipe onto the main line. Hooked up a pressure gauge, pressurized the stub and checked for leaks. Screw a valve onto the stub. Screw a hand operated drill into the valve. Turn the handle on the drill, drill through the wall of the big pipe. The drill had no gears, just four spoke handles. The bit looked an ordinary quarter inch drill bit. I imagine the wall of that pipe had to be half an inch thick. It took a while.

Now it gets interesting. The way it was supposed to work is you retract the drill and then you close the valve. Something went wrong and the valve wouldn't close, so when they pulled the drill off we got a jet stream of high pressure Natural Gas going 20 feet into the air. This caused everyone to step back, but it didn't catch fire, so after a bit one of the guys returned to the scene and closed the valve. Whew.

After that it was just hook up the pressure regulator, the gas meter and the normal shut off valve. Pretty cool, all in all. Especially since we didn't all die.


Ole Phat Stu said...

After that story I was expecting a punchline pun on "bought the farm" ;)

Chuck Pergiel said...

Looking back, I don't think my money was any good. There were any number of occasions where I should have bought the farm, but it didn't happen.