First there was "Extreme Makeover," and then there was "Extreme Makeover--Home Edition" after that (yes, I used to sometimes watch it. It was heartwarming, okay?). There is currently a show called "Dirty Jobs," in which the host joins workers who do the filthiest, most disgusting jobs imaginable. For a very reasonable fee, I'm willing to allow the Discovery Channel to film us doing our filthiest, most disgusting jobs for a spin-off called "Dirty Jobs--Blackrock Edition." I figure we have at least a season's worth. There was the (unsuccessful) attempt to clear out the old drain in the cellar, starring an industrial-sized plumber's snake and a lot of mud. There was The Great Attic Clean-up of 2007, involving the disposal of literally pounds of bat shit and the removal of a squirrel's nest that was, no lie, at least four feet across. And yesterday, there was the cleaning of the cistern.
The old barn cisterns are where the house water supply is stored. We pump lake water into the cisterns, and then the house water pump draws from the cisterns. The cisterns have not been cleaned in at least 20 years, and they were . . . not clean. Because we're getting a new water system installed, with new filters and everything, we figured it was time to clean the cisterns. And what a nightmare it was.
There are two cisterns, separated by a porous brick wall with a 6-inch overflow gap at the top of the wall. The cisterns are basically underground rooms, constructed of cement, with big steel posts in the center for support. They look pretty much like a subway tunnel, except rectangular. And they are HUGE. They hold many thousands of gallons of water. They're about 5 feet high, maybe 6 feet across, and the large one measures probably 15 feet in width, while the small one is maybe 10 feet. Together, they are bigger than our bedroom.
In the summer, the water level gets pretty low, so it's easier to pump them dry. We dropped the sump pump down there and let it start draining the big room first. It took about an hour, and in the meantime we built a new cover for the opening (no, of course we didn't buy any materials for the cover). After the majority of the water was out, A. climbed down and started the cleaning with a snow shovel. Yes, that is how much filth was on the bottom of the cisterns--he could shovel it. He shoveled the gunk into a 5- gallon bucket, which he then lifted over his head to me. I then staggered a few feet with it and dumped the foul-smelling mess into the forsythia bushes. And then we did it again. And again. And again. It was lots of fun. But we'd only just begun.
Next we got out our wet-dry Shop Vac, which is a big vacuum cleaner that can suck up water, and started vacuuming more of the filth up. The canister on the Shop Vac got full pretty quickly, and then it, too, had to be lifted up and out and then dumped. Over and over and over. By this time we were both completely covered in a muddy, silty black substance. It was in our hair, on our faces, ALL over our clothes, just . . . everywhere. And it smelled. You know how the crap at the bottom of a lake or pond sometimes can smell like shit? That's what this stuff smelled like. It was foul.
There is, of course, no light in the cisterns, and after A. was nearly electrocuted by a lamp that fell in the water, I dug out his headlamp. There is no way to look cool in a headlamp, just so you know. As you can see in the photo of me, in which I look much happier than I felt all day. I'm standing upright in the opening to the cistern. This photo is a little misleading, because mostly it was A. down in there and me up top hauling things away--I only took a brief turn down in the pit. The other photo is an illustration of the disgusting filth that was pumping out of the cistern. Where our bath water comes from. Lovely.
Anyway, we did both cisterns, then pumped some water into them, at the same time sump-pumping out the dirty water as it filled, thereby sort of rinsing them. In total, all of this took 6 hours of steady work. But then we still didn't have any water to the house, because we had to re-fill them. This takes hours. And we were covered in black shit from head to toe with no hope of a shower. What to do?
Jump in the lake, of course. And oh my God, did that water feel good. One benefit of having our own beach is that clothes are optional (assuming no boats come too close to shore), so we took a bar of soap, waded in still wearing our filthy clothes so they could soak for awhile with us, and then we took them off and washed off. It was heavenly.
And now our cisterns are cleaned, the water is back on, and I've taken a shower, so at last I feel clean. Even if the Discovery Channel takes a pass on "Dirty Jobs--Blackrock Edition," you think they might want a female co-host for the current show? Because I would be perfect for that. I don't just watch that shit--I live it. I might as well make some money from it.