When we arrived at our old Kentucky home in Foster, Kentucky in the fall of 1980 we had indoor plumbing that worked splendidly for a whole week. It seems the previous owner thought it would be a good idea to apply a fresh layer of wallpaper to the walls throughout the house, but instead of dumping the used wallpaper paste outside they had poured it down the bathtub drain. Consequently, I learned a great deal about the removal of old iron drain pipes and the installation of PVC plumbing lines, including the installation of a vent stack, which was badly needed. During the reengineering of the plumbing system we put the old outhouse to good use. Fortunately, the wallpaper paste had not harmed the septic tank and leach lines, which would have resulted in long term use of the outhouse.
An ancient cistern was our sole source of water. Soon after our arrival I had the cistern pumped dry, and then climbed in and gave it a thorough scrubbing. This proved to be needed even more than anticipated, as I found and removed the skeletal remains of both aquatic and non-aquatic creatures that had been floating around in the water for goodness knows how long. We made it a regular practice to add a bit of Clorox to the cistern after a heavy rain or after having a load of water delivered, and, amazingly, the water flowing from the faucets always looked and smelled pure enough to drink. Just the same, we saved gallon milk jugs to fill with drinking water each week when visiting Yvonne’s Mom in town. This was long before some clever entrepreneur came up with the idea of selling bottled water, which we couldn’t have afforded anyway.
As anyone who has ever depended on a cistern for their water supply knows, conservation is a must. We didn’t subscribe to the toilet flushing maxim, “Yellow is mellow but brown goes down”, but we did otherwise try to conserve water. However, during dry spells we could not avoid the necessity of ordering a load of water. When it came time to order our first load I turned to the yellow pages of the Bracken County phone book, which I believe was at least 10 or 12 pages long, and randomly selected one of the three water delivery services listed.
Mr. Oberschmidt (I believe that was his name or something like that) was a soft spoken man in his mid-60’s. As I discovered at his first delivery, the truck upon which he had mounted a thousand gallon tank for hauling water was an old 1950’s era Chevrolet that showed its age both in appearance and performance. Keep in mind, our old Kentucky home sat at the top of a very steep hill, reached via a dead end street that lead to our driveway, the total distance of which was nearly a quarter mile long. I seriously wondered if Mr. O’s old truck would make it up the hill with its heavy load, but make it he did, and all went well with future deliveries – that is until that fateful day.
It was a warm Saturday afternoon in August when we heard Mr. O shift his old truck into granny gear, as it coughed, then slowly started chugging up the hill. Mr. O’s wife, a rather portly woman and also in her mid-60’s, had decided to come long for the ride. Finally reaching the top of our driveway, Mr. O set the parking brake and got out of the truck to unroll and connect the large water hose to fill the cistern. The truck was still sitting on a slight slope and, regrettably, Mr. O had not taken the precaution of placing safety chocks behind the wheels.
And so it happened, as Mr. O was going about his business, Mrs. O decided to get out of the truck. It was one of those slow motion moments when you wished you could do something to prevent what you could plainly see was about to happen, but realized you were helpless to do anything except stand and watch, and so we did. As poor Mrs. O started to open the door, the truck’s brakes slipped and it began to roll backwards, and as it did the front wheels turned throwing the truck sideways causing it to roll completely over, with the great weight of the water still in the tank giving the truck increased momentum as it rolled.
Somehow Mrs. O had managed to close the door of the truck as it began to roll backwards and she was now crying out for mercy as she held on for dear life. Her prayer for mercy was heard because midway through its second roll the truck landed wheels up against a large locust tree at the edge of our driveway. Rather awkwardly, with Mr. O’s help, Mrs. O managed to crawl out the window and made her way to our front steps, where she slumped down – bruised and shaken, but with no serious injuries. In deed a great miracle had occurred in our driveway that day for had the truck missed that locust tree it, with Mrs. O inside, surely would have rolled all the way to the bottom of the hill, the consequence of which can only be imagined.
A tow truck was called and with the use of a winch and cables Mr. O’s truck (its load of water having poured out washing away all the gravel on our driveway) was pulled back on its wheels – about as bruised and shaken as Mrs. O, but otherwise intact. Mr. O was actually able to drive it home, but, needless to say, that was his last trip to the top of our hill.
I don’t know if water delivery drivers exchange stories but we were able to secure the service of a young man with a reliable truck. However, when we called upon him to make a delivery the same weekend the Bengals were playing in the Freezer-Super Bowl, the valves on the water tank froze. Using an acetylene torch to thaw the valves, the young man able to empty the load in our cistern, but that was his last trip to the top of our hill, as well.
Rather than take our chances with the one remaining water delivery service listed in the phone book, we decided to bite the bullet and have public water service installed the next spring. Because of the distance and difficulty of running the water line up our hill this was at considerable expense, but it was a far better choice than carrying buckets of water from the Ohio River, which at that point seemed to be our only other alternative.
George Brown is a freelance writer. He and his wife, Yvonne, live in Jackson Township.