July 2002


A home improvement show on PBS or HGTV would never devote an entire show to the replacement of an underground sprinkler head. They would give it 30 seconds, something like this:

“Sometimes these will get clogged or just broken off. If that happens, just unscrew it and screw another one back in its place and you’re done.”

When I get my show, I will pay less attention to covering a complete job like installing an entire system than to fixing things in the real world. For example, here is my script:

“Sometimes a sprinkler head will get clogged or broken off. When that happens allow about an hour or two to deal with it. First dig a hole around the broken head. You’ll see why in a minute.

Notice how when I unscrew the old one, loose dirt falls down into the hole. This will fall into the pipe and clog the new head when you put it in. Also, when you screw the new one in on top of that dirt, the chances are pretty good that you’ll cross-thread the new one and you may or may not get a good seal. In that case, you’ll have to dig out around it anyway to replace the head and the cross-threaded pipe. In all likelihood, the contractor who installed the system glued the entire thing together with PVC cement so you’ll have a real job on your hands then. So we just dig out around it to begin with.

To get through the grass, you’ll need your hand cultivator but it’s out in the back yard and you probably don’t want to go back there to get it since the dogs will see and start barking to be let in. You don’t want that since you’ve started good and early in order to avoid the forecasted heat index of 110 degrees. So just use a common camping hatchet. That’s terrible for the blade but you can always re-sharpen it later on when it’s cooler – say in November.

Now, we’ve gotten the hole dug and notice that it has to be at least a foot in diameter even though the head itself is only about an inch and a half in diameter. You can’t dig a hole smaller than your shovel so now you have lots of room to work. Dig down to the pipe, clean off the threads very carefully and screw on the new head.

Remember, there’s mud stuck in there from earlier so now you want to unscrew the mechanism and take it out. Oh, and make sure you buy a replacement that allows you to take it apart. Anyway, now go out into the back yard and figure out how to manually turn on that zone for that sprinkler head. The installer won’t have labeled anything so this will take some experimenting.

As each zone comes on, try to figure out if it’s the one you want or not which is tricky since the controller is in the back yard and the sprinkler head you’re fixing is in the front yard. The dogs will bark maniacally as each head pops up out of the ground and squirts them even though it’s been doing this twice a week for their entire lifetimes. As far as they are concerned, their frenzied barking is totally effective since the heads eventually retreat back underground.  In their minds, that was a job well done.  But this means you can’t tell by listening for splashing whether the correct zone has been reached.   

Finally, you’ll find it and the mud will be blown out. If you happen to be standing next to it when that happens, just throw that shirt away – mud stains will never really come out. This soil is red clay down about three inches (6 cm) and it stains like dye. Now, screw the mechanism back in (after turning the system off).

Fill the dirt back in (it won’t all fit by the way since dirt expands when you dig it but over time it will fill in – with what I don’t know but it all seems to work itself out in a couple of days. Put the grass clump back on top. This won’t grow and will in fact die but it will cover the hole until the new stuff grows back which it does pretty quickly since it’s right were a sprinkler head is.

That’s it – you’re all set. Now go back to the back yard and kick the barking dogs.”

Or something like that.

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I had just assumed that I wrote down everything that happened to me and put it in these notes but a friend points out that she didn’t know I was trying to learn the guitar. Well, I know I told somebody – now who was it? Anyway, I started going to a men’s guitar class at the church once a week because it’s free. I figured that if there were no “real” music teacher, I wouldn’t have to perform at a recital.

That was my first mistaken assumption.

The teacher is the director of instrumental music at the church and he informed us some weeks ago that we were going to have to perform in public as an incentive to practice. That usually either makes people practice or makes them bail out. Nobody bailed. So, last night was it.

It was actually a concert featuring a variety of small groups. He (the director) has exerted a great deal of effort to scrounge all sorts of hard-to-find instruments and exerted even more energy in teaching ordinary chumps like me to play them. Last night was his big show where all his musical prodigies (heh!) got up on stage to strut our stuff.

The concert was very enjoyable since the string ensemble and the brass ensemble were both excellent. Everything else (such as the guitar class) was pretty much just “other” music. But after having belittled our talents for long enough, I must say that when called upon, we did well. There are eight of us and about half of us (me included) strummed the chords – the others weaseled out and only picked the melody. That’s fine but the congregation was singing along so the picked melody was pretty much drowned out. And this is not too bad for only having started about six weeks ago.

The string ensemble played the Canon in D by Pachelbel and it was spelled “cannon” in the program. Yet another indication that Oklahoma’s educational system could still use a bit of fine-tuning.

Melissa says I was frowning and looked pretty unfriendly but it was only a frown of concentration. Yet another example of how what appears outside is not always a true indicator of what is going on inside. I guess there was not enough brain power left over control the smile muscles.

Melissa had to come in late due to having been to deliver Erin to the Girl Scout resident camp where she will stay for a couple of days. Erin likes camping – especially when there are cabins although she makes do with a tent pretty well. She often erects a tent in her room using blankets and sleeps on the floor under it so she’s pretty serious.

The kid’s garden has sprung to life in the back yard and the pumpkins are about the take over the place. There are about a dozen flowers each morning and the tomatoes are full of little flowers as well. We can expect tomatoes in our future. I just hope they don’t come in while we’re on vacation.