Reflecting on Sisyphus

Remember Sisyphus, that particularly nasty king of Corinth doomed to roll a boulder to the top of a hill for eternity in Hades? Each time he got close to the top the boulder would roll to the bottom and he would have to start again. Even by Greek mythology standards Sisyphus was pretty bloody and cruel, but what really earned him that fate was hubris. He believed he was more clever than Zeus.


I reflected on that myth while shoveling eighty yards of wet clay soil into part of our well line trench. By now we had no hope of using the tractor as the soil was so wet even walking across it meant heaving boots with thirty pounds of sticky mud for the trip.

The first roll of the boulder
But I am getting ahead of myself. This starts in September, as we prepared a 600 foot trench down to the barn to connect our well and the electrical for the pump. We had conduit and some pipe installed in the concrete pad of the barn so we could run the well electrical and water in. The contractor we had ran the water pipe to the right place but stubbed the conduit inside the attached shed, so we completed that part of the trench by hand through the compacted gravel and soil to connect the whole thing.


We knew we wanted to run a line to the end of the garden for future micro hydro generator  and since we were in there why not add a line to the spot that would eventually become our greenhouse? Easy enough, a trip to Home Depot to get the conduit and then we ran two 3 gauge wires, 12-2  to the well and two circuits of 10-3 to the greenhouse all in a 2″ conduit. For those of you not electrically inclined, 3 gauge wire is pretty beefy, about as big around as your ring finger. Home depot didn’t have a conduit Tee or Wye, so we got plumbing pvc, and they didn’t have pvc wyes so we grabbed ABS. 92 feet of conduit and running wire for an entire weekend and we were done.


WP_20141102_011 WP_20141102_013

All wired up, we sent the pictures to the well guy and in one short email he said it wouldn’t work, all the connections had to be the gray conduit grade pvc, and oh yeah, we needed a sealed compression fitting at the end of the conduit so that the earth wouldn’t crush the pipe and clip the cable running up to the well.

Boulder rolls to the bottom again
Well, this called for some clever thinking, maybe we could cut two conduit style Tees in half and glue them together. So I purchased 3 “LBT”s. They look like this.


I carefully cut two in half in hopes we could avoid pulling all that wire out and that we might be able to glue them over the existing wire runs. Just in case – I picked up some pull line, a poly twine used to pull wire through conduit, and a jug of  “conduit lube”. I also grabbed a reducer and the compression fitting. We were raring to go.

Alas, the narrow trench close to the barn was too hard to get a good fit and the glue wouldn’t hold so we reeled in 600 feet of wire and started over. I did have the foresight to attach the pull line so we could get the wire back through. Then I used a cable saw to cut through the pvc and put the conduit bodies in place. Except… that little cable saw gets mighty hot with all the friction and melted through the poly string. Boo. So we ended up cutting into the conduit in a few places to push the wire through. But after two days of fiddling in the rain and mud we were done and sent the pictures to the well guy.

Fail. You can’t bury those connections.

Boulder roll three, fingers crossed
I went down solo this time. I didn’t want to subject L to my special penance. When I arrived it was cold.  The well guy was coming down that day and I had purchased two split wyes from a company in California. The trench was free of water as most of it had frozen uphill.


But that icy, muddy trench looked unpleasant. The lows hit 16 degrees and I was in a little travel trailer with no one to snuggle with. Morning came and I flew into action. Bundled up in quilted overalls and thermals I waddled out to my nemesis, the trench from Hades. Hell had frozen over and I cut out the conduit bodies and began assembling the split wyes.

WP_20141115_004 WP_20141115_005

In the mean time the well guy showed up and looked at my work. He was skeptical that the inspector would approve it but I convinced him. So he went up to the well head and began installing the pump. By the time he had installed the pressure tanks I had finished the first section. Clamps were needed to hold the whole thing together.

WP_20141114_002 2

Then he hooked up the generator and ran the pump. It worked. I was so relieved. All the calculations for voltage drop and the pump wattage panned out. WP_20141114_004 2

It was dark as he was leaving when he reminded me that the temps would dip again and that I should insulate the tanks immediately. So I ran to the store and picked up what was left of the pipe insulation from the run they had on it and installed insulation with a headlamp. I got to bed late that night, and it was colder still.

I finished the last of the work the next day and packed our pickup in the dark.

One last roll of the boulder
Inspection day. Once again I drove down alone. I imagined a scenario where we would pull the wire out in the opposite direction, maybe into a tarp to protect it from mud and redid the conduit from scratch. Plan B didn’t allay my anxiety. When I got there the trench and conduit were completely submerged in frigid water. Blowing into the open end revealed that it was full of water. The 3 gauge wire was not rated for this, nor was the run to the future greenhouse.


Plan C. I tied pull line to the wires and pulled out all 82 feet of the 3 gauge, and the 24 feet of 10 and tucked them into the corner of the barn. We would have to run wire with a UF jacket rated for burial.

Then the inspector showed up. We chatted. He raised an eyebrows at my split wyes and asked about the gauge of the wire for the pump. I recited wattage, surge loads, and compared amperages to common pumps. Ours is the lowest wattage out there and has a “soft start” a built in capacitor which eliminates surge spikes in power consumption. It is perfect for a house run on solar. Satisfied he signed off.

Not a boulder but not what we had planned
When we started this we didn’t want an open trench in the rainy season. This season has been extra moist. So now we have to backfill parts of the trench by hand. The whole family took part shoveling and hoeing the wet sticky clay back in the trench. We are nearly done with the building site, 92 feet long. I emptied the conduit of all the water and dumped bags of bentonite at the places I wanted sealed well. Hands are blistered and backs are tired. Shoveling gave me time to reflect on how I had arrived at this point.

Hubris, believing I knew enough. Consulting with someone in the trade would have helped. So thinking I was clever, like Sisyphus, I was doomed to redo my work again and again.


Lesson learned.


About M. Agriculteur

Designer, motorcycle junkie, traveler, wanna-be iron butter (more butt than iron), builder, foodie, farmer wanna-be.
This entry was posted in Barn, Construction, Homesteading, Tools, Water Management and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Reflecting on Sisyphus

  1. DM says:

    Hesitate to push the “like” button on this one 😉 Having had my share of “learning things the hard way” I definitely feel your pain. That is a lot of education you participated in the past while. Give you an A + for perseverance. Love the detailed update! DM

  2. mashazager says:

    Sisyphus is the human condition, or so we’re told! Keep on pushing that boulder, you’re an inspiration to us all.

  3. I too didn’t feel I could click the “like” button on this one. Wow, what a story of frustration and – yes – hell. But you passed inspection, that is awesome. And it will stop raining eventually, right?

    • As you well know it’ll stop raining after July 4. Canada Day and our Independence Day always involve wet bottoms when watching fireworks on damp grass. Inspection passed and conduit sealed is a win!

      Sent from my Windows Phone ________________________________

  4. Bill says:

    Good for you for your perseverance. I would’ve thrown in the towel along the way. As I was reading this I had a bad feeling about how it would end. Glad to see the ending turned out to be good.

    • Thanks Bill. Part of the reason I share the failures are to help others not make the same mistakes. There have been lots of things we have done which worked out of the gate, and plenty of things that need tweaking. The outright failures have been few, but excellent teachers for us.

  5. Pingback: Son of a Ditch | Le Petit Canard Farm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s