Oh, Well

I told you all last week about the chores I do every morning. One of those was to feed our small group of light heifers. We’re trying to get them caught up to the rest of the group for breeding. They occupy the main pen in the corral with a couple of my brother’s bulls in the smaller pen right next to them. However, the other morning when I went out there they didn’t have any water.

Now this isn’t the first time that this particular water tank (it is just one water tank that provides both pens with water) has given us fits so I started going down the checklist of possible problems. First, let me tell you about the system. It’s a couple hundred foot well with a 3/4 horsepower pump that is connected to a pressure pump. This feeds the one tank that I mentioned. That tank has a float valve the shuts the flow of water off and pressures the line thereby shutting off the pump. The tank has a tank heater to keep the water in the tank from freezing and heat tape to keep the pipe coming into the tank from freezing up.


First on the list to try was just tapping on the pressure switch. You can see it down in the bottom of the well “house.” Sometimes it sticks and this is an easy fix, but that wasn’t the problem this time. If I tripped the switch I could hear the pump running and it sounded like it was running correctly, but the pressure switch would shut it off and no water came into the tank. This told me that the inlet pipe for the tank was probably frozen. It had been fairly cold the night before. I tore into the float valve on the tank and sure enough: it was solid ice in there. A little heat from a propane torch, then a little more, then a little more, then I stopped before I started to melt everything. That wasn’t going to do it. Daniel had shown up by now to help and we tried to take the plumbing further apart but we couldn’t get it. We checked the heat tape and that wasn’t working at all. That would be the cause of all this. Daniel went a got one of his heat lamps and we put it under the tank to thaw the pipes out. Then we waited.

After a while, I came back to find that it was still frozen. I brought in another idea of my brother’s to thaw the pipe. Megan was gone and couldn’t defend it, so her hair dryer became mine for the afternoon. Once it was blowing under the tank and the heat lamp was on things started to thaw out fairly quickly. The water began to flow and I was relieved.

Unfortunately, my relief was short-lived. The water just stopped after the pressure on the line was gone. Back to the well to see what was going on in there. By the way, this house is populated by some black widows that I don’t particularly like. I figured they wouldn’t be out and about in the cold weather, but there was one that had to come see what I was doing. Anyway, the pressure switch could be tripped and the pump would run until it was pressured, but once the tank had been drank down, it wouldn’t kick back on. Daniel and I tried this and tinkered with that until we didn’t have any more ideas. Finally, I decided to see if the short piece of quarter inch pipe that attaches the pressure switch to the line was frozen. A little heat and away it went to working. Yay!!!! It took us all day, but finally things were working. And the best news was that we didn’t have to pull the pump out of the well (which we do have to do from time to time).

The next morning I checked to see if the water was working. There was water in the tank, but it was low. I went back to the pressure switch: same symptoms as the day before. Propane torch to the rescue and it went to working. After finishing all the chores, I checked it again. No water. Nothing. I couldn’t get the pump to run by tripping the switch this time. We tested the power, messed with the switch, hypothesized, ruminated, and decided to pull the pump out of the well. This is a job that we thoroughly dislike, but the heifers needed water.

We hooked on with the truck and pulled, with two guys lifting and guiding the pipe out of the hole. Once it was up we searched for a hole in the pipe or wiring that had been rubbed in two. Finally, we found some wiring that was corroded. It was pretty obvious this was the problem. About the same time I broke the pipe… whoops. We decided that it was time to stop fighting this every so often. Dad went to town to get new pipe and wiring along with some conduit to keep the submersible cable from rubbing against the steel well casing. Daniel and I moved the heifers to another corral where they could drink and Daniel packed some water to his bulls.


The next day, Dad brought all the new parts down and we went to work. After the new pieces had been installed we felt very good about it and put the pump back down the well. We wired everything back in and flipped the switch. Nothing. Not a drop. We tested the power, messed with the switch, hypothesized, ruminated, and decided that we didn’t know what could be wrong. We were pretty sure the problem was in the control box and after a while of messing with that, things worked. I couldn’t tell you why, but it was cold and I didn’t care.

The next morning I came down to find there was no water in the tank, but the pump was back to working. I just had to use the propane torch to melt the small pipe going to the pressure switch again. This was fairly confusing since it had never been a problem in previous years and it has seen a lot colder weather. So we swapped it for a new pressure switch that Dad had bought just to be safe and insulated it as well as we could. The heifers were brought back over and I am happy to say that it has been working for the past week just fine.


One little tank and a lot of work… Hopefully, our repairs will help to keep us from having to fight this little tank from time to time. It seems like a regular problem every year. This year it just happened to take us three days to fix it. Oh, well… sometimes this is what ranching looks like. I hope you have had a good week and stay warm, it looks like things are going to be cold for a few days.

by Brandon Greet

Brandon Greet5 Comments