Two Idiots, A Water Heater and a Hero

Most people probably don’t give a second thought to their water heaters but ours came with a story.

We are afraid of it as we’re unfamiliar with it’s inner workings and are concerned it may blow up at any moment. It’s not the heater’s fault nor that of anyone involved with it’s design or installation; they’re just suspicious-seeming by nature. It doesn’t help that we’re ignorant of such things despite over a year of living off-grid in an RV.

When we first got the thing, we had recently seen an episode of Mythbusters wherein the guys purposely removed all of the fail-safe measures on some water heaters and cranked the heat up. The tanks shot hundreds of feet into the air after smashing through mock ceilings without effort, giving my husband and I pause as to what our own rocket/heater might be capable of. But let’s back up.

When we came by our fifth wheeler it had been gutted and refitted for use with city hookups such as electricity rather than for it’s original purpose of boon docking. The electric water heater that had been installed was gobbling our energy so we ordered a propane model. It arrived promptly and we managed to get it nestled into the side of our RV without much ado. We carefully hooked up the gas, checked for leaks and lit her up.

Everything went fine as we turned the bathtub spigot on and off to check the rising temperature but the water got hotter and hotter and stopped flowing altogether. Clueless and sure the heater was nearing ignition, we turned it off and called it a night.

The next day we exchanged the old faucet for a new one and the water ran fine but continued to overheat. We shut it down for a second time to save our very lives lest we recreate that episode of Mythbusters.

Photo by Kurt Cotoaga on Unsplash

We needed a professional. Enter Norstar Heating and Cooling, Inc.

We gave them a call and explained the strange behavior of our water heater and made an appointment. Although they didn’t normally deal with RV type systems, they were willing to come take a look. We kept the unit shut off while we waited for our savior- his elevated status growing every day we went without the ability to shower.

Then the day arrived and “he” showed up. He didn’t have six-shooters on his side but he came with a notepad and a toolbox.  Wringing our now filthy hands, we recounted our misadventures as the repairman stole sideways glances at the beast waiting silently in it’s hole on the side of the fifth wheel.

Finally, our man adjusted his collar and approached the offender with a swagger and a coolness that would make John Wayne jealous. He stared at his foe for a moment or two then reached out confidently and began to manipulate the dials with the authority of a….well…appliance repairman. We stood a good ways back and watched with mixed fear and excitement at the prospect of being able to resume our personal hygiene routines.

Then we heard it; the rocket-like flame of the gas feed shot to life as the man cocked his head and squinted suspiciously at the device while he made his final adjustments. With a satisfied nod he turned and walked back our way to give us the news.

His words will haunt us forever; “I turned the heat down.”

 

 

 

The Beginning

How we got here.

My counselor told me to write a book so I’m writing a blog instead. I meant to start it a year ago but being at the bottom of the pyramid of Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs delayed things a bit.

How we got here and what happened next:

The following stories are about how our family sold our home in suburbia and ended up off grid on the other side of the state a few months later; not for any philosophical reason or really on purpose. We like the outdoors and the quiet so we bought property that met our expectations only it didn’t come with a house, water, electricity, or sewer.

We packed ourselves into a twenty-foot trailer for the summer after we sold the house and really thought it was temporary. The three of us lived in that damned thing for a year. It had canvas pullouts and I remember waking up one mid-summer night in horror when it hit me we would be living in this cloth covered rig over the winter. I was right to be nervous.

Oh yes, who are “we”? “We” are a married couple with a fifteen-year- old son and two cats. We’re eccentric but we like that condition although we sometimes bite off more than we can chew.

Moving to raw land meant we had to learn how to live without things such as electricity and water from the city although we’re far from really roughing it. We finally have the internet. It took a year and three downed trees to pull that one off.

We lived off Wi-Fi for months. It became us vs the Google data pig.  Then the neighbors let us use their connection until we got into a fight and they changed their password.  Our trailer was just far enough away from their Wi-Fi that we could only get a signal from my husband’s spot in our bed – if it wasn’t raining.

For water we got lucky. We found it on our property and dug a spring.

For power we used a gas generator in addition to setting up a solar power system. Solar is a love-hate relationship with us but we’re not ready to break up. It took some doing to set it up but we now know nothing comes easily out here.

When you have to wake up at 6:00 am to put gas in the generator or spend two hours thawing hoses so you can refill the water tank you find yourself missing the amenities of the “civilized” world.

Then there’s the human factor of living off grid.  Like the new extremes in the weather in eastern Washington as opposed to those of the moderate rain belt we moved from, the emotional highs and lows have been in stronger contrast.

Blistering hot summers and frigid winters have been mirrored by a new deeper sense of happiness but bought and paid for with days and weeks of depression. I hope the depressed part is mostly behind me. I’m ready for the kiddie rides after the roller coaster that was our first year.

We arrived at our new property in September of 2017. It was autumn and we were very low on our budget. Still, it was new and fun and I repeatedly thought to myself “this might make for some good reading” and I made plans to start a blog.

Then winter came on fierce and with a seriousness that slapped all thoughts of anything but survival out of our consciousnesses. We experienced a reality smack-down like no other and any ideas I had of the self actualization of “artfully” documenting our adventures disappeared under the snow along with most of our worldly possessions.  I was too busy crying.

Zero degree temperatures forced us to make the decision to relocate my son and I to an emergency shelter while my husband hunkered down at the property with our cat.

Three months later, we came back to the property  and picked up where we left off; still struggling financially and with very little to work with. Spring, then summer came with new challenges. We got a crash course on ticks and dealt with hordes of Yellow Jackets. The heat, and a continuing feeling of oppression made summer one of the longest I’ve ever experienced but we had things in the works.

We tilled rock-hard soil and planted a garden. We dug the spring and water delivery system. We used antiques we found buried on our land to construct things we needed such as the fence to our garden.  We did whatever we could to pass the time and keep our chins up.

Thank you to my husband for helping me to get through it all. When I was at my worst, he would hold my face in his hands, look at me and say “Good things Baby, good things”.

As fall arrived, our “eggs” began to hatch and we were finally able to make some huge changes to our living conditions and begin to build, literally and figuratively, the quality of our lives. We could stop trying to just survive and begin to live. 

It was time to take up that blog again…..

We’ve accomplished a lot since fall. We now have a solar power system, generators, a large shed, an upgraded RV (we decided to put off building until spring), and other necessities. We have a fireplace to  sit by, a wood pile, larger propane tanks and other means for which to stay comfortable and dry for the winter. So far, so good as of January 2019.

We have lot’s of plans going forward. We are excited and ready.

I’ve edited this first post several times and didn’t want to give up my original bullet list outline so though it may be a little redundant, here it is:

  • We are a husband and wife with a teenager who sold their house in western Washington and moved to eastern Washington.
  • We have two cats and want a dog but not before we put up a fence.
  • We are not perfect. Far from it.
  • We don’t care that we are not perfect and we are known to swear but we are nice people (although one neighbor said we are evil).
  • We sold our house in May 2017
  • We lived in a trailer all summer while we looked for property
  • We found property we liked. It “spoke to” my husband 🙂
  • We moved onto the property and continued to live in the trailer
  • We had a major reality check as fall progressed
  • We weren’t very well prepared financially and some things happened that made it worse but things are better now 🙂
  • We made the best of things but winter sucked
  • Summer then sucked
  • Fall is here and we’re doing WAY better but some things still suck but most things DON’T suck anymore

I love humor and aspire to write in the style of Jean Sheppard of A Christmas Story fame. I try to write poetry and you’ll find some in these pages although of a somewhat unconventional nature.

Now that I’ve acquainted you with our story, I hope you’ll enjoy those that follow.