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Whatever they’re paying ditch diggers, it’s not enough

Ditch Digging.jpg

It’s impossible to use a rented ditch digger without “exhuming things that’s better left alone.”


By Mark Rutledge

Saturday, September 8, 2018

For the second time in my life — and hopefully the last — I have connected a rural homesite (my own this time) to a municipal water source. It is an experience that upholds the wisdom in Ted Knight’s scholarly advice as Judge Elihu Smails in the 1980 comedy film Caddyshack: “Well, the world needs ditch diggers, too.”

The water meter for our new house was installed months ago. But connecting the line to the house falls to the property owner. And knowing well the potential peril associated with burying 430 feet of pipe, I put it off for as long as I possibly could.

Obviously, the perilous part is in the digging. The trenching machine that I rented for the job is named Ditch Witch for a reason: Opening Mother Earth with such violent determination can unleash an evil, subterranean spell of bad luck.

“Call before you dig!” the warning goes. Said call was placed. But for my side of the public utilities, incantations and water-witching might have been as effective.

I knew from my first water-line installation years ago, in North Carolina, that the digging often yields unintended consequences. My brother owned a house in rural Columbus County, which we visited often as a weekend getaway from our home in Pitt County when the girls were little.

A few of Jeff’s neighbor’s approached me one weekend about pitching in on a project to connect their homes and Jeff’s to a recently installed water main at the highway. They had a rented trencher for slicing through the sandy soil, and an ax for chopping away the more stubborn pine roots.

I got to run the ax.

Even worse was removing tangles of TV cable that would wrap around the trenching chain about every 10 feet. It was a fantastic method for getting to know the palest of neighbors, who valued television more than sunshine or helping to install water lines.

This recent job involved trenching near my mother's water and septic lines in Gray, Tennessee. I thought I knew where both of those systems had been established. I now know exactly where they have been re-established.

I should pause here and thank the Good Lord for my brother and two brothers-in-law who helped rescue me from my misguided-trenching self. I must also thank expert excavator Doug Slagle, who happened to be working nearby when the septic rupture occurred.

Doug used his heavy equipment to further expose my mother's severed field lines. The scene was right out of one of those horrific septic-tank-gone-wrong commercials. He guided the smelly repair and had the entire nightmare freshly reburied within minutes.

Just up the road from where we are building is another ground disturbance known as the Gray Fossil Site. The pile of prehistoric bones was discovered in 2000 during work to widen a state highway.

Still being unearthed at the site, and displayed inside a museum there, are the roughly 5-million-year-old remains of animals that died in and around a watering hole.

The lesson from the demise of those ancient creatures: Drinking water often goes down with unintended consequences.

Some things never change.

Contact Mark Rutledge at mrutledge@reflector.com or like him on Facebook at Mark Rutledge Columns.