by Carol Dunn
The art of cleaning a septic tank is something you may never have thought about. But once you’ve been through the process, you will have some unforgettable memories.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell when your septic tank needs to be pumped out until it stops working. This is an “uh oh” moment when the stuff you flushed down the toilet turns into ten times as much stuff and comes back to haunt you. We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t invent some sort of gismo that tells us when a septic tank is full.
Recently I had the dubious honor of observing the pumping of a septic tank, and I’ll have to say, if you think your job is bad, you’ll suddenly think it’s the best job in the world compared to this one. The job requires a special set of tools, which, needless to say, are fairly icky. One is a long-handled lid lifting hook. This looked to me like a pretty specialized tool that you would only find in a septic store, like “Honey Wagons R Us.” Another tool was the 6-foot-long hand-held fishing boat motor.
The Honey Wagon Man lowers the boat motor down into the septic tank to stir things up. This stirred up stuff is not meant for human eyes – or human noses. When they say black water, they mean it. And it’s not the black water the Doobie Brothers sang about either. Forget Agent Orange. This is the stuff they should have dropped on the jungle, and everyone would have surrendered immediately.
The Honey Wagon Man has a big honking truck with a big honking hose on it. This is the ultimate wet-dry vacuum cleaner. He lowers the hose into the septic tank and the truck starts ingesting the contents like a camel loading up for a long journey through the desert. At this point there’s an irresistible and morbid curiosity to glance into the tank, although you really DON’T want to see what’s there. The hose doesn’t make any noise at this point, but you kind of know what the truck is ingesting.
It’s inevitable that the fumes from this process begin to permeate everything for a mile around. COME ON WIND! Now’s the time we really love our Huerfano County breezes. The wind takes that smell and blows it to Kansas, where it settles into someone’s nostrils and they blame their kid for cutting the cheese. You don’t have to be in the vicinity very long before your clothes and your hair smell just like the black water.
When the septic tank is empty, as evidenced by the sucking noise the hose makes, the Honey Wagon Man starts to roll up the vacuum hose. Of course, he’s going to spill some of the black water on the ground. It’s inevitable. And your dogs really appreciate it. It gives them something new to roll in, instead of the same old cow patties back in the pasture.
After the Honey Wagon Man has departed, and you have given your dogs and yourself a bath, you can have a seat on the deck and breathe a sigh of relief (not too deeply though, the smell isn’t completely gone yet), and be glad that you only have to go through this every five years, or whenever the honey backs up into your house again.