The Rest Of The Story
Julius Ballanco, PE
I received a phone call early this morning from my good friend Dave in Florida. He said that he was taking a morning walk wearing his headphones. Paul Harvey came on with his morning report. At the end of his report, Paul Harvey always adds a little quirky story.
If you are not familiar with Paul Harvey, he is a staple item in the Midwest. While it appears that he is reporting from the farm, his broadcasts actually originate from Chicago. He has such a following that people turn their radios on at noon in the Chicago area just to hear his report.
This morning's quirky story was about the toilet that exploded in a hotel during a convention of the American Society of Plumbing Engineers. The room was occupied by one of the plumbing engineers. The exploding toilet made a mess of the plumbing engineer's room, getting sewage on his and his wife's clothes and toiletry articles. Paul Harvey's little twist at the end of story was, "The plumbing engineer staying in that room specializes in exploding toilets!"
Of course Dave said, "You're the only one I know that fits that description. Was that you?"
I had been caught by, of all people, Paul Harvey. Yes, it was I, and my wife is still angry that incompetent individuals got sewage everywhere. Notice that I said "incompetent individuals." I did not use the term "plumbing contractors."
Now, for the rest of the story. I was in a meeting when my wife called my cell phone and was very frantic. Of course, being a typical husband, I thought it was something minor. I went running back to the room just the same, assuming it was nothing. As I got off the elevator, I could smell the sewage in the air. As I got closer, there were towels on the floor and the door to my room was wide open.
As I entered, the walls were black, the ceiling was black, and the carpet was still covered in, well you know. My toiletry kit was coated with a nice layer of black sewage. And since the door to the closet was slightly open, everything within range was covered.
My wife was alone in the room, furious. No one else from the hotel was anywhere to be found.
How Can This Happen?It all started when I took a shower the first day. The water filled the tub about 2 inches deep before I finished. It then took another 45 minutes to completely drain. So, it was down to the front desk asking that the drain be cleared. After all, we are at a plumbing engineering convention. The next morning, the same thing.
OK, what's going on? What happened to the word "service"? Another complaint was lodged.
Finally, on the third day, the drain did not work at all. Now, I demanded service. No more fooling around with the staff behind the desk, let me talk to someone who knows something. Finally, an assurance that I would have my room serviced that day. And service they gave me.
The hotel maintenance department just happens to own a pressure router. Seems they could not figure out how to do it through the drain on the bathtub. So, one of the maintenance people had the brilliant idea of blowing a little pressure through the lavatory drain.
I know, you can see this one coming. Aren't all of the drains interconnected? Hence, add a little high pressure to the line, and it comes out at the point of least resistance. Not only does it come out, but all the good stuff in the line comes out with it.
So, in reality, the toilet did not really explode. But the funny thing is, the cause of exploding toilets was what caused this toilet to spit everything back. It was high-pressure air. Whether it is high-pressure air in the water line, or high-pressure air in the drain, it sure can play havoc with a toilet or, if you prefer, a water closet.
In a way, this wonderful experience helped to prove one point I am always making, "Don't use high pressure to clean a drain line. If you do, you are asking for disaster." Well, I was right, but the disaster was to my room.
The hotel would have been better off hiring a professional plumbing contractor or drain cleaner to take care of the stoppage. But, in typical fashion, it thought it could save money by letting its own people clean the drain. Unfortunately, they didn't know what they were doing.
Too Costly To Go CheapIn the long run, the hotel's shortsightedness on saving a few dollars with a local plumbing contractor cost it big time. It had to pay for all of the damaged toiletries, clothing, etc. It also decided to give us a free night at any one of its hotels. And worst of all, it made it on to Paul Harvey's news report.
I can tell you that what it had to pay me was much more than a plumbing contractor would have cost to do the job right. You cannot measure the cost of the bad publicity from Paul Harvey.
The lesson to be learned from this wonderful episode is for hotel and motel owners. Many of these owners are smart and have plumbing contractors under contract to come rescue them at a moment's notice. However, too many - including this hotel in Ft. Worth, Texas - do not.
The only way to educate these facilities is to continue to bang on their doors and solicit their business with a maintenance agreement or contract. They need your help. Feel free to give them a copy of this column. They'll never know when their mishap may appear on Paul Harvey as "The Rest of the Story."
As I turn 50 this month, I guess I can say my life has been fulfilling. I have been mentioned (although not by name) in a Paul Harvey story, and I have appeared in a Dave Barry column. It doesn't get any better than that. The next 50 years should be all downhill.