We have a permanently parked 25-foot travel trailer built-in 1979 at a private campground in Indiana.
We added a 3-foot deep “stick” bump-out (two by fours and plaster) while replacing the tiny RV entryway with a 6-foot sliding glass door.
At some point, I lopped off the trailer hitch (ergo permanently parked) which made room in the adjacent shed for a 5 foot counter with stainless sink while having a conventional propane range and refrigerator.
Whether you are a survivalist or not, you probably know that there are three things humans need to survive.
- Ability to control our body’s temperature (Clothing)
- Water (it’s hard to live without water for more than 2 days)
Having an RV that we spend two or three days at a time in (we have high-speed Internet so we are always tuned in to our customers), running water is essential.
This is a story about how we have learned to extract water from 22 feet below the ground where there lies an aquifer and then pump it up to the rate of 1100 gallons per hour.
But that’s cold water.
To treat ourselves humanely will need hot water for bathing and washing dishes.
And finally who doesn’t love an indoor toilet that flushes?
Which is all well and good but then you have to deal with something that is called “Blackwater.”
This is opposed to gray water from bathing and washing dishes typically held in two different tanks in an RV.
The original well was installed before our small wood room addition.
I engineered it so that the well pump could come inside the trailer.
Eventually, we fully insulated the trailer and installed to 10,000 BTU ventless heaters.
Thus the interior temperature of the trailer never falls below 50° year-round.
Except for the time of this year’s polar vortex.
I know I’m preaching to the choir here, broke down many a system having to do with water.
In spite of my best efforts, the actual pump cracked because I was unable to keep that area warm enough.
Not only was it cold but we were gaining momentum for our move from Chicago to Lowell Indiana.
Normally my goal is to be “party-ready” by Memorial Day.
We were too far behind the eightball organizing our new work and living spaces to spend time working on leisure space.
When I was finally able to schedule a time to install the pump I did some searching online and came to the disconcerting conclusion that the blue three-quarter horse shallow well pump I had been buying from Harbor Freight for the past 10 years or so was no longer available anywhere.
At the low end of the spectrum at a store that just sucks your money dry, was a Drummond (green) 1 hp very powerful.
The blue pump was $79 this was $159 plus an additional $30 for the two-year guarantee that I always get with these things.
I knew without measuring that I can no longer just take out the old one, remove the outlet head, stick it back in the interior pumphouse and tighten up the coupling.
I knew I would have a new height mismatch that I would have to build intake pipe and new faucets at the top of long as I’m at it.
I become a surgeon at this particular procedure and in less than an hour I was ready to flip the wall switch that controls the pump (a safety mechanism allowing us to disable the pump whenever we are absent).
I primed it.
I turned it on.
Water flowed from the kitchen faucet.
Normally when the water system fully pressurizes the pump shuts off, that’s what the built to do.
This video shows a basic shallow well pump install.
I turned off the kitchen sink faucet then began a physical and audio inspection seeking spraying water, a breach.
None were found.
I turned off the pump, reread the instruction manual, looked at about 30 seconds of YouTube video then decided pump needed to go back.
I had the replacement warranty I would just bring it back and they would give me another one as they’ve done for a decade.
A new policy in Indiana regarding potable water pumps!
Because it’s a potable water pump there cannot be a direct exchange between me and the store.
I needed to call the 800 number which I was assured wood expedite my exchange process but as it turns out with potable water pumps according to Harbor Freight Customer Service recording indicated that I needed to call a special potable water pump return exchange.
It was 2:15 on a Saturday.
They close the special potable water pump return exchange on Saturdays at 2:00 and reopen at 9 AM somewhere in North America, it was going to be another hauling bottled water weekend.
First thing Monday I called the special potable water pump return exchange and went through all the steps learning that I could dispose of the pump and they would send a gift card reimbursing me for the pump and the warranty.
They would also send it 2nd-day air.
I had no choice.
It showed up on the front porch Thursday.
Drove back to Schererville for the new pump acquisition on Thursday.
Friday I dragged the new/new pump back to the trailer and after some wrestling I got it working.
In other conversations with fellow camp members, it turned out that at least one chap I knew went through three of these pumps before he was able to get his to work.
You’ve been warned about the Drummond, green 1 hp shallow well pump.
This thing is so powerful that once up and running right I started getting tiny leaks and places that had not been leaking before.
It’s always something.
This where we talk about hot water.
For the outdoor shower, we use a 5 L per minute propane gas on-demand water heater from Eccotemp.
I had also been using it to heat the water coming from the faucet inside the trailer and the faucet in the shed’s kitchen sink.
The kitchen CPVC pipe run was too long.
We had not winterized it well.
Bothe pipes froze this winter thus needing repair underneath a trailer hovering above wet ground.
Clearing my head staring into space I decided I had been doing it wrong all along.
I was making it hard on myself which is not unusual.
The hot and cold water runs from the outdoor on-demand heater using CPVC and were about 18 feet long.
Replacing them meant cutting and gluing pipe and then feeding it through the bottom of the trailer -- just endless pain.
I haven’t spoken about the interior 120 V on-demand which we used to provide hot water in the winter months.
Insulating our tin can took 3 to 4 weeks of foam/foil sheets and many cans of spray stuff.
The two heaters (mentioned above) simply needed to provide warmth for about 824 ft.² with a 6 1/2 foot ceiling.
Do the math and you’ll see its not a strenuous job for two heaters.
Until the polar vortex of 2019.
In any case, I mentioned that I used CPVC for plumbing.
I also used Pex tubing.
I figured out a way to use nothing but Pex to provide hot water to the outside kitchen sink and inside the kitchen sink.
An issue I faced was connecting the Pex to the conventional PVC valves in the outside kitchen sink.
I’d already plumbed the inside kitchen sink to use either the interior or the exterior on-demand heater.
I now made the exterior heater solely for showers and will take it home every winter for safety.
I the ran Pex to the outdoor sink connecting the Pex to the CPVC using Watts connectors which will even connect to copper tubing using no tools.
We got water.
Well, remember I told you about the terrific increase in pressure the new pump provided?
We had developed a leak in the Flushing valve of the RV toilet.
My simple fix was to put it on-off valve before the toilet so we can turn the water on while in use and turn it back off incurring just a few drips into a foam cup we kept behind the toilet.
With the advent of the Drummond 1 HP pump, the small drips were now streams.
I figured “I’ll just replace the RV toilet valve, how hard could that be?”
While removing the toilet was about a 40-minute project because of the one hold down bolt was sandwich in between the RV toilet in the RV tub.
After several failed attempts of all loosening approaches I finally brought in the big guns, my five and a half-inch cut off tool and I was able to split the bolt and only nicking the toilet where I knew I could fix it easily.
I plugged the hole I had left with a roll of toilet paper in the past the bag and then cover that with an old bath towel folded over several times.
These toilets are lightweight just a few pounds and I brought it over the top of the table I’ve prepared with a towel inside a cardboard box to set it on for my repair session.
Well either I ordered or they sent me the wrong valve so I was stuck, and a bit frustrated.
I made an executive decision on the spot.
I ordered a brand-new Thetford RV toilet for $117 including tax and shipping from Amazon.
I immediately filed my returns forms.
Now there was one other challenge that I was facing.
It was clear to me after inspecting and then removing the toilet that the Blackwater tank was not draining which it should have been.
I’ll explain the wise of that shortly.
Along with the RV toilet I ordered 32 ounces of something that promised to fix my Blackwater tank problem for $20 and both would arrive on Friday, this was Wednesday.
Friday went down with the brand-new toilet, the magic elixir, a bunch of cleaning products gloves masks and eye protection.
The first thing I did was to have poured the magic goo into the tank added some water, recap the whole and crossed my fingers.
They said to wait 12 to 24 hours.
I scrubbed the toilet area in our 40 -year-old trailer until I brought back the white luster of pebbled plastic from 1979.
In under three hours, we had a new working clean RV toilet.
No drips, no squirts from the waterline
I kept the on-off valve leading to the toilet in the system but I cleaned up the Pex tubing alignment and better mounted some electrical cords that should not have been there.
I found a hose kit for $29.95.
Grabbed a couple of other sundries and checked out and went over to the pickup station at the front of the store.
Apparently I had 2 challenges.
One I didn’t bring my phone to the store and they wanted the barcode on the email they sent me which would be somewhere on the phone.
The other issue was that there were eight people in front of me -- waiting.
The fans could wait I had a seven-day window but emptying the Blackwater tank could not.
I returned with the supplies moved to behind the trailer with the tools I thought I would need including a coathanger and a garden hose ready to spray for what any reason.
I had one of those clear facemasks on that you see medical examiners wear in the autopsy rooms of TV shows and a pair of rubber gloves.
Because our shower wasn’t back as well as all the Blackwater drainpipe leading to septic, I had installed sheets of treated wood going to the ground bolted directly into the trailer for more pleasant visual.
I had already removed those and was ready to go to work.
I started with the coathanger and poked a small hole in the top of the corrugated tubing and began to work my way past the slice valve into the tank.
I moved forward and jiggled, moved forward and jiggled, moved forward and jiggled.
Nothing was coming out.
Realizing I was at the point of no return I started jiggling the coathanger even more now tearing the corrugated pipe which meant certain discomforts in the very near future.
I was not going to let a clogged Blackwater tank depreciate the quality of our outdoor living life.
After going in deep enough to feel the other side of the Blackwater tank with nothing coming out I knew it was time to go nuclear.
We called “Stumpy” a camper who side hustle had become pumping out boys for not only the residence of the camp at the big money people with a huge Arvizu just didn’t want to bother.
Catherine messaged him on Facebook and 20 minutes later we saw’s golf cart and trailer holding an empty 600-gallon water tank pull up.
I walked in through our existing scenario in it after he figured out how to back in golf cart and trailer to be close to the rear of our trailer he went to work.
I realize now this task was way above my pay grade after watching him.
He removed the old dump tube and replaced it with a very complicated dump tube coming off the 330-gallon empty tank.
What made it complicated was at the base of the attachment to the tank, which was clear, there was an electric motor powered by a 12 V car battery on his car.
On the other side of this attaching apparatus was an import fell for freshwater worry attached to my garden hose to.
He started by injecting 4 to 6 gallons.
He would turn off the fresh water supply and begin the vacuum motor attached.
The hose led into the empty 600-gallon tank on the trailer.
He charged by the amount of water we use to unclog the tank.
“If I have to use 300 gallons of water it’s going to be 60 bucks, just let you know.”
I didn’t say it but I would’ve paid him $100.
He repeated this process several times increasing the amount of water injected into the Blackwater tank.
The problem he explained to me as I allowed the tank to go try.
I explained to him this happened during the polar vortex when the water pump stopped and we were just flushing the toilet using bottled water that we were getting from one of the public buildings in the winter.
This clearly wasn’t enough water and also why my $20 bottle of chemical was not working.
It was also why I couldn’t break anything up in the holding tank.
Everything had solidified hardened.
After running about 40 gallons for the system he hands me another device.
2 feet of garden hose attached to a pipe with a black At the end.
He attached my garden hose to it while we’re outside any illustrated that there was a small sprinkler type device at the bottom that would spin at high speed spewing out water.
My job was to insert this into the Blackwater tank with water running moving around using water pressure to help break things up.
All the while Stumpy was in back injecting and drawing water.
Speaking through the small jalousie bathroom window he told me to turn off the water and come outside.
He was smiling and excited.
“We got chocolate water” he shouted!
But we need to do more.
I easily buried any and all enthusiasm put on my game face and asked him what I had to do next.
He said to go back and use the water stir stick, I’ll out work out here.
After about 30 minutes or so between our mutual efforts, we had cleared the black water dump tank totally having used about 130 gallons of freshwater to do so.
We decided to keep the slice valve closed and replace it because it was balky but we had probably three or four weeks to do that.
He charged me $30 I paid him $40 and then moved him to the top of my speed dial list.
Nothing is easy.
I’m writing this just prior to returning to the camper the following weekend looking forward to a no RV maintenance good time.
Written by Mitch Rezman
Approved by Catherine Tobsing
Your Shi*ty footnote.