A Lesson in Humility
As I moved through my phase I demolition I’m not sure why I put off draining the gray and black water tanks, but in the end, I’m glad the trailer was mostly gutted when I tackled the job.
The bathroom wasn’t horribly gross, just crowded, and old and a bit dirty. It was at the “far end” of the trailer as I worked my way in that direction. However, the day did arrive when demolition of the bathroom was at hand.
I tore out the bulkheads for the bathroom before I began getting rid of fixtures and cabinetry. It was much easier to access things that way. While taking out the bulkhead by the shower, I began to sense that there were tank issues. Standing in the shower pan to drill out rivets I noticed that there was water right under the shower drain. That meant that either the trap for the shower was clogged and there was water above it (no such luck), or the tank was so full that water came up all the way into the trap and above (yup).
Checking the toilet, I realized the black water tank on which it sat was also almost full. Okay, We seemed to have full gray and black water tanks.
To be honest, the state of the holding tanks wasn’t something I had thought out when I purchased the trailer. At the time of the purchase I did not have a tow vehicle and so I had the trailer delivered to me by the seller. It showed up and got parked in my driveway. I hadn’t asked one way or the other for the seller to deal with the tanks. This was a screw up on my part. Luckily it turned out that it wasn’t a big issue logistically (although it was pertinent in terms of the true condition of the trailer as purchased but that was just tough beans for me). I hadn’t planned for having to deal with dumping full tanks without a tow vehicle, but I got lucky in that there was a sewer clean out for our house just to the side of where the trailer was parked. I verified the clean out was functioning and in the main line into the sanitary sewer for the house. It would be easy to hook up a connection from the trailer tank dump outlet to this clean out.
So resolving to get the thing done I purchased a new slinky for hooking up the trailer dump valves to the sewer connection. The plan was to open up the valve for the black water tank and let it drain to the sewer and then open the valve for the gray water tank to let it flow behind the black water to provide a first rinse. Standard rv dump procedure. I checked my connections again and pulled the valve handle to open the black water tank. It pulled out alright, but it pulled all the way out, and in my hand was the valve handle attached to the connecting rod that should have been attached to the “gate” which, when pulled open, allowed the black water tank to drain. The gate was stuck in the closed position in the valve assembly, or at least I thought it was.
Well, these are sorts of events that you come to expect when you do demolition. The valve handle for the black water tank was located in the “bumper trunk” but the valve assembly itself was behind the trunk and the “belly wrap” which covers the bottom of the trailer. Time to remove the bumper and bumper trunk. Not that hard. But the belly wrap still obscured things. This ended up being not so difficult either as a little poking around and a large section of the wrap disintegrated into rusty pieces and fell to the ground. Like most Airstreams, a whole lot of leaking had been going on at the rear of the trailer for a long time. I was aware of this already so no big deal. Now the valve was accessible.
I had hoped to be able to somehow reattach the connecting rod or something else to the gate and pull it open to drain the tank. Once I got a look at the lay of the land I knew there was no way that was going to work. My next great idea was to cut away some of the housing around the gate mechanism and see if I could grab onto that gate and slide it open . A dremel tool and patience ended up being the way I went. It wasn’t pretty but I did manage to cut away the end the valve housing so that I could use a vice grip to get a hold on the gate. It was closer to the edge of the valve assembly than I anticipated. Hmm?
I did manage to pull the gate out clear of the the drain opening; in fact, it pulled all the way out of the housing. So there I was kneeling on the ground with the gate in the vice grip clean out of the valve housing. What I did not hear or see or sense in any way was a whoosh as the materials pent up in the black water tank flowed into plumbing and the slinky and away down the sewer drain. There was no great letting go.
I mean I heard nothing. Nothing was moving except a drip coming out of the mangled valve assembly. It wasn’t a pretty drip. Disappointed? Hugely Disappointed. I was beginning to lose my stiff upper lip. Now what? I pondered using a plumbing snake to attempt clearing the line from where the slinky attaches and then back up to the tank. Looking at the layout it was doubtful this would work: there were two 90 degree turns in the pipe running to the valve and another sharp turn up into the tank itself. Plus, what if I did succeed? Success would mean a rush of black water material right to where I’d be with the snake and then spilling out over me and the driveway. Maybe try it the other way, from the tank out to the valve?
Trying to get the snake through the toilet mount hole and over to the drain at the bottom worked not at all; it was way too sharp an angle and the snake just kept hanging up.
I was pretty frustrated at that point. Since I couldn’t get the thing to drain out the bottom I was going to have to empty it from the top. Next great idea? Call up a honey bucket outfit and have a service truck come and pump out the tank.
While waiting for the truck to arrive I drained the gray water tank; since I’d abandoned the idea of draining the black water tank I didn’t need to wait to use the gray water as a flush. I held my breath when opening up the valve for the gray water tank, but it opened cleanly and the contents flowed into the sewer. I cleaned up the area and hosed down the driveway around the trailer imagining the way I’d feel when this job was done.
Honey Bucket truck came. Service guy pumped what he could out of the tank through where the toilet mounts. Pump truck left.
Then I did what I should have done before the pump truck arrived: I cut a hole in the top of the tank (any thoughts about salvaging this tank were
now abandoned) so that I could see what was what. What I found was that the tank was still about half full of very thick sludge. Much too thick to pump but not solid enough to just cut through the plumbing and lift the tank out. Plus it would have been too heavy.
So I could try and remove the material remaining in the tank from the top (not sure how), or I could try adding some water and mixing it into a more liquid state and have the porta potty truck come back and pump it out again. I decided on the latter. It worked,sort of, but it was pretty gross. My initial stir before the truck got back was the worst as that stuff did not want to break down. It took 3 more “dilutions” after the truck was back to get it pretty well empty and manageable for removal. The service truck operator was patient, but not happy. I wasn’t happy either as things sloshed and splashed around while I was trying to get them to liquify. Gloves and safety glasses and lots of towells helped. The service truck operator did cheer me up from time to time, reminding me that hey I could take it from him, the stuff washes off. When the truck left I had an empty tank.
Checking around the exterior of the tank it appeared that it was held in place by gravity, the vent pipe, and the larger PVC drain pipe. I took a sawzall to the plumbing and the tank was free. I dragged it out through the gutted trailer and put it in the flower bed next to the sewer clean out pipe. I picked up and cleaned my tools and hosed down the areas once again. I’m done for the day. Enough. The gray water tank would have to wait for another day.