back to top

JOHNNY ROBINSON: I Am The Crawlspace Ninja

Prepared for the mission.

I’m stretched out and almost stuck. Like a horizontal version of a statue of Athena I lie there figuring / planning my next step. Although a few thin shafts of sunlight penetrate the foundation here and there, the light’s not so good; the clumsy, circa 1979 headlamp which is half falling off my head is dim at best. Hmm, there it is, the crack in the pipe.

I turned off the water before tunneling under here, but it continues to trickle out of the breach. Soon it will slow to a drip drip drip. I feel the sharp-edged rupture with the fingers of my free hand while I think.

It’s the spring of 1982 and I’m in the tight confines of the crawlspace under our family’s tidewater Virginia getaway cabin, dealing with a leak in the old plumbing system. There’s no basement; the cottage is pretty basic. It’s perched on a low foundation of brick, and the crawlspace under it is better described as a slitherspace.

I’m young -23- lean, and dim-witted enough to take on odd challenges. In the years leading up to the described tomfoolery I’ve become the resident “moleman,” the guy in the family who fixes the annual leaks in the cottage’s deteriorating plumbing system. I picked up the basic skills required by growing up in a household where something always needed fixing-plumbing – no exception – and I watched and assisted my dad and others in these matters.

Why was fixing these leaks an annual event? Simply because it was difficult to effectively winterize the old place which my granddad had built fifty years earlier. Try as we might -draining pipes, insulating- we were often outsmarted by Old Man Winter.

Upon arrival at the cabin, anytime but especially in the springtime after the cabin had been closed up for the winter, getting running water established was, of course, a primary concern. First I’d get the ancient water pump going – clunka clunka clunka, then slide aside the concrete slab covering the top of the well and reach through the spider webs to open the gate valve that admits water into the cabin’s plumbing system.

Then I’d hold my breath as I ran around listening for leaks, hoping not to hear the muffled sound of spraying water from somewhere under the house. But yeah I’d hear it; the odds were that over the winter water had frozen in a choice spot or two in the old copper pipes, expanding and cracking them.

Hearing that unmistakable sound of leaking water, I would sigh, turn off the pump in the well house and prepare to investigate. There was an old green jumpsuit which I kept on hand for just such endeavors. Donning those, my headlamp, and a faded fishing cap on backwards,  I’d be ready for a reconnaissance wriggle.

I felt like a miner – or a scuba diver –  as I adjusted my hat and light and dove in. A pungent, dusty-moldy earth smell would confront me as I passed through the tiny access door and left the light of day behind.

I’ve gathered the necessary items for the repair and crawled back to the leak site. The small cardboard box which I pushed ahead of me as I squirmed contains a hacksaw, propane torch, matches, copper pipe fittings, solder, steel wool, an old T-shirt, electrical tape, a knife.

I pass the shedded skins of two large blacksnakes along the way, and there’s a dried-out squirrel carcass nearby. All sorts of spiders – including black widows – live under here. And mice too (The snakes’ food source.) But never mind the wildlife; I have work to do. This particular leak is under the kitchen floor at the sink where the working space is, well, ‘suboptimal.’ There’s scarcely sixteen inches of space and executing a decent repair is challenging for sure.

I have to cut out the bad section of pipe and clean the ends carefully with steel wool and a rag. I fit the repair coupling, light the torch and adjust the flame just right, then sweat the joint by precisely applying the solder and wielding the torch without (by the grace of God) burning the house down.

There are lots of opportunities for error in this scenario, but if I’m lucky my amateur solder joint is good and once I wriggle out of here, turn on the pump and let the water back into the pipes I won’t again hear the unsettling sound of leaking water. However… I might soon be right back under here battling it out some more.

But I WILL get it.

Because I’m the Moleman, the Crawlspace Ninja; I take care of these things and I’m glad to do it. Other clan members manage different aspects of maintaining the impractical but deeply-loved family cabin. I’m grateful for what they do.

And I’m also very grateful for fresh air, sunlight, and . . . running water.

Johnny Robinson




Latest Articles

- Advertisement -Fox Radio CBS Sports Radio Advertisement

Latest Articles

- Advertisement -Fox Radio CBS Sports Radio Advertisement

Related Articles