There are a few things I’ve learned about cast iron in my stint as a humanoid for sixty-plus years. It is heavy, it is hard, it is brittle when compared to steel and it is subject to corrosion. Protect it from corrosion, impact and torsion and it will last for a very long time.
For all appearances, the cast iron drain system in and under our house had been well-protected from corrosion… on the outside, at least. That black coating had preserved its exterior for over fifty years. And so, when I started taking it apart, it was not an easy proposition.
I had hoped to rent a “chain break” or pipe cutter which operates on principles similar to that of a tubing cutter. Tubing cutters use a small circular cutting wheel with a tapered edge. Clamp one onto the tubing, screw it down and start rotating it around the tubing or copper pipe. After each turn, tighten it down a bit more and turn again. Eventually, the combination of tightening and rotation press the cutter clear through the wall of the tubing or pipe. Pipe cutters for brass and steel work on the same principle—but on a larger scale.
The chain cutter consists of what longs like a section of extra-heavy duty motorcycle chain with a series of small tempered cutting wheels. Wrap it around your heavy cast iron pipe and start the tighten-turn-tighten sequence. Pretty soon, your heavy cast iron pipe snaps at the incision line. Drag it out in a series of small heavy pieces and before long, you’re done.
Our local tool rental place does not stock a chain cutter for the one-in-a-hundred-thousand customers who show up with a cast iron drain removal project at hand. So, using my eighteen-dollar diamond grit blade from Lowes and my battery powered DeWalt reciprocating saw (also from Lowe’s) I started.
With a fresh blade and fully charged battery, I can cut through a section of four-inch cast iron pipe in about three minutes. That blade stays fresh for one, maybe two cuts and then the time escalates dramatically. By the time I made the last cut through a long horizontal section in the crawl space, it took about eight minutes. I drug out the twelve foot piece through the crawl space access into the back yard.
When I turned it over, I discovered it had a long crack running along the first six or seven feet from the main ell. Years of ground contact on the outside and the nature of its function on the inside had corroded completely through that hard heavy pipe. The corrupted split was over a half-inch wide in places and thick scale had formed at some of the seep points. Metal so dense that it dulls files had yielded to the long slow persistence of chemical erosion.
I had no idea there was even a tiny leak in that pipe, much less a full-scale evacuation port like I discovered. There was no hint of bad odor. Even when I pulled off the two layers of old tar paper that had been laid over the pipe, there was not telltale sign of dark dampness in the dirt beside it. I thought I was simply replacing old with new, making it better.
Sometimes the good thing that we are doing turns out to be even more needed, more crucial and perhaps even more urgent than we ever suspected. The encouraging phone call, the friendly greeting, the cup of cold water, the caring touch may be more than the simple gesture of goodness we intended. It could be the very thing that lifts a laden heart, lights a spark that will catch and spread. It could even be the single act that keeps a lonely and discouraged soul from seeking its own dark release from this world’s pain.
The reason that brings us to some good thing may not be the reason it needs doing. We do not have to fully understand or even anticipate the good that comes from doing good. What we need is to simply do it.
And trust in greater hands than ours to direct us.