Waterloo — A Real Life Conversion to Automatic Watering

There comes a moment in everyone’s life when they draw a line in the sand: a defining point in history that marks a man’s character and changes his behavior forever. His final battle – his Alamo, if you will. This juncture usually results from indignant resolution against the universe, which has been habitually conspiring against a poor soul for far too long. It was a fateful day such as this when I discovered the freedom of automatic watering.


I will give you a little history, so you’ll better understand the circumstances of the weeks and months leading up to this breaking point. I was raised pulling windmills in dry West Texas, drinking and watering livestock with the brackish water they pumped. The water looked clear, but hanging from the end of the pipe was invariably a stalactite of calcium, gypsum and other unidentifiable minerals. It tasted terrible, but I didn’t know any better. I had heard of these fancy pants people with “city water” and automatic waterers running to their livestock and had made quite a bit of sport of them among my colleagues. Inwardly as I was pulling that last muddy joint of sucker rod, I was envious, though I would never admit it. So, when I started my horse herd I watered them just as I had always watered cattle. The windmill pumped into a little depression I had dug in the ground and they drank. This continued until a windstorm blew the tower over. The windmill, I decided, was an outdated modus and should be replaced with city water. Therefore, I bought a 200-gallon trough, put a float on it, attached a hose, and gloated. After centuries of status quo, progress had been forced.

Now may be the time to recount the story about how I acquired a “bargain” for this trough. The drain plug was stripped, and I purchased it at a substantial discount. Undeterred, I bought a carriage bolt, locknut, two flat washers, and some rubber for about $1.75. I sandwiched the rubber with the washers, added threadlocker, tightened up the nut on the inside so the horses wouldn’t step on it, and waterproofed the trough soundly. It was as pretty as a newborn calf.

Free Surprises

I can’t remember how, but I managed to leave town for about a week during the hottest part of that next summer. I hired who I thought was a respectable young man to check on things for me during my absence. By the end of the week, his respectability had dwindled in my estimation. However, I left feeling ignorantly confident in my situation, determined not to worry. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have paid him in advance.

After a week of rest and relaxation, I sauntered back into my dusty little town feeling refreshed. I was certain my transition back to normal everyday life would not be difficult. As my wife and I drove out to the barn, I had a satisfied smile on my face, but the broodmares met me at the gate with that odd look of expectation. I just thought they were happy to see me. As I approached the barn, the windshield developed a haze as the paint on the hood started to bubble. The smell wafting through the vents could knock a buzzard off of a gut-wagon.

I had noticed the horses looked a little drawn, but I had no worries. The grass was high and I had a float on the trough, right? As I walked over and peered hesitantly into the water, the reality of the situation hit me. The sludge in the tub was a pale green color, with chunks of black and white hair floating on the surface. There was no carcass to speak of, but mushy remnants of a nasty little creature who had found his way into the tank and drowned. This concoction had then decomposed and simmered in the intense West Texas heat for seven days. What I had was 200 gallons of week-old dead skunk stew.

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After a long string of language I can’t repeat here, I grabbed a bucket, disconnected the garden hose, and watered the horses well since they had been days without water. Then I set about finding a solution to my dilemma.  “No problem.” I was being somewhat naïve. “I’ll just carefully pull the drain plug and…”  It was at this point I remembered my bargain. Try as I might, there was no way to unscrew that plug without reaching my hand down inside the tank and turning the nut on the other side. Time for plan B. I’ll just get a hose and siphon…but just the thought of having to draw on the end of the hose to start the siphon was almost enough to turn my stomach. 200 gallons of water was entirely too heavy for me to tip over. I could back up and shoot a hole in the trough, but the horses were too close. As I went through a process of elimination, I was left with only one option. I reached in the bed of the truck, pulled out another bucket, tied an old shirt around my face, and started with determination toward the witch’s brew.

A Breaking Point

“Surface Tension” yields a phenomenon in nature where, when you disturb a putrid liquid, the smell instantly intensifies. As soon as my bucket broke the surface of the water, the fumes became toxic. The smell was like burning rubber mixed with soured milo and dirty diapers. My eyes watered until I could no longer see. I didn’t know whether it was best to breathe through my nose and smell it or through my mouth and taste it. Since I had not yet mastered the ability to breathe through my ears, I knew I would be unable to continue any further. At the expense of my manhood I staggered back to the truck, hacking and crying, and petitioned my wife – who had been watching with great amusement from the relative safety of the air conditioning – for help.

It is a well-known scientific fact that women can handle malodorous nuisances, such as in-laws and other peoples’ children, better than men- at least that is the argument I was fervently making at the time. After much bargaining, she relented and we ended up taking turns bailing and hacking, cursing the boy we had paid and holding a vibrant debate as to why old Noah didn’t just throw this abomination of nature overboard. Of course, upon filling, transferring, and emptying the bucket there is always a certain amount of splash involved. I had skunk funk on every article of clothing, and my boots were soaked. By this time my wife was questioning my manhood, and I was questioning my resolve. After an hour or so, we reached the bottom where the concoction turned to sludge and became difficult to scoop. There I hit a stroke of genius. I threw a rope around the trough, tied it behind the truck, and dragged it to the farthest reaches of the pasture. I tossed the rope, bucket, and my clothes (even my boots) in it, doused it with diesel and lit the whole thing on fire. The fire served no real purpose except a small retribution for my predicament. There it lies to this day, reeking of charred skunk and shame.

The neighbors were curious as I drove back home in my BVD’s, with my wife riding in the bed with the dog. She, in her infinite wisdom, came home from town with a brand new automatic waterer that very afternoon. I still don’t know how much it cost, and I still don’t care.

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