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"When I come down off this ladder..." - Ed Story Time


I got your Staff Member riiiight heeeere...
FBBO Gold Member
Local time
9:25 AM
May 14, 2011
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On the Ridge, TN
I feel another story coming on, so the usual caveats apply I suppose:
This post has nothing to do with cars. If my ramblings offend, please feel free to avert your gaze to elsewhere...
Yada yada. Void where prohibited. Member FDIC. Your mileage may vary.

These days, as I approach whatever end phase is to come, I don't sleep much at all anymore (in the bed
anyways) so I wind up out in my chair in front of my old desk, trying to find the end of the internet...
But I do doze off in the chair often and when I do, the dreams are damn near professional productions.
But I digress - the purpose of stating that is to introduce this - because it was one of those dreams that
reminded me of this story, so here goes...

Come to find out, I'm a career fire sprinkler guy. Seems it's about the only thing people find useful in me
in the way of a paying gig. I take it as seriously as it merits and I don't have much use for those in it or
around it that half-*** it. I've been in the profession most all my adult life, over 40 years now.
It matters that it be done to the best of ones' abilities, simply put - least it does to me.
Doesn't mean one can't have a good time whilst doing life safety stuff though - and it does tend to lead to
some amusing (and/or infuriating) times along the way - like this story....

So - this had to have been 20 years or so ago now.
In those days, there developed a handful of what you'd call "local" customers that wound up being my
responsibility at the company I worked at, typically because they didn't exactly keep their fire protection
in the best of shape (and therefore, the boss didn't make a lot of money off them).
They were the types of customers companies would shift to the back burner in favor of the better money
ones, in other words.
To me though - being the altruistic fella I am, I typically never gave up on them and tried to help best I
could despite their funding and/or interest in keeping stuff working.

One such place was a typical old antique store, packed wall to wall with all manner of trinkets, furniture,
the kind of stuff you'd see on one of those "pickers" shows.
In a former life, the store had been a smaller grocery store - and it had, at least at one time, a fully functional
fire sprinkler system, installed in the times before modern thinwall pipe and hydraulic calculations determining
pipe sizes and such.
This system, installed in the 70's, was all big stuff (from 8" on down) and all heavy wall black steel, with
an accompanying old school "drop ceiling" below it.
The kind of stuff an old sprinkler guy like me loves, in other words. Old school. Beefy stuff, installed by
big guys with big wrenches, that sort of thing.
The store was part of a small complex, consisting of a fast food joint, a bank and a couple of "strip retail"
buildings, of which this one sat at the end of.

Unfortunately, the sprinklers had sat for many years, unattended and unserviced - and stagnant water in black
steel pipe does bad things eventually. There were obstructions in the system - and it even had a broken main
shutoff valve to boot.
I had been unsuccessful in talking the owner into some desperately needed repairs - he simply couldn't afford them.
Nicest fella in the world, but the center isn't doing very well and as retail property management often goes, what
little profits he was realizing were getting dumped right back into the usual roof repairs, HVAC, etc., leaving
little for fixing up a corroded old sprinkler system. So...
Simply put, this rascal was an uncontrolled 75psi time bomb, wide open to the underground supply.
Only a matter of time.
So - I get a call one day...yep, you guessed it.

I go to check out the "minor leak" on the system and it turns out, there's a 1" (diameter) pipe "drop" to a pendent
sprinkler (points down through the ceiling) that's rotted to the point of failure.
That's bad enough, but this one was located right out the bottom of a 6" "main" - right in front of the sprinkler
riser (control valves, alarm devices, etc.).
In other words, it was real close to the source of the water (which remember, can't be controlled due to a broken
control valve). - and it's about to go full nuke.
Time is of the essence or we're going to all be doing the backstroke, real fast like...
(Folks don't realize how much water can come out of a simple 1" orifice at full pressure....but I've been there, done
that....so I know. Suffice to say, it gets epic pretty quick...)

Nobody at my company has time to help because of the aforementioned bigger customers elsewhere - so I get to
deal with this one without any help. A plan is quickly formed and I contact the water company on my way back,
materials procured hastily tossed in back of the truck...
I know I'm about to get into the **** with this one, but I had no idea just how much it was going to turn out to be.
(It gets progressively more intense from here - stay with me here, you'll get a kick out of this).
The local water department is needed to find the outside control valve for this monster of a system, since the joint
is like 50 years old and has been paved a few times over the decades.
When they arrive, all seven members of the department (small towns, eh? :)) , they commence to doing
just that - trying to find underground valves, all while I get ready inside with a big-arse ladder and having store folks
get all the stock as far away as possible - and to bring me the requisite 60 gallon trash can to blow the water down

The "drop" is now leaking heavily. I know time is short....and then the Boss Hogg water department chief informs me
there is no underground isolation valve for the system - anywhere.
Ah hell, that ain't good. At all.
He then informs me he'll have to shut down the entire shopping center, bank and all, to kill the water - and when they
did so, I'd have - get this part - 5 minutes to do the repair. :rolleyes:
"Uh, sir - it'll take more than 5 minutes just to get the water drained off the system, which now included the whole damn
shopping center - through the 2" drain on the system riser."

He huffs "your problem, not mine. That's what ya get, take it or leave it."
Jackass...he knows it's impossible and he doesn't give a damn.
I look into the eyes of the poor store tenants and I know, though...I have to do this or their business is ruined forever.
So - we get ready and he gives the signal to his boys once the bank closes for the day - 5pm.
Other guys outside try to open the crusty old fire hydrant at the same time I fight to get the main drain open inside on the
sprinklers...and they fail.
Now I've only got a 2" drain open - to drain the entire complex - in less than 5 minutes....
That jackass is actually timing this all on his wristwatch, too - and keeps calling out the time left, like he's rubbing it in or
something - as I watch the gauge on the riser slowly dropping.
Not going to make it....not even close....

He gets down to 1 minute left and I'm literally begging for more time - there's still over 50 psi on the system!
He snorts out "I told you the rules. Do you give up?"
Well, that just pissed me off. Royally. As in damn near seeing red pissed off.
My reply: "I'm going to do this because they need me to - but you best be gone when I come back down off this ladder,
'cause I'm going to be looking for you, dig?"

The smug look disappeared from his face. He knew I was dead serious.

I had the forethought to make up two replacement "drops" for this, so up the ladder I go...
The system still had over 50 psi on it. This was going to get stupid, fast.
I quickly unthread the old leaky drop and it comes out clean, thank God - but the 1" threaded outlet it came from then
proceeded to shoot an amount of water straight into the trash can at 50psi.
Another disclaimer: This **** is DANGEROUS. I am NOT bragging about what I did that day; in fact, I tell the story
to younger folks in the business specifically to try to SAVE them from such situations...

I grabbed my first replacement drop in my right hand - specifically because I'm left-handed - and make "the stab",
an effort to get it stuck back in the wide open outlet shooting water like a hydrant - and hopefully start a thread with
it. Water flying with FORCE everywhere....here we go!
Instead - the force of the water blows the drop right out of my hand and in the process of doing so, yanks my shoulder
right out the socket (but now you know why I chose to use my right hand first, eh?)
White-hot pain from that for sure - but I was more pissed than ever, too.
I look down at Boss Hogg, who is now chuckling at the spectacle - and I repeat "you best be gone when I come down."
Water has the trash can 2/3 full already. I have one drop left and one arm left to try again...
I grab that sucker, zone out everything around me (and that damn shoulder) and focus.
BAM. One stab, caught a thread too!
As I'm screwing the thing in, I look back down like some hunchback half hanging off the ladder - and I'm glaring at Boss Hogg,
doing my own demented sort of smug grinning....
Get it tight, water is stopped - and I damn near run down the 12' ladder because I want me someones' ***.

Well, when I get down and turn around, there's no Boss Hogg - or any water department people - anywhere to be seen. :D
Shopkeeper says "that old man ran out of here like his *** was on fire".
He's laughing as he says it, partly from relief...and partly at the spectacle, too.
I'm relieved the repair was successful - and more importantly, nobody other than me got hurt - and the business was saved, too.
At the same time, though - I'll admit, I was frustrated I didn't get to wail on that Boss Hogg...
He had it coming, big-time.
I go to the back of the store in the stockroom, find a support column away from everyone - and proceed to bang my shoulder
back into place, with all the inherent gross popping/snapping sounds that come with that procedure.
(Those of you with "trick" shoulders know exactly what I'm talking about here...)
(By the way, that's the only part of the first "Lethal Weapon" movie that's close to real - when Mel Gibson does
his shoulder in a doorway after separating it. Pretty close to real!)

The shopkeeper, unbeknownst to me, had followed me back there even though I had warned him it wasn't a good idea -
and the sight of me doing it (with those wonderful sounds!) about made him sick to his stomach...
"You do that much?" he asks.
"Not if I can help it....but yeah, it ain't the first time it's happened".

By the way, I still pass by that old dilapidated store frequently to this day - and that family is still in business, bless 'em.
I did eventually talk the property owner into replacing that control valve at least, so there's that - but not much else.
I'd give that system a 50/50 chance of working should (God forbid) it ever be needed...
But nobody died that day and that family still has a business.

I know 7 members of a water department have a story to tell, too - especially Boss Hogg. :thumbsup:
In Episode 147, Ed stomps Boss Hogg at the Water Works Dept Christmas Dinner...
Always good stuff Ed.... Memories of better times, even if times weren't all they could have been...
And BTW good on ya for caring about the folks at that antique store..
Great story to read, but at least Budnicks adds some pics, color, and artwork to his novels. :lol:
In Episode 147, Ed stomps Boss Hogg at the Water Works Dept Christmas Dinner...
Always good stuff Ed.... Memories of better times, even if times weren't all they could have been...
And BTW good on ya for caring about the folks at that antique store..
I appreciate it my friend - I had heard some years ago that he'd passed on and really, I had gotten over it
eventually just the same. Comes a time when one realizes that for all his "noble" efforts in this life, in the
end nobody much will care to remember anyways...but that isn't why we do these things anyways, right?

I just saw a location in which the proprietors totally depended on a paultry income + an owner unable
to afford to keep the place safe for public and workers alike + nobody wanting to help - so I did.

Great story to read, but at least Budnicks adds some pics, color, and artwork to his novels. :lol:
Daggone, like a millenial or something.
Always gotta have graphics, shiny things and loud noises because of short attention spans.... sheesh.
Here - a nice drop, all painted and such:
You are a great writer, Ed. This is coming from someone who once did it for a living.
Wow, high praise indeed. Thanks! Guess I should have looked into it oh, about 40 years ago eh? :)

I say - there's still time to get 'em! :mob:

Thanks for sharing!
Funny thing is, around these parts I probably came off as the "unreasonable" one in the whole scenario.
Not even kidding - these people circle the wagons around their own, no matter what they do.
Touche !! The finishing touch !! Excellent !
Heh. :)
Interesting little follow-up (least to me, anyways) about the shoulder....
Some time later, I wound up trying to access the tight confines of a drive-under canopy in front of a
Sams Club in Knoxville, in similar "dire" circumstances (pipe about to explode).

The only access to the hollow confines of that canopy was a tiny hatch door, one so narrow a fella
couldn't fit through normally - but a fella could if he were willing to pop a shoulder out of place, then
reach up through there one hand at a time....which I did.
Did the whole repair job in that confined space with it out of socket, then did the "re-pop" in the back
of the store afterwards, freaked out a teenage employee when I did. :)

Last time I ever did it intentionally - and it still is one hell of a barometer for weather forecasting. :thumbsup:
I enjoy Budnik's walls of text, I enjoy Ed's story time... I enjoy much of what get's posted here... Just car guy's with car guy stories... Good Stuff..
Love a good story and writing a book is good therapy, been there.
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