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As Long as We Remember...

July 31, 2005

Honey Wagons and Peat Moss

Tom McLaughlin

Humor by Tom McLaughlin

One of the yearly highlights of my youth was the arrival of the sewage truck to pump out the septic tank. The gentleman would gently dig away the grass and open the sealed tank. All of us neighborhood kids would gather 'round to check out the worst possible sight imaginable.

We all compared the contents to the last visit down the street and it was always agreed ours was the worst. Sometimes, but very, very rarely, a septic system would have problems and the grass always grew greener but the owners would make sure the problem was corrected.

These memories were thrust forward to the conscious of my brain when I read an article in The Washington Post recently about the failure of hundreds and hundreds of "state of the art" and "ecologically compatible" septic systems in homes that cost well over a million dollars in western Loudoun County, Virginia.

One of the problems seems to be the people themselves. "Too much stuff is being ground through the garbage disposal and sent on to the tank," said one sewage expert.

When I was a lad, our garbage disposal system was a half beagle, half mongrel idiot named Jinx. That dog was our garbage disposal and ate everything. He would consume corn, cob and husks. Every kind of bone imaginable was devoured without complaint.

Sometimes guilt got the best of us and mom would buy a bag of gravy train. But he would just ignore the gourmet food for an apple core or scrapings from any plate, breakfast lunch or dinner. Everyone who had a septic system had a dog like that; and they usually lived to be a ripe old age and then wandered off to die. In fact, I thought all dogs did that until I got married.

Another human problem is the amount of water entering the system. As a kid, my brothers and I were used to quick cleansing showers because we had a well and the hot water would be depleted after what seemed to be 30 seconds. And God forbid if mom or dad didn't have any for their shower.

One lady in that Post article stated she had four teenagers who usually took about two or three 20-minute showers per day. She really couldn't understand why her system was overflowing.

Another individual had about 13 kids playing in one of those large above ground pools with water and hose being splashed every where. This item was above the "field" and she also could not fathom why she was having "problems" backing up into her house.

There are many types systems being installed by many different contractors, none of which would return phone calls made by the newspaper. One company advertised that their system "National Onsite Wastewater, etc. - Give A Hoot, Don't Pollute" - is used by the president at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. (Tom, I know you are a Democrat but please don't go there," says my inner voice. "Okay," I reply.)

The home builders readily pass the plunger to the septic sales reps, flush with cash, who have disappeared into a whirlpool while the owners are left with an overflowing problem and an angry Tidy Bowl man.

Meanwhile, a man in Ireland has entered a pub. He orders a round for everyone and then another. His neighbor asks him where he got the extra cash and he tells them he is selling peat from his bog to crazy Americans who are using it for their septic system. This, alas, is true, as some of the salesmen are advertising that only peat from Ireland will clean human waste. (Don't go there, either Tom). The trouble is many, many, many people are buying it, hook, line and Guinness.

As developers and septic system salesman set there eyes on Frederick County after turning Loudoun into a wastewater swamp, I am reminded of the old adage which serves as a warning to the county commissioners: "Development is like a sewer, what you get out of it depends on what you put into it" - or something like that...

Woodsboro - Walkersville Times
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