Out of Order

Weasel tries to thaw the pipes to our black water tank.

Being fairly modest people when it comes to matters of personal hygiene, it was difficult to deal with the situation at hand. My husband, Weasel, and I found ourselves stuck in the winter in our RV at a campground near Washington DC when the freezing weather and snow arrived. We had plenty of creative projects to keep us busy and we were able to stay warm with a combination of electric and propane heat. Weasel had wrapped our water hose with a heat tab and insulation so we were able to maintain running water. As anyone knows who has ever traveled or camped in an RV, there are two holding tanks for used water – one for gray water from washing dishes and taking showers and one for “black water.” The term is pretty self explanatory – the toilet water and it’s contents.

Both of these tanks are located underneath the trailer exposing them to the weather. When stationary, you simply run a septic hose to the campground’s septic system and open the holding tanks to drain them. It is customary to leave the gray water tank open while camped, as plain water drains easily. But usually the black water remains closed until the tank becomes full. Various methods are used to treat it, such as potent deodorizers and special dissolvable toilet paper.

Suddenly, the weather took turn for the worse dipping into the teens with wind chills nearing zero. And to our dismay, the black water drain froze, trapping the contents in our 12 gallon tank. Weasel tried thawing the pipes with a portable propane heater to no avail. The next thing I knew, an “out of order” sign appeared on the toilet which should have read “no more room.” Being the clever man that he is for finding many ways around such a situation, he quickly retrieved a porta-potty that we use in our work trailer and placed it into the shower.

Next, Weasel’s research began. He wandered around the campground to see if he could find any stray men out and about. The information he received was very interesting to say the least.

One man told him that once he gets the drain open that he should leave it open. And don’t put any paper in it – and run lots of water when you flush. He then went on to explain in detail what to do with the paper and the disgusting things he had seen in the trash dumpsters. “Simply put a bag in your bathroom for the paper – all the paper,” he said. “Everyone around here  does it.” Weasel took this into consideration and moved on.

The next man said, “Oh no, don’t leave your drain open! The campground septic system could back up and flood your trailer,” and went on to give details of the results.

Still plagued by questions, Weasel approached a third man and asked, “What about the little lip at the edge of the tank that traps the contents from flowing out?” This man went into a very lengthy discussion that involved paper maché. You don’t want to know.

And so Weasel’s research continues. Will this black water dilemma keep us from RVing? No, not in the least.

Written February 2007 while camping near Washington, DC.

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