Sunday, August 30, 2009

Wally-docking close to the nest

We are at the Wal-Mart in Springdale, Arkansas (map). Actually, more precisely, we are in the parking lot of an abandoned big-box hardware store adjacent to the Wal-Mart, which is apparently now being used by the company as a training or prototyping site for Sam's Club layouts. But the enormous empty parking lot allowed us to be a little further away from the store traffic.

Across the street about a block away, in a run-down motel, is a hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant, Pad Thai, where we had some of the best Thai food we've ever tasted. Too bad their beer-and-wine license is expired, but still, it was a find. This morning we will take advantage of the large Wal-Mart to stock up on supplies.

Once again we did not get very far yesterday. Although we got a much earlier start, around 1ish, we slowed down a bit and took our time, naturally choosing the much narrower and more winding Scenic 412-A in preference to the Cherokee Turnpike toll road, 412. But the real killer was hitting a Lowe's right on 412 in Siloam Springs, just across the Arkansas state line.

I've been looking for a convenient Lowe's for a bit over a week now. As happens about every six months or so, one of our Rainbird irrigation valves that we use to return fresh water to the tank, as we "pre-heat" the water for the shower, started leaking -- so far, this has been 100% due to calcium build-up on the diaphragm from taking on hard water. I already had a rebuild kit (although, in a pinch, simply removing the diaphragm and cleaning off the calcium crystals also works), but this time I wanted to add a manual stop valve in line with the solenoid one while I had the kitchen drawers out to rebuild it. This way, the next time the solenoid starts leaking, I can simply shut off the return line until I get the chance to repair it -- as it stands now, we need to either turn off the hot water to the fixture at the manifold, requiring trips to the bay to turn it off and on, or we need to remember to turn off the water pump between uses, otherwise we end up with no hot water, and no cold water either.

Back when I did this with the kitchen sink return line, adding a stop valve was a snap -- Lowe's carries an in-line valve with PEX fittings, and I simply cut the PEX and installed the valve. Unfortunately, there was not enough accessible PEX line upstream of the shower valve inside the cabinet, and when I returned from the store with the ~4.5" long valve assembly, I realized there was no way to install it. Thus I was glad I had opted to do the work right there in the Lowe's parking lot, as I ended up right back in the store to return the PEX valve and spend 20 minutes in the plumbing aisle noodling through an alternative solution.

I ended up with a brass ball valve and a "close nipple", which together were only 3" or so in length, and I set to installing it right against the existing Rainbird valve, then shortening the PEX and reusing the adapter fitting. It took quite a while to get it all in place, working on my back in cramped quarters, and then, of course, it started leaking around one of the joints, so it all had to come back apart, get re-doped, and be re-installed. The second time was the charm, and I was able to wrap up, going back into the store to return some extra parts that were not needed.

(No photo of this project. The valves are crammed in behind a wood support brace behind two drawers under the stove, and I simply could not place the camera anywhere that allowed a focused shot. If I can't even take a photo, try to imagine Sean's contortions to even install the valve! Try not to imagine the swearing involved. -Louise)

All in all, though, we ended up spending close to three hours there at Lowe's, and it was well past six when we rolled into Springdale, so we opted to just stop here rather than press on. Sprindale/Fayetteville is a stone's throw from Wal-Mart's headquarters in Bentonville, so I suppose it is not surprising to find this unusual facility here, which actually made this a more comfortable stop than the usual Wal-Mart.

Today we will continue our slow roll east. We have our eye on Investigation Area 94 in the Atlantic, but unless and until it becomes an actual tropical cyclone, there is no need for us to work towards a faster route just yet.

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