Priming the Pump


The pump that wouldn’t pump

The outdoor pump at the cabin didn’t work this spring. It worked late last summer when we bought the cabin, but the spigot was bone dry this spring and into the summer. When I shared my tale of woe with the 10:00 AM gathering of Sylvan Shores residents, one of the men asked, “Have you primed the pump?”

City folks know nothing about priming the pump, except for the adage about getting something started. Sometimes, as during days and weeks when a writer has nothing to say, you need to prime the pump by reading or just shushing the distractions to get the water flowing again.

“How do you prime a pump?” I ask. What’s that?” Good natured smiles and laughter break out around the table.

“Well, do you have one well or two wells?”

“Got me,” I said. “All I know is when I pull up the handle, nothing happens. It worked last summer. How do I prime the pump?”

“You gotta pour water down it before the water will come up from the well. Just pour some water down the pump until it’s primed.”

Seemed simple enough. But there was no place on the red pump crank to pour water. Maybe I needed to take the handle mechanism off the top of the pipe in order to pour water into the pump, but it was rusted onto the pipe. The question about two wells led me to wonder.

IMG_1536 I went back to the cabin and took the cap off the well that supplies water to the cabin’s indoor plumbing fixtures. What I found was an electrical system. Wires interconnected and programmed to pump the water from the well into wherever it was programmed to go. Since the well controlled electronically hadn’t been re-programmed, and the outside pump with the red handle wasn’t working, I concluded the pump in the yard had a separate well and that it needed to be primed. Or, perhaps, the hand-pumped well had gone dry over the winter.

Once again, I pumped the red handle up and down repeatedly with the same results. No water to water the shrubs and flowers. We were doomed. This pump wouldn’t prime!

Then Bud and JoAnne dropped by for an altogether unexpected visit. Bud wasn’t supposed to be out and about. He’d been homebound following quadruple by-pass surgery and serious complications that followed it. They hadn’t been at the coffee hour and, so far as I knew, didn’t know the story about my ignorance.

We pulled out a chair in the yard for Bud to sit. I told him about trying to prime the pump. “I don’t think there’s a separate well for that pump,” he said. “I think there’s just one well. Let me try it.”

Bud stood up, took hold of the red handle, and pulled it all the way up, and, like the rock that Moses struck in the wilderness of Meribah, the water gushed from the pump.


The pump that pumped. No priming needed!

It was a miracle! There’d been no need to prime the pump. I just needed to force the handle all the way up, which I had feared doing lest I break it.

Now the Ninebark and the few flowers we planted are watered between rainfalls, and the miracle of the well that never needed to be pumped gives hope to a writer that one extra tug on the handle can get the water flowing again.

  • Gordon C. Stewart at the cabin, August 14, 2018.
This entry was posted in hope, Humor, Life, nature, Uncategorized and tagged , , by Gordon C. Stewart. Bookmark the permalink.

About Gordon C. Stewart

I've always liked quiet. And, like most people, I've experienced the world's madness. "Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness" (Wipf and Stock Publishers, Jan. 2017) distills 47 years of experiencing stillness and madness as a campus minister and Presbyterian pastor (IL, WI, NY, OH, and MN), poverty criminal law firm executive director, and social commentator. Our dog Barclay reminds me to calm down and be much more still than I would be without him.

12 thoughts on “Priming the Pump

  1. This is when I call “The Well Guy.” We live and die with our well. It’s the only way we get water. It’s 450 feet deep and there’s an electric pump down there we’ve had to replace a few times (expensive!!) and it is NOT something you can do alone. A heavy, wet, iron water pump needs at the least, a truck to haul it out of the well. We had to have our entire well rebuilt a few years ago. it needed flushing, which is priming, but lots bigger. You pump water at high pressure down your well until it cleans out all the grit and dirt from between the stones underground. Super priming, sort of.

    I remember when we moved here. We had a LOT to learn. People would pitying say “You’re not from around here, are you.”

    No, we weren’t. But we learned. We learned a lot and we learned it fast.


    • Hi, again, Marilyn. So we’re not home free! As you say, “we’re not from around here” and know next to nothing about such matters. But we do know about our budget. It’s very tight! Hope your experience isn’t contagious!


      • I’m betting you need at least to replace the pump and the pipe. If it’s that rusty, you need to fix it because it won’t improve over the winter. That should be manageable and the well guys are usually pretty good about making payments. They know that losing water is a very big deal and they try and help you out. At least that’s true around here and I suspect in MOST country towns. But don’t wait until winter because the longer you leave it, the more corroded it will be until even if you get it working, you’ll be drinking rust. Call the well guy. There’s ALWAYS a well guy in the country. Ask the neighbors.


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