Pre-Trip Summary

It’s been quite a week. The wild swings in temperature have brought on a lot of snowmelt over still-frozen ground. Back in Oshkosh, this resulted in a lot of water pooling near the back of the house. The catch basin and 40 feet of buried 4″ PVC drain pipe that I put in to combat just this situation were rendered useless as they were plugged solid with ice. Water started leaking into the basement because the utility pump I bought out of desperation just couldn’t keep up with the melt rate. To top things off, something was wrong with the water heater from the keep. It would shut itself off after only lighting the burners for a few seconds, which prevented me from using it to flush my drain line with hot water. I felt defeated as a homeowner because my drain solution had failed, discouraged at the prospect of no more hot water at Puckaway, and sick thinking about the freezing rain in the forecast and how it would affect my basement.

My wonderful wife helped me put these (still mostly managed) problems in perspective and suggested that what I needed was some time to recharge and reflect. She would take the boys down by her folks for the weekend and said I should head to Puckaway with the pooch. An overnight stay in February would be an unprecedented event, but probably just what the doctor ordered. Just the idea of a Puckaway trip got me in a better headspace, and by Thursday I had come up with a solution for my frozen pipe problem.

A product of sheer stubbornness.

I removed the pop-up emitter from the output elbow of the buried pipe and attached a two-foot section of 4″ PVC vertically. I then installed a wye upside-down on the top of this pipe, and stuck a two-foot section of 3″ PVC and a reducer in the other end. This was positioned over a plastic storage tote which I filled with 18 gallons of hot water from the house. I dropped the submersible utility pump into the tote, attached a 50′ garden hose to the output, and started feeding the hose down the top of the inverted wye. Water filled the vertical pipe and poured down the 3″ return section back into the tote. Operation: Backyard Enema had begun.

This was working very well, with the only hitch being that the water was—as one might expect—cooling rapidly from mixing with the ice. Bolstered by this project’s initial success, I figured I might as well at least try to incorporate the keep’s water heater/pump pack and see if it could help. I hung the pack above the tote and had a small section of PEX going into the pump assembly and another one coming out of the heater, both terminating below the waterline.

I fired up the pump, the heater clicked on, and… no dice. The burners flickered out after only a few seconds and the outflow of water from the heater was anemic and full of bubbles. I bypassed the heater entirely but still had the same problem. I figured I had cracked a pipe or damaged the pump or bladder somehow. After refreshing the tote with five gallons of hot water from the house, I took the pump enclosure back to the garage to inspect everything.

Nothing was leaking. The PEX sections appeared to be in good shape. The bladder still had 30 psi on the pressure side and the pump itself looked perfectly fine. The filter, with its clear plastic sediment bowl, looked fine, too. I had to start with something, though, so I removed the filter from the PEX lines and unscrewed the bowl to get a look inside.

What I found was that I’m an idiot. The filter will always look fine from the outside because that’s the outflow side of the actual filter element. It’s the inside that traps things. And the inside of the screen was caked with slimy gunk and small pieces of debris. I took this in the house, cleaned it thoroughly, and re-assembled the pump and heater pack. Within seconds, I had a steady flow of hot water coming out of the heater. I probably scared the neighbors with my primal yell of triumph. The heater burners ran for their full 20-minute cycle as the tote tank got warmer and warmer. In turn, the hose advanced further and further along the underground pipe. In just over two hours, I had completely cleared the ice clog and once again had a working underground drain. I intend to buy a roll of roof ice melting cable and string it through the drain pipe during the winter months to prevent it from ever fully re-freezing.

Knowing that the heater and pump were now in perfect working order and that my yard could properly drain once more, I was more ready than ever to try a Puckaway winter overnight. Not just to re-center, but to celebrate.


Pulled in around 7:15 pm. Temps are hovering just below freezing. There’s still a good two inches of snow cover, but everywhere that it had been compacted, either by tire tracks or footprints, there’s glare ice. The thaw/freeze cycles have been really weird. Hannah sniffed around while I opened the keep and fired up the propane sunflower heater and the electric heater. Hopefully, after getting the initial chill out, the electric heater will be all we’ll need for the night.

I unloaded the truck and let the keep warm up while Hannah and I headed into town to get some cheladas and a gallon of water from the gas station. The pantry and fridge are still empty from winterizing and the water is still disconnected. Still, this version of “roughing it” is comfortable and easy, especially compared to trying to stay in the keep a few years ago, even in good weather.

By the time we got back, it was over 70° inside so I shut off the propane. I spent the rest of the night in my recliner, beneath my owl light, drinking beer and watching TV while my dog dreamed on the couch. It felt damn good. After another 15-minute blast from the sunflower heater, I headed to bed around midnight.


Woke up around 7:30 and let Hannah out. It stayed relatively warm in the keep overnight with just the electric heater running; indoor temps levelled off right around 60°. I fired up the propane for a bit to boost that a few degrees, then went back to bed and watched a couple of episodes of Mission Hill. I was up for the day around 9:00 and headed into town at 10:00 for some Aunt Judy’s breakfast. Judy herself ended up sitting next to me at the counter and we talked throughout my meal. Turns out she’s very familiar with our neck of the woods; she used to babysit for Maria, Danny’s daughter. Also, her husband works for the township with Peter. Small world.

Back at camp, I enjoyed the sunshine and just-above-freezing temps and worked outdoors for a bit. I started a fire and burned up the remains of the tree that fell during deer camp. I tried to add the limbs we dropped in January with the Skytrak, but most were still frozen into the ground. I got as many as I could.

I headed into the big trailer to reclaim the liquor bottles that were brought over there for deer camp. On a whim, I also grabbed the record player and some Rat Pack albums. I set this up in the pole barn and it worked pretty well. I listened to Dino and Frank while tending the fire and replacing the busted tie rod on the riding mower.

Satisfied with my outdoor efforts, I went back to the keep and hung up the three paintings my boys made for me. They all depict Puckaway scenes and look great up on the wall. I collected my trash and my things, made the bed, called the dog, and we were on the road again by 3:00. Feels really good to be able to come up here with minimal preparation any time of the year.