The Plumber’s Tale – Part 2

Greetings, dear readers. This week we continue the tale of Plumber Gal vs. The Broken Float. (Sounds like a walloping mystery story, doesn’t it?… OK. Maybe not.) Anyway, we pick up where I left off at a score of 3-0, in favor of the stubbornly broken commode.

So a day or two passes after my third failed attempt and I am ready to try for pipe-wrench-mdredemption. The weekend arrives and I am determined to get this thing fixed. I call a friend – he spends some time rifling through a basement full of tools from oil rigs and he doesn’t have anything either. I strap on my boots and head to Hardware Mecca at the mall. I tell the fellow who comes to help that I need a big wrench for this plumbing nut on the bottom of the commode. He looks doubtful. The only open-end wrench big enough weighs about five pounds and it’s too long to fit in the space. And – by the way – costs as much as the toilet, so we’re not going there. He takes me back to the plumbing supplies and we find – TA-DA! – a pipe wrench that is flat and has a plastic protector on the jaws and only costs 6 bucks. To be sure, he takes it out of the package and we try it on the nut from the new assemblage that I was smart enough to bring with me. (As an aside, I am betting I am the only woman in the mall that day carrying a toilet part on her key ring. Points to me!) It grabs with a nice tight fit. Woo-hoo! I feel a surge of hope.

Just to be sure I have all the stuff I need, I also buy a set of three adjustable crescent wrenches, of which the largest will fit the job. I head home full of hope and anticipation.

So I get home and squeeze myself under the commode with the pipe wrench. As nicely as it fits – it doesn’t budge the thing. The corners on the nut are worn and the wrench keeps slipping. I try my new crescent wrench – I can’t get it close enough to the bottom of the tank to get a good grip. None of my nice new tools will work. If you’re keeping score: Plumber Gal – 0, Hardware Mecca – 2, Commode – 4.

Things are getting desperate. I reach into the tank and realize that if I really lean into it, I can turn the whole assembly – but the remains of the old arm prevent it from turning all the way around. It’s held on with screws, so I go back to the toolbox for a screwdriver. The first one I find and bring back is way too big. I dig around some more and find one that fits and pull off both screws. Nothing comes apart. Those were the screws to adjust the arm height. This is when I find the knob on the side that I can unscrew by hand and remove to take off the broken float arm. Finally!

This allows me to grab the whole assembly in the tank and turn it. After a couple turns I take a look at the nut and realize it’s moving downward, but it’s hard going. The plastic threads on the stem have taken a beating and it’s not easy to move. I take the smaller pair of my original adjustable pliers, the ones that “wouldn’t work” and grip the nut, while continuing to turn the assembly from the inside. Oh! This seems to work . . . I keep going. The whole thing is off in five minutes. Using tools I already had. Plumber Gal finally scores. 

I’m so close to having this fixed I can almost taste it. (Well, yes, given what I’m doing, I’d rather not, too, but – work with me.) I dunk the old assembly into the trash in celebration and slide the new one home. I c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y tighten the new nut just enough to get a good seal, reattach the water line and test out the joint by turning on the water. There’s a drip, but it’s not from the tank – it’s from the connection to the water line. I tighten it and we’re golden. Whew! Commode repair, almost done – there’s only one step left: reattaching the float arm that got me in trouble in the first place.

That’s when I go to reattach the float ball and rod. And I realize that the new metal rod, which is shorter than the first one, is still too long to attach the float ball and fit in the tank. Screwed into the valve on one end and the big black ball on the other, it is about half an inch too long to move freely in the tank to float up and down. FOILED AGAIN! What the…? Why would my toilet be too small? Why would the parts be too big? What now?!

I ponder this awhile. And then I say something unladylike. And I go find the lovely little hacksaw I bought a few years ago. I don’t know what I was hacking back then, but it is in fine condition. I grab the rod and the saw and step outside to the open step off my deck. I pin the rod under one foot and use every bit of plumberly frustration to remove about half an inch from one end. It falls into the grass with a muffled “poof”. I take the rod back inside, screw the ball onto the cut end, screw the other end into the assembly and there it is.

I won’t say I won, but I at least managed a draw. I flush and listen to choirs of angels praise my finally finely functioning commode.

Yep – that’s the whole tale. And that, dear readers, is why I am very selective about what DIY tasks I do now because waiting over a week for a functioning toilet is not always a good option. And let’s not even talk about electrical – Little Miss What’s-that-wire-for? is definitely not going there!

Wishing you easy street for your home repairs and a good week.


Stay tuned for more on the Here’s a Quarter blog next week! As always, your thoughts and comments are always welcome – they are moderated (I know – adulting again), so they may take a little while to appear, but I read them all and appreciate that you were here. Thank you!

My new story collection is now available: Dog Days . I’d love to hear your thoughts if you check it out!

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