Chapter 15 – A Better Source Of Water

WaterfallIt became evident that a better source of water apart from the small well I previously had dug was necessary. We were told of a spring somewhere in the forest so I went to see if I could find it. Sure enough, there it was near the “Chaka Cathedral”. I planned to someday prepare a proper catchment but in the mean time, it provided some decent water for drinking. Of course we had to boil it and then filter it through a double decked chrome container. But I needed to find a further source if we would have adequate supply for the camp when it would begin functioning.

A waterfall was located about a quarter of a mile from our clearing. I had often trekked through the bush to look at it and pondered if perhaps it could become useful some day … maybe hydro electricity or a grinding mill for the local people.

Then I was told about a type of pump that was powered by the pressure from a waterfall. It was called a “Hydraulic Ram Pump” that was useful where a large gravity flow of water was available. A missionary from the Baptist Bible Fellowship was willing to sell me one. Water - ram pump with fallsAlthough I did not fully understand the mechanics of this simple but ingenious invention, I followed the installation instructions and started work on it during May.

First I had to build a dam at the edge of the waterfall that was located in the river. This I did by diverting the flow to one side of the precipice while I cemented concrete blocks in place. Then I reversed the process and built up the other half. That raised the river level at the dam a couple of feet.

But I still needed a reservoir of some kind from which to draw enough water to supply the pump. Water - ram pump with fallsAbout 20 yards from the waterfall, a slight dip in the ground proved to be the perfect place.

I constructed an earthen dam at the lower side of the depression and dug a channel to it from the river above the waterfall. Before I opened the gate controlling the amount of water that would flow into the reservoir, I placed a 36 inch concrete culvert ring in the center of the reservoir bottom. The ring standing on end served to filter the water that would go down to the pump through a two inch delivery pipe. The pump itself was placed at the river edge below the falls on a cement slab.

From there a three quarter inch pipe carried the water to our camp site and up to a 60 gallon tank. The tank sat on a concrete slab that I had previously poured 30 feet above the ground in the crotch of a large branch of the towering tree behind our house. I estimated that the level of the tank was 60 feet higher than the pump down by the river.

This amazing invention pumped water 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It was called a ram pump because of the pressure created by the water rushing 20 vertical feet down the two inch pipe with such force that it created a tremendous pressure in the cylinder chamber on the pump. When that pressure built up to a certain point, a spring valve closed the flow allowing water to exhaust in all directions and make it’s way back into the river. In the mean time the pressure in the chamber forced water up the smaller 3/4 inch pipe to the tank in the tree about one quarter of a mile away. With the pressure in the chamber dissipated, the spring valve on the pump again opened allowing another high powered ram of water to enter the chamber. This sequence was repeated about 27 to 30 times per minute. I adjusted that rate by either tightening or loosening the clamp on the spring valve.

This now meant we had a constant water supply. The flow of water was not rapid but consistent. An empty tank would fill in about two or three hours. It was an exciting day when I opened the intake valve and rushed up from the dam to the tree to hear the first trickle of water drop into the tank.

house under tree poincetta

The green water tank barely visible 30 feet up in the tree.

Positioning the tank high in the tree was a feat in itself. First I had to climb up higher than any of my ladders would reach. I formed U-shaped steps from re-bar and one by one pounded them into the trunk. I had to wrap a rag around my face and other exposed skin to protect myself from the white sap that oozed out and splashed all over me. I constructed a lumber form for the concrete; poured the slab and then, with block and tackle, slowly raised and positioned the green tank in place.

As the tank filled, an overflow pipe directed the excess water to the garden. The only maintenance was the occasional trip down to the dam to make sure nobody had tampered with it. Every six months or so I would disconnect the supply pipe at the pump and allow the water to back flow. This would flush out any sediment that had accumulated.

Later when we went to Canada for our furlough, the pump was left to run for an entire year before our return. Then it wasn’t for several months after that I finally went down to service the pump. But it was fine, pumping merrily along for nearly a year and a half without any complaint!

4 Responses

  1. Margaret Smith-Braniff says:

    My sister Joan has been at Longano School for the past ??10 years. In 2010 I went to visit her–the tank was still in the tree! I have a wonderful picture of it. Amazing piece of work. Well done.

    • Norm says:

      Thank you for your comment. I’ve not had the opportunity to meet your sister, but I have heard of her. Is she still at Langano? The last I heard the school now has about 700 students. I can well imagine the tank still being in the tree; it was no small feat getting it up there, and I don’t think it would cherish the thought of being manhandled out of there! It was a tremendous blessing to us while we were there. I hope you will enjoy the rest of our story.

  2. Pearl says:

    The whole project sounds like “no small feat.” I understood nothing but I’m impressed!

    • Norm says:

      Yea, I know it sounds rather complicated, especially the workings of the ram pump. Sorry. But really, the principle involved is simple …. but hard to explain. Where there is no (or very little) electricity the the ram pump is an amazing invention. Thanks, Pearl, for following our story.

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