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Blog: Joel Penhorwood

Frozen rain barrel? Don’t get caught out in the cold — like me.

“To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence.” –Mark Twain

It got pretty cold this past weekend. When it gets cold, water freezes. When water freezes, things break. That was almost the case with a large rain collection tank at my home recently, though a bit of rushing around helped get things thawed.

In the back of the barn sits an old farm chemical tank that’s been repurposed to collect water from the barn’s gutters. Now this isn’t your everyday lean-to — this barn is a classic lofted tin-roofed, red-painted barn of old. Abundant roof area means abundant rainwater. Why not take advantage of that naturally condensed source? It’s amazing how much water a quick shower has in it when collected across a large roof.

Before things froze over a week ago, I was toying with the out spout connection of the tank ahead of the freeze hoping to get it off completely. With no luck, I had left it for another day, completely forgetting about the hundreds of gallons left sitting there (which could’ve been easily emptied by flipping a lever).

My own forgetfulness led to a surprise when there was still water in the holding tank when things dropped below 32. And with even colder temperatures expected later in the week, I knew the expansion of water as it freezes would soon break the tank if hadn’t already.

A quick thought dashed across my mind — I had been contemplating buying a member of my family a livestock water heater as an early Christmas present. I no longer had to stew on the decision as life had just made it for me.

An urgent stop at Tractor Supply on my way home from work helped my plan come together.

I got underway trying to take advantage of the relatively warm temperatures the day had brought to the frozen tank (a measly 33 degrees) with surgical precision. I immediately poured 2.5 buckets worth of steaming hot water into the 6-inch top layer of ice. The small hole, about half a foot in diameter, exposed the underlying water. I then dropped the brand new submersible water heater into the tank, letting it get to work.

While that was underway, I began a hose siphon of water from the top of the tank to outside.

(Let’s take a moment to appreciate the wonder that is fluid movement and the siphon principle. According to Wikipedia, “A practical siphon, operating at typical atmospheric pressures and tube heights, works because gravity pulling down on the taller column of liquid leaves reduced pressure at the top of the siphon. This reduced pressure at the top means gravity pulling down on the shorter column of liquid is not sufficient to keep the liquid stationary against the atmospheric pressure pushing it up into the reduced pressure zone at the top of the siphon.” Seriously amazing stuff.)

After that process began to work its magic, I took an old ceramic space heater and focused it on the out spout neck that led to the drain outside. After these three processes were in action, I retreated to the warmth of my home, relying on what I learned in physics to follow through.

The sound of running water from the tank to the outside just a couple hours later was music to my ears.

Lesson of the story: Water freezes. A lot of frozen water can break things. Ingenuity helps. Forgetfulness doesn’t. Be as hard headed as the ice.

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Author: Joel Penhorwood

Joel is a recent graduate of The Ohio State University with a degree in agricultural communication. While at OSU, Joel was heavily involved in Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow, serving as president for two years. The club won the Ed Johnson Outstanding Student Organization Award during his tenure.
Penhorwood got his start in radio at WPKO/WBLL “The Peak of Ohio” in Bellefontaine before being starting with OCJ and OAN as an intern in the fall of 2013. In addition to his work with the OCJ and OAN, he stays busy on his family’s small hay, crop and livestock farm in Logan County, which he helps to operate alongside his brothers.

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