Friday, March 27, 2009

It's About the Journey...

Not the destination.

This last weekend saw me fighting with Harry Jr. The tub drain had slowed to a standstill again. After trying to snake the drain from the clean out behind the tub access panel, I decided to try and snake out the drain from the tub side. Our tub drain is a plunger drain that looks like this

I removed the cover plate and pulled out the linkage and plunger. After I snaked out the drain all the way to the soil pipe (going through a trap and around at least one more corner) I went to put the cover plate back on. Sadly, the trip lever mechanism did not take kindly to my manhandling and was officially broken (it had been close to breaking anyway, so in the end, it was totally a mercy killing).

The next day I went to the local Home Despot to look for some kind of replacement. As usual, I was completely underwhelmed with the quality and selection of items in a big box store. The only plate that was even close had several plastic parts built into the lever. I wanted strength and durability. I wanted metal, like the old cover plate. Discouraged, I remembered that there was an old plumbing parts supply store on the north end of town.

The store was in a depressed commercial area of town, surrounded by small mechanic shops, U-haul rental businesses, pawn shops and ethnic grocery stores. The sign out front was a vintage 50's neon sign. It was a two story concrete block building with the business on the ground floor and apartments on the second floor.

This store had been recommended to me by a few plumbers as a place that dealt in vintage plumbing, so I was very disappointed to see a "Going out of business" sign in the front window. The front of the shop had several long tables laid out with miscellaneous, unidentifiable (to me) plumbing parts on them. There were also some real gems. Like avocado toilet bowl lids, 1950's pink sinks, and even a harvest gold toilet seat. He also had a few stainless steel sinks that were going cheaply (anybody need a stainless steel wet bar sink? Only $35).

There were two guys in the shop, the owner, who was a red head in his 40's and a much older man in his 60's or 70's and they were talking about the joys of installing a sump pump. It was obvious that the old guy wasn't actually there to buy anything. He was settled into a chair against the wall, next to the counter. The radio was on in the background, and a conservative talk show opined the advent of the "United States of Socialist America" and the fall of the American Dream.

I looked around for awhile and the owner was in no hurry to help me. The sump pump conversation was taking up all of his attention. Eventually, I wandered around to the front counter and stood there, waiting for some sort of acknowledgment, which came after five more minutes of sump pump talk. I showed him the cover plate. He reached over and pulled out the exact same one I'd seen at the Despot. I was not impressed.

I was able to gracefully decline the offer though, as the original plate was stamped with the manufacturer, Koehler, and I told him that I wanted a Koehler plate. He said he had none, but gave me the name of a plumber in town who did stock Koehler plates.

Before I left, I asked on a whim if he had any radiator flanges. I'm missing a few and most of the ones I have left are horribly rusty. Flanges are the collar that go around the pipe coming out of the floor for the radiators. They make the pipes look a bit more finished. I've looked for flanges in the big box stores, but again, the quality is crap. The original flanges in the house were made of heavy duty chromed iron. If we're ever burgled, I'll grab one and use it either as body armor or to club the assailant. Heavy.

So he disappeared into the back room, which I could see was easily three times the size of the front display area and he came back with two boxes of vintage 50's radiator flanges. They weren't nearly the quality and weight of the originals, but they were definitely better than what I could find in the big box stores. The only problem was that I didn't know what sizes I needed, or how many, and looking in my wallet, I saw that I didn't have any money. Credit cards were not accepted.

I promised to come back the next day, and headed out the door to the other plumbing supply place. It was close by and turned out be in a flashy new building, with up-to-date decor. There were displays with gorgeous bathroom sinks, whirlpool tubs and multi-head shower systems. It couldn't have been any more different than the store I'd just come from.

The lady behind the counter looked up the cost of a new face plate and trip lever from Koehler. It was $45 and would take a week or two. Meanwhile, I'd have a gaping hole in my tub and the inability to close the drain. I told her thanks, but no thanks and went home frustrated again.

The next day after work, I went back to the vintage plumbing store. The only thing that had changed was that a different older man was sitting and talking to the owner. I'd thought a lot about the previous day and what would have been the proper way to engage the owner, rather than just standing there waiting for him to acknowledge me. So this time, I joined in the conversation in a non-committal way, talking about reducer valves and shower pressure. After a few minutes we got around to my cover plate and my flanges.

And what did I end up buying? The same stupid cover plate and trip lever I could have bought at the Despot. It wasn't a complete loss though. I did find and buy some flanges that weren't sold at any of the big box stores, and I was also able to buy some radiator handles and a new handle for one of my faucets. I also got the name of another vintage plumbing shop in the area and the name of a heating specialist that would replace or fix the stuck valves to my radiators.

Working on the house is an adventure - sourcing parts, finding the right people, deciding what is worth spending money on and what isn't. Along the way I've met a lot of people in the community that I wouldn't otherwise meet. It's all about the journey.


Syl said...

If they have an avocado green toilet seat/cover, I'm in. Mine was long ago replaced with a wood seat and cover, which has more than seen it's day. And you don't exactly buy a white replacement for an avocado green toilet.

DiploWhat said...

Sounds to me like you need to buy one of those cheap, "hair catcher" type things (looks like an inverted plastic strainer) that you put over the drain. I believe Pusher and Puck have one in their tub, if I'm remembering correctly.

Mr. Kluges said...

They close tomorrow for good, but I'll see if I can swing by and pick it up.

A good place to look for that sort of stuff in the cities is Restore? I can't quite remember the name of the place, but it's huge and sells house bits that have been recycled from other houses. Old lights, cabinets, windows, doors, toilets, sinks, and even toilet seats.