When we bought our Airstream we were given a lengthy introductory tour by a member of the service department, himself a longtime Airstream owner and a man wise in the ways of the road. In addition to showing us all the components, explaining how they work, and answering questions he gave us important words of wisdom about common mistakes we might make. He assured us that in due time, we would make a few of these mistakes, but forewarned is forearmed. Among the tales of woe, there was one that stood out in its graphic nature, a mistake that any sane person would surely take great pains to avoid. A mistake I made pretty much the first opportunity I was given. I offer this tale to you so that you need not follow in my footsteps.
There are three water tanks on an Airstream. There is a saintly fresh water tank from which clean clear water should flow. There is the morally ambiguous gray water tank that is used to store the runoff from the sink and shower. Then there is the dreaded black tank wherein gifts made in the toilet and bathroom are deposited and allowed to lie into a sinister brew.
There are also a number of ports on the outside of the trailer related to these tanks. There is a large outflow valve that services both the gray and black water tanks allowing you to empty them, by virtue of gravity, into approved sewer and septic stations. There is an inlet valve to fill the fresh water tank, generally with a hose attached to a carbon filter so the water remains pure. There is also a city water valve that can provide clean water if a pressurized source is available, bypassing the need for the freshwater tank. Finally, there is a flush valve that takes in water to help clean out the black water tank when emptying. This one also takes water from a pressurized source.
The Little Creek Casino was our first stop where we had pressurized water hookups available. Prior to that, we were simply using the local garden spigot at our friend’s home to fill our freshwater tank. Eager for the joys of unlimited H2O I hooked everything up in a jiffy, going over my handy checklist to make sure nothing was missed. Jumping into the trailer I tried out the water in the sink which flowed nicely. I wondered, do we need the pump if we have the city water? I turned it off and tried again. The water didn’t flow especially well so I turned the pump back on.
This really should have been a warning to me but alas I’m still new to trailer life and wasn’t completely sure if I needed the pump or not. I put a few more things away and Trail brought in the kitties from the truck. On that day, I was the first to make my way to our little bathroom to do my business. I flipped up the lid, quickly relieved myself of my burden, and then leaned forward a little, using my foot to tap down on the flush pedal. This is when the full measure of my failure made itself apparent.
You see, the black water flush valve and the freshwater intake valve are conveniently located right one atop the other, each having a very similar fitting for a typical rubber hose. Both have lightly engraved labels that are somewhat difficult to read both in low light and, due to glare, in bright light. The black water flush bears the helpful label, “water intake.” It was there of course I had connected the pressure water line to take in water. So it was our black water tank and its heady contents became highly pressurized in no short time, waiting patiently for some opportunity to release this pressure.
And so it was that I was treated face first to a forceful fountain of foul fluids, and solids, along with my most recent contribution. Sadly my eyes were wide with surprise and horror, my mouth redundantly forming the word “Shi… ” as it came under assault. I released the peddle quickly but the damage was done. The odor came on full force, not to mention the shame as Trail called out asking “What the hell just happened?” She opened the door, surveyed the aftermath, and the answer was self-evident.
Needless to say, penance was given, and bleach and elbow grease were applied to clean up. The clean water hose had to be replaced because when you do this you need to get rid of the clean water hose as the fluid will wash back and contaminate it.
Chances are good this is not a mistake I will make again. The practical meaning of that bottom valve will forever be burned into my brain. Sent is one of our most powerful mnemonic devices. I wonder now if our kindly and wise guide who had warned me of this peril and exactly the outcome I experienced came by his knowledge through anecdote, or like me, from first-hand experience.