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 regardless but forewarned was forearmed. Among the tales of woe there was one that stood out in its graphic nature, a mistake that any sane man would surely take great pains to avoid. A mistake I made pretty much the first opportunity I was given.
There are three water tanks on an Airstream. There is the saintly fresh water tank from which clean clear water should flow. There is the morally ambiguous grey water tank that is used to store the runoff from the sink and shower. Then there is the dreaded black tank where in gifts made in the toilet and bathroom sink are deposited and allowed to stew 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 grey and black water tanks allowing you to empty them by the virtue 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. There is also a city water valve that also provides 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 it which also takes water from a pressurized source.
The Little Creek Casino was our first stop at an actual RV park where we had available to us a pressurized city water source. Prior to that we were simply using the local garden spigot at the Grubb’s home to fill our fresh water tank. Eager for the joys of unlimited H2O I hooked everything up in a jiffy, going over my handy checklist quickly 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, it didn’t flow especially well, “oh well”, 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. In a somewhat unusual turn of fortunes it was I who was first to make their way to our little bathroom to relieve myself. I flipped up the lid, quickly relieved myself of my burden, and then leaned forward a bit using my foot to tap down on the flush peddle. And this is when the full measure of my failure made itself apparent.
You see, the black water flush valve and the city water intake valve are conveniently located 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 in low light or glare or from any kind of distance. The black water flush bares the label, “water intake.” It was there of course I had connected the pressure water line and thus our black water tank and its heady contents became pressurized in no short time, waiting patiently for some opportunity for release.
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?” When she opened the door and surveyed the aftermath the answer was self evident.
Needless to say penance was given, bleach and elbow grease were applied to clean up, and hoses were replaced. (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 as they say 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 by anecdote, or face first as I had.