The Bath House

There was a certain amount of urgency in our installing a water system. We’d just gotten the system delivering water on the Martin farm when it was time to move to the Swan. There were two water towers on the abandoned boy’s camp property where we’d appropriated the original tower, and we now had a use for both of them. One would go on the high point of the new property, near The House, where the deep well was located. The other would go in the lower residential neighborhood, drawing its supply from a robust spring down in the hollow between Second Road and an as yet unnamed ridge.

We’d sent a crew to the camp to fetch the taller of the two towers, with our one degreed mechanical engineer designing a system for lowering the tower into the bed of the Big Pickup – our converted International Harvester school bus. The tower was hinged at the bottom of two of its legs and the plan was to use a tripod of telephone poles to support the tower as it leaned over and gradually lowered into the truck bed.

There was apparently some miscalculation in the stresses and forces of the tripod, for one of its legs snapped and the tower dropped from a considerable height into the truck bed, doing damage to both the Big Pickup and the tower itself. Repairs were made and the tower was successfully brought home. At the Farm, we decided to rent a crane to raise the tower into its place on the hill. Then came some prolonged ditch digging. I got pretty good at swinging a pick axe and busting the hard chert soil. Slowly, we fed the black plastic tubing into the trench on its long run to the Sorghum Mill and the habitats beyond.

Work had begun, meanwhile, on a communal bath house at the lower end of Second Road, near the meditation field. We couldn’t wait until the water line from the well supply reached that far end of the settlement. The tower from the Martin farm was replaced to a location along Second Road and our idea for pumping water up from the spring was to use a gas-powered engine to drive the pump. Paul and I were still working together and Jose – our chief mechanic and welder at the motor pool – presented us with the motor he’d removed from a VW bug to use as our power source.

“Here. But you gotta rebuild it.” He smiled. Nice gesture. “I got a book you can use.” He handed me a grease-stained copy of How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot.

“There’s some wrenches over there. Lemme know if you need any help.”

I looked at Paul. “Well, I’ll let you know when I’m done.”

It took me two weeks to tear the engine down, get the new parts and put the motor back together. It took another week, working with Jose, to get it running. After an additional week, we had a frame welded together with a belt drive to turn the impeller pump. Supposedly, that pump – driven at the rpm we calculated – would push the water up the 150 feet we needed to reach the top of the tower reservoir. A fresh tank of gas would have to be delivered down the treacherous gully every few days, given our estimates of water usage in the bath house.

Of course, we also had to excavate the spring and build a cement block enclosure with a wooden spring house above it. That took another two weeks. Then we installed the pumping gear with a fuel tank located some 50 feet up the hollow for safety sake.

Amazingly enough, after some fiddling around with the contraption, it worked. The little air-cooled engine could pretty much idle and fill the 5,000 gallon tank over the course of about 8 hours. We could never quite relax, though, knowing that a motor was running down in the hollow without anyone keeping an eye on it. So I spent a lot of time sitting alone in the hollow watching the motor run. If it had been quiet, it would have been a nice meditation. But it wasn’t.

Once the bath house was finished and the water line run down the road, our days of skinny dipping in the creek or pouring buckets of water over one another in the woods seemed to be over. Now we had a place to soak in a tub or shower under propane-heated water. Yippee! Sure, it was a long walk from most places, but it seemed like an efficient idea. Locating it at a low spot meant that we’d have plenty of water pressure.

The bath house had a dressing (and undressing) area and a bank of shower heads, much like my old high school gym’s. The only difference being that it was co-ed. At first that didn’t seem like much of a hassle, but it soon became a big problem. Actually there were several problems.

Problem One. Some of the ladies began to notice that some men would park themselves in the dressing area for what seemed like an unnecessarily long time. Couldn’t they just dress and move on?

Problem Two. The Farm had – after a period of time when we didn’t invite visitors to stay – re-opened the Gate to allow visitors to stay for varying amounts of time. This involved working with us, getting dirty, needing a shower, and making use of the co-ed bath house. Was seeing us naked part of the deal?

Problem Three. We’d already had some bad experiences with spreading infections. Unless we had a fulltime bath house cleaning service, the risk of spreading even more infections seemed to have increased.

This all got brought up at Sunday services – which was quite a bringdown after getting high at meditation. Just the thought of men gawking at women under the showers was a bit nauseating. Was there no decency? Was that the best we could do as spiritual students?

Almost immediately the bath house underwent renovation to divide the men’s and ladies’ halves of the building. That seemed to eliminate the first two concerns, but when the hot weather returned in the summer, we knew the sanitary risks would rise.

At least, though, we now had water spigots located along the roads into the residential areas. We no longer needed to rely on the draft horses to deliver our water. We could begin piping water into our buses, our tents and our few houses. We’d risen above the standard of living of most people in the world.