with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Pumping Water Everywhere

We’ve been driving for 8 hours, our butts are weary from the external throbbing of the road under our truck’s six wheels, the trailer dragging along behind us. We find a rest area, truck stop, WalMart, or anywhere we can pull in, weary beyond belief, to sleep for a few hours before we hit the road again, determined to haul our home on the road across the country to photograph birds, elk, fall colors, spring flowers, or whatever nature subject awaits us at our destination.

We fall into the trailer, crawling our way into bed, sleep grabbing us immediately. One, two, maybe three hours later, the inevitable happens. We all experience it, so there is no hiding it. It’s a normal function of life. You have to get up in the night to pee. There, it’s done. I’ve admitted it, now we can move on.

Yes, that inevitable pee in the night. I crawl off the end of the bed and take the two steps to my bathroom, illuminated by the street lights glowing in the windows, open the door and collapse onto the stool. Half asleep, I grab some toilet paper, do what we do with toilet paper, then press the handle to add the water to flush the remains – and there is no water.

Because we are in the middle of a parking lot and not hooked up to the necessary amenities of life on the road: water, sewer, electricity; I am standing there over the toilet, watching the liquid flow down but the heavier and sticker stuff remains because there is nothing to flush it down with.


I wish I could say this is an occasional problem, but it isn’t. Or should I say “wasn’t”. I’d go into the bathroom while traveling to wash the mud or gasoline off my hands and there would be no water. Brent would rush in to go to the bathroom during one of our many pull-off-the-side-of-the-road-to-take-a-picture stops, and there would be no water.

In our trailer, the water pump is turned on via a small switch in the kitchen, the full length of the trailer away from the bathroom. But where do we use the most water? In the bathroom.

Once again, this is another night of leaving the remains in the toilet and stomping through the trailer, over the bicycles carried inside for travel, around the other junk that shifted around as the trailer was moving, towards the sink. I manage to bang my shins twice and scrape my ankle to get to the kitchen sink, stretch across the wide counter and turn the water pump on, then make my way through the clutter of travel back to the toilet to press the handle and wait for the water to flush all the excess away.

And now I am wide awake.

Working on a Water Solution

This had to end. I have an engineer living with me. I told him that if he wanted the comfort of my bed, these late night droughts were going to have to come to an end. He’s an electrical engineer by education and a structural engineer by trade. A water switch in the bathroom would be a snap. Right? Of course, right.

When we settled in a place for a couple of weeks, he prowled around in the bathroom looking for a spot to put the switch. In such a tiny space, there aren’t a lot of places, and he really didn’t want to cut a hole in the wall and run wires through the wall, so he finally decided to hide the switch where it was actually most convenient.

Our trailer sink - look under the edge to see the switch for the water pump which is almost hiddenWhen you walk into our tiny trailer bathroom, there is really room for one person. From the door, you face the sink and counter and overhead mirror cabinet. To the right is the shower and to the left is the toilet. Nothing else. Very simple and very small.

The counter is very narrow, and the sink is actually wider than the counter, so the counter actually curves around the protruding sink a little. A six inch fake wood covering hides the bottom curve of the sink and a cupboard sits underneath, a neat way of giving us a normal sized bathroom sink in a very narrow cabinet. Under the curve, above the cabinet, is where Brent decided the switch would sit.

This works out great because the sink is even with your upper chest when sitting on the toilet and the switch is right there, convenient to the left hand.

With a spot chosen, he went out looking for switches. Luckily, a Radio Shack was nearby and he found a simple toggle switch (single pole single throw switch) with a small mount.

The switch for the water pump hidden under the sink in the trailer bathroomHaving re-done all the wiring for the trailer before we hit the road in 1996, Brent had a great deal of familiarity with the wiring. He took a 12 volt wire from the 12 volt supply in the generator compartment and ran it to one side of the switch in the bathroom. The other side of the switch splices into the 12 volt input of the pump. So when you throw the switch, it connects power to the pump and water comes out. This formed a second parallel circuit in conjunction with the power line from the kitchen.

The water pump is located under the floor of the stairs next to the bathroom, and the generator compartment is at the head of the stairs, so the wires didn’t have far to travel. In fact, the whole “basement” compartment with the water pump and heat ducts made it easy to run the wires from the generator through the basement up into the bathroom cabinet since the bathroom sits over the basement compartment.

With a couple hours work, mostly tracing power lines, I had a switch in the bathroom so I could turn on the electric water pump any time I needed water. YEAH!

Okay, there are some drawbacks to this. If you walk into a room with two light switches, either one will turn on or off the light, right? Well, this single system doesn’t work both ways. If you turn on the water in the kitchen, you have to turn it off in the kitchen. If you turn it on in the bathroom, you have to turn it off in the bathroom. If we were to have it set up so that we could turn it on in the bathroom and off in the kitchen, Brent would have to run a wire from the kitchen to the bathroom and back, and we decided that cutting holes in the watertight moisture barrier along the bottom of the trailer in order to string a couple of wires…we can live with walking the 10 feet from one end of the trailer to the other to turn off the water.

There is an added benefit to this, though. Some places where we stayed had little or no water pressure. Taking a shower is like spit bathing. To boost the pressure of the water during the shower, I don’t even have to leave the shower. I just open the shower door, reach down and flip the switch, and the water pump kicks in, adding water from the water tanks to the street water and I get a decent shower. Wonderful.

Now, if I could only figure out how to get the water tanks to automatically fill by themselves, we’d really have a good time on the road.

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