Rigid Cast-Iron Soil Pipe Cutter

The first job I worked on for A.R. Wright Plumbing and Heating was a two-story 16 suite apartment building that was to be built at 19th St and 35 Ave. SW. The location was an empty lot, and we had to rough in the cast iron soil pipe for the toilets and sink drains. It was really cold that November and the ground was so frozen that we had difficulty digging trenches for the soil pipe, so we brought in a jackhammer to break up the frozen earth. We followed the guidelines from the blueprints provided us by Wright’s mechanical draftsman, and laid out and measured the 4 inch hubed cast-iron soil pipe for each of the eight apartment suites on the ground floor. The cast-iron soil pipe came in eight foot lengths, and to cut it into smaller lengths we had a special tool called a soil pipe cutter made by Rigid Tools, who supplies many of the tools used in plumbing, pipefitting, and gas fitting trades. The soil pipe cutter had a 3-foot handle and a chain with circular cutting wheels, it was looped around the soil pipe and pulled tight, then the chain end was fastened to the handle by two pins then engaged in a slot in the handle. By pumping the handle, up-and-down the chain would tighten and the cutting wheels would dig into the surface of the soil pipe until enough pressure was exerted to cause the soil pipe to break off evenly where the cutting wheels scored the pipe. There was a main trunk line running down the middle where the apartments hallway would be to the outside, where it tied in to the city’s sewer main. There was eight inlets four on each side of the main trunk that went in to the individual suites, at the end of these branches would be elbows and Y fittings to service the toilets and sink drains from the bathroom and kitchen. There would be cast-iron elbows that were joined together to form a 90° turn upwards for the toilet, and another one that ran up to the second floor, and to the roof for the purpose of venting the system. To fasten two lengths of soil pipe together the 4 inch end of the pipe or elbow was pushed into the base of the hub, then oakum a fibrous material made of hemp was packed in all-around the hub with a yarning iron, a tool that looks like a spatula with an offset handle that could pack the oakum tightly into the hub with the help of a ball pein hammer. Enough oakum was packed in the joint till there was about one half an inch room left at the top of the hub. We used a propane fueled stove to melt lead in a cast-iron pail, the lead came in 25 pound ingots that were poured in four 5 pound circular portions that were joined together, and a 5 pound oval handle to carry the lead with. With a hammer and a cold chisel the 5-pound pieces were cut into segments that were placed in the cast-iron melting pot to melt. A cast-iron ladle was then used to pour the molten lead into the hub of the joints to make them rigid. Horizontal joints were easy to pour, but any joint vertical or at an angle required a running rope to do the job. A running rope was a length of rope made with asbestos above 20 inches long with a metal cap on each end to keep it from fraying, it also had a spring-loaded clamp on a short length of chain attached to one end of the rope. The rope was wrapped around the top of the hub, and the two ends were clamped together, this left a small triangular shaped opening to pour the molten lead into. The rope was taken off and then the joint was caulked with two special irons for this purpose, the inside caulking was like at an offset chisel with a curved blunt end that was pushed against the soil pipe on the inside of the joint, and a hammer was used to pack the lead down into the joint, another caulking iron in the outside one was used to caulk the joint at the inside of the hub. The lead did not seal the joint; it was the oakum that expanded when it was a contract with water from the sewage.

We spent a good three weeks finishing the ground-floor rough in of the plumbing. It had to be inspected by the City of Calgary’s plumbing inspector, and approved before they could pour the concrete floor over it. The plumbing inspector lived in the Altadore district is name was Harry Ager; I had worked with his brother Vic Ager, who was the senior tinsmith at Ogden shops. Harry was a very conscientious inspector, and nothing got by him, he took a look at the plumbing rough in we had finished and laughed, he said it would all have to be redone, because there were no backwater valves. A backwater valve prevents flooding of the apartments on the ground floor if the city sewer backs up, and there was a good chance of this happening as 35th Ave was a low point in the geography of the district. If you think yarning, pouring and caulking oakum and lead soil pipe joints is a lot of work, try disassembling one. To do this you have a small narrow chisel you use to pick the lead out of the joint. This was an expensive mistake made by the mechanical draftsman at Wright’s and delayed the job at least two weeks.

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