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Old Dad Rebuild

Front view Old Dad Drinker

SCBS, DFW and NPS cooperated for our first ever complete rebuild of a water development within the Mojave National Preserve. 

The Old Dad Peak development was originally installed in 1975 and in the early 1990’s the tanks were replaced after one developed a crack and a Bighorn sheep fell in and died, thereby poisoning several additional sheep.  A similar crack was discovered in 2015 and one of the tank outlet flanges was also cracked and leaking, wasting the water that had been collected.

Read more …Old Dad Rebuild

Dr. Lutz Repair

Well, we had a rather small crew but that was my fault for not planning farther in advance. Bill Tuck and John Voght had visited in 2013 to perform pipe repair only to discover that a wind storm had rearranged the tanks.   Needless to say, the pipe repair was unnecessary. We had wished for Fish and Wildlife to execute on the helicopter contract for census and repair work 1 Load of hoseso that we could perform major repair and upgrade the system to SCBS Raincatcher system but the contract has not been executed. After months of delays we decided to attempt a minor repair without helicopter support. Debbie and I were originally planning to visit Dr Lutz to make a survey and plan of attack but after spending several hours studying photos, I decided that we probably had enough information to attempt a repair. I put out the message through email. John Roy prompted responding offering to pick up any necessary supplies. I spent some time sharing photos and discussing plans. John made a special trip to Camp Cady and Osborne Supply to get the necessary pieces. We had most everything we thought we needed, including a spare valve and tank flange (they were the only parts not visible in the photos). Perhaps overplanned, at least in our own minds. What is that saying about 7 P’s?

Debbie and I arrived at the camp site Thursday afternoon after spending time at 29 Palms Marine Corp base inspecting the Bullion and Cleghorn Guzzlers. We found Bill Tuck and John and Linda Roy at camp and nearly set up – they didn’t beat us by much. We had a leisurely evening parceling out the supplies and discussing the plan of attack around the camp fire. Friday Morning John Voght showed up to help us out. We thought Zac Mullin was also going to attend but left without him – he was delayed in his plans and didn’t show up until Saturday – see other story.

Bill hopped in John’s FJ Cruiser, Debbie and I 3 Tinaja 1hopped in the CJ and we headed up the trail promptly at 8 am. John and Linda stayed in camp to patrol, peruse an interesting magazine collection and rendezvous with a volunteer that planned to arrive Friday afternoon.

At the end of navigable trail, we donned our backpacks and started hiking. Steve had the 50 foot roll of 1 inch spa pipe, Debbie had two 24 inch pipe wrenches (thankfully with aluminum handles), Bill Tuck had the four steel construction stakes for anchors and John had the valve, flange, fittings and the rest of the tools and equipment. If you haven’t been to the Dr. Lutz system it is a fantastic trail. Starts out rather benign in the bottom of the wash passing between creosotes and catclaws 4 Bonesbut when the canyon narrows the trail starts to climb. The bottom of the wash is populated with large boulders and soon you have to pick your poison– rock crawling hand over hand in the wash bottom or sidehill on loose gravel. At the top of the canyon, there are at least two narrow ledges to navigate over and around the tinajas. Both were filled with water – I estimated about 3 or 4 thousand gallons each and maybe 5 feet deep – no place for an accidental cliff jump but perfect for bighorn sheep. We found the remains of a young ram between the tinajas – not sure why he died but it’s not unusual to find bones near a water source. Maybe he was ambushed, maybe just sick or tired the body was too far decomposed to make any determination. We were happy to find the tinajas full, this volume of water should support 5 Pad and Tinaja 2the sheep for several months if not more. Last visit the tinajas were full of sand so last summer’s rains must have flushed them out.

We found the tank right where Bill and John had left it 2 years ago – one the pad and sideways. It had been suggested by our premier site selection expert, Glenn Sudmeier, that we move the tank to the old pad. By moving the tank to the old pad we could reserve the newer double tank pad which has enough room to fit a Raincatcher tank at some future date. This was no small task – the only feasible paths were over a 4 foot boulder and across a narrow shelf (too narrow) or down 6 feet around the boulder and then back up 6 or 8 feet to the old pad. We had a quick democratic discussion 7 Moving Tankfollowed by an executive decision – I elected to go down and around as I guessed that if we tried the other path the tank would end up ‘down there’ anyway without our choice or orientation. We rigged up some rope and anchored the tank as we proceeded to tip it over some rocks and up onto the original tank pad. Other then knocking John off the pad, and nearly pinching Bill between the rock and the tank it was rather uneventful.

Now down to real business – plumbing the tank. We had found the tank valve intact and undamaged – I even tried the threads and they seemed OK. After placing the tank I second guessed the integrity of the valve and decided to replaced it since we had carried a new one. That’s 8 Tipping Tankwhen I flattened the valve without breaking the threads loose. Apparently the valve crushes easily when there isn’t a fitting inside. I couldn’t get any more torque for fear of ruining the flange. Bill spent a few minutes carefully hacksawing off the old valve without going through the flange nipple. We were fortunate that the original tank pad was directly under the collection pipe. All we had to do was get the fittings loose. Old 2 inch galvanized fittings don’t loosen easily. After cutting the pipe (no unions and rotating the 40 foot assembly we out of the question) we applied the 24 inch pipe wrench – nothing doing. Cheater bar to the rescue! We used a 7 foot piece of 2 inch pipe – that did the job but what a job. Just lifting that pipe and miscellaneous fittings was a chore, it must have weighed 40 pounds or more. We were going to 9 Cheater Barpop that fitting or break the wrench. Well 1000 ft lbs on the fitting did the trick and it came loose without a even a squeak.

We managed to saw a small hole in the top of the tank for the collection pipe, plumb the drinker with the spa pipe and anchor the tank with some 1/8 cable. Luckily the original installation had used the gas powered Cobra rock drill to bore holes for 1.5 inch pipe anchors – we didn’t need to find any cracks to pound the stakes into.

We stayed at the project site until nearly 3 pm. We knew we were pushing the limits of daylight for this season but none of us wanted to hike back up to finish the job. As long as we could get back to the trucks before dark we were good. Turns out that we all safely got down the mountain, Bill discovered 2 different ram’s horns and we arrived at the trucks at sunset. We motored back to camp arriving in full darkness. John and Linda Roy were just about to send out the search party for us when they saw the headlights.

Andres Reutman had arrived and the 7 of us enjoyed a relaxing night around the firepit. Another successful repair completed. We broke camp Saturday morning, John and Linda headed back to Cady to return the tools and the rest of us headed over towards Weavernoy to do a “leisurely” inspection.  I’ll save that for another article.

Big Gees Repair and Water Haul


            Friday August 13, 19 people came out to CampWork Crew at Basin Road Cady to haul water and repair the flood damaged Big Gee wildlife drinker and I can tell you it was a great experience and an outstanding success.


            Friday afternoon we loaded up the trucks with water tanks, tools, pipe and pipe fittings.  After the tanks and trailer were full of water we headed to the bunk house and Steve cooked hamburgers and smoky links [editor’s correction: cooking duties were taken over by Sheriff Bob with this quote:  “never let the skinny guy cook unless you want to starve”], John Nelson made the best beans I ever had and Wayne and Linda Snively came by with lemon sugar cookies for the group.  Kathy Ridley with the San Bernardino Sheriff Rescue also came out and gave us a phone number to call if we need help in an emergency.  After dinner went over what we hoped to accomplish the next day and then turned in as 4 o’clock comes early.

The next morning everyone was up at 4 but little Miss Sleepy Road RepairHead who we all know but will remain nameless came into the kitchen and filled up on sweet rolls, cookies and coffee. I think a few were surprised, me the most, but we were on the road and out the gate by 5 AM and met Jeff and Le at Basin Road on time.


            Steve led the 9 vehicle caravan in his Jeep and we made it up the wash to the first turn with out getting off track and lost.  From there it was easy as the old road was still there ‘till we dropped in to the second wash.  From there on we had to move a lot of rocks and find a new route up the canyon to Big Gee.  The old route the last 5 miles was gone along with most of the trees and brush and this is where we had to drop the water trailers.  Where there were once big boulders and brush was now a smooth wash and where an easy drive was we now had to move rocks, brush and fill in holes. The last bad spot where you go in to the upper canyon Pumping Wateris still a tight turn but is better than it used to be.


            Well, after 5 hours of driving we were there and started to pump water in the tanks and repair the pipes that were gone.  Steve and John Roy took charge of cleaning the drinker box and replacing the pipe from the tank. Jim McGee and crew kicked butt clearing off the debris from the tank pad with round point shovels [square points – nah, we shouldn’t need those.]  John Nelson and Jim Knybel went up the wash and started working on the pipe from the dam and rain mat and I kept the water trucks coming and pumping water.  After we emptied the trucks Jeff, Le, Mike and I went back to the water trailers and came back with another 850 gallons of water for a total of 3,000 gallons.


            By 2:30 we had the pipe repaired to the drinker and from the dam and rain mat to the tanks.  Unless you were Cleaning the Padthere you don’t know what a tough job it was in the 110 degree heat and what people that care about wildlife can do when we ask.


            We had 7 new people show up for this project so a big thanks to Tom Barton, Art Figueroa, Jim Knybel, Joe Preiss, Mike Woods, Jeff Jones, and Andrew.


            The dependable who always show up to help were there and they were Carlos Galinger, Le Hays, Mark LeCompte, Jim McGee, Steve and Debbie Marschke, John Nelson, John and Linda Roy, Joe Steinmetz, and John Vought.


             If it wasn’t for people like these and many I didn’t list who come out to the desert in the middle of summer and give their time and money to help us keep water in the drinkers by hauling water and making repairs a lot of sheep would not be around in the fall. Threading 2 Inch Pipe



            So from me and all of us that cares about the wildlife a BIG GEE THANKS.


Gary Thomas









Bending pipe

Champion Shoveler Still At It!

Enjoying Retirement!

Mucking out A Development

           It all started when I asked the local project manager of the Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep if there was anything he needed done.  He was so quick to answer, I should have played deaf and walked away.  It turned out, the task he had in mind involved me walking about a quarter-mile to a spring in the desert foothills and mucking out said spring.  The contents that had accumulated in the spring, he explained, was sheep excrement.  Yes, I know, who wouldn’t jump at a chance to shovel sheep shit out of cold water while biting flies attacked every bare spot you presented – a dream come true, right?
           As it turned out, the next time I was in the area of the spring, it was winter so I passed on breaking ice and wading in the spring’s ingredients.  August of this year found me back in the area without an excuse to do the deed.
           The walk in to the spring is not difficult.  The day was hot, but not beastly.  I had put together a pack that included swimming trunks, old tennis shoes, camera, towel, and enough water to drink and wash with after the activity.  There were a lot of sheep tracks on the way in, but no animals were encountered.   
           Beautiful Wife had been skeptical that I was actually going to wade into wet sheep crap and shovel it out.  She requested a picture of this lunacy. 
           Upon arrival, I traded my hiking togs for swimsuit and tennis shoes.  I had forgotten to take the remote control gadget for the camera necessitating the use of the built in ten-second timer.  I aimed the camera in the direction I wanted to shoot, focused on something in the approximate area I was going to be working, activated the camera, then ran through the spring and took up a pose.  This required many trials before a reasonable image was produced.  After completing proof of exploit for Beautiful Wife, I got down to the real reason for my being there.  It took about 30 minutes to complete the labor – scoop shit, slap flies; scoop shit, slap flies.
          Finished, I cleaned up and changed back into hiking apparel.  Unbeknownst to me, California Fish and Wildlife personnel had placed a camera adjacent to the spring to track use by the bighorn sheep (I found the camera as I was leaving the site).  One has to wonder how the minds at F & G will react when they review the video from the camera.  In the middle of all the footage of sheep drinking and defecating in the spring there emerges this old, gray-headed guy who takes off his clothes, puts on a swimsuit, sets up his camera, then cavorts around in the spring taking pictures of himself shoveling sheep shit.  Really, who the hell is that crazy?

Sometimes life is fun.