The Very Miraculous Septic Tank Excavation

by John Robinson

The old septic tank needed attention. The tank cleaner folks said that if we uncovered the access hole it would save some time and money. Sounds reasonable, we thought. On our first attempt to locate the vault we failed. I guess that was because it had been fifty years since the tank had been placed and various things had been done to the old house in the meantime. A porch had been added, the back stoop had been relocated, a shed or two placed in the yard, things like that. Still, I thought for sure we had figured it right, but even after digging a most generous-sized hole at the presumed location, no luck. Further, the dirt here was dry and hard as rock. We couldn’t just casually drop a test hole any old place. Out of time, we planned to try for “the crypt” again the following weekend. One good thing: we had carefully placed the dirt from the hole in a neat pile well out of the way. We’d refill it later.

My family used to call me “the mole man” because I was the one who would crawl and tunnel under the old house, torch and tools in hand, to repair busted water lines and cracked drains. I didn’t mind the work, although it was always nice to emerge into the light of day again. I used to try to dig to China in the vacant lot next door when I was real young, and as a teenager I dug for antique bottles at abandoned home sites. I guess I have a natural proclivity toward digging in the dirt.

Anyway, to ensure success we called in some reinforcements. I got in touch with our acquaintance Chuck, a jack-of-all-trades including “septic-tank-locater.” I described the need for locating the tank and our inability to do so as of yet. No problem, Chuck assured. He’d swing by there the next day, locate the tank and mark it with a wooden stake tied with fluorescent survey tape. Sounded good to me.

We returned the next weekend for another cabin work party, and to again dig for the crypt. We noted that yes Chuck had been there and had marked the spot with the stake. Wouldn’t you know, it was right on the edge of the dirt pile which we had so carefully placed previously, in a location which we had deemed could not possibly be the spot.

We set to work, and laughed at the irony of the tank being under the very spot we had thought it most unlikely to be. We took turns shoveling away the previously-placed dirt pile, refilling the first hole, then excavating the undisturbed earth underneath, happy and confident of impending success. Sure enough, after our brief stint at hard labor we had uncovered the business end –the access hatch- of the fifty-year- old septic tank. High fives all around, and end of story.

Well not exactly. The day after our successful dig I called Chuck to thank him for locating and marking the tank location for us. He was a little confused and questioned me several times about what I was talking about. He then explained to me -through interruptions of fitful laughter- that the day he had come to locate the septic tank had turned out to be a complete wash. In the short time he had been available for the task, he could not for the life of him find the old tank, having poked and probed all over the place. Before he drove away he had simply stuck the survey tape-wrapped wooden stake into our dirt pile for a future attempt.

So there you go. Chuck had unwittingly and correctly marked the location of the septic tank by absentmindedly placing the stake at the edge of our initial effort. We, for our part, merrily assumed  he had done exactly what he had set out to do, our confidence in the process unquestioned. We “knew” we would find the tank there, and lo and behold we did.

It just goes to show you that, yes, God has a great sense of humor. And another thing: Among the human race, traits like assuming things and blissful ignorance are not in short supply.