Memphis Pluming TN, Barley Services, Kevan Barley offers competitive pricing for plumbing services. Drain cleaning, unclog toilets, water heaters, and remodeling. Serving the Greater Memphis area, in the North Eastern section. Over twelve years of experience in the plumbing business.


All Drain Men Know that the Secret Service is Lying

At a campaign rally this past Saturday, as you may have heard, former President Trump was fired upon by a sniper. Two bystanders were wounded and a third, Corey Comperatore, died.

Sometimes bad things happen and there’s no one to blame. “Hey, we did our best, but the attacker managed to get a few shots off before we could stop him. These things happen, y’know.”

Such is not the case this time. They did not do their best. If they had, the director, Kim Cheatle, would not be lying.

In an interview with ABC News, she said that the roof used by the sniper was left unsecured because “That particular building has a sloped roof at its highest point” and, therefore, there would be a safety issue. She’s lying.

Dear reader, I am ignorant of nearly everything, but one thing I know intimately is the slope of a roof. Before my retirement, it is safe to say that I climbed up onto people’s roofs nearly every working day for thirty three years. Usually I took a heavy drain machine up with me. Some were so steep, I had to throw a rope over the house and tie it to a truck bumper so that I could hold onto it in order to keep myself from falling off as I worked. (You gotta be tough to be a sewer man.)

We’ve all seen the pictures of the roof the killer used. Yes, it is sloped “at its highest point.” It is sloped at its lowest point, too. It is sloped as gently as any roof I’ve ever gotten onto. It presents no safety concern whatsoever. Every drain man knows this with certainty.

Do you want proof? Just look at the counter-snipers whose photos appear in just about every video about this attack. You see two officers on a roof with their rifles in tripods. The roof is sloped at its highest point. (Okay, I’m mocking her. All sloped roofs are sloped at their highest point; if it wasn’t the highest point, it wouldn’t be a sloped roof.) Those counter snipers are Secret Service agents. They work for Kim Cheatle. Did the Secret Service have a safety concern with that sloped roof? Of course not. And they had no such concern with the roof used by the killer. Cheatle is lying.

Many retired Secret Service agents have been located by local news teams and interviewed on camera in the last few days. The public wants to know how this happened. The answer isn’t clear yet (Thursday night). But the agents all speak the same language and aver that, when they secure a site properly, nobody is going to get on a roof 130 yards away and shoot the President.

This failure is comparable to a good ol’ boy driving a pickem-up truck to Fort Knox, loading it up with 300lbs of gold (roughly $11 million) and driving off before anybody could notice and stop him. You must admit, that would be some record-level incompetence there at Ft. Knox.


How to Become a Plumber: Part 6, Conclusion

Once in a while I’ll be at a supply house and an old coworker will walk in whom I haven’t seen for years. Seeing me at 67, one guy said “Doc, you ain’t retired yet? Seems like you’d be about ready to check out.” My reply was “Are you kiddin’? Plumbin’s like the freakin’ Hotel California: you can check out all you want, but you can’t never leave!”

I’ve see a lot of old plumbers sitting on those bar stools at the supply house. We seldom ever leave the trade until the undertaker carries us out feet first; there’s just too much work that still needs doing. We’ve learned a lot, worked a lot, and improved a lot of lives. Every time one of us dies, it’s like a library burning down, even though the pipes we ran will last for a hundred years.

Who will replace us?

Young, strong, smart boys in high school don’t daydream about getting out, moving heavy things, and shaping the world they see around them. Instead, they expect to move to yet another day care center and spend four more years pretending to learn useless junk until they’re paroled to their parents’ basement with a lifetime’s worth of debt, searching the web for an employer who wants to hire a graduate in “integrative studies.”

Nobody tells them that a plumber gets to go outside, run power tools, dig holes, hit stuff hard, climb ladders, play with fire, build things, and make money. Someone has said that “schools are designed and run by women to teach boys how to behave like girls.” We don’t need any more boys like that.

Who will replace us? Maybe you. The door is wide open.


How to Become a Plumber: Part 5, Money

Your financial benefit as a plumber is a combination of income and outgo. You cannot make enough money to stay ahead of stupidity. I’ve seen innumerable numbskulls who made a good income from plumbing and then wrecked their lives with gambling, drinking, drugs, and credit cards. I’ve worked in shops where every plumber on the payroll (except me) had a garnishment on his paycheck, usually for child support. I saw many guys pull off from a job on payday, return to the shop when the checks were ready, grab their check and run it to the bank, and then go back to work.

You can make money as a plumber. You can make more as a supervisor, even more as a manager of a shop, and more still if you own the shop. But you can’t earn enough to stay ahead of stupidity. This means that becoming a plumber won’t solve your money problems. Living a non-stupid life will solve most money problems.

To succeed, the first thing that you should know is that your job is to make your employer successful. Presumably you will do that by plumbing, but the focus should be on the success of your employer. Let this be your guiding star and you will be continually moving toward higher income.

Next, realize that exorbitant pricing can hurt you in the long run. It will cause people to bad-mouth you and it can have a corrosive effect on your own soul. If you mistreat customers, you always know in your heart that you deserve punishment; and that sets you up for catastrophe.

Why does everyone use Amazon? Because they do the best job at the lowest prices — and it made Jeff Bezos a billionaire. Why does everybody go to Walmart? Same story. You won’t become a millionaire by plumbing, but you could do so by serving people more and more effectively. That’s what a businessman does: he creates jobs and hires employees and manages them, he buys equipment and meets more needs, he goes from one headache to another, putting out fires all day long. If he’s good enough (and most aren’t), he gets rich.

Until you have your own business, work faithfully for your employer and your family. If you’re careful, you’ll have fewer callbacks and the results will show on your paycheck. If you work smarter and harder and longer, it will show. That will require keeping your truck in order, planning ahead, and getting a job finished even if you have to inconvenience yourself or rearrange some plans you had for yourself. Learn all you can. Help your coworkers. Over time, these things pay you back.


How to Become a Plumber: Part 4, Getting Started

There are several paths into the trade, depending upon where you live. You’ll have to research your options. In some places a labor union has the trade locked down. You can play ball with them or relocate to a freer place.

I my case, as I said earlier, I answered an ad and filled out an app at Roto-Rooter. They were glad to train a beginner because they could teach me their way. Although they were a full-service plumbing company, I learned the small subset known as drain cleaning. Most plumbers, I have found, dislike drain cleaning because they don’t do it full-time and, therefore, they aren’t good at it. When you’re not good at something, it is frustrating. A plumber will get mad and declare that the pipe needs to be ripped out and replaced, but a real drain man will stay with it, finagle, fiddle, and utter voodoo spells until he finds the key that unlocks the door and allows sewage to flow once again. We’re a special breed. The plumbing trade needs drain men badly. If I had been willing to stay at Roto-Rooter, I could have made more money as a drain man than I presently make as a licensed plumber who owns his own business.

Shops advertise. Check around. If you’re changing careers, it may seem humbling to hire on as a helper (and you may need a wife’s income to make ends meet until you get a raise), but I assure you that the shops are starving for good men. If you have the kind of honor and integrity that I described in the last chapter, they’ll have you running the joint by Christmas (so that they can have some time off!) and your compensation will be moving up right along with your job responsibilities.

After a decade or so of working for plumbing shops, I went into business for myself with what is called in Tennessee a “state contractor’s license.” This was created as a way for people to enter trades without going the old union route of helper > apprentice > journeyman > master. I had to get references to sign off on my qualifications and I had to sit for about six hours of tests. I also had an accountant prepare a financial statement showing that I was solvent. It wasn’t easy. You have to have already worked in the trade in order to apply for such a license, but it did allow me to get away from the shops and go on my own.

A shop may run an ad, a friend may introduce you to his boss, or you might just fill out a generic job application form such as this and carry it through the front door with a big ol’ smile: “Hi, I’m Kevan Barley and I’m looking for a job. I wanted to drop off this application and maybe shake hands with the right person if he or she is available.” I’m speaking literally: most plumbers are either drunks or dopeheads. When a quality guy comes in and politely asks if he can leave a job app, it’s like a drink of water in the desert. “Are you a plumber?” “No, I’m just a good worker, but I hope to be a plumber one day. For now, I’m hoping maybe the shop could use a good worker.” Someone will probably ask you to have a seat. If not, expect a phone call before the day’s end.

Not all shops are equal. Try to find out where the best men work, or who has the best reputation. A manager at a plumbing supply house might know. You could ask your friends to ask their plumber, if they have one. Word tends to get around. If you hire on and a shop disappoints you, you’ll know where the best shop is after a year and you can change employers if you want to. Always leave on good terms.


How to Become a Plumber: Part 3, Personal Qualities

I touched on this in the last post, but I’ll elaborate a little more.

Plumbing is not the solution to your problems. If you become a plumber, you will trade your present problems for a new set, and the new problems will look a lot like your old ones because (1) people are the same everywhere and (2) you’re the same everywhere. Most of your problems are human. I opened my business and went solo for that very reason: I eliminated 90% of my problems. Now I’m the only idiot I have to put up with. Formerly there would be an entire shop full of them.

But if you don’t already know the craft, you can’t go solo. So you’re deciding whether or not to enter a trade that is full of humans. That means that you’re going to have problems.

As I indicated in the last post, plumbing will be frustrating until you learn it. It will also be frustrating after you learn it. You cannot become a plumber the easy way because the easy way doesn’t exist. You’re going to have to get in and stay with it and work through the frustrations.

I have a son who now works with computers and kids, but he was “between jobs” once and said “I don’t know, maybe I should just ride with you, learn the trade, and become a plumber.” I replied with some sadness, “It’s honorable work, but I hate the thought of you going through what I’ve had to go through to get where I am.” The price of success is high. If you’re not going to get in with both feet, don’t get in at all.

I also need to point out that honesty has carried me to my current level of success. If you’re dishonest, you can steal from a lot of people, but it will probably ruin you eventually. I’ve seen this played out in many cases: guys who were smart and healthy and sometimes even outstanding craftsmen, but who crashed and burned because their reputation for ripping people off drove away business.

Close to the topic of honesty is honor. Honor is a man’s gift to himself, where he holds himself to a high standard even when nobody sees his work except himself and God. A man of honor is committed to keeping his promises to his employer, so he shows up early, stays a little late, is the last one to break for lunch and the first one back to work. Don’t enter plumbing with the idea that you can make big money for doing next-to-nothing.

But as you consider plumbing as your career, the biggest question you need to answer is, “instead of what?” If you choose plumbing, it means that you turn your back on other careers. Are you smart enough to learn information technology (computers)? Are you compassionate enough and patient enough to teach school? If you crave excitement, become a narc. You can see the world if you go into the military and choose the right job. In other words, become a plumber because you want to, not because you have to.

Commitment, endurance, honesty, honor, and desire: if you can find these within yourself, you’re qualified.


How to Become a Plumber: Part 2, What It’s Like

There are areas of plumbing about which I know nearly nothing, such as industrial systems, steam fitting, skyscrapers, and many others. Down at my level there are two kinds of plumbers: construction and service. I’m a service tech, which means I work on stuff some other plumber installed years ago. Construction plumbers enjoy building things for the first time. As a rule, they hate service work. I, on the other hand, would hate going to the same construction site every day for weeks or months.

Most of the time here, I’ll be referring to service work.

A plumber goes from house to house, family to family, store to store, day in and day out. He’s out meeting new people or checking back in with customers he’s served before, seeing how much their kids have grown, asking a shopkeeper how business has been, choosing where he’ll eat lunch that day. This is one of the most important features of being a plumber: you’re not cooped up.

When the weather is nice, you’re out there in it. But when the weather is miserable, well, you’re out there in it.

A good plumber is highly appreciated. The first thing I noticed when I began training in 1990 was that customers were glad to see us. Every day at least one would greet us at the door with “Boy, am I glad to see you!” There are some people who work for years and never get that from their jobs.

A lot of the job is physical; it requires strength, and men enjoy using their strength. Carrying a drain machine up a ladder to the roof, digging down to sewers with a shovel, crawling under houses with heavy tools, smacking a pipe wrench with a four-pound drilling hammer in order to break a pipe loose, or replacing a water heater in an attic by yourself (and I’ve done hundreds like that) — such challenges are a part of most days. A woman or a weak man cannot do such work. The work often occurs in cramped locations where leverage or machinery can’t do the heavy lifting; YOU do it or it doesn’t get done, and sometimes you have to summon strength you didn’t know you had in order to finish some step in the job.

This means that you can get hurt or killed. A co-worker of mine was down in a hole when a wall caved in and it hit him pretty hard, but he wasn’t injured — but guys do die that way (but not if they follow certain safety rules, but where’s the fun in that?) I knew a guy who picked up a toilet, just as he had done a hundred times before, and hurt his back and was sidelined. A friend stepped on a bad stair tread and turned his ankle and couldn’t work for weeks. The greatest danger that you face in an office is getting a paper cut on a finger. Are you willing to get out there and fight? Something to think about.

Do plumbers make a lot of money? I’ll say more about it later, but for this chapter I’ll just say that a good plumber is very much needed by the community and hard to replace — and such workers always have a steady income at a good rate of pay. When the “downturn” hit America in 2008, construction came to a halt and unemplyment was rampant. I, however, never missed an hour of work during those tough years. As a service plumber (in my own business by then), my income was bulletproof. Likewise with the Covid-19 shutdowns, I never stopped making money, even during the “two weeks to flatten the curve” when the streets were empty. Construction plumbers were not so lucky.

The job is dirty and can be filthy. I was training a former shoe salesman once and, seeing me tearing hair and filth off a cable after cleaning a lavatory sink drain, he remarked “I don’t see how you can do that without gloves on.” I replied that gloves would make this step harder, so it needed to be done bare-handed. “Besides,” I continued, “you’ll get used to it.” He insisted “I’m not gonna do it; I’m wearing gloves.” “Oh, you’ll get used to it.” “I’m not doing it, I’m telling you!” He wouldn’t budge. He lasted about six weeks. Soap and water does wonders when it comes to reversing any filthiness you may encounter, but this work isn’t for the squeamish.

In addition to the physical, plumbing has a mental side to it. A service tech is solving problems; a smart one solves them more quickly and makes more money. A construction guy will rise in the ranks if he’s better at blueprints, Plumbing Code, and communicating with higher-ups. In other words, there’s plenty of room for smart guys. As a college prof I saw a lot of students who had no business being in college; they were smart enough to do the work, but they didn’t like school, so the motivation just wasn’t there. A smart guy could drop out of high school and still become a great plumber.

Like every job, plumbing can be frustrating. I’ve had times when I’ve worked hard all day and didn’t make a dime — in fact, I lost money that day. My first year, I resigned (to myself) so many times, I lost count. One miserable night I was working out in the rain at 11:00 and one thing after another was going wrong. I screamed to myself “You’ve gotta be stark raving mad crazy in the head to do this for a living! I’m resigning tomorrow! I’m going in and unloading my truck! I’ve had it!” But I cooled down during the few hours I slept before going into the shop the following morning, and I resumed running calls. I needed the income. All jobs can be like that sometimes.

In sum: no job is paradise; every job has its bad side, but I consider what I do to be very rewarding.


How to Become a Plumber: Part 1, Intro

“Should I become a plumber?” Many young men ask this question at one time or other, and not a few older guys get fed up with their lot in life and ask the same question.

I never got to ask that question. I was thirty four years old and suddenly unemployed. I looked all over Memphis for a job that would support my family and allow me to continue in school in pursuit of a PhD degree. All I could find was Roto-Rooter, who hired me because I already owned a van. I didn’t know plumbing; I didn’t know drain cleaning; I didn’t even know that water ran downhill. But, by golly, I learned — because I had to. When I finished the PhD, I discovered that nobody cared, so I kept plumbing. I was supposed to become a college teacher, but the colleges could never figure that out, so they left me in the plumbing trade. It’s just as well; there’s a lot less sewage in plumbing than on today’s college campuses.

Maybe you’re asking that question: should you become a plumber? I certainly can’t tell you how to live your life, but I can tell you what I’ve seen and heard since I first climbed into the truck thirty two years ago.


Candle Wicking, Lamp Wick, and Old-Man Plumbing

Back in the ’90s when I was still a lowly drain man and hadn’t ascended to the honored status of “plumber,” a co-worker whose father had been a plumber before him told me about candle wicking. It could be used, he said, to make gaskets or packing, and I’d find it handy to keep in a tool box somewhere.

I took his advice and dutifully bought a roll and kept it in a tool box. I’m sure that I used it some, but not much. Eventually it went away, probably lost in a theft in one place or another. (Thieves would steal a tool box, not a roll of cotton string.) I didn’t think much more of it after that.

Candle wicking is “old-man plumbing,” a term I learned from a different plumber back in the ’90s. I had asked him about some technique I’d found in an old plumbing book. As years pass, better materials are developed which make plumbing easier to do, and some practices and techniques fall out of use because they’re just no longer necessary.

This week I checked the plumbing supply houses, looking for candle wicking or lamp wick, a thinner form of the same material. The stores hardly carry it any more. The clerks, who hadn’t even been born when I bought my last roll, didn’t know what it was. I finally found some candle wicking at Hugo.

Candle wicking is made up of five thin strands of cotton string loosely wound together. Back in the day, I heard of plumbers who had used mop strings when they didn’t have any candle wicking. The material would be wrapped around waste tubing (e.g., p-traps) to make the joint under a slip nut water tight. I often encountered such joints in the ’90s and usually had to break the slip nut with a chisel to get it off, the joint had been made so well.

One of the five strands would be about the size of lamp wick if it were bought separately. That brings me to the reason for this post.

I was called to a facility where some fire safety equipment had been plumbed with valves and other doo-dads I’d never seen before, and a threaded joint was leaking slightly. The fire safety inspector had demanded that it be fixed. The leak was where a 1″ pipe was threaded into the female end of a weird and surely expensive valve, which would have been very difficult to replace.

Shortening the story quite a bit, I got the joint disassembled and replaced the pipe going into the valve; but when I turned the water back on, I still had a slight drip, just as the original plumber had. I arranged to come back in a couple of days to re-do the job.

This was a revolting development because I had made that joint very carefully, using proven techniques and materials. Why was it leaking? Modern brass, thanks to government regulations, isn’t as hardy as it used to be and I suspect that the original plumber overtightened his joint and distorted the valve ever so slightly.

I checked the Plumbing Zone forums for advice and learned of an “old-man plumbing” technique called “wicking.” Then I found a YouTube video where a guy actually showed how to use lamp wick.

When I returned to the job, I wrapped a strand of lamp wick from one end of the male threads to the other, keeping it in the grooves. Then I applied some True Blu thread sealant and made up the joint. No leaks.


A New Sewer Replacement Scam Using the Camera

Yesterday I spoke briefly with a man who used to work for one of the most well known plumbing and HVAC companies in town. I won’t use their name here, so I’ll just call them Con Man Services. They’re actually not owned by the local proprietor whose name they bear; he sold the outfit to a huge corporation that operates in twenty states under multiple aliases. But they still put the supposed owner in the ads as though it were a local family owned mom & pop grocery. But you know you’re dealing with a lying sack of sewage when he says “And we’ll even give you $250 for that old water heater!”

Anyway, the man I spoke with told me about a slight variation in the sewer replacement scams I’ve written about earlier on this blog. The technique he saw them using at Con Man involved the technician unclogging a sewer using the smallest cutter he could. This would poke a hole in the stoppage, allow the water to drain again, but would not clean the line properly. Then they would run the camera for free and show the customer how bad the sewer looked, hoping to deceive him into thinking that he needed to replace the sewer.

And as if this weren’t crooked enough, Con Man also offers financing; so they could quote outrageous prices for replacing the sewer and poor people would have little choice but to tell Con Man to go ahead, make a little down payment, and then try not to wince while Con Man put the needle in their arm and hooked up the tube through which they would drain these people’s blood for the next few years at the low, low interest rate of 10% or so.

The man I was speaking to said “That was what made me quit. When I saw what they were doing to poor people, I just had to get away.”

I remember hearing a country boy say once, “Hell ain’t too hot.” It was an abbreviated form of the sentiment “Hell may be hot, but it isn’t as hot as these people deserve.” That doesn’t really come from the Bible; but if God ever asks my opinion, I’ll definitely vote to add it to the next edition.


The Sky Continues to Fall

As I write, the end of the world draws ever nearer. Shelby County now has one confirmed case of WuFlu for every 1,100 people. My odds of encountering someone through random sampling is approaching one in a thousand. For comparison, last year our county had ten times as many people injured in car crashes as we currently have carrying WuFlu. I’m almost afraid to get out of bed in the morning and drive to a job.

The news media are in high carnival these days. They haven’t had so much fun since the PTL Club fiasco in 1987. Every increased number, every young person whose death can be (deceitfully) connected to the virus, every photograph of somebody wearing a hazmat suit sends a shiver of delight through their souls. They put on their PPE and give their alarming reports while their cameraman stands there dressed normally and dutifully recording the charade. The old formula in news reporting is “If it bleeds, it leads,” meaning that such stories must be put first in the program or the headlines because that’s what customers want to hear about. It’s basic merchandising and I wouldn’t object to it if it weren’t deceiving the community into a panic.

But it is.

I grieve to see a whole city stampeded into blindly following and swallowing what they are drenched with 24/7 from the media.

I see people in their own cars with the windows rolled up, wearing masks. Don’t ask them why. They haven’t stopped to think that the only air they’re breathing is their own.

Where’s the toilet paper going? Kruger, a manufacturing plant up toward Frayser (just north of Harbor Town) turns out over one million rolls of toilet paper per day. Why is it hard to locate any in a store? Because people believe the sky is falling.

You can go to the store. What kind of quarantine is that? If somebody were quarantined for TB or cholera in the old days, could he go to the store? Of course not! You can go to the store, but you can’t go to your friend’s house for coffee. Presumably if you buy something at your friend’s house, you’re okay.

You can’t go to work unless, like me, you’re “essential.” Sit quietly and obey. I think that Dilbert’s Scott Adams says it well:

While the media whip this frenzy up, how’s their income? Certainly the corporation is selling more advertising since they’re offering the buyers more eyeballs. But notice also that the reporters aren’t missing any paychecks. They’re having fun. They get to lounge around, peck on their laptops, complain about Trump, and draw their salaries with no interruption.

Meanwhile these policies of locking down healthy people are wreaking financial ruin like a locust plague. This is when my blood starts to boil. I grew up in an unhappy home. My parents quarreled a lot and it affected me deeply. Do you know the #1 cause of marital discord? It isn’t sex, it’s money problems. We had them. I could write a book, so please forgive me for omitting the endless details. But I watched that man and woman struggle to make it through life. My father was a carpenter and I went to work with him innumerable times from before I can even remember. I watched him work to exhaustion, drag himself home, knock the sawdust out of his pants cuffs, hang up his overalls, go in to eat a very meager supper, and then get up before the sun to do it all again the next day. I remember the one day when he was too sick with a cold to go to work. I was very young, but I remember how strange it was to see him in bed, not going to work. It only happened once. All the other times he was sick, he went to work anyway.

Daddy used to say that he never joined a union because he was afraid that he might have to go on strike one day, and he couldn’t afford not to work.

Such people as he was are being sidelined by this tyranny. Our rulers should be making every effort to structure the needed precautions in a way that balances the interest in public heath with the rights of free men and the need to work.