You’ve certainly heard that a picture is worth 1000 words. Actually, there are times when words simply cannot convey the message, so no quantity of words will work.
I’m a visual thinker as most technical people are. We “think” in pictures, moving ones if we’re lucky. Of course, physically being there is best when trying to understand the past, present and future of something, but a picture is a nice second best. For example, the picture you see here shows my cat, Rex with his arm over young Prince, who’s enjoying a little warmth and adult supervision. What the photo can’t tell you is that I rescued Rex from a trash pile when he was about four weeks old…bottle fed him every three hours to keep him going…had him bond with me in ways I’d never experienced before with a feline and too few years later, had to deal with the vet not knowing how to help him when he got sick. He died at the vets’, while I held him.
Prince is another cat from the wild, and Rex was his security growing up. When Rex left, (and we had to evacuate due to a fire) Prince reverted to being a skittish and scaredy-cat. I’m only slowly bringing him out of that way of being, to something more comfortable. The photo reminds me of the whole timeline for both cats and my place in it. I could write far more than 1000 words and not come close to conveying everything I see and feel in that photo. There is so much history behind that photograph!
It works the same for mechanical equipment and built things. A photo may show a pretty house and give you clues about the place, but go snooping around that old house. Climb around in the attic and have a look in the basement. The house has so many stories to tell about how it was built and about how it grew up and spent its time. It will show its’ experience in different ways. You may see the evolution of building techniques, tools, and materials. You’ll definitely see the skill or lack of it, that the hands working on the house over time, possessed. You may be able to read in how well off, or poor the owners of the house were at times. There may be other clues, like trash left behind that now is a little time capsule of events (What is that old fashioned screw cap beer can doing in the attic?). I’ve found old printers’ plates from the local newspaper used instead of tarpaper under shingles! They gave a very good idea what was happening when the roofing work was done on that old house, along with telling a tale of creative scrimp and save.
Plumbing has its own ways of telling you what it’s been through. From solder drips and green corrosion on copper pipe, (meaning the plumber could have been in a hurry or was not very careful in cleaning up their work… particularly in not completely washing off the flux) to various valves not working correctly, (often meaning that hard water scale has built up inside, on the working parts) plumbing loves to tell its’ stories to those who pay attention. Various types of corrosion also give great clues about what the piping has seen. Simply where on a pipe the corrosion or damage is, tells a story of too much flow (erosion corrosion, particularly after 90-degree bends), acidic water in copper pipe, (pin-holes anywhere in the line), or leaks along the bottom of horizontal iron drain lines (slow and steady flow for years, creating a waterline and eating through the iron at the air/water interface).
I like to look at plumbing (or other things) and imagine what it’s experienced and been through, then think of these forces over time. That way I can “see” better what has happened and what will probably happen in future.
I frequent a site on the internet called HeatingHelp. On it are many experienced plumbing and heating folks who help solve anyone’s problems, at least as they relate to the trades 😉 Whenever someone shows up with questions about their boiler or whatever, one of the first things the pros ask for is photos. The photos tell a story and give clues. So often, the person asking questions is made aware of important stuff they had not considered, just because of what the pros see in those photos. Sometimes the photos reveal a possible life-threatening situation the questioner wasn’t at all aware of!
Just like words, photos have their limits. As 1000 words can’t always do what a photo can, 1000 pictures can’t always tell you what a visit to the real thing will show. There is no real substitute for putting your hands on something, seeing, hearing, and smelling the environment it lives in, to encourage it to tell you more stories. Still, even a visit to see and experience the real thing can’t always shine a bright enough light on the mystery of what has happened there in years past. I guess we’ll just have to develop a good way to travel in time!
Looking back over my working life of 50+ years, it seems clear that self sufficiency has always been the best way for me to be useful. Now, mix in a strong interest in water in its many forms and the wide world of animals and you'll know what's important to me.