This Side Up

The pressure of a good cleanup


A power washer is a guy thing.

It’s one of those tools, like a chain saw, that commands respect, although you can’t do as much damage with the power washer.

I knew my friend Claude Bergeron has a washer and, like everything that Claude owns, I was certain it was in top-notch shape. That gave me pause. I had no doubt he would loan it to me, but would I be returning it in as good condition?

“Just changed the oil,” he said pulling out the dipstick. I looked carefully, barely able to see the mark. The oil was that clear.

“Never,” he stressed, “start it without water, and that goes here.”

He pointed to the intake connecter with its wire mesh strainer. Beside that is the connection for the pressure outlet and the line that feeds the business end of the washer, the wand, with its trigger handle and nozzle capable of delivering a pinpoint stream of water at 2,400 pounds per inch. That’s like a knife. If you aren’t paying attention, it can tear paint off the wall, slice plants like a weed whacker and dig holes in the garden.

Claude showed me how to adjust the nozzle.

He slid it up and down to indicate positions for the initial spraying of detergent and then the blast, which demands a tight grip because the force is so powerful. He even brought along a new bottle of detergent. That’s Claude; he thought of everything. Lovingly, he patted the shiny engine housing and backed off the gas cap.

“Just use straight gas. No oil,” he advised.

“I guess you’re set…” he said, with some hesitation. I assured him, I wouldn’t start the washer without water. Every contingency was covered, I believed.

The target was the cement apron around the pool. It had weathered streaks where straps help down the pool cover. Moss grew in the recesses of the slabs and had assumed a green-brown hue.

Typical to Claude’s attention to detail, the washer started on the first pull. The engine gave me a sense of power. I sprayed a layer of detergent but it seemed to make no difference. I followed with the high power stream. It cut a two-inch swath through the grime to reveal sand-white concrete. This was going to be a long process. By the time I refilled the gas tank, three slabs were shining but I had another dozen to do, if the walk was included. A mist arose. I was being splattered with dirt, but the cleaning was happening. This was progress.

Then the washer stopped.

My first thought was, “It’s out of gas.”

I turned around. The washer was gone – vanished.

I didn’t have to look far. I saw it sitting on the bottom of the pool. I jumped in and pulled it out, as water poured from the engine housing.

Submerging running engines is not something you want to do. I learned that long before, when an outboard fell off the back of the dinghy. That outboard never fully returned to life, but I also knew that instant action offered the best chance of recovery. I pulled out the spark plug. More water drained from the engine. But then what?

“Google!” I thought, would have the answer. I found some advice, like scrap the engine, or sell it to someone you don’t like.

Carol had a suggestion.

“Buy a power washer,” she suggested. “You’ve always wanted one.”

Then she proposed I visit Harvey Davies, who runs Davies Service Center on West Shore Road.

Being a Sunday, I found Harvey in his kitchen. There was the aroma of onions and tomatoes. He and Sandy were cooking dinner. He ran down a list of things to do: Drain the gas, change the oil, blow out the carburetor and spray everything with DW-40.

“And don’t call the DEM about the oil slick on your pool.”

We laughed.

I went to work. Parts were strewn across the porch. The oil, a frothy sludge, was the consistency of a chocolate shake. The air filter dripped. It went into the sun for drying. The gas looked all right, but it was set aside for disposal anyway.

I liberally sprayed WD-40, replaced the oil and reassembled everything.

And, heeding Claude’s warning, I connected the hose.

Now came the moment of truth.

On the second pull, the engine roared to life. White smoke billowed as it heated and burned off the WD-40.

This was better than I hoped for.

The washer itself never looked cleaner.

Claude would be proud.


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