Down the drain

From sharks to rings, plumbers find strangest things

As owner of Roto Rooter of Craig, Doug Warren has seen some strange things removed from the drainpipes and toilets of Moffat County.

Once, Warren's company recovered a dead miniature shark one of his customers had flushed.

"It was from someone's aquarium," said Warren, who also has recovered cell phones and jewelry on the job.

Then there are the cases when home craft projects go very bad.

"Somebody was making candles and they poured wax down the sink," he said. "The garbage disposal and the drains were full of wax. They had to redo their whole kitchen."

Warren isn't alone in fishing some bizarre items from pipes and toilets throughout the years. His colleagues across the nation say they also can offer a fascinating glimpse into a plumber's world.

Roto Rooter technicians across North America say it's fairly routine to recover everything from live animals to precious valuables in a day's work.

But last week, Cincinnati-based Roto Rooter Services Co. released its list of the top five recoveries of 2005:

Explosive situation

On April 22, in Vicksburg, Miss., a Roto Rooter crew excavating a residential sewer main dug up a live Civil War cannon shell thought to be left over from the 1863 siege of Vicksburg. An Army ordnance disposal team later removed it.

Nine lives

In Greensboro, N.C., Bruce Shockley and crew rescued a cat from a storm sewer. "Angel" jumped from her elderly owner's arms into the sewer. The cat became disoriented and couldn't get out. Angel spent 24 hours underground before the crew excavated through earth and concrete to rescue her.

GI Joe rescue

Bloomington, Ill., Roto Rooter's Michael Woggon was sent to repair a toilet. Apparently, a 3-year-old boy at the residence had been training his GI Joes in deep-water rescue techniques. He sent one down the toilet. When it didn't come back, he sent a few more in after it. When none of the Joes returned, the boy flushed several Matchbox cars to find them. Altogether, Woggon recovered 15 toys from the drainpipe.

Smuggler's blues

In Ontario, Canada, police called Roto Rooter to recover a large stash of drugs and cash that suspects flushed down a toilet just as the cops entered the front door. It took John Dekker only minutes to recover all the evidence.

Tiny bottles

In Sacramento, Calif., Roto Rooter's Brek Ritzema and Scott Chapman were called to a business with a backed-up sewer main. Toilets and sinks were over-flowing, so the plumbers went to work on the clog. Finally, their equipment pulled out myriad empty miniature liquor bottles. An employee was apparently in the habit of drinking on the job and flushing the evidence.

Dave Teeter, owner of Action Drain Services in Craig, attested that a life in drain and septic services is rarely dull and can even be dangerous.

Action Drain Services has recovered toys, cell phones, baby bottles and baseballs from toilets and sewer lines.

Sometimes drain recovery takes ingenuity.

Teeter said one of his most memorable jobs was recovering an heirloom diamond ring from a drainpipe. The diamond ring had belonged to the customer's grandmother.

"She was very panicky," Teeter said.

Teeter and crew sent a camera down the line to find the ring. They dug up the ground around the sewer line. They cut the line and put a pair of pantyhose at the end of it. They flushed the ring out with a device called a jetter. The pantyhose netted the ring.

But there's also dangers that come with the job, Teeter said.

For one problem case, Action Drain Services had repeatedly sent a cable down a pipe, which was clogged by roots.

What crews didn't know was that the pipe had been cut by a high-voltage power line that serviced an entire neighborhood.

"If the cable would have tangled on the power line, it could have killed anybody on the other end of the cable," Teeter said.

Teeter said the jobs are rarely boring.

"The fun part is the challenge of the business and figuring out the problem," Teeter said.

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