Press Fittings Help Plumber Conquer Remote Mountain Job

To replace 44 couplings on a 1,000-foot-long waterline running from a mountaintop tank to a Boy Scout camp and still keep the job profitable, Mike Purkey relied on press tool technology

Press Fittings Help Plumber Conquer Remote Mountain Job

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Two things stood between Mike Purkey and the biggest job of his plumbing career: climbing a mountain and getting the work done before the snow started to fly.

The job was at Camp Oljato, a Boy Scouts facility located at 7,200 feet elevation in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Creek Fire had burned through the camp in September 2020, destroying some of the buildings. The Boy Scouts were having a hard time finding contractors to rebuild it: The job was too remote, the logistics too difficult.

When Purkey, owner of Purkey’s Plumbing in Auberry, California, heard about the job, he hesitated before bidding. It wasn’t the 90-minute commute one way from his home that bothered him; he liked to drive. Rather it was getting from the camp to a water tank at the top of a mountain, impassable even for Purkey’s 4x4 pickup.

Purkey would be working with his apprentice, Mikey Vargas, but even if they’d wanted to make the hike up and down from the camp daily, there was no way they could have carried all the materials, including 20-foot lengths of 4-inch pipe. So Purkey included a new $23,000 six-seater ATV in his bid. When the Boy Scouts accepted, that was one problem solved.

That left the work itself. The primary job was replacing 44 couplings on a 1,000-foot-long galvanized-steel waterline that ran from a mountaintop tank down to the camp. While the pipe itself survived the fire, the flames had destroyed the couplings. Threading the pipe sections back together would take months and require a heavy threader, which would have made the job unprofitable. Additionally, the Boy Scouts wanted Purkey to plumb new latrines and showers, which made the timetable even tighter.

“I wanted to do the job, but it was going to be a huge time commitment, and it had to make sense financially,” he says.

Purkey, who had always wanted to try pressing, thought it might be a good fit for the job. A Viega rep recommended MegaPress and lent Purkey a press tool, MegaPressXL PressBooster and jaws. Knowing there would be no one at the top of the mountain to help him, Purkey scheduled two online instructional sessions through Viega Works to make sure he knew what he was doing. 

But before Purkey could pick up a press tool, he had to use a chainsaw, cutting down 15 to 20 trees to clear a path for the ATV and make room to work on the waterline, which ran between trees and underneath brush.

“I’m a mountain boy,” Purkey says. “I’ve had to cut trees before for jobs, but not this many.”

Once that was completed, Purkey and Vargas settled into a routine: Every morning, they drove the pickup — with the ATV on a trailer — to the camp, unloaded the ATV, filled it up with supplies and tools, and climbed the mountain. At the end of each day, they drove back down the mountain, loaded the ATV on the trailer and headed home.

“I do mostly residential work, but this wasn’t like working in someone’s basement,” Purkey says. “This was something completely different and posed challenges I’d never run into before.”

Besides cutting trees and working on steep terrain, it meant keeping an eye out for bears and cougars, which live in the mountains. The fire had knocked out electrical power, so Purkey and Vargas depended on generators to charge their battery-powered tools. And forgetting a tool or part at home or down the mountain could ruin a whole day.

“You couldn’t beat the view, though,” Purkey says. “It was absolutely gorgeous, nothing but woods. I loved it.”

The real test, however, came when Purkey started pressing fittings on the waterline. Even after the helpful online classes, he was impressed with how easy it was to press in the field.

“Using MegaPress has been a lifesaver on this job,” he says. “It’s fast, easy and reliable. I estimate it saved me 10 to 20 days of labor on this project.”

Even when he discovered that some 20-foot sections of pipe were so corroded they had to be replaced, pressing allowed him to add the new pipe quickly. He also used MegaPress Press-In Branch Connectors to run lines from the main line to the new latrines.

“It was a great business decision to use Viega,” he says. “I can’t say enough about it. I couldn’t have done it without it. If I hadn’t had Viega, I probably would have lost a lot of money.”

He also saw the strength of Viega fittings when a few fire-damaged trees fell on the waterline over the summer. “The fittings didn’t budge,” he says. “Took the impact without a leak. That’s a tough product.”

In mid-October, Purkey and Vargas left the mountain before the winter snows made access impossible. They expect to be back in the spring to finish up a few details, but Boy Scout troops are reserving their spots for next summer at Camp Oljato.



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