Repair efforts go down the drain


On those rare Saturdays I am feeling ambitious, I attempt to fix the bathtub pop-up drain, or more accurately, the bathtub drain that formerly popped up.

Now instead of rising to the occasion, the drain stopper sits there ajar, like a guy who has fallen asleep with his mouth half-open. It is not a pretty sight.

Even in its slack-jaw state, the drain still works. It services a combination shower and bathtub. While showering I have noticed that the cockeyed-stopper may be unsightly, but it doesn't get in the way of water swirling down the drain.

However, the bathtub users in our household are not pleased with the way the stopper behaves. They report that when the tub is filled with water, the stopper is extremely difficult to move. They report that this presents a real problem when, after the soaking has ended, it comes time to empty the tub. The lever that is supposed to make the stopper jump up from the drain does nothing. The stopper has to be pried up from the drain with wet fingertips, which, I am told, is not easy.

When the first reports of the bathtub problem reached me, I proposed a simple solution. Namely, stop taking baths. The bathtub users told me this was not an acceptable solution. What sense is there in owning a bathtub, they asked, if you are reluctant to fill it? Rather than wade into these philosophical waters - before you know it we would be asking, "Is the drain half-closed or half-open?" - I promised to fix the drain.

It turned out to be an empty promise.

I tried. I unscrewed the plate covering the overflow vent near the top of the tub. Slowly, I withdrew the vertical components of the assembly from the nether reaches of the tub's front wall. Then I attacked the other end of the problem, the drain, grasping the stopper, wiggling it loose and pulling its long snaky, horizontal assembly out.

With the two assemblies before me, I considered them like an archeologist studying the remains of a mastodon. I removed matted hair from the large spring of the vertical assembly and examined the threaded rod connecting the spring to the vent lever.

Then like a dental hygienist, I scrubbed the sullied surfaces with a vinegar-soaked toothbrush. I was careful not to let any part of either assembly fall off. I knew that if any piece wandered from its home, I would have to figure out where to return it. That scared me.

The assemblies were much cleaner and much brighter when returned to their dank quarters. First I snaked the vertical assembly down the vent opening. When it was in place, I secured it by tightening the two screws holding the overflow vent plate. Next the stopper assembly slithered into the drain.

When both assemblies were in place, I flipped the lever connected to top of the vertical assembly. The stopper should have popped up out of the drain. It didn't. Instead it sat there - cleaner, brighter, but still uncooperative. Somehow it had lost the spring in its joints. While I was sympathetic, I was also frustrated.

Once again I pulled the assemblies out of the darkness. Once again I put them back, this time placing the horizontal assembly in first, then the vertical components. Once again the stopper refused to pop up.

I have narrowed the problem down to two possible causes. One is that the rocker arm in the horizontal assembly is not rocking the way it once did. Hey, it happens. The other is that the horizontal and vertical assemblies are not touching each other. This could mean there is a missing link down there, dwelling somewhere in our plumbing.

I'm not sure how to deal with either scenario, reviving an old rocker or finding a missing link. For the time being I am coping with the situation by thinking deep thoughts and taking long showers.

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