Dear Dr. Scribblertrunk:
I’m glad you wrote about the lost river under Lancaster’s Water Street (“Scribbler” column, March 18). A public works employee mentioned to me that some of the water or sewer lines are still hollowed out tree trunks. Is this true?
Your question is a good one, Craig. A couple of years ago, Philadelphia workers dug up hollow tree trunks that had been installed around 1812 to carry water. But they had been replaced by iron pipes in 1831.
“As far as I know, we don’t have any wooden pipes in the system,” says Ruth Hocker, Lancaster city’s stormwater program manager. The oldest materials still being used to convey sewage and stormwater to the Conestoga River, she adds, are brick, concrete and terra cotta. She doesn’t know of any wooden water lines either.
Coincidentally, the Scribbler talked with Bill Sell, of East Petersburg, who worked as a surveyor’s assistant in the city’s engineering department from 1964 to 1971. Sell walked through the sewers — from Chestnut Street south three or four blocks — searching for lateral connections.
“Along Water Street, those were 108-inch and 86-inch sewer lines made of different materials, mainly brick,” he recalls. “Those two lines carry most of the city’s sewage and stormwater. At that time, we had planned to replace the brick with reinforced concrete.”
Hollowed out tree trunks might have been used two centuries ago, he said, but no tree is large enough to form a 108-inch pipe. He added that he doubted wood would hold up for decades under constant assault by caustic sewage.
Sell admits he was a new, 20-something city employee willing to take on any assignment, including walking through pipes in waist-deep raw sewage, breathing methane gas, searching for lateral lines.
“We were walking in them and the railroad was a foot above our heads. That was scary. That was noisy,” he says.
It was also potentially dangerous. “A supervisor told me, ‘If you hear air coming down there, duck,’ because right behind the air flow would be water and sewage.”
Duck? Better to fly out of there.
Dear Dr. Scribblerhannes:
What is the correct spelling for “schinnerharness” and can you give readers the bloody details? Also, is that the practitioner or the practice? I’m sure my late brother, Mel, could tell me. Now I rely on you for all things Pennsylvania German.
The Scribbler is certain that Mel (AK Jakey Buddershnip, the Amish storyteller) would have known more than one joke about a schinnerhannes.
The spelling the Scribbler uses comes from the late C. Richard Beam’s “Abridged Pennsylvania German Dictionary,” which defines “schinnerhannes” as a “scavenger, man who carted carcasses to the Ludermiehl for rendering.”
So that answers your second question, Bob: a schinnerhannes is a practitioner. He practices hauling dead horses and other large deceased animals to a rendering plant where they can be sliced and diced.
Dead horses formerly supplied a considerable amount of collagen for manufacturing glue (which is why ludermiehls were popularly known as “glue factories”). But synthetic glues have mostly taken over that market. So now a dead horse is just a dead horse.
Jack Brubaker, retired from the LNP staff, writes “The Scribbler” column every Wednesday. He welcomes comments and contributions at email@example.com.