Editor's note: Tim Hunt, the 2002 Termite Technician of the Year and a PCO with 23 years of experiences, shares his crawlspace adventures.
Crawlspace?" Huh? Who named these things? Most of the time "inaccessible-except-by-the-double-jointed-ninety-eight-pound-contortionists" is more appropriate. I can just imagine the builder of some of these houses (some sadistic sap who knew he would never set foot on the property again) saying to himself as he designed the place: "Someday, some guy will have to get under this floor to fix the heater, the plumbing, or check for termites — and I hate them all. I’ll put a footing here and a drop hole here and they can get in but will never get out!" Then he chuckles and digs and as he finishes the floor he says, "Now for the access, I will put it in the smallest closet that will be packed with the most stuff, and line it with nails and carpet tack. Or shall I put it outside where the people will most likely tie up the rottweiler?"
Thankfully, not all houses have crawlspaces. When I inspect the houses that don’t, I am eternally grateful. But occasionally I have to refrain from punching some real estate agents who drive up in their brand new Navigators to a condo that I need to inspect which takes about five minutes, then call me "easy money." In my mind I say, "Listen bud. Yes, this one was easy, but if you had been in the rat hole I just came from you would think I don’t get paid nearly enough."
I have been in so many crawlspaces that it hurts to think about it. I have learned you don’t prepare for them. You don’t think about the cobwebs, the spiders, or the dirt — you just dive in. I have come face-to-face with skunks (rabid I’m sure), been bitten by spiders, scratched by cats and glared at by rodents.
I’m grateful for the new PVC plumbing — it hurts my head a lot less. The old cast iron stuff actually breaks if it’s old and corroded. I hate it when your head is in terrible pain and you can hardly breathe because of the smell. I also think it’s my duty to report plumbing problems to the homeowner.
GIVING THANKS. It was 1998, the day before Thanksgiving. I had finished my work for the day and was headed home, looking forward to a long weekend. But as often happens, my cell phone rang. It was just as I had suspected, some real estate agent, who says, "Hey ol’ buddy, this is Jack."
"Jack who?" I reply.
"Jack T. Ripper. You remember me, you do inspections for me," he says.
My mind searches. Oh yeah, Jack Ripper, I did do one inspection for him almost a year ago, another spur of the moment thing. He showed up a half hour late, offered no apology, and after I inspected the place he called me "easy money." I didn’t even get paid for it either. I answer, trying to hide the disgust in my voice, "Hey Jack."
"Well, just thought I’d send some more business your way. Can you handle some more work?" he asks.
I know the creep has been using some other PCO just to save two bucks and probably couldn’t get ahold of him or talk him into doing it.
"I suppose I can do it. Monday morning after the holiday," I said. I should have added that "there is no way you will get me to do it any sooner." But I didn’t.
"Oh no can do, ‘ol buddy, this has to be done tonight so we can close first thing Friday morning. You don’t mind working one more in tonight, do you?" he asks.
"I think you still owe me for the last one, don’t you?" I calmly ask.
"No way bro! I’m sure I paid, but I’ll check my files first thing Monday morning. If you’re right I’ll make it up to you big time. So you’re gonna help me right?"
I hate it when people I hardly know call me ‘ol buddy and bro, and say no can do. I have been told I have "SUCKER" written right across my forehead. However, I think my price has just doubled for tonight. "What’s the address, Jack?" I ask.
He gives me the address and as I might have guessed, it’s clear out in the boonies. "Okay, I can meet you there in 20 minutes," I reply.
"No hurry, the house is vacant and there’s a crawlspace access in back. Do the inspection and call me if there are any problems," he says.
SUCKER was starting to burn. I drove to the house and, sure enough, there was a crawlspace access, right behind an overgrown rose bush. The access door was, as usual, small, so I emptied my pockets, including my cell phone, and set the stuff by the opening. I put my coveralls on and headed into the hole. Why do roses have thorns, I wondered, as I saw some blood appear on my hands. I also thought of some allegory of rose thorns and real estate agents.
I wiggled my way into the hole and found a half-decent opening that led over to the furnace, which was attached to the floor of the house and suspended over the dirt. I looked around and there was no way past the furnace unless I slithered underneath it, so I just shined my flashlight past it. I could see some old scrap wood on the soil in the back and thought to myself, "All right! I bet there are termites in that wood."
I found a small board and scraped some dirt from under the furnace so I could fit. I felt a kinship with the snake as I worked myself under and to the other side. I was able to reach the scrap wood. I inspected the wood and found no termites or evidence of termite activity.
I proceeded to make my way out. What I hadn’t noticed when I went under the furnace the first time, was the amount of dirt I had kicked into the hole. Trying to get up the other side going back was a much tighter fit. In fact, it was so tight I started to get wedged into the furnace. My arms were out in front and I tried to grab something solid to pull myself out. I found nothing but loose dirt. I tried to push with my feet but they were jammed into the dirt. The more I wiggled the tighter I got stuck and the harder it was to breathe. I tried digging with my flashlight. No good. I took it apart and tried to dig. I was getting nowhere.
CLOSE QUARTERS. I have often wondered how a mouse feels when it gets stuck on a glueboard. This had to be close. Does he die of starvation, thirst, or muscle cramps? I wondered if I was about to find out.
I wiggled and pushed and tried to dig out, but I couldn’t get my hands under to where it did any good. I was stuck big time. I started to think about what was going to happen. My wife was not going to be home until later that night. She would come home and wonder where I was but have no way of knowing. Nobody except Jack knew where I was. Nobody that cares about me knew Jack. As far as I knew, nobody would come to that house until the next week.
Probably after two days I might make the news. "Has anybody seen this man?" Would Jack be watching? If he was, would he remember what I look like? I worried if my life insurance was caught up, and if they would pay out for crawlspace deaths. I wondered about dying and if when you die and get to the other side, do angels come running up and say, "Happy death day!"
I had now been stuck about two hours. It had been a nice day but now it was starting to get cold. The sweat from my struggles made it even colder. It was dark outside. Twice I had heard my cell phone ring. If only I had kept it in my pocket. If only I had told somebody. If only this, if only that. I went through about a hundred "if onlys" and a thousand "whys." I committed myself to about a hundred promises that started with "If I ever get out of this…" About eight o’clock as I was offering up my fifteenth or sixteenth prayer I thought I saw a flash of light. Had I bumped my flashlight? Had I fallen asleep? Am I flipping out? Is that proverbial "light at the end of the tunnel" already appearing?
Then I heard a car door open and shut! "Hey! Is somebody there?" I asked. No response, so I yelled again. I heard footsteps and somebody hollered into the hole, "Tim, is that you? Why are you working so late ‘ol buddy?"
"Jack?" I asked.
"You guester, Chester," Jack replied.
"I’m stuck Jack. The dirt caved in on me. I can’t get out," I said.
"Do you want some help?," he asked.
I have been asked some stupid questions in my day but that one takes top prize.
"Well I’m in my good clothes," he said.
"Tell you what ‘ol buddy, I won’t charge you for this inspection or the one you didn't pay for last time and you can use the money to buy you some new clothes. Is that fair?" I said. I probably would have offered a few thousand more had he asked – but he didn’t.
"Oh, all right. What do I need to do?" he asked.
Jack found an old hoe by the house and slithered in. He looked at me and started to laugh. "Hey ol’ buddy what would you have done if I hadn’t come here?" he asked.
"I dunno, why did you come back?" I asked.
"Had to pick up the key box. I thought about waiting till tomorrow afternoon, or next week, but had a feeling that I needed to get it tonight," he responded.
A NEW PERSPECTIVE. It took ol’ buddy Jack about an hour to dig me out. I was more than happy to squeeze past that old rose bush again. I thanked Jack, wrote up the papers and offered him even more money and to my surprise he turned it down.
"Hey," he said. "If you can’t help out an ‘ol buddy, what good are you? Besides, I’m the one that got you into this mess."
I repented of a lot of bad thoughts I had about real estate agents. I got home close to the that night. My wife got home after I had cleaned up. The first thing she said was: "Hi Hon, how was your day?"
I answered, "Okay I guess, but tell me something, what does Thanksgiving mean to you?"