I recently got a telephone call from my son, Anthony.

“Hey, backyard engineer,” he said, “How’s everything?”

That salutation was due because of my recent efforts—eventually successful—at turning your ordinary Coleman cooler into a fish live well for the 14 foot jon boat Ani and I recently bought so that we might take advantage of living close to the Rivanna Reservoir here in the Charlottesville area as well as to explore some of the Virginia lakes of various sizes.

The boat did not come with a live well but I was aware of a number of doityourself  conversions of coolers on Youtube and decided that from one of those I would devise my own.  I am not, by nature, greatly gifted with handyman talents but just how difficult could this be, anyway?  Well, maybe not difficult, but who would have guessed how many trips to Lowes (which is now fortunately much closer to where we live than in the past), how much money for various parts that don’t always quite work the way I’d thought, how many pieces would be left to put into a small box labeled “Left over from building live well.”  In short, I’m sure I could have bought a kit or even a finished converted cooler for less money not to mention the time spent figuring out how to make it work.  But then, it wouldn’t be mine, really, would it?

First the pump.  I bought online a fully submergible pump capable of moving 800 gallons of water per hour, more then enough but of course I’ve always been inclined to more than enough.  Reminds me of what TPS photographer Vince Musi told me once when his son was just a toddler and was denied something because it would have been too much, more than he should have, and the boy replied, “Could I have just a little bit of ‘too much.’”  That boy has a promising future, I’m sure.

So I’ve got the pump.  Now I needed the various pvc pieces that I would connect to the pump and eventually mount inside the cooler.  It would be one of these pvc pieces I would drill small holes into that would spray upon the surface of the water inside the cooler to provide oxygen and possibly comfort to the fish we may catch, and the minnows we may purchase for live bait.

I really wish I’d kept track of the number of trips to the plumbing department at the Charlottesville Lowes.  Isle 32 is where it’s all at in case you need to go there.  I bought some straight pieces, I bought connectors of various types, elbows, connectors with threads, without threads, some that looked exactly like what I needed but proved not to be.  I bought screws of various sizes, washers of nylon, bolts and nuts of different sizes,and, something I’m perhaps proudest of, a plastic electrical junction box that I could use to anchor my pump into by squeezing the sides just a little, jamming the pump in and then screwing in tea cup holding hooks on each side that I could use to loop the rubber bands that would hold the pump down in place.  Then I anchored it all to the bottom of the cooler with small bolts and nuts. All of this should probably be illustrated with a picture but I’m not good at that kind of picture taking.

I haven’t said anything about the cooler considerations.  Most Youtube demos called for a 48 quart cooler but being of the more is better ilk, I looked at coolers of every size I could find and finally went for a 70 quart cooler, a big white one that will also provide a middle seat in the boat which lacks one.  It was not an easy decision; trips to Wal Mart, Kay Mart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, the relatively new Gander Mountain store in C’Ville to see everything out there.  After buying the Coleman 70 quart version at Wal Mart,  I saw at Costco a magnificent cooler rated at well over 100 quarts.  But I might need a bigger boat to go with that one.

The short end of it is that I now have a working live well for our boat.  I demonstrated it to Anthony on his last trip home.  We still call it his home although he’s lived with his girlfriend in Richmond in a house they have rented and enjoyed for some time now.  I think Anthony was impressed by the powerful spray of water in the cooler and how I showed him the pump could be easily removed and lowered into the lake for both filling and emptying the cooler once on the lake.  I must say I’m still a little impressed that I finally got it all done and it functions well.  And it only took perhaps eight or nine trips to Lowes, plus all the other stores mentioned above, and an amount of money for which I don’t have the enthusiasm necessary to try to calculate.  It definitely wouldn’t be what one might call cost efficient.

Weather permitting, Ani and I will take the boat out tomorrow afternoon for the first time after building the live well.  Let’s hope all goes well.

Anthony, by the way, is becoming fairly handy himself.  He and Cary have raised three chickens that may actually produce eggs in the next month or two, or so they say.  And with the help of Cary’s father, Anthony built a chicken coop from some plans he found somewhere and it is quite nice.  It needs paint or stain and with all the rain we’ve had I think they’ve been a bit lax in that regard but it’s their chicken coop, not mine.

I can remember years ago when I was lying on my back on the driveway in front of our house, trying to repair something, maybe something on the lawn tractor or what ever, and Anthony was outside and I asked him to please get me the pliers from my toolbox that lay opened nearby.  I have never had what one might consider a serious toolbox and if someone, namely Ani, borrows something from it, I usually end up with less that I’d started with.  Tools don’t walk off by themselves and they don’t come back on their own I have always preached to no avail.  Anyway, when I asked Anthony for the pliers he said, “What’s that?”  I need to pause now for dramatic effect.

“What’s that??? I said, “What’s a …….pliers?” I may have used an expletive for emphasis, I don’t recall, but I was truly amazed that he had no idea what that was.  No image in his mind of that simple, every day, multipurpose device.  I continued to vocalize my amazement to which he eventually answered,  “Well, I know how to hunt and fish,” saying so with simple conviction and definite pride.  And he was right.  He did and does know how to do both those outdoor activities which I guess he got through me.  And after all, a pliers isn’t going to put venison on the table or some nice crappies on the grill.  He harvested two nice deer this past fall from which I wouldn’t mind getting a few more tenderloins if he can spare them.  And in a short time he’ll have eggs from those chickens he and Cary have named; he knows them and their habits quite well. In fact I think he’s become fascinated with them as I’ve heard and read that people who get into backyard chickens can do.  I’m not sure how it will be for he and Cary when the chickens outlive their egg producing lives.  In the meantime I’m hoping he and I can get out in the boat to do some fishing and put to use that time consuming, rather expensive live well his father created because he knew how to use a pliers.  Maybe Anthony didn’t know about pliers but I’m betting it will be Anthony who catches the fish.

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