A Shop-Vac, a labyrinth, and coax cable: It's MacGyver time!

A company asks the IT department to get a remote warehouse wired -- all through a ragtag underground conduit system

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The day arrived, and my co-worker and I drove the seven hours to the location. We walked the grounds as the previous owner showed us the serpentine route he had used to lay the conduit. It added about another 50 feet to the run, and he had never placed a pull rope inside the conduit. Our jaws almost dropped as he told us not to worry and use a "fish tape" and snake it through. As he drove off, my partner expressed my thoughts exactly when he noted that the longest fish tape we knew of was only 240 feet, and this conduit run had several T's and Y's to other buildings.

The action plan takes shape

Knowing that we were expected to make this work and having a great deal of pride in our ability to solve any problem, we mapped out the conduit runs on a piece of paper and began brainstorming. The conduits already contained several cables. Some were power, and some were 25-pair phone lines. Digging was out of the question, so we came up with a Plan B.

Because most of the conduits were open on the end, we went to the local building supply store and purchased caps for all of them. We also purchased the largest Shop-Vac available, along with a ball of kite string.

Back at the location, we drilled holes in the caps to match the existing cables, sawed the caps in half so we could install them, and sealed them around the cables.

We then addressed the two ends through which we needed to pass cables. We modified a cap to seal off the "entrance" side to about one half its normal size, then performed a similar operation to the "exit" end to permit the vacuum to be attached. We were ready to test our theory.

I blew a small amount of air into a baggie, tied the string to it, and lowered it into the conduit. We both had walkie-talkies, and I gave my coworker the signal to start the vacuum. However, the string spun off the spool so fast it actually cut through the conduit. I was afraid it would catch fire and so told my coworker to shut off the vacuum, which he immediately did. I was thinking through our next move, but we were in for a surprise. When my coworker opened the vacuum, he discovered he had the baggie and about 50 feet of string. Both of us gave a whoop for joy.

We now had a kite string, which was a key element but only a very small part of the battle. We spent the rest of the day attaching a thin pull rope to the kite string and manually pulling it through the pipes. Once that was completed, we used it to pull a half-inch rope though. Our arms were aching by day's end, but at least we had laid the foundation to complete the job the next day. The only problem: As hard as it had been to pass the pull rope through, our next step was to pull a 25-pair phone line and an outdoor jacketed fiber cable.

The following day we set up the spools of cable to feed through the conduit and connected them to the pull rope with two cable puller sleeves. We added two quarts of conduit lubricant where the cable started into the conduit. On the other end, we stationed a scissor lift as close to the conduit as possible. This permitted us to take an eight-foot pull with each "lift" of the scissor jack. It was an arduous job, but we got it done.

Our department also completed our preparations to the new facility ahead of schedule, meaning we still had an unblemished record for jobs completed. In spite of all the work involved or frustrations along the way, when things come together, it just felt great -- and experiences like this give you something to think about when current work challenges seem overwhelming.

Send your own IT tale of managing IT, personal bloopers, supporting users, or dealing with bureaucratic nonsense to offtherecord@infoworld.com. If we publish it, you'll receive a $50 American Express gift cheque.

This story, "A Shop-Vac, a labyrinth, and coax cable: It's MacGyver time!," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more crazy-but-true stories in the anonymous Off the Record blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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