A Poor Student's Swimming Pool, and the Computer Center

Of my readers who have read this far, how many of you are familiar with the climate in central Virginia, USA? It's nowhere as hot or humid as the true tropics, but to college students in the middle of the 20th century, it was pretty bad. The dormitories of the college had been built some 100 years or more previously. The basement of one which housed the Computer Center, totally lacked air conditioning (excepting the main computer room).

Of the dozen or so buildings on campus, maybe one, the college administration building, had air conditioning. And no swimming pool. There was a river, some 5 miles or so away, which was used by some lucky students who had cars. The rest of us sweated it out during the Virginia spring and early summer.

So one evening in the computer center, with all of the windows open, a fan blowing hot air all around the computer work room (not the room which housed the computer), and all inside dripping sweat, we noticed that the walls were sweating. And the wall sweat grew thicker, until it was like a gentle rain.

OK, one of the toilets overhead (a 3 floor dormitory with a dozen or so 2-student rooms / floor) was obviously having problems. So one of the SAs decided to stroll upstairs and see where the problem was, before calling a plumber for emergency service. We were well aware that the IBM 1800 had no tolerance for water.

And Keith, IIRC properly, came back from his stroll with an incredible tale. He was heading up to the second floor, and was met by a 2 foot wall of water rushing down the stairs, and by then gushing into the computer room too. And here is the tale.

Each dormitory floor, housing maybe 12 2 student rooms, had communal bathrooms, one / floor. Each bathroom was a cavernous place, with a row of a dozen or so sinks against one wall, and toilets against another. And showers in a separate small room off the main room.

The bathroom had 10 foot ceilings, and was let's say 40 feet deep (from the door to the outside wall), and maybe 30 feet wide. In the front of the bathroom (next to the hallway door) were the showers, half a dozen showerheads sticking out of the wall, in a small room with 5 foot high cinderblock (waterproof) walls. The doorway to the shower room was a simple hole in the cinderblocks, with a foot high threshold, to stop water from leaking out into the main bathroom (ha ha).

So here you have a 5 foot high room, with open walls, and a doorway with a foot high threshold. In a room used by 25 or so overheated students in a Virginia early summer. And one student looked at the shower room, and saw a swimming pool. It didn't take a lot of work, just 3 or 4 bedboards placed over the doorway, the drains in the floors plugged up with sheets, towels, and whatever clothing was available, and all the cold water turned on fully, and the room filled up quite nicely. As the water filled up the room, the water pressure held the bed boards in place. And a dozen or so lucky students could enjoy paddling around a 10 by 20 foot 4 foot deep swimming pool.


As I said, the bathroom main room having a 10 foot ceiling, and the shower room walls being 5 foot high, that left a 5 foot gap over the walls which was used for entrance to the swimming pool. And it worked quite well, until one of the students (or maybe more than one) got out of control.

And dived into the pool.

The 4 or so bed boards (1/4" plywood), covering the shower room door, weren't designed to hold the weight of, say, 1,000 cubic feet of water. So what do you think happened?

Crack went the bed boards, and sploosh went the water.

Luckily, the bathroom was overhead of the computer work room and offices. The room where the computer itself sat got only a trickle of water, as it came gushing into the basement, and down the drains there. But it took several weeks before the walls dried completely. And carpenters, electricians, and plumbers were involved in the following week or so too.

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