Mike Swanton washes his feet at a pitcher pump he installed at the entrance to Middle Beach at Biddeford Pool. Result: No more sand between the toes when the shoes go on. Tammy Wells Photo

BIDDEFORD — What do you do when you’re mostly retired and like to bicycle and then walk Middle Beach, but want to get rid of the gritty sand between your toes before you don your sneakers?

If you’re retired plumber Michael Swanton, who finished up eight years on the Biddeford City Council last fall,  you  do some work and come up with a solution.

Former Biddeford resident Scott Crull of Pittsburgh, Pennslvania, on vacation here with his family, stopped to clear the sand from his feet at a relatively new foot washing station at Middle Beach. Tammy Wells Photo

Swanton likes to walk the beach — and he knows he’s not the only one who does who would like to clean the sand off their feet when they leave.

Using a bit of ingenuity, a few parts he had stored at his home, and after getting the okay from the Codes Enforcement Office, Swanton built a little foot-washing station. It’s just a step off the boardwalk to the beach and before the parking lot — and it does the trick, as some  happily learned on a sunny beach day last week.

Of course, it works best when you prime the pump.

Swanton said he came up with the idea for the foot washing station because of his own desire  to get rid of the grit.

“With my newly found free time, I have been taking my bike to Middle Beach in Biddeford and going for a walk on the beach in the afternoon,” said Swanton. “After my walk I would spend way too much time getting the sand off of my feet so I could get my sneakers back on and then pedal my bike home. I thought it would be cool to have a free place to rinse the sand off of your feet.”

So, he set to work.

“I have dug quite a few trenches along the Mile Stretch and Fortunes Rocks roads, so I know that there is a high water table there,” he said “I looked around my garage for spare parts and bought a few more from the hardware store and then one day in August of 2018 I installed a pitcher pump by the path to the beach. It is all legal. I called Code Enforcement for their blessing. I also called Dig Safe to make sure there weren’t any buried utilities.”

“If you want to know what a pitcher pump is “ask your grandmother,” said Swanton. “She will tell you about how she got water into the kitchen sink. She had a cast iron pump with a handle that you raise and lower and it sucked water out of the ground or a cistern.”

Swanton thought everybody knew how to use one, but learned otherwise.

“Quite a few people asked me what it was hooked up to and were quite surprised to find out the ground in that area is saturated with water,” he said. “Another thing that surprised me was that people have never learned what the expression ‘prime the pump’ really means. I have a one-gallon jug tied to the pump. I leave it full of water so that when the pump is dry you can pour a pint of water into the top. … This wets the seals and makes it possible to suck the water out of the ground.”

A surfer cleans the sand off his toes at a relatively new foot washing station at Middle Beach in Biddeford Pool. Tammy Wells Photo

On a recent weekday, a surfer paused to pump the handle to clean his feet, as did a vacationer, and the water gushed out.

Swanton said a neighbor recently went to use the pump, but it was dry, and so was the gallon sized bottle beside it.

So, a week ago he typed a few lyrics from an old Kingston Trio Song, called “Desert Pete” that sort of explains things, and posted it near the pump: “Drink all the water you can hold, wash your face, cool your feet; leave the bottle full for others, thank you kindly, Desert Pete.”

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