IN 1983, WHEN THE IRRIGATION industry was still very young, Dave Kredit went to work with his father at Kredit Lawn Sprinkler and Outdoor Lighting in Phoenix, Arizona. A short time after he joined the firm, he fielded a call from a client who was complaining that part of his irrigation system wasn't working. Not being fully familiar with the problem, Kredit went to the property to check it out. He began with the controller, which worked. He then checked the valves -- all but one worked.

It was then determined that the fault lay in the wire -- possibly a break. The $64,000 question: where do you dig to find the broken wire?

Even if the problem is something as small as a gopher nibbling on the wire, you could be out there all day trying to find it. That's exactly what happened to Dave Kredit. Looking for the break was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

The time and labor spent looking for a broken line is very time consuming and labor intensive, and very costly, yet this was not an uncommon occurrence for Kredit and other contractors. Today, there are special tools available to make the process easier.

One of these tools came to market just about the time Kredit was discussing the problem of broken wires with his irrigation distributor. The distributor showed him a new product: a wire locator, model 521, made by Progressive Electronics, a Mesa, Arizona-based company. The device was capable of locating a broken wire without having to dig up the entire landscape.

To be more precise, the product was a wire and valve locator. It locates a buried wire or valve by sending a signal to a hand-held receiver. The user attaches a transmitter to the controller, and then using the receiver, traces the signal up and down the lawn, waving the receiver and listening for a specific sound. The locator produces a range of 'eerie' sounds, not unlike a submarine's sonar device, indicating a nick or break in the line below.

When following a line, a user has to listen not only for certain sounds, but for the lack of them. "If a line's running under a patio, or even a pool, you can determine where it is and then go from there," says Kredit. "When the receiver picks up a break, it's dead-on. The device has a distinct sound that dies off when it passes the break." Sounds better than random digging, doesn't it? Kredit was a little leery about this new product, so the distributor suggested that he rent the unit for a short period of time to use in the field. The rest, as they say, is history.

Kredit has been using this wire and valve locator ever since. "It's a device you can't afford to live without," he says.

The 521 is still around today. Now owned by Greenlee, a Textron company, the product line has been expanded since those early days. They now offer a full line of fault-finding equipment, electrical test instrumentation as well as other tools designed to save the contractor both time and money.

Beyond finding irrigation lines, the unit makes it easy to locate sprinkler valves that have been irresponsibly buried underground.

Kredit says, "You could go out to someone's home and look out over the lawn, and the valves could be anywhere under there." Once found, these valves can be properly installed in a valve box. Back in 1984, when Kredit was first getting acquainted with the new tool, he was renting it every time he needed it. When he realized that he was using it about once every two weeks, he decided it was time to invest in his own unit. As a result, he was able to drum up more work by greatly reducing the cost of repairs for his customers. His wise investment paid for itself in less than two years. Kredit has had the same unit now for more than a decade, and he's had to send it in for repairs only twice. In fact, he's become so enthusiastic about its capabilities that he has become one of Greenlee's staunchest supporters.

Until recently, the model 521 had been the same for nearly 25 years. Now, based on feedback from longtime customers, Greenlee has released an updated model, the 521A. Whereas the old model required the user to wear a headset, the new 521A has an audible speaker. For guys in the field in unbearably hot weather, this makes a difference. But it is also a major safety factor; wearing headphones doesn't allow the user to hear traffic and its accompanying hazards. Other enhancements that contractors have requested have also been added to the new 521A.

Just remember, making minor repairs these days doesn't have to be miner's work. After all, the year is 2007 and the irrigation business is in . . . well, 'full bloom.' Thanks to technology like the wire and valve locator, yours can be, too.