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A running rope is used to pour lead joints. It is placed around the spigot end of the pipe at the bell to form a dam to hold the molten lead in place until it cools. Then is removed and a variety of caulking irons are used to make the seal tight. Lead joints were used for cast iron pressure pipe and dwv pipe. It is almost a lost art in the pipe fitting trade since mechanical joint and slip joint pipe is used for water lines and no hub and ferncos are used for dwv (not sure of all of the things used for dwv since I'm not in the plumbing trade, but I do quiet a bit of underground fire lines 6" to 10")
The dry part is that it is old and "dried out", they were made out of some kind of fabric in the shape of a rope with a clip to hold it together at the top of the joint to be able to pour in the molten lead.