The Big Rock Mystery
The idea of turning a little handle and having water flow on demand anywhere in the house was Buck Rogers stuff when I was growing up. Everyone had wells, and not the kind of fancy-pansy wells you see in pictures with the nice stone surround, a little roof, and a pulley and bucket system. Our wells were holes in the ground, and not small ones, like a pipe. They were big.
To dig a well, you first needed a witcher. My grandfather, George Thomas Ford, witched all the family wells. He probably witched for his neighbors as well, but I don't remember for sure. Witching is an amazing process, and it does have the appearance of magic.
Basically the two ends on the forked side of a tree branch are held one in each hand with the third (the
stem of the Y) pointing straight ahead. Some people preferred branches from a particular type of tree.
I don't know what Grandpa used. When water is found, the Y end of the stick will start vibrating and pull down toward the ground. Step a foot or two away from the water source and it quits. Step back and it starts again. I know, I know. Scientists say "impossible." I can only tell you it worked for my grandfather.
Once water was located, digging began. There was no power equipment. It was all done with pick and shovel. The hole had to be big enough for a man to work in it, swinging a pick ax. Usually, a second man was on top hauling up the dislodged dirt and rocks with a bucket on a rope. If working alone, the laborer had to haul buckets up the ladder himself.
Because of the construction method, the diameter of the hole could easily be three and a half to four feet. Once completed, a flat, wooden cover was laid over the top to keep critters and even people from falling in. A bucket with a rope attached sat on top of the cover. To retrieve water, the cover was removed, or, if it was hinged, folded back, the bucket was lowered, filled and pulled back to the top. All water used by the household and the farm was secured in this way.
My mom often told the story that when I was about three, she would charge me with watching my baby sister who was crawling, while she did the washing and outside chores. She said she'd be busy hanging the wash or something, and she'd hear Louise screaming bloody murder, and immediately knew she was trying to crawl onto the well cover, and I was trying to stop her. For some reason, Louise was fascinated with sitting on that cover.
One time Grandpa and his adult son were digging a well on their farm near Bee Branch, Arkansas. They reached a depth that was at least two times Grandpa's height when a large rock imbedded in the side near the top gave way and fell on him. Apparently, the rock was concealed by a thin layer of dirt and they didn't see it.
In a panic, Uncle Doc scrambled down and moved the rock off Grandpa who was unconscious. He ran to the house to tell Grandma. She hitched up the mules to the wagon and went to neighbors for help. Grandpa was seriously injured with several broken ribs and other injuries. It was months before he could resume work, so nearby neighbors came morning and night and did the milking, slopping the hogs, and all the other chores necessary to keep the farm running. They did this, not for just a day or two, but for months.
Once Grandpa was out of the well, Uncle Doc attempted to maneuver the rock to put ropes around it, thinking he had done it to move it off Grandpa, he could do it again. He couldn't budge it even an inch. It took two men manipulating two by fours for leverage in that tight space to get ropes around it, and a team of mules to pull it out.
Neighbors from all around came to check on Grandpa, bring food, and to see that rock. It became one of those family legends told and retold at family and social gatherings with much head shaking and wonder about how Uncle Doc could lift that rock off Grandpa and then couldn't even budge it a short time later.
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Photo credit: Moneymorning.com