Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Cleaning Out The Springs

Like many folks who’ve grown up in the country, I’m well acquainted with springs, wet-weather springs and seeps. When I was little, we had water from a 44 foot deep, hand-dug well, just a few feet from our hilltop home. My uncle had put a pump on it in the past, so we had running water. The old hot-water tank with its side-mounted heating-coil, with its always burning gas flame, sat in the bathroom. With no pressure relief valve that I was aware of, I always wondered if it was a ticking time-bomb, but it never exploded. We had good water—no salt or mineral taste—just cool, clear and refreshing. Eventually, that well silted in, through no fault of our own, and we had to start hauling water from my grandparent’s places.

The spring at my paternal grandparents was, surprisingly enough, 2/3’s of the way up the hill behind their house. At some point in the past, Granddad (or somebody) had built a small concrete catch-basin there that closed with a heavy wooden lid, covered with tin, and held down with a heavy piece of sandstone. It sealed as good as gravity could make a wood-to-concrete joint fit, but it wasn’t perfect. On rare occasions, a small crawdad would get it and make it his home for a while. You never knew about it unless you checked the spring, or the crawdad died. When the latter occurred, the water began to have an off taste and you knew it was PAST time to check the spring, and it was time for some elbow-grease and bleach. By God’s grace, no-one ever got sick from it.

There was a fine screen on the exit pipe for the water, which then gravity fed into a nearby brick cistern. The top of the cistern came up about a foot above ground, so there were no worries of a crawdad getting in. Like the spring, it was covered with a wood, tin and stone covering. From the cistern, the water was piped, by gravity, into the kitchen of my grandparent’s home and to the milk house. There was never any hot tap-water in their home, only a garden style spigot on a tall standpipe in the kitchen, with a small movable cabinet underneath that you could set a bucket atop. When Dad returned from WW II, he installed a hot water tank and a shower down in the milk house, and that was where they bathed from then on. The heater for it was a simple ring of flames beneath the tank. Miraculously, it never exploded either. It was in the milk house that we filled the jugs and lidded buckets with water to take home with us. Ironically, my grandparents and their five children had moved out of a larger house on the farm, because it didn’t have running water.

At my maternal grandparents place, about a mile up the road, the spring sat across the hollow and almost to the top of the hill. The water flowed from the base of a three-foot-tall rock face that had a huge oak tree sitting atop it. In the past, someone had bricked up the front of the exit hole and made a small concrete catch-basin for the water to accumulate slightly before it ran through a hardware cloth cover and into the pipe down the hill. The flow was heavy enough that no cistern was needed. It was piped into their house, both to the kitchen and the bathroom, though I remember the days before the bathroom. (Their old outhouse had been a two-holer which, as a kid, I thought was both novel and a little disturbing.) At the foot of the hill, a second pipe dumped its flow into a galvanized wash tub. Wild mint grew thickly around the tub, and the least bruising by hand, foot or bucket filled the air with scent. Drinking water could be had by simply putting your container under the end of the pipe. Wash water could be dipped from the tub. There was a stake beside the tub with an aluminum drinking cup hung upside down over the top. That’s where Granddad (and any other bold soul (not me)) often got a drink. Neighbors with no running water, and former country folks who couldn’t abide drinking city water, were allowed to come and fill their containers. Otherwise, the tub just over-flowed and the water ran into the run. I remember that spring had more trouble with crawdads than the one at my other grandparents, and needed cleaned out more often.

There were several springs on our farm, but since we lived on the hilltop, none were easily accessible from the house. They came in handy for the cattle though. Of nine springs, seven were in the pasture fields, though the one was set up for use at my grandparents. There were also a couple seeps where cattle could at least wet their “whistles,” if not fill their bellies. Being cattle, though, they’d just as soon walk through their water, and pee and poop in it as drink from it. Animals can be disgustingly like some people at times in their stupidity. As a result, about once a month, we’d have to make the rounds of the springs and shovel out a hole big enough to collect a useable amount of water. Sometimes, this involved scraping a little dam up in front of the flowing water to hold a little extra. The cattle seemed to enjoy the bigger pools then available, until they eventually trod the pool and any dam to pieces and were once again drinking from cow tracks. We could have fenced the springs and made a place where they had to stick their heads through to drink, but with all those springs, plus the runs in two hollows to drink from, it didn’t seem worth the time and money to do so. We still would have needed to check the springs every so often anyway. Dad DID finally develop the spring closest the house and put in a big 200 gallon concrete water trough. That became their favored “watering hole” then.

It’s funny the things we look back on with fondness. I don’t miss hauling water for washing, but I still haul water for drinking, even though it comes from the store. Like the people back then who left the country for life in town, I can’t abide city water, either. Plus, even after the cattle were long gone, and my father as well, I sometimes found myself walking the old pasture and checking the springs. It was deer tracks then that showed in the muddy edges, but I figured they needed a good drink, too. I’m sure they’d prefer it to city water, too. © 2013


Chickenmom said...

I remember my Grandmother's farm in N.H. - hand pump by the kitchen sink. The barn across the road that held the buckboard and horse stalls was a favorite place to play.

Gorges Smythe said...

We've nearly all got some memories that are precious to us, Cm. It always amazes me when I meet someone who claims not to be nostalgic in any way. I figure they're either lying or they're weird (or both).

Ralph Goff said...

Water is always a fascinating subject Gorges. I have three types in the house here. A cistern collects rain water for washing. A deep well with water too hard to drink supplies most other uses including cattle. Drinking water I haul from a community well. No chemicals that I know of.

Gorges Smythe said...

Community wells are unheard of in this state, Ralph. The way our government is, they probably wouldn't even be legal.

Pumice said...

Interesting. I wonder if the old water heater survived because they were not as air tight as modern ones. At least one of them you mentioned was a gravity feed which would give a natural release of too much pressure.

Also, when the well silted up, couldn't it be dug out again or had the county made that illegal?

Grace and peace.

Gorges Smythe said...

You're absolutely right about the one, The other had a pump that contained a small water reservoir and an air bladder, so maybe that served the same purpose, although I know that my dad adjusted the flame sometimes. As for the silt, it was a 44 foot hand-dug well, and few people will do that kind of work anymore. Plus, to keep it from silting back in, the stonework needed relaid in the top nine feet of the well, and it's hard to find anyone to do that anymore, too, Pumice.

Crystal Mary said...

Wonderful reminiscing.. Times back then we so much harder and yet life was slower also. No one had much but we were more content with our little, than today with our plenty.
We only had a cold water tap in the house and one in the wash shed not far from the back door. I always appreciate inside water. Bottled water is not always what its cracked up to be. We drink filtered city water which tastes okay, and we have never been sick from it. Ray put in an extra water tank which is used for the garden, but if necessary can be drank. I need to get some of those straws that make water drinkable.

Gorges Smythe said...

I've thought about getting a couple of those straws to keep in the truck, Crystal. Only some bottled water works for us. Spring water that hasn't been overly "improved" is usually best.