It seems strange that water should flow from the ground 50 feet from the top of a steep hill, but so it was with the spring where we got our water for several years. Beneath the gnarled roots of a giant oak was a tiny cliff-like rock formation, about four feet tall. From a horizontal crack near the bottom of that rock ran the sweetest, coolest water that you could imagine. It flowed onto a small flat area of stone, perhaps three feet across then, at one time, down the hill no doubt. However, soon after he bought the place in 1946, Granddad made two sides and a partial front around that stone with hard red brick and lime mortar, so a catch-basin of about 30 gallons was formed. A rough lumber screen door of half-inch hardware cloth kept critters and leaves out of the spring, for the most part.
Jutting into that catch basin, through the short front wall was an iron pipe through which the water flowed, by gravity, to a square wash tub about 400 feet away in the valley below. The wash tub was held in place by iron rods driven into the ground through the two hinged handles, so it wouldn’t get knocked from its position by the jugs and buckets that dipped water from it. The pipe ended just high enough above the back rim of the tub that the tin cup, which always hung upside down on the iron rod on the right, could be filled directly from the pipe without getting it in the water that filled the tub. I have no idea how many folks drank from that tin cup over the years but, as far as I know, no-one ever died from using it.
The water flowed from that pipe winter and summer, through soggy seasons and droughts, with little variation in volume. In warm weather, the tub was surrounded by water mint and wild touch-me-nots, with a few day-lilies thrown in for good measure. Dragon-flies (snake-feeders we called them) often perched on the weeds and hovered around the tub. Invariably, your presence would result in some sprig of mint being crushed and the air would suddenly have a sweet spiciness to it. When ripe, the touch-me-nots could be wonderfully entertaining to a kid in no hurry to fill his containers and be off. From the front edge of the tub, the water spewed into a tiny ditch that ran to a small brook about 15 feet away.
Before the days of hauling water, which meant before our old hand-dug well silted in, the tub and the stream held much fascination for a small boy. With the same weeds along the stream as were by the tub, the area always smelled good and provided entertainment. So did the snake-feeders darting around and the water bugs skittering over the surface of the quieter areas of the little run. Sometimes, there were minnows or crawdads to be seen, and strings of green algae that would make you slide on the rock bottom if you weren’t careful. Even water snakes occasionally made a hasty escape, making me jump from surprise nearly every time. I guess you’re a little cautious about long, skinny things that wiggle when you’re barefoot.
A few years later, when carrying water was a way of life, it was often my chore to drive the family car up to my grandparents and fill the jugs. We had two and five gallon jugs for water to bath in. They would be filled, as much as possible, from the tub. The drinking water, though, went into recycled gallon milk jugs, which were always filled straight from the pipe. Then, I had to carry the jugs back across the narrow footbridge to the car, which waited in the driveway, on the other side of the stream. The footbridge was made of two decent-sized poles with rough lumber nailed from one to the other. It always developed a nice up and down motion when walked on, giving me a chance to develop my “sea legs.”
I wasn’t the only one to walk the footbridge, though. Several other area families had no running water in their homes, either temporarily or permanently, and depended on the spring. Also, some of Granddad’s city acquaintances would come out to get “real” drinking water, rather than the chemical-laced poison that came from the public water system.