Since many of my readers tend to be geezerly sorts like myself, I’m sure this subject will ring a bell for a few folks. I can just barely remember when the OLD barn was standing at our farm. Dad built the new one in 1961 using only hand tools. He did have some occasional help from his father, brother-in-law and a couple nephews, though.
What was left of the old barn was soon torn down, but the accompanying cistern was left, since Dad figured he’d rig one of the downspouts from the new barn to fill it. Interestingly enough, that was never required. Whether groundwater seeped into joints of the old clay filler pipe, or into some unseen crack near the top of the cistern, we never knew (or cared), but in rainy weather, the old cistern filled just as reliably as if the old barn was still there. (Theme from the “Twilight Zone” playing in the background.)
Since we didn’t have city water at the farm, the reasonably close proximity of the old cistern was a real boon on those occasions when we had cows penned in the barn for any reason. Filling a half-barrel with water as the cows drank took a few trips, even with two buckets, but the cistern was only a hundred feet away, so it wasn’t too bad.
Now, as those of you who’ve ever dipped water from a well or cistern with a bucket on a rope will know, there’s some slight skill involved. If you just lower the bucket until it hits the water, it just floats there like a miniature version of some Welshman’s or Irishman’s coracle. All it would need to take a tour of the cistern would be a leprechaun with a paddle. That’s where the skill comes in. To tip the bucket and make it fill, you have to give a certain swing and flip of the rope just before it touches the water, so the bucket will land on its side, instead of its bottom. Thus the bucket will fill. If you don’t get it just right, all you have to do is raise the bucket a few inches and do it over. It was always great fun give the task to some city friend when they visited and see how long it took for them to figure it out.
There IS a way to cheat a bit, though. If we were going to be drawing water for an animal for some time to come, like when we fastened up the bull every spring, Dad would put a short length of log chain between the rope and the bail of the bucket. It only takes eight to 12 inches of 3/8 chain to do the trick, though other lengths and chain sizes would work. With the chain in place, even the slightest flip would tip the bucket and let it fill. It seems to me that I’ve seen some folks fasten the chain (or some other weight) directly to one side of the bucket, but we never did.