Well Digging

When I was maybe 11, some folks bought the hillside north of my parents’ house. The head of this new household, named Monte, had a 1940s bulldozer. He carved out the hillside to create a flat zone, maybe half an acre, for their house.

As part of putting in a dwelling, Monte and some friends and/or relatives dug a well in that flat zone.

I have a memory of someone standing in a large bucket or skip with a shovel, a tripod over the hole in the ground. Monte and friends lowered each other into a deep hole in the clay exposed by carving out the hillside. Every time the skip was full enough, they’d winch up the bucket, shoveler and clay. My memory is vaguer after seeing someone stand in the bucket and get lowered out of sight, but that means the well was deeper than 6 or 7 feet.

This is a great example of Adair County MO, native ingeninuity. I don’t think this was illegal. Missouri has “eastern” water law, and Monte did not need a permit, the carved out hillsize was well outside city limits.

Fast forward maybe 45 years, to 2009. The water pipe to my house in Denver came off the water meter, on my side of the meter. I had to pay a lot of money to get some copper pipe hooked up to both house and meter. The price included a provision for trench boxes if they had to dig deeper than 4 or 5 feet. At the time, this made sense to me. I don’t want some poor contractor getting buried by a cave in, not in my front yard.

My parents house was in Adair County, Missouri. The geography is described as “dissected till plains”, which means there’s about 3 inches of barely passable topsoil above some of the stickiest clay imagineable. Monte and his friends dug a 5 foot diameter hole probably 20 feet deep in clay, without any kind of cave-in precautions.

As an adult, I’m horrified by this. What if Monte or one of his relative/friends was in the well when it caved in? The would never have been able to dig fast enough to get the victim out alive. That would have been a terrible death, too, unable to move, unable to breath, panicing, locked in place until you mercifully passed out.