Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Day The Well Blew Up

I was 12 the day the well blew up, but just barely.

It was late in March, just a few weeks after my twelfth birthday, when Mom and Dad loaded me into the old van and we went to see my aunt and uncle on the farm for the weekend. I remember playing with the new toys I got as presents in the back of the van as we made the three-hour trip. There weren't any seats back there, so we didn't need seatbelts. No one wore them back then, anyway.

It was dark when we got there, and Lucile fixed us all a snack of bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches. The lettuce was store-bought, but the tomatoes were canned that Lucile and Mom put up in Mason jars last summer, and the bacon came from a hog we butchered in the fall. No, this one couldn't fly. The bread was homemade and still warm, fresh from the oven. The smells in the kitchen as she cooked were delicious and should have served to satiate our hunger, but we ate the sandwiches anyway.

My cousin Darla and I played for a bit, and around 10 PM, Dad and uncle Mike went outside to, as they euphemistically put it, "check the weather" before going to bed. There was some yelling and no small amount of cursing that came from the front yard, then a horrible growling and barking noise. When we all ran outside, we found Mike and his big Collie-Shepard mix, Danny by name, rolling around on the ground at the foot of the steps from the porch to the yard.

Mike was cussing like a sailor, despite the fact that he was in the Army for a while. Most of it was just a string of words that Darla and I probably weren't meant to hear. I did pick out the word "ice" a few times.

Danny was rolling around, too. He didn't say much, but he growled and snapped and snarled a lot. Danny was huge, at least to a 12-year-old. Sort of an orange color, he had the long hair of a Collie and the size of Shepard. I saw him take down a fox once when it tried to raid the chicken coop. And he ran off a wolf one time that strayed into the yard. And he stood his ground against a panther that stalked Darla and I in the woods. He was tough, no doubt, and for all I could tell, fearless.

Now, Danny and Mike were twisted together and rolling on the icy ground at the foot of the steps. Danny would bite Mike. Mike would punch Danny. Danny would growl. Mike would cuss.

With Dad's help, Danny managed to get away.

Through the cussing and much rubbing of his ass, Mike said that when he reached the ice at the foot of the stairs, he slipped. He landed on top of Danny, whose favorite place to sleep was at the foot of those same stairs.

Put yourself in Danny's place. You're curled up and asleep. You're a farm dog, so none of that sleeping in the house nonsense. It's cold, maybe 10 degrees. You just got warm and asleep. Now, some big guy jumps on you. I'd bite, too.

After the melee, the "weather check" found that the sky was clear. It hadn't rained or snowed for a week. Lucile, calm as always, wondered why the ground was icy.

A quick check found that a pipe on the well that fed water to the cattle and hogs had burst. The assumption was that it froze. The pump had been running for who-knows how long, and the water formed a sheet of ice all the way to the house. Mike switched off the power to the pump and closed a valve, and we all went to bed. He and Dad would fix it in the morning.

It got cold that night. I know because Mike and Lucile had a neat thermometer. It was U-shaped and had blue fluid in it. One side recorded the high temperature while the other side recorded the low, and there were little red things in the glass tube. The fluid pushed those and they stayed at the extremes of the temperature readings. A button on the top let both of the red indicators return to the current temperature. I have no idea how it worked.

What I do know is that it said the low that night reached 8 below zero, and the wind was blowing pretty good, too. I can't tell you how fast because the wind speed gauge blew away in the tornado the previous spring.

Darla and I huddled in the bed, the electric blanket on high and the feather comforters pulled tight around us. We stayed warm. Until about 1 AM.

When the fire went out in the big wood-burning stove, it got cold in the house. Cold enough to freeze water in the gallon buckets on the kitchen sink. Solid.

Darla had a goldfish for a while that she won at the county fair in the ring-toss game. She kept it in a traditional goldfish bowl in her room. Except at night in the winter; then she put it in the refrigerator. In there, it wouldn't freeze. Yes, the goldfish got a little sluggish, but he didn't freeze into a goldfish stick sans breading.

The next morning, Dad and Mike went to look at the broken water pipe. Darla and I went to help. They quickly replaced the pipe elbow that ruptured, and fired up the pump again. Everything looked good, but no water flowed.

After a few hours and a little more swearing, they decided that the pump had pumped the well dry the night before. Since it hadn't refilled some 12 hours later, Mike said it probably wouldn't. At least not without help.

They decided to shoot the well.

Ever see the old John Wayne movie Hellfighters? They use dynamite to "blow out" oilrig fires. I understand that Red Adair and his boys do the same thing in real life. What do I know? I was twelve then and I'm an author now, not a demolition expert.

Anyway, shooting a well is, Darla and I gathered, a lot like that. The difference is that you lower some dynamite into a well and set it off. The underground explosion is supposed to fracture the rock to make a bigger chamber for the water and, in this case, allow new paths for the water to fill the chamber.

That sounded reasonable to Darla and I. But what did we know? We were kids.

I need to tell you that Mike was a farmer. He did some time as a machinist. And he did a little work for the forestry department as a fire tower lookout person. He also did 6 years in the Army. But he was mostly a farmer.

Dad was a machinist. As far as I know, he never did anything else.

So, with these outstanding qualifications, they got the dynamite. At that time, any farmer could buy small quantities of dynamite and the related caps, wire, and detonator at just about any feed store. The clerk showed them how to hook up everything. They were now experts.

The obvious question the alert reader will catch is just how much dynamite does it take to shoot a well? I'm sure there is some equation. What did I know? I was twelve.

They decided, somehow, that one stick would be plenty.

After fitting the dynamite with a cap and the wires, they wrapped about three rolls of black tape around the mess. They used a string to lower the assembly down the well pipe. I don't know how far down it was, but a lot of string and wire went down that 8-inch hole with the dynamite leading the way.

If you've never seen a well up close, you haven't missed much. It's a hole in the ground. The exact size varies, but this one was about 8-inches. The tops of most wells have a casing pipe. This is fairly thin steel pipe and serves to keep dirt and such from falling from the wall of the well hole into the shaft. It usually just goes down to bedrock, however far that is. What did I know? I was twelve.

Otherwise, it's just a hole.

Dad and Mike backed off a fair distance from the well, maybe a hundred feet. They made Darla and I get behind the tractor. Danny came with us.

As I watched, Dad connected the wires to the detonator using big wing nuts. The red wire went to the red nut, and the black wire to black nut. I told you they were experts.

The two men laughed a little, nervously I thought. That made me nervous. But they were experts, and what did I know? I was twelve.

I saw Dad give the little T-handle on the detonator a sharp twist.

The only thing I saw happening was the two wires ripping from the detonator and shooting down the 8-inch hole like red and black bolts of lightening. Mike's cigarette dropped from his lips, and he mumbled something about, "What?" From my vantage point some twenty feet away and behind the tractor, I didn't like the looks on the men's faces.

It seemed like a long time, but it couldn't have been more than a second or two. Soon after the wires did their vanishing act down the man-made rabbit hole of the well, the ground started to shake.

Dad and Mike ran for the tractor and shoved Darla and I underneath. Then it happened.

About a billion gallons of water came out that 8-inch hole, along with about a billion tons of gravel and bigger rocks. It all went way up in the air, much higher than the pig of a few years before. Dynamite obviously makes for better altitude than steam. Or water and rock just goes higher than a hog.

It began to rain. The skies were clear and cloudless, and the blue of the country air was unmarred by even a single cloud. It rained anyway. The rain had an odd, muddy quality, and it was filled with small rocks. It had a few big rocks, and there were a few really big rocks, as big as a man's fist.

As the rain of water, mud, and rocks came down, the mix hit the watering tubs. Being poor, Mike couldn't afford real watering troughs, so he made do with what he could get. The ideal solution was old bathtubs. Not the newer fiberglass units. Not even the slightly older steel tubs. These were old cast iron tubs, complete with eagle claws that gripped round balls as the feet.

When a rock the size of a baseball falls from a good height and hits a large hunk of cast iron, it sounds a little like a bell. OK, the bell is out of tune, but it sounds like a bell. When a billion tons of rocks ranging in size from sand to softballs fall from a good height and hit that same hunk of cast iron, it sounds like the world is ending.

The clanging and banging went on for a long time. Long enough that Darla complained of her ears hurting despite having her hands clamped tightly to her head. As for me, I'm deaf, so I didn't hear a thing.

Then, it apparently got really loud.

Remember that casing pipe?

About 6 feet of 8-inch diameter steel pipe fell from the heavens. It landed squarely in the nearest bathtub. It must have sounded like the gong from The King and I. Off-key.

This symphony continued for many seconds as the four of us cowered under the tractor to get out of the rain and rocks. I remember Lucile coming to the door of the house and looking up the hill towards us. When she saw Old Faithful East erupting, she had enough sense to go back in the house.

Even in my naive youthfulness, I somehow knew that one stick of dynamite was too much. Probably a lot too much. But what did I know? I was only twelve. I wondered if I would make it to thirteen.

It finally quit raining and the rocky hail faded. We crawled from under the tractor to survey the carnage.

Water ran across the frozen ground like small rivers in Iceland. New rocks forced from the very bowels of the Earth by Alfred Nobel's little toy lay scattered about like children's blocks. They lay several inches deep in places. Darla commented that it was deathly quiet. Or maybe they were all just temporarily deafened by the onslaught.

The length of casing pipe looked perfectly intact except for one end that was torn, as if by an angry troll down deep in the cavern of the well. The other end was smooth and machine cut. The tub had a neat 8-inch hole through the bottom.

Upon closer examination, it was found by Dad and Mike that the casing pipe at the top of the well was intact and in place. The 6-foot length blown out of the hole had, somehow, came from somewhere deeper down. Don't ask me how that worked. I'm just an author.

Mike and Dad reassembled the pump and, sure enough, no water was pumped from the well. Another fifteen minutes of checking found that the pump had a little valve on it. The same valve Mike had closed the night before to stop the flow of water.

When opened, the water flowed as advertised.

Sometime during all of this, Danny had left. We found him later under the porch steps. He wouldn't come out, even to eat, for two days.

Mom, Lucile, Darla, and I all agreed that men shouldn't be allowed access to explosives except during wartime.

Even that seems like a bad idea when I think about it.

Keep Loving!

Melodee Aaron, Erotica Romance Author

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Inquisitor Betrayer

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