most significant problem facing the first Panhandle
settlers was lack of water for their families and livestock.
along creek bottoms came first. Hauling water gathered from the few surface springs
into wooden whiskey barrels mounted on sleds was practiced where possible.
When the Rock Island Railroad arrived, they hauled water in tank cars to fill
cisterns built at section crew shacks along the way. Later, they dug wells, filling
huge wooden storage tanks for the steam engines, and allowed settlers to get drinking
Well-drilling equipment became available during the early 1880s,
and it is believed the first such unit to arrive in the New Clarendon area was
purchased by Smith & Sherrick. It immediately went to work drilling a water well
for Charles Goodnight.
conducted in 1929 by J. Evetts Haley and L.F. Micou told of these earliest efforts
to find water on the plains. Both horse-powered and hand-powered drilling machines
In the low country below the caprock,
hand-powered equipment was used with a crude tower, rolling block in the top and
rope pulled by hand. Two men could dig 70 feet in a good day with drill bits weighing
15 to 25 pounds.
Most wells in low country had no rock formations to go
through, just sand, dirt and gravel. Another interview stated that horsepower
for digging deeper wells was developed through a geared power wheel with horses
walking in a circle, pulling the pole round and round. Deeper wells required winches
to hold and pull ropes.
"I came to Old Clarendon in 1886 and helped drill
the first water well that I know of in the Panhandle
, located on the Good-night
Ranch," said J.P. Miles.
Miles also helped drill the first water well
in New Clarendon, in 1887, and the first water wells in Claude,
in 1888 and 1889. He also drilled the first well in Amarillo
for Merchant & Barry, then moved to Washburn
to drill a well for the railroad.
The interviews recalled that charges
for well drilling were $1.50 per foot for the first 200 feet, $2 per foot for
the next 50 feet, $2.50 for the next 50 feet and $3 for the next 50 feet.
Micou began drilling water wells in Hutchinson County, near Borger,
in about 1900. At first, he was paid 75 cents per foot, and later $1.50 per foot.
By this time, windmills came on the scene, and well drilling and development included
installing tower, windmill and water tank storage.
Since this was before
the advent of perforated casing, which let water into the well through small holes
or slots, the well had to be completed with open bottoms in the casing to allow
water to enter.
Equipment at the time was slow and crude, working without
clutches and reversing transmissions. Everything worked with gravity as the driving
force, tempered with heavy band-type brakes. This was a long way from the huge
rotary drilling rigs used today.
Thanks to T. Lindsay Baker and the Windmiller's
Gazette for this information.
© Delbert Trew
All Trew" December
1, 2009 Column