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 Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Well, in the past, water was work
Settlers dug with crude equipment

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

The most significant problem facing the first Panhandle settlers was lack of water for their families and livestock.

Hand-dug wells 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 water.

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.

Interviews 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 were used.

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.

W.F. 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
"It's All Trew"
December 1, 2009 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.

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