It was in the early 1970s. I was going to graduate from high school in the next few years. My mom, who had heroically raised us five kids as a single mom (we ate a lot of milk toast in those days), had met the man of her dreams.
That romance absolutely changed our collective lives. I had little notion of how incredible my new dad was in not only committing his life to my mom, but to all of us kids, as well. When we combined families, there was anywhere between seven to nine kids, depending on when you counted.
Shortly after their marriage, my dad adopted me. Literally. I remember sitting in the courtroom of the adoption court in Tucson, seated between my mom and dad. I looked around the room at about a dozen couples, all either holding infants or toddlers. I was the only older kid, much less a teen.
I decided to have a bit of fun at my parents’ expense (how unlike me) and started talking like a baby in a stage-whisper voice. I turned to my mom, and said, “ma-ma … ma-ma.” Then I turned to my dad, and patted his shoulder, and said, “da-da … da-da.” I did this several times, as they tried to shush me and look around, embarrassed by my actions.
The other parents in the room found it amusing, and I quieted down in a few moments and settled in to wait to see the judge.
Shortly, we were asked to join the magistrate in an interviewing room. When we entered, there he was, smiling and laughing a bit. He greeted us jovially and said something like, “You all seem to have a good time together.” We said that we indeed did, but looked at each other a bit puzzled at how he had arrived at that conclusion.
As it turned out, the court had one-way mirrors where the judge and supporting staff could observe families before they came back to be interviewed. You guessed it. The judge had observed my shenanigans and the genuine affection we had as a family. It set the tone for the proceedings that led to my legal adoption just a few months later.
While my mom passed away a few years back, my appreciation and affection for my dad is as strong as ever. Their lives, and by extension our lives, were one of adventure and doing some really cool things.
One event was we moved to a remote, southeastern Arizona 40-acre plot of land about the time I graduated. The journey fueled my curiosity and imagination. I was immersed into “hands-on living,” where much of what you ate you raised, and the hobbies and interests you cultivated were due to doing or building something, not purchasing entertainment.
I was introduced to wells, storage tanks and windmills. When we first moved there, electricity was not readily available and we couldn’t afford putting power poles leading in to our place. Initially, our homestead was heated by a wood-burning stove, lit by lanterns and water was supplied by the windmill and an elevated water tank.
I remember watching our well being drilled deep into the earth. While our well here in Erda is just in excess of 200 feet, the well in Arizona was right at 400 feet, and the windmill that was installed on it possessed a massive 14-foot blade.
The windmill was used and old, but there was a lot of life left in it. I remember pouring the foundation posts and brackets, and erecting that 30-foot tower.
Getting the windmill head up on top caused us sheer terror and boundless optimism. Once we got everything hooked up and running, the satisfaction of seeing that beautiful machine pump water, even in a mild breeze, was hard to match.
Having a well drilled is not a repeated experience for most folks, and I thought it wouldn’t be something that I’d encounter firsthand again. Then we made the decision to move to Utah and rural Erda.
We found that where we wanted to live did not have an installed water system, so we would have to drill. But, you don’t just get a well driller and get going. As I found out, you need to have water rights and shares. Those came with the plot of land we bought.
We were referred to a well-known and respected well driller in the area. That began our long-term association and friendship with Mike Zimmerman.
Well drilling is an art, and like any specialized trade, requires skill, intuition and the right equipment. To successfully drill a well and to comply with state regulations, the well is drilled at a diameter that allows the hole to be sleeved with casing. This is the outer part of the well and serves, to prevent collapse while keeping ground water and contaminants from polluting the water deep under surface, called the aquifer.
While there are difference of opinions, some well installers run casing all the way to the bottom of the hole, and others only until bedrock and water-bearing strata is encountered. The top portion of the casing is grouted, for many feet down, using bentonite clay, sealing the outer surface of the casing to prevent water seepage.
Once the casing is in place, workers suspend 20-foot sections of inner pipe down the hole with a well pump and wiring. The pump is placed below the water’s standing level to assure an adequate lifetime water supply. A control system and pressure tank call for, store and deliver water on demand.
Recently, we ran into an embarrassing situation. You see, when you write a gardening column, and your front yard is more dead than alive, that can be, well, hypocritical. We knew something was wrong. Even taking into account the heat; our turf was a mess.
We started testing our sprinkler systems and realized there was low pressure. Then we began hearing our well start and stop repeatedly in the late hours when there was no water turned on in the house or around the property. It was time to call our friend Mike.
Mike’s crew showed up, and looked at our 16-year-old system that had served us well. We found that the pump was aging, delivering at about 70 percent capacity.
In addition, we found out it wasn’t keeping pressure. Once the pump had run and filled the pressure tank, water drained out of it and then the well started again.
Workers found the problem when they extracted the inner pipe. The galvanized pipe, almost 200 feet down and just above the pump, had corroded through, with about 1/4-inch holes in several places. That was a double whammy.
Water was blasting out those holes when the pump was on, and to maintain pressure the system repeatedly cycled back on. That explained a lot, including our sizable electric bills.
The workings of our water system have been replaced with newer technology and materials, including industrial gauge PVC inner pipe and stainless steel couplers, and a new variable speed, soft-start pump.
To say our water and turf challenges have been addressed is an understatement. Here’s to another 17 years or more. Now we don’t need to run inside from our front yard when we see a car coming up the street.
Oh, by the way. Remember that big old windmill? It lived on for many years, even after we moved away and it was replaced by an electric well pump. It turned up several years later on the property of our friend, Cowboy Poet Baxter Black. He’s a man that appreciates the accomplishments, craftsmanship and heritage of our forebears.
I can’t think of a better resting place for a machine that served so many so well. You’re in good hands, old friend.
Jay Cooper can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can visit his channel at youtube.com/dirtfarmerjay for videos on the hands-on life of gardening, shop and home skills, culinary arts and landscaping.