Sunday, November 16, 2008

Houston - We Have A Problem

Wouldn't you know it! Just about the time I could taste this road trip, I pulled something in my back. The good news is it is not as bad as most of the times I do this. The bad news is that it's still enough to make me delay my trip for at least a day.

It happened sometime yesterday afternoon. I have no idea of what I did because I didn't do anything out of the ordinary. I was riding in the car and I felt my back "seizing" up. By the time I got home I knew I had a problem. Today I'm better but it would be suicide for me to try and lift anything of any weight at all....which includes supplies for the RV or the portable generator I normally bring along.

Guitar has been after me for a while to see a chiropractor and I think tomorrow morning I will do just that. If I feel better by tomorrow afternoon I will leave on Tuesday morning.

Yesterday I also received a package in the mail from my brother #4. The package contained several diaries that my maternal grandfather kept in the early 1960s. I spent most of the rest of the day reading through these diaries.

My grandfather was a farm boy from Vermont and worked all his life in outdoor jobs. During the late 50s and 60s he worked as a water well driller in New Jersey. He didn't "retire" until after my grandmother died in1967. That's a picture of him to the left. It was taken just a year or two after he retired.

Reading through the diaries reminded me of what a physically tough job he had and I am amazed that he did this work into his 70s.

As a young boy, during the s
ummer I would often go with him to work. If I was real good he would let my put my hand on the cable as it was pounding up and down. This was old time well drilling, not the rotary drilling they do today but what is called cable tool drilling. In this type of drilling a heavy metal "bit" is lifted and dropped on the ground. Each time it is dropped the bit turns about 1/4 turn and basically pounds it way into the ground. This is not too different from the principals of pile driving. Pretty low tech.

It was an incredibly hard job. The hole had to be cleaned out every so often and the drill bits could easily get stuck in the hole requiring special tools to try and break it free. Wells were drilled year around so even in winter my grandfather would be working on a wet and sloppy site.

Probably the hardest part of the job was in keeping the bits sharpened. The bit was a large chunk of metal, 4 or 6 or 8 inches in diameter with a point like a soldering iron on the end and they weighed at least 100 pounds. Depending on the conditions, the bits had to be changed several times a day because they got dull. Sharpening the dull bits was part of the job. To sharpen the bit you first had to build a furnace on site with fire bricks and stoke a fire with coke. The end of the dull bit was put in the furnace until it got red hot and then sharpened with manpower and a sledge hammer. The picture above shows someone doing this very physical task. At 73 years of age, my grandfather would do this several times a day on occasion.

His diaries didn't have a lot of personal comments in them although there was enough to bring back plenty of memories. Most of the time the diary had entries that described his daily job and the successes and failures of drilling someone's water well. It was a me
lancholy trip back in time but it gave me an even greater appreciation for the man my middle name celebrates.

Below is an excerpt from his diary on his 73rd birthday. Note that he went to his job in -2 degree weather. His days labor amounted to 8 feet drilled. His generation gave birth to "The Greatest Generation" but I think they were pretty special too.
Thanks for visiting.


Anonymous said...

fantastic blog, your grandfather was a hard worker.

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Marian Love Phillips said...

A good story about your grandfather...nice to remember back when...he was a pretty tough guy!


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