It’s hard to believe but Charles Fletcher has published yet another book. If you read his previous book Little Sam Mountain you may remember it ended in sort of a surprising manner. Charles’s latest book, Little Sam Mountain-The Journey continues the story of John Dowdy.
I’ve read and enjoyed all of Charles’s books. Today I want to share one of my favorite stories that Charles tells from his childhood days spent in Western NC.
Digging The Well written by Charles Fletcher
The thing that led to the digging of the well can partially be blamed on the New Deal. That was the group of programs started by Franklin D. Roosevlet, our President. One of these programs was the Work Projects Administration (WPA). The WPA had many projects. One was to repair roads and build new roads throughout the mountains of North Carolina. One of these roads was built through the property of Uncle George Wines.
The original route of the old Thickety Road was east of Uncle George’s blacksmith shop. There was a bridge over the creek there. To get across you had to ford the creek. The route for the new road would be between Uncle George’s house and this spring house. This would eliminate fording the spring branch or building a bridge and keep the new road on dry ground. But is also caused a problem. The Wines family had to cross the new road in order to get to their spring house.
This bothered Uncle George an awful lot. All of the Wines’ water came from the spring across the new road. Uncle George was always worrying that someone would get run over by a car while crossing the road with a bucket of water. So, Uncle George came up with a plan to keep from crossing the road: Dig a well.
He came up with another idea, too: the well should be under the house. This would save the cost of building a well house and also avoid having to go outside in bad weather. He didn’t think about there not being any stairs from inside the house to the basement.
Like everyone else, he didn’t have any money to pay a professional well digger to do the job. The job of digging the well was given to guess who?-his youngest son, Conrad, who was very large for a sixteen year old boy. Anyone knows that one person can’t dig a well by himself, so guess who Conrad asked for help?-me, his best friend, who was young and didn’t know what he was getting into.
First we had to lay out the diameter of the well, so we used some string attached to a stick pounded into the ground as our compass and made a perfect circle. We began digging, and it wasn’t too long until we were about four feet deep. Then we hit solid mountain rock. We went to the blacksmith shop for a sledge hammer and started hitting the rock with it. Bam! Wham! Bang! But the only thing we accomplished was to make sparks fly from the rock.
Conrad rolled himself a cigarette from his sack of Golden Grain, struck a match, lit up, and went into deep thought. He threw the cigarette down, put his foot on it and said, “Let’s go.” “Where?” I asked. “To the barn,” he replied. “Why?” I asked. “To get the horses,” he replied. “Why?” I said. “I’ve got this thing all worked out,” he said. “Just follow me.”
We bridled up two of Uncle George’s horses and and off we went. I quit asking what he had in mind because he wasn’t about to tell me. It so happened that some mining company was mining kaolin, (a mineral used for making china ware) up on Little Sam Mountain. I soon figured out the mine was our destination. But why there? I thought. I soon found out.
After about an hour’s ride we were at the kaolin mine. Conrad talked to the miners, and soon he had two sticks of dynamite, ten foot of fuse, and dynamite caps. Then down Little Sam Mountain we went heading to Uncle George’s house and and our well.
After putting the horses back in the pasture, we went to the blacksmith shop and got steel bits to drill with and another large hammer. Back at the well site I held the steel bits while Conrad did the hammering. After about two hours, we had a hole in the center of the rock about six inches deep and two inches wide. By this time I knew what was to take place: we were going to bust that rock with dynamite.
Conrad said, “I can’t get these two sticks of dynamite in this hole, so I’ll lay one on top of the other.” “Don’t you think we should tell your dad what we are doing?” I said. “Naw. He might stop us, and I’ve got a whole dollar tied up in this blasting stuff.” “Let’s try a half a stick first,” I said. “No. It’ll take all of the two sticks to do the job,” he argued.
It wasn’t easy, but I finally convinced him to try only a half stick. We put the half stick of dynamite into the hole, installed the blasting cap, and put the fuse in place. Next, we carried in about twenty wooden fence posts to cover the top of the well so the rock wouldn’t hit the floor of the house above.
It was the fall of the year and cool outside. Above in the house, the family were sitting around a wood-burning stove keeping warm-all but Aunt Seet. Aunt Seet was about 50 years old and had never married. She had been sick for several years, and was in bed most of the time.
Below, the house, Conrad lit the fuse with a match, and out we ran from under the house. It seemed like hours, but finally the dynamite exploded-B-O-O-M! The fence posts hit the underside of the floor, the whole house shook, and Aunt Seet ran out of the back door screaming, “Lord the end of time has come!”
Someone got Aunt Seet back in the house to keep her from freezing while Uncle George came toward the basement where we were inspecting the results of our blasting. He grabbed Conrad, but I escaped through the smoke and headed for home, hearing Uncle George scream, “I’m putting the both of you in jail! The worlds not safe with you two running around!”
Conrad broke loose and headed for the woods. I didn’t go back to the Wines’ house for quite some time after that. After everyone settled down and things got back to normal, Uncle George hired a well digging crew, but he wouldn’t let them dig any closer to the house than 200 feet.
In a few weeks the Wines family didn’t have to cross the new road to get their water. Uncle George was happy, and no one was killed by a car. The well digging was finished. Conrad and I were soon back together. Uncle George had forgotten about the dynamite.
I hope you enjoyed the story as much as I did! My favorite part was Aunt Seet running out of the house shouting the end of time had come.
Leave Charles a comment if you liked his story and I’ll makes sure he reads it.
If you’d like to purchase any of Charles Fletcher’s books-they are available at many of your local book stores-or you can contact him directly at [email protected]