Appalachia

Digging The Well

Charles Fletcher Little Sam Mountain The Journey

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]

Tipper

 

You Might Also Like

50 Comments

  • Reply
    Howland
    July 31, 2018 at 3:50 pm

    I rated both stories somewhere between highly amusing and downright hilarious! While I was reading about The Medicine Show, I thought about the reknowned Lydia Pinkham’s Tonic For Women original recipe which contained peppermint schnapps, (who knew?) The tonic was 40 proof, and was available during prohibition.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    April 1, 2017 at 11:04 am

    I just today accessed Charles Fletcher’s story and read it! I laughed aloud at the teenagers’ attempt (successful) to blast out the rock for the well. No wonder Aunt Seet left her bed and ran outside to announce to the world “The end of time has come!”
    I can remember a few times my father used a stick or two of dynamite to loosen rocks on our farm in Choestoe. What a blast! (And I mean that in a double-sense of the word!).
    My story of “How Daddy Found the Spring” has been published on Blind Pig before. Maybe some of you remember my telling how my Daddy used a “divining rod” from a peachtree branch to find a place of water and dug into the ground. The results: a bubbling free-running spring that still is going in 2017 (and finding it occurred in 1936!). What stories we have in Appalachia if we will only take the time to tell them. I’m working on my book!

  • Reply
    sarahsbookreflections
    October 15, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    Conrad reminds me of my brother Bill. He wss forever thinking up ingenious ways to make a mess. Good story. Even though he’s now almost 73, he still gets himself into trouble.

  • Reply
    Luann
    October 13, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Great story!!

  • Reply
    Darlene Debty Kimsey
    October 9, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    This was a good story! I think I will get his book from our library. Thanks for including it in your blog.

  • Reply
    Bill Dotson
    October 9, 2012 at 7:22 am

    Great story Charles, did you break the rock after all that?

  • Reply
    Charline
    October 9, 2012 at 12:23 am

    Kids just don’t seem to have these adventures anymore.Life is still dangerous, but more menacing, I think.Thank you, Charles for sharing your story.

  • Reply
    Ferne K
    October 8, 2012 at 11:03 pm

    I loved the Digging the Well Story. I kept wondering what the hole looked like after the blast. If they had used all the dynamite it probably would have brought down the whole house. Great story!

  • Reply
    Judy Mincey
    October 8, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    I am certainly going to look for Charles’ books. My mother will love them also.

  • Reply
    Shirla
    October 8, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    We used to hear dynamite blasting in the coal mines almost everyday as the miners moved the rocks. Only difference in your technique was the miners placed it UNDER the rock. LOL! Daddy used to buy dynamite just about anywhere, but I can’t remember what he used it for. I simply can not imagine the teenagers of today trying to tackle such a physically demanding job. Maybe that would keep them from yelling, “I’m bored!”
    Charles, I love your style of writing. I’m going to request a list of your books.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    October 8, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    Thank you, Mr. Fletcher, for making my Monday!

  • Reply
    Jackie
    October 8, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    A neighbor wanted help with stumps in his yard. After digging a small one out I suggested we ought to get some dynamite for the big ones to loosen the dirt around them. He agreed. A big one near the house was our first try. I had seen dynamite used to dig a grave when we hit rock. I advised 1/2 stick. He insisted we needed 3 full sticks. The stump rose about 10 feet above the house, came down through the carport roof and landed on the hood of his wife’s car. When she came out cussing I went home. I never did get the 50 cents an hour he promised.

  • Reply
    Jerry M.
    October 8, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    Enjoyed the story. I can just imagine all the commotion when the dynamite went off.

  • Reply
    Sallie Covolo aka grandma Sal
    October 8, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    Have heard of dynamiting fish..So unfair to the fish, but digging a well…Oh my! Great Story.

  • Reply
    Patti Tappel
    October 8, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    I got some real funny looks when I started laughing out loud at my work desk. I was laughing at the thought of aunt Seet running out the back dorr probably in her night clothes! Lord have Mercy what a sight!

  • Reply
    Ken
    October 8, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Tipper,
    When I was a rowdy teenager, a
    bunch of us boys use to eat our
    fill of grapes from an older guy
    living about a mile away. He knew
    how to grow grapes and had many
    different stands of ’em, cause he
    made his own wine too. One day as
    we were slippin’ around an old barn near his house, ducking the
    dynamite boxes nailed to the sides
    and one was full of dynamite sticks. Well, as boys will do, we
    relieved him of about eight sticks
    and brought ’em home. Low and behold we didn’t know about wet
    dynamite, got the worst headaches
    ever. It even hurt to bat your
    eyes. Never bothered that stuff
    again…Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 8, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    Sallie-dynamite is much more humane to fish than tempting them a worm then hooking them through the lip then dragging them all over the river ’til they are exhausted then picking them up by their lip and letting them drown on air. They just feel a little jolt, roll over and go to sleep.
    Actually the shock only stuns the fish and if you don’t pick them up pretty quick they just swim off.

  • Reply
    Rush
    October 8, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Great story! We both had several great laughs from Charles’s story today! I think that we may have found an author who’s work we will really enjoy. Thanks for the introduction! Sounds like a good uplifting read for a cold gray day coming up soon. . . along with a steamy cup of constant comment tea by the wood-stove! 😀

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 8, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    I love it, it sounds like a good plan to me! Thanks for the story.
    It make me think about all the things we take for granted now. Things that were a major project in years gone by.
    My mother, who grew up in Canton, was the second girl in her family. She hated indoor work but would do anything outside. The family lived in a house up the hill from the paper mill. There was no basement in their house. The job of digging them a basement under that house fell to my mother. That seems like daunting job for a young woman to me but my mother didn’t seem to think so. She talked of digging that basement as if it was an every day chore!
    Times sure different.
    Thanks again, Charles for a wonderful story and congratulation on your new book!

  • Reply
    lola
    October 8, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    what a good story would love too read more

  • Reply
    Debbie Nobles
    October 8, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Loved it my Grandma’s family all lived in the Thickety area.Her grandpa was Sam Hall.I don’t live in the area as the family moved to Fla.but my roots are still there.I do enjoy reading anything about the area it makes me feel like I am home.

  • Reply
    Howland
    October 8, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    It’s a good thing that we couldn’t get dynamite at the hardware any more when daddy was putting water in the house. My job was to dig the hole for the septic tank.

  • Reply
    Ken
    October 8, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Tipper,
    I always enjoy reading the true
    life adventure and humor Charles
    provides. He is an excellent
    storyteller of Appalachian ways.
    Since my shop is just outside of
    the range for town water, I had a
    well dug with my friend’s backhoe.
    It only seventeen feet deep and
    he hit solid rock. But he put 5
    big concrete cyllinders in, covered all around each with clean
    gravel, and put a pump near the
    bottom. The next day the well was
    full! Still works well since ’87.
    But I bring my spring water for
    coffee from home…Ken

  • Reply
    Dale Anderson
    October 8, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    Enjoyed the story by Charles Fletcher.
    Going to Western N.C. next week and will be looking for his books at local bookstores. Wish I could have been there for the Folk School Fall Festival last weekend.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    October 8, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Loved the story1

  • Reply
    Joe Penland
    October 8, 2012 at 11:46 am

    Great story. I would like to read the book.

  • Reply
    Sam Ensley
    October 8, 2012 at 11:38 am

    The story about the well-digging is one of the funniest stories I’ve ever heard. I’m still laughing so hard I can hardly type. Please, tell us where wwe can obtain more of his books.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    October 8, 2012 at 11:24 am

    What a great story! I love these stories, as only in early Appalachia did children have that kind of freedom. I am so thankful that folks like Mr. Fletcher are recording some trials and tribulations of growing up in the mountains.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    October 8, 2012 at 10:35 am

    When I was growing up, a person could buy blasting powder at the Hardware Store. Looking back, I am amazed that we didn’t hurt ourselves or someone else with our blasting.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    October 8, 2012 at 10:33 am

    great story – I look forward to reading the book! Uncle George and his building plans reminds me of my grandfather. When he and my grandmother retired and moved to be nearer their children they bought a small trailer with a room attached. Soon the trailer was pulled away and replaced with a proper room. The house grew from there according to Granddad’s whim — as a result there was no cross ventilation at all! I remember sitting on the front porch with them and the next week when I came over it was a new room!!!

  • Reply
    Tammy
    October 8, 2012 at 10:00 am

    Love all the stories !!!!

  • Reply
    Cyndi
    October 8, 2012 at 9:52 am

    Thanks for sharing Charles’ story with us! What a neat idea to make the circle with a string and stick, quite nifty!
    Glad the story ended well!
    I am sorry I missed you singing with your family yesterday at the John C. Campbell Folk School Fall Festival but my husband saw and enjoyed your family band. I was still lurking around the booths and talking too much to have heard the announcement you were on stage in the Festival Barn.
    I hope to hear you next time!
    Smiles, Cyndi

  • Reply
    Steve in Tn
    October 8, 2012 at 9:46 am

    How could this plan not work?

  • Reply
    Lise
    October 8, 2012 at 9:38 am

    I love it, have to give Conrad credit for creative problem solving!
    Thanks for sharing this, I am looking forward to reading more of Charles Fletcher’s work.

  • Reply
    Gary Powell
    October 8, 2012 at 9:35 am

    Enjoyed the story. Friend of mine put half a stick of dynamite in a groundhog hole and was surprised by the muffled sound. He put the other half on top of a fence post. That sounded like cannon fire, and got his father’s attention.

  • Reply
    Patty Hall
    October 8, 2012 at 9:32 am

    OH boy!! That is funny!

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    October 8, 2012 at 9:29 am

    Tipper,
    and Charles…I put in place my two boys who might have done this very thing, if they were given such a task..So funny.
    It wasn’t until about a year later that we came upon a large hole in the edge of woods that they had spent many a summer hour digging without my knowledge…
    Their excuse was to build a big underground fortress…but the boy heping quit!..I imagine they somehow tricked him into doing a lot of the work…(thoughts of Mark Twain here)…
    I love your story and the results of your efforts. I am so glad you didn’t use all the dynamite..or parts of Fletcher would be all over NC.
    Thanks Tipper for sharing and Charles for writing and sharing.

  • Reply
    Ron Perry
    October 8, 2012 at 9:28 am

    Never tried to dig a well with a stick of dynamite but we would go fishing from time to time. Light the fuze and drop in a half stick into the river and instant fish floating on top of the water. Only did it once and kept a lookout for the game warden for weeks…just knew that I was going to jail.

  • Reply
    Donna Godfrey
    October 8, 2012 at 9:16 am

    What a delightful story. I believe this author is a delightful story teller…a lost art. I love it!

  • Reply
    Uncle Al
    October 8, 2012 at 9:05 am

    OH my gosh! What a tale. Lucky there was a house still standing. 🙂

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    October 8, 2012 at 8:55 am

    Creative juvenile minds sure can stir up a bit of trouble. These guys were certainly lucky the house didn’t lose its structure and fall on top of the attempted well. The good Lord must have been watching over them. Of course, having been young at one time, I did have to laugh at the poor aunt having the energy to get out of bed and worry about the end of time.

  • Reply
    Sharon Schuster
    October 8, 2012 at 8:47 am

    Says a lot for the times when folks were trusting and trustworthy enough to hand over dynamite – never a thought given to the terrorism of our present day. A fun story, well-told. I like the part about Aunt Seet, too. Wondering where the Little Sam is.

  • Reply
    patrice
    October 8, 2012 at 8:38 am

    I have had some health issues for the past 5 days but decided to check e-mails this am and so glad I did. I read the exerpt from the book and laughed for the first time in days. Sounds like a delightful book.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Jones
    October 8, 2012 at 8:25 am

    Funny! Sounds just like what two mountain boys assigned a nigh-impossible task would do to make the work easier! If Mr. Fletcher’s book follows this same style and honesty, I’m sure it is well worth the read!
    Thanks for sharing “Digging the Well”!

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    October 8, 2012 at 7:54 am

    I enjoyed the Tale of the Well, what makes it interesting is that this sounds like something I might have tried at sixteen and Ed would have probably have helped me had I asked him.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 8, 2012 at 7:28 am

    Sure, Uncle George may have forgiven but I’ll bet he never forgot!
    Me and my buddy Beanie played with dynamite as teenagers but never under the house. That’s were Beanie’s pap made his home brew so we weren’t allowed under there. It would have been a shame to have blown up some of the best brew I never tasted.

  • Reply
    Sandy
    October 8, 2012 at 7:06 am

    This reminded me of when I was a kid and my dad decided to put a coal furnace in the basement. Problem was there was no basement. No problem he would blast one. He was doing it in small doses and would wheelbarrow the dirt away. I guess it was working so well that he thought he would use a little more dynamite and blew down the kitchen.

  • Reply
    kat
    October 8, 2012 at 6:54 am

    That’s the funnest thing I’ve read in awhile! Can just imagine Aunt Seet jumping out of that bed, guess the blast really put some pep in her step.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 8, 2012 at 6:43 am

    So funny, I can just imagine two boys deciding to do this. Poor Aunt Seet, although it seems she was agile enough.

  • Reply
    Sandy Satterfield
    October 8, 2012 at 6:06 am

    That sounds like something my old buddies would do.
    Sandy Satterfield

  • Leave a Reply