The Old Well


By Terry Hogan


The old well is gone.  Do you remember it?  Cast Iron?  Shallow well? You had to work to get the cold water out to drink.  Usually there was the communal galvanized tin cup hanging somewhere on the well or nearby.  Sometimes the cup was bright and shiny.  Other times it was rusty and dented from someone who didnŐt know better.  If the well wasnŐt used often, you had to pour water down the top to wet the leathers so that it would create enough lift to bring the water to the surface.  That was one of my first learned ironies – you had to have water to get water.


The water was icy cold and crystal clear.  Perhaps it was because it was a time when we worked and played outdoors in the summer heat. Nothing like a hot day to make the water feel all the better.  Our well was high in iron.  It made really dark ice tea.  It made really good coffee.


When I was a kid, I never talked about our well to my friends.  We lived at Lake Bracken and that sounded pretty good.  In fact, it was pretty good. I had a lot of fun growing up there and met a lot of good folks who became friends. Nevertheless, the well was a secret, as far as I was concerned. 


We had running water in the house, but it was lake water.  It was OK for doing laundry, flushing toilets and washing dishes.  But it was not good for drinking.  We and our neighbors shared a common hand pump well for drinking water.  We had a large white enamel pail that was permanently rust stained inside for drinking water.  It was my job for many years to carry the empty bucket up to the well and pump two full pails of water, and dump them.  Then pump a third, and carefully carry it down from the well to the house. The third bucket was considered clean and clear.


Although this seemed like a lot of extra work, it was based on practical experience I suppose.  I once pumped out an American Toad from the spout of the well.  I have no idea how he made it there. But out he came in the first bucket.  That made me a believer of the three-bucket rule.


Even the Lake Bracken Golf Course (then known as the Knox County Country Club) had hand-pump wells strategically located around the golf course for the benefit of the golfers and the hired help who mowed the fairways and the greens. This was mostly back when people walked the course carrying their clubs. I can recall at least three hand pumps along the course.  There may have been more.  The most visible one was located to the east of the club entrance where the road made a ŇYÓ.  If you took the right fork, you went to the club house that used to sit along the lakeŐs edge.  If you took the left fork, you continued easterly on the road that took you around the east end of the lake.  The well is now gone, but the little triangle of land between the roads where the well sat, still remains.  It looks a little out of place, if you donŐt know its history.


The old well where I grew up is gone too.  It was replaced by a well with an electric pump that supplies all the water to the house.  There is no more white enamel pail sitting in the kitchen with its red rust inner coating.


Probably the water from the electric pump taps a deeper aquifer than the hand pump well.  Because it serves so many more uses, it probably has to tap a greater yield source.  Perhaps it is just my imagination.  Perhaps it is the glorification of the past by memory, but I think the old well, now long gone, tasted better and made better tea and coffee.


When I was a child, my grandparents had two pump wells on the farm.  One was in the yard and stood proudly below the large windmill.  The second was a small hand pump that was located on the counter in the kitchen.   I remember sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for Grandpa to come in at noon time and wash his hands at this hand pump. That signaled it was time to eat.  The noonday meal was the big one back then, especially for farmers.  Work was still largely manual.  I never knew where the water came from.  I never thought to ask.  It may have been from a cistern, given its indoor location.   


So why did the wells go? A couple of reasons, I suppose.  For private homes, it became a matter of convenience. For the ones on the golf course, it may have been the federal Environmental Protection Agency.  These little hand pump wells, being open to public consumption, became regulated as a Ňtransient noncommunity public water suppliesÓ under the Safe Drinking Water Act.  The regulations imposed cumbersome testing and reporting requirements to show that the ground water was as safe as treated Mississippi River water.  


I miss the old shallow wells with the hand pumps.  They served good water and served the purpose.  Now donŐt get me wrong, I donŐt think every thing old was better.  My grandparents also had an outhouse.  About the best I can say for it was that it was better than nothingÉbut not much.