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The Well 2


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Building a Well in Coahuila

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The Well 2

  1. 1. 1 THE WELL AND SIDELINE STORIES In the year 1886, some seven years after the discovery of the ores in Sierra Mojada, a geologist named Richard E Chism who at the time was living in Saltillo, about two hundred miles south east of Sierra Mojada, made a trip to the area to make an assessment of the new mining district. This report was presented to the American Institute of Mining Engineers which met in St. Louis in October of this same year. Because of the seriousness of the situation, Mr. Chism commented at length about the shortage of water in Sierra Mojada. There was (and still is) a very small variable spring just above the town, and another like spring about half a mile away. By the time of his writing already several dozen wells between sixty and eighty feet deep had been hand dug in the arroyo that borders the town. This supply of water diminishes considerably during the dry season, roughly between August and April. The following is a quote from Mr. .Chism’s report. “At ordinary times a bucket of drinking-water, holding about five gallons, is 6¼ cents, but during the drought it steadily advances to 18, 25 and 37½ cents. Numerous families leave town when the price of water commences to rise, and return after the rain.” The daily wage for the common miner was one dollar and fifty cents. And although this was about one third more than the national average of the time, still, using about forty percent of a day’s wages for five gallons of water bites in deep. Mr. Chism went on to say that because of the shortage of water, many of the mines were not being worked. Mr. Chism notes that already there were dams in La Esmeralda, mainly for supplying the steam engines, and the ordinary miners were allotted water for domestic use from these dams. Along with their wages they were given brass tokens, each worth one bucket of water. (In La Esmeralda I had a tiny museum which included several of these old tokens.) Later on more large dams were built, cisterns were made to store rain water, and not a few homes in the haphazard layout of Sierra Mojada and La Esmeralda had their own private little dams. An exploratory mine shaft was dug between Sierra Mojada and La Esmeralda, and it resulted in a fair amount of water. There was one bore well in La Esmeralda with a steam- powered jack pump, but because the bore was crooked, too much time and money was spent
  2. 2. 2 replacing the pipe and the rods, even though wooden rods were used. And so it was abandoned. There was another bore well between La Esmeralda and Sierra Mojada which yielded a fair amount of water. Somehow through it all the people scrimped by with making every drop of water count. It must have been somewhere in the 1940s when the miner’s Cooperative had another well drilled not too far from the well resulting from the above mentioned exploratory mine shaft. This resulted in a fairly good well. A jack pump powered by a diesel motor operated a three inch cylinder. The water flowed by gravity to a large open sheet-metal holding tank in La Esmeralda to which the people would have to come to haul the water to their homes in fifty-five gallon metal drums (barrels). Again, the water was first of all doled out to the miners of the Cooperative. If there was any left over, others could obtain permission to buy the water. In 1965 the state government had a well drilled in the upper part of La Esmeralda. Again, it was equipped with a jack pump and diesel motor. Also a system of pipes was laid to strategic points in town where there was an ordinary water faucet for people to draw water in buckets. Apparently the well had a good amount of water, but the pumping equipment was inadequate, and so the public distribution system was never fully functional. The ones in charge of the maintenance of the well lacked expertise. On one occasion when they were pulling the cylinder to replace the gaskets it was noticed that there was a crack in the threads. Instead of taking the trouble to secure the pipe immediately, they trusted that it would hold until the next coupling would be in position for locking. The pipe broke and plummeted. They were unable to retrieve the pipe, and it had fallen in such a way that a new cylinder could be submerged only a short distance into the water, and as a result production was diminished. It should be noted that in all the wells the water bearing stratum is the Red Conglomerate Formation, the alluvial of the ancient volcano. When I arrived in La Esmeralda in 1967 the principal source of water was the well of the Cooperative. The other well in town produced only a small amount of water, and irregularly. In all instances each household had the responsibility to go to the holding tank to obtain water and transport it to the house. This was universally done using fifty-five gallon used oil drums, many of them patched over and over again. At this time there were few people who could afford the luxury of having a pickup. (There was not a single passenger car because it could not negotiate the roads.) Those who did have a pickup used it to haul water. About half of the water was hauled in burro carts mounted with one or two drums. Some carts were pulled by a single burro, others by two and three burro teams. It all depended how far and how high the haul was going to be. The holding tank was at about the lowest point in town, and the climb across the railroad tracks was rather steep. There were one and the other teams of horses and wagons that would carry six drums. There were many who made their living hauling water for others who did not have a burro and cart, or did not have the time. At the homes it was universal to keep the water in the steel drums. Only in the later years the more practical plastic barrel became available. In some very few homes water was bucketed to an elevated drum for taking a shower, and these homes usually had a water heater. I do not think there was a single bathtub in town; everyone used the large round galvanized tub for both washing clothes and bathing. By chance the pipe that carried the water from the Cooperative well to the holding tank passed within a hundred feet of the parish rectory. The parish had been without a resident pastor from 1920 until 1964 when a fellow American priest, Rev Charles Zeyen of our Congregation, the Missionaries of the Holy Family, took up the position of pastor there. The Cooperative gave him permission to run a pipe to the rectory for filling an elevated asbestos/cement tank with a capacity of a hundred and fifty gallons. Every other day down at the holding tank they would close the valve and the water would back up to fill the tank at the parish. The priest also put in a shower, water heater, and a flush toilet with its own cesspool. There were only two other houses in the entire town that had a flush toilet. They use a lot of water! Most of the houses had an outdoor privy, but there were many homes where the people simply went off somewhere in the bush. When I left there in 2000 there were still a very few living on the outskirts of town that did not have even a privy. Because there were many times when the pump at the Cooperative well was down for maintenance the water supply of only a hundred and fifty gallons at the parish was precarious.
  3. 3. 3 After being there three years I built in the patio an elevated reinforced concrete tank to replace the one hundred and fifty gallon asbestos/cement tank. The new tank had a capacity of about a thousand gallons. I knew that the level of the patio floor was just about three feet lower than the entrance to the Cooperative holding tank. So after several more years I dug a hole in the patio and poured a five hundred gallon concrete tank. Now water would enter this tank whenever the Cooperative well was operating. A float valve closed the flow into the tank when it was full. By this time we had electricity 7/27, and so I installed a pump to the elevated tank. Starting with an ordinary light switch, I made a control that automatically kept the elevated tank full. In the subsurface tank below I built as limit switch to cut power to the pump when the water level in this lower tank fell to only half full. Another switch could override this limit switch. The thing is that there were several faucets available to anyone, like to those who cleaned the church, or in the toilet of the parish hall. Many times I would be out in the villages and ranches for several days on end, and if anyone, say a kid wanting to get a drink of water, left a faucet open, every drop of water could go down the drain. So if worse came to worse, there would always be a reserve of two hundred and fifty gallons in the lower tank. In Sierra Mojada some of the people, especially those who belonged to the Cooperative, hauled water in barrels from the Cooperative well. All the rest of the populace relied on the numerous hand dug wells around town, most of which were between sixty and eighty feet deep. Everyone had to draw this water with a bucket and a windlass. Even when electricity became available, no one installed any sort of a pump. The electricity was not free and was not cheap. There was zero tolerance for late payment of the bill, and the reinstalling the meter. It was in the ‘80s that the state government made a serious effort to alleviate the problem of water. In Sierra Mojada two deep wells were drilled into the Red Conglomerate which there in Sierra Mojada is generally covered by only a few meters of alluvial. These wells were quite abundant, and were equipped with submersible pumps, each powered by its own diesel driven generator. Both in Sierra Mojada and also half way to La Esmeralda a large cement storage tank was built. Water lines were installed in the principal streets of both Sierra Mojada and La Esmeralda. In La Esmeralda this did not include the area above the railroad tracks. About a third of the people live above the tracks. In all cases the connection from the water line to the house was at the option and the expense of the consumer. There were no meters; the water was free. Every few days, alternating between Sierra Mojada and La Esmeralda, the valve at the holding tank was opened and the water flooded into the water lines until the holding tank was empty. The people would have to store their water in tanks or barrels, or whatever. The distribution was quite uneven because those who lived at the lowest level of the town had more pressure in the lines, and continued to have water longer than those who lived higher up. Some wasted while other received hardly anything. . The Cooperative well continued functioning for those who did not have a connection to the municipal system, for instance those in La Esmeralda who lived above the tracks. As a precaution, I made a connection to the municipal water, but through a system of check valves I remained on the Cooperative water when their well was working. So for several years, with a few interruptions, there was a fairly good supply of water. But then the system slowly started to deteriorate. First, the water level in Sierra Mojada fell, and so the pumps worked intermittently. Next, because the pumping equipment was not properly maintained, one pump failed completely. There was no money to replace it. When the water level fell in these bore wells, so also did the level in the hand dug wells in town. Many of these dried up completely. It was now only once in a while that any water came from Sierra Mojada to La Esmeralda. Eventually there was not enough water for even the people in Sierra Mojada. The Cooperative well, now at least forty years old, had silted up, and had begun to draw sand. This scored the brass cylinder, and so water was lost on the stroke, and the gaskets wore out rapidly. To pull the cylinder and replace the gaskets was a full day’s work. The price of ore had fallen, and the Cooperative came on hard times. There was no money to de-silt and replace the cylinder. In 1990 the smelters suddenly refused to accept the marginal ore from the Cooperative mines, and the mines closed. There was now no money to operate the well, and so the well shut down. Sometimes a private party bought the diesel for the motor and paid the well master to pump some water for private use.
  4. 4. 4 The railroad station master had a right to be supplied by the railroad (Still national property at that time.) His water supply was brought in by tank car and unloaded into a large cistern at the station. The station master was very considerate and permitted some people to pump water from the cistern. Many times I hauled off a load of six barrels for the parish. The pump was slow, and so it took about an hour and a half to fill them. At times I would go to Sierra Mojada and fill my barrels from the old hand dug well in the Metalúrgica. By this time this well had been equipped with a cylinder and a jack pump powered by an electric motor. Slow, but sure. Many others too came to the Metalúrgica for water. Bad went to worse and in the end almost the only source of water was that brought in by the train in tank cars. At the most, one tank per day arriving on the late evening train. People would start to line up with their pickup and burro carts at four in the morning in hopes of getting water. It was sold at five pesos a barrel. The railroad charged to bring the water, and the conductors charged a ‘gratification’ for the ‘favor’ of arranging for the tank car to get included on the train. About 1988 the Cooperative had made attempts to find water nearer the mines on the upper outskirts of La Esmeralda. After two dry bores the third bore did strike water, and the well was cased. Then they bought a bowl pump along with the motor, but it was never installed because it had a maximum depth of a hundred and fifty meters, and it was a hundred and eighty- five meters to the water level in the well. No one seemed to have an explanation of why the pump was purchased in the first place, or why it was never returned. They must not have asked about specifications before buying. Years later a rancher bought it. Also, it was the general opinion that the well had very little water in it, that is, the recovery rate was very slow. So a steel plate was welded over the wellhead, and weeds started to grow around it. Around La Esmeralda there had been other attempts too to find water, and all had failed. I too tried right at the parish in 1990. The contract was for a bore of one hundred meters. The first seventy-five meters were drilled in a little over two days because it was all alluvial. From then on it was bed rock (limestone) and the progress was much slower. At ninety-five meters an opening… a hollow spot, was broken into, and the ejection system for returning the drilling products to the surface lost pressure. There was a serious danger that the bit would become lodged tight. The rig was government owned and operated, and it was for the benefit of the people; they worked at a no-profit rate. So rather than lose the bit, they pulled the drill and refused to go any farther. Because of the detergent used in the ejection of the drilling products, the walls of the bore through the alluvial collapsed in a matter of weeks. The reason for the failures in the attempts to find water was with the geology below. Hidden by hundreds of feet of alluvial, the geology is very complex. It was sometime in the early nineties when Kennecott spent more than a year and several millions making explorations in the valley there. They were working with the theory that the mineralization of the area had occurred before the mountain had been thrust upward, almost a shear three thousand feet. The mountain as it rose had lifted with it the ore found along its sides. In the valley the same ore body would be found at a corresponding depth. First came a team from Arizona to make an electromagnetic survey by sending an underground current between two points. By means of detectors between the two points the subsurface lithology can be inferred. This survey began at point eight miles to the east of La Esmeralda, and continued on to an almost equal distance to the west. The two extreme points were well outside the Sierra Mojada valley where all the mines are located. It should be noted that this survey was in the valley below the area of the mines, and this area is covered by hundreds of feet of alluvial. Then came the core drilling crews to drill at strategic points indicated by the electromagnetic survey. The cores were about an inch and a half in diameter. They never drilled deeper than three hundred meters because unless something exceptionally rich were found, the cost of mining at that depth becomes prohibitive. The afore mentioned ‘openings’ or ‘hollow places’ caused many problems, and in places the drills could not advance to three hundred meters. All in all, the geologist in charge of the operation simply shook his head in confusion. The underground structure of the geology was nothing like he had ever seen. He showed me one instance where they had drilled into the limestone, and then another hundred meters deeper they found the exact same stratum as on the very top. This geologist was using a certain fossil as a
  5. 5. 5 guide post. This fossil is called a miliolid, which is a minuscule marine protist with a calcareous test. This protist evolves rapidly, and so it is useful in determining the age of a stratum. What happened in this instance was that the drill cut through a fault where one block of limestone either dropped below the other block, or one block was lifted in relation to the other. Always a company that makes a study like this is very secretive about what is found. After all, this knowledge is their property, and they do not want to share it with a competitor. The geologist in charge did tell me a few general facts which would not compromise the total. He showed me one core sample that had a narrow vein of rich silver. But he did not tell me from where it was taken. The net result of the core drillings demonstrated that the Kennecott geologists had erred, and that there were no worthwhile bodies of ore accessible in the valley. The fact that this geologist showed me some of these things is because he was staying in quarters belonging to the parish. The following is the story of these rooms. ---------------------------------------------------------------- When I first went to La Esmeralda there were several cases where there was an old invalid who did not have any relatives in town. They were destitute, lived alone, and spent their last days in miserable conditions. Of course those who had relatives were always taken care of by family members even though they were no more than cousins or aunts and uncles. There was no such thing as a place for assisted living. In these extreme cases when the person was no longer able to take care of himself / herself, there was a group of ladies from the church who took care of them. The ladies would arrange among themselves for who would bring them their meals, do the cleaning, do their laundry and arrange for their bathing. And moderately provide for their medicine. One such man was Don Abundio who did not even have a house of his own; rather he lived in an abandoned house that did not even have a door. We arranged a few boards at the doorway to keep out the burros and the goats. His toilet was a bucket which was emptied for him. I loaned him a cot with bedding, and visited him at least once a week. Then there was Don Silverio. He too was living in a single abandoned room. The door had been taken off, but Don Silverio had filled the opening with adobes, and used a small window with a wooden shutter to enter and leave. But when he became invalid we removed the adobes and made him a door of the usual boards and cleats. This was also a convenience for those taking care of him. His toilet too was a bucket. It was now 1975, and by this time I was getting a better handle on things there in La Esmeralda. I decided that there had to be a more comfortable place for these invalids, and so I designed and built modest place there at the parish. The floor plan called for two mirror rooms, each about twelve feet square with a common vestibule between them which included a laundry sink and washboard. Each had an independent complete bath with tiled tub/shower, and sink with hot and cold water, and toilet. Each room had a single burner propane grill, a cabinet for dishes etc., a free standing wardrobe, table, chairs and a bed. Later a swamp cooler was added in each room. The cement floors were covered with vinyl/asbestos tile, and the ceilings were polystyrene insulation sheets. In one of the rooms the bed was a used hospital bed with hand cranks to lift the foot and head sections. There are always problems building with adobe bricks, and so I decided to use cement blocks. This was going to be the first cement block house in all La Esmeralda. The closest source for cement blocks was in Cuatro Ciénegas which is about a hundred miles down the railroad tracks. In Mexico the station master enjoys many privileges, among them very low freight rates. The station master fudged a little bit and brought the blocks in for very little freight. The gabled roof was covered with galvanized sheet metal. There was a little planted patio with high walls and a gate in front of the house. We called the place The Refuge. It turned out that the place was never used for the purpose for which it was built until 1998. There were cases of invalids without families, but they had a house that was more or less comfortable, and most old people would rather put up with their accustomed inconveniences than to go and live in strange surroundings. We did offer the use of The Refuge to various persons, but they said they were more comfortable in their homes.
  6. 6. 6 That only case, mentioned above, was with Don Eugenio. He lived in a single room with a cement floor; the roof was in fair condition. Off to one side was a small kitchen blackened from the smoke of his little wood stove made from an oil drum. His place was on the outskirts of town, and Don Eugenio used the surrounding brush as a toilet. Don Eugenio fell sick and, being old, was forgetting to take the medication given free by the public clinic in La Esmeralda. His condition deteriorated until finally he was bedridden. As usual the ladies of the parish were taking care of his needs, but it would be much more practical if he were in The Refuge. Don Eugenio was quite willing, and when he saw what he was getting into, he was really happy about it. It was summer, and here he was in a nice cool room with the swamp cooler! And an indoor toilet! And electric lights! And a comfortable bed that could be raised up so that he could sit in it.! But he did make it clear that if he got back on his feet, he wanted to go back to his home. So in the meantime we spruced up his house. We whitewashed the walls and put in electric lights, even a light outside the door. We whitewashed the kitchen, and I bought a single burner butane stove, and gave him a cylinder of butane. We also made a privy for him close to the house. The bed of his cot was a tangle of patches made of baling wire, and most of the tension springs were missing. On top of this were pieces of cardboard. I redid the whole cot with heavier materials and added extra springs, and then a two inch thick mattress of plastic foam. I also gave him a covered barrel for water. Don Eugenio did recover enough to go back to his house. He was thrilled with what he saw, and made it a point to show it off to everyone. But again he took a turn for the worse. This time the ladies preferred to locate him in another place in town which was more central to those taking care of him. It did not have all the conveniences of The Refuge, but it was adequate. Don Eugenio was there only a few months before he passed away. Toward the end he was completely delusionary and someone stayed with him day and night. Now let us take one step back. Since for the most part The Refuge had no occupant for which it was intended, it served very well as a guest house. Also, as occasion presented itself, it was rented out to temporary occupants, such as the geologists. The fact is that there was no hotel in town. There were two places where one could rent rooms. Neither of these places had anything more than an outdoor privy and only one place had facilities for bathing. But since water was always so scarce, most of the time the party that wanted to use the shower had to see about getting the overhead tank filled, and then start a fire in the hot water heater. The Kennecott teams used The Refuge, and so I learned something of how things were going with them. Also some of the geologists from Oshkosh used the place. One couple even wanted it for their ‘honeymoon’. ------------------------------------------------------------------- Now let us return to and finish the subject of the title of this writing: THE WELL. In the last days of the Cooperative, when they were hurting because of the drop in the price of the ore, I gave them economic help to some fair amount. And when the end came, they had of course no way to repay me. Because of the water crisis, I was desperate for finding a solution for the parish needs for water. We now had a convent with four Sisters. The unproven well the Cooperative had drilled might have enough water for the needs of the parish. So I suggested that I would accept the well as an even deal for what was owed. Actually the debt and the cost of the well were about the same. There was a little disagreement among the members of the Cooperative, but it was finally approved. The data on the well on file with the Cooperative read that the depth of the well was 250 meters = 937 feet, and that there were 65 meters = 214 feet of water. The top 50 meters of casing was of twelve inch heavy casing; the rest of the casing was of ten inch heavy casing. Immediately plans were made and put into action. I was very fortunate in the fact that Nacho (Ignacio) Rosales lived only about hundred and fifty feet from the well. Nacho, now about forty years of age, had grown up with wells because his father was the well master of the Cooperative well, and the young family had lived right on the premises next to the well. Nacho was also an excellent mechanic and an expert welder. And he, like all the rest of the members of the Cooperative, was out of work. Nacho and I were close friends from many years back.
  7. 7. 7 Besides, Nacho had the specific interest of having a close and plentiful source of water. So Nacho now became my right hand man, and the one in charge of this project. First of all, I bummed enough six inch steel used pipe to build a permanent derrick above the well: a derrick tall enough to comfortably handle a standard twenty-one foot length of pipe. Nacho did the work. Several heavy duty pulleys were needed, and we could find no place in Mexico where this type of pulley was available. In Química, the sodium sulfate / magnesium oxide plant, there are several shops that have metal lathes. We managed to scrounge some three- quarter-inch steel plate, and from that the shop made the six inch sheaves. From the same plate Nacho made the sides and welded the pulleys together. Power for lowering and raising the tackle assembly with its pipe was a loaded dump truck with a hundred feet of half inch steel cable connected between the tackle assembly and the truck. The truck moving forward or backward lowered or raised the assembly. Once the derrick was in place a concrete platform was poured, and it was made large enough to build on the back end an open ended room for equipment and control panel. The two side walls of the room were extended to the front of the platform, and the end was closed off by iron gates. Next order of business was a holding tank. I had access to an old open top iron tank that was used as a holding tank for a steam boiler in one of the old mines. It was ten feet in diameter and ten feet high. It must have been around a hundred years old. It was battered and slightly miss-shapen, and there were many places in the bottom eight inches where it was rusted through. Nacho did an excellent job of straightening the tank, and reinforcing the top with a two inch angle iron. Next to the well we built two wide concrete walls six feet high and set the tank on top of them. In the bottom of the tank we poured an eight inch thick reinforced floor to take care of the rusted bottom with its leaks. Some leaks still persisted, and it took us a long time to finally plug them. The reason for an elevated holding tank was that In case the well proved productive enough, it would facilitate filling by gravity the barrels of those who came for water. The top of the tank was completely covered with heavy sheet metal. We were now ready to begin work on the pump, and so we uncapped the well to take more exact measurements. The results showed that the well was actually two hundred and eighty meters (918 feet) deep and that it was two hundred and sixteen meters (708 feet) down to the level of the water. So the column of water was 64 meters (210 feet) deep. At first I had planned on using a cylinder with pump jack. In Sierra Mojada the government sponsored wells had been equipped with submersible pumps, and there had been many problems with them. It was difficult to get parts, and they were expensive. Besides, Nacho grew up with the cylinder pump. He knew all about them. Nacho though was quite opposed to the idea. He explained that the problems in Sierra Mojada had resulted from poor management and maintenance. Moreover, the bore of this well was crooked, and there would be serious problems with wear on rod and pipe. The submersible, though more expensive, was the much better way to go. So an order was placed for a submersible pump with a 10hp motor. This would deliver 28gpm. Our plans were drop the pump to over seven hundred feet. We were warned by those who knew that it was risky to hang so much weight, which would include the weight of the water inside the pipe, on just the threads of the couplings. There was a very serious danger that after a time the threads, especially those at the top, would crack off. (Like the threads at the other pump in town had failed.) The usual practice in this case was to hang (support) the pump on a galvanized steel cable. So I ordered the cable. The reply was that there was none on hand, and it would take up to three months to manufacture the galvanized cable. This can be understood as a euphemism for saying we do not commit ourselves to any time table. After some days of thinking about it, Nacho and I came up with the idea of making brackets with a ninety degree flange on one end, and drill a half inch hole in the flange. A bracket would be welded on either side of the pipe with the flange close the threads. After two pipes were connected by the coupling, a half inch bolt would be installed through each of the mirror brackets. In this way the weight of the pipe would be supported by the bolts, and not by the threads. It did take some time to fabricate and weld the brackets. There were forty lengths of pipe (two as standby), and there are four brackets on each pipe… two on each end. Even though it entailed much more work, both Nacho and I liked this solution better than the steel cable.
  8. 8. 8 Several years before this, the mayor of the town, for the purpose of alleviating the water crisis, wanted to work a deal with the Cooperative about their unused well. At this same time the power company was upgrading the electric service in La Esmeralda, and in anticipation, the mayor convinced them to bring the power, 240 triphase, and right up to the well. The mayor wanted exclusive control over the well, and so the Cooperative backed out. But by that time the poles and lines were in place for our use. Finally on April 5, 1994 we were ready to lower the pump. When the last length of pipe, № 38, was being lowered it was noticed that the pipe wanted to hang up. We were confident that already we had a comfortable margin of water above the pump, and so there was no need to take a risk by forcing it. Pipe № 38 already had the detaining collar welded onto it. So we pulled № 37 and replaced it with № 38, and ended up with thirty -seven lengths of pipe, so the pump is close to 787 feet deep in the well. (Thirty-seven lengths of pipe plus the pump and motor.) When the pump was switched on everything worked perfectly. The pump was left to operate thirty-six continuous hours, and the flow of water did not diminish. We knew we had a good well. The specifications on the well are as follows. METERS FEET 280 = 918 Depth of the well. 216 = 708 Depth to water level 64 = 210 Depth of water column 239 = 787 Level of the pump 24 = 79 Column of water above the pump 40 = 131 Column of water below the pump 5,500 gallons Practical capacity of holding tank Everyone was welcome to have as much water as they wanted. At first we were selling it at fifty centavos a barrel, but after the first electricity bill came, we raised it to one peso. From this time on there was no more water brought in by tank cars. There were no long lines waiting. No getting into line in the wee hours of the morning. Everyone could get as much water as they wanted. The water was cheaper and cleaner. Even people from Sierra Mojada came for water. Even nearby ranchers came for water when their cattle dams went dry. Everyone was so happy to be relieved of the water crisis. Nacho ran a plastic pipe to his house and pumped all the water he wanted. Even to watering his several peach trees and planting a couple of short rows of corn for fresh corn. In Mexico corn has been an integral part of the fare from the days of the Mayas. To this day Nacho, a very responsible person, is in charge of the well. Jorge, who lived only a couple of hundred yards from the well, was put in charge of selling. The story of Jorge is a special one. Where shall we begin? Maybe it would be better to finish THE WELL story first, and then add that of Jorge as an appendix. Already by the time the well came into operation we had run a water line to the rectory. The pressure would be quite low, so we used a one-inch flexible black plastic water pipe that comes in rolls of a hundred meters.
  9. 9. 9 Fortunately the well was above the railroad tracks, and the vertical difference between the level of the well and that of the rectory was about fifty feet, so the water would transport itself by gravity. At one point we did have to install a purge valve. The straight-line distance between well and rectory is about four hundred meters, but having had to follow public access areas it turned out to be just five hundred meters. In some parts it was through terrain with a thick layer of caliche. It would have taken weeks to chisel through this. At the dolomite mine they have one of the biggest of the Cats with a massive claw behind it, made just for this type of work. They were gracious enough to come down and rip a way through the caliche. The most serious problem would be getting the line across the railroad. It is the law that no water pipes are allowed on the railroad right-of-way without permission, and the permission would have to come from Mexico City. That could be very formidable, and almost for certain a substantial ‘gratification’ would be a requirement. But both luck and the good Lord were with us by way of the following. Back in the days when the mines were worked using steam engines there was a large dam just a few hundred feet from the parish. Right next to the dam there was a steam driven cylinder pump to force the water through a four inch pipe up to the mines. Of course this pipe had passed under the railroad. It was a few years before this time that some members of the Cooperative had obtained permission to dig up this pipe, and cut it into sections for their own private use. But of course not where it passed under the railroad. At this point the tracks are on an embankment about eight feet high. There was also the problem for getting across the road running between La Esmeralda and Sierra Mojada. But again there was this old four inch pipe under the road. This pipe was in the exact line were we wanted to run our pipe. The station master suggested we just go ahead and quietly run our pipe through this old iron pipe. Once the trench was covered over again, no one would ever see it. Too, the station master had a property below the tracks just a short distance away, and he too needed water. All in all, there was no serious problem bringing the water all the way down to the rectory, and from then on we had water 24/7. No longer were the subterranean tank and the pump needed. In a very short time a number of people who lived close to where the water line passed asked to be connected to it, the first being the aged widowed grandmother of Nacho. The old boiler and the foundation for the pump along with its pistons were still there when I arrived In La Esmeralda. But when the Cooperative stopped mining the people were so destitute that they scrounged every scrap of used metal to sell. And sometimes they scrounged what was not scrap. There is now no vestige of the old boiler and the pump. About three years after the parish well was put into operation the state government again made serious efforts to bring water to the homes in La Esmeralda. First two deep wells within a few hundred yards of the parish well were drilled. It was now proven that there was a large aquifer in that area. On the first well they made a serious mistake of not properly placing the correct coarseness of gravel around the perforated intake casing (the sieve), and setting the pump at the proper depth. After about eight hours of pumping a four inch flow, the silt had risen to cover and clog and lock the pump in place. There was no way of extricating the pump, and the entire well and the pump were lost. The second (spare) well was then properly equipped. Also new water lines were laid so that water would be reasonably accessible to all part of the town, including above the railroad tracks. Large concrete holding tanks were built at strategic points. The water is pumped into the holding tanks, and on intermittent days the valve is opened to deliver water to that specific sector until the tank is empty. It is still the responsibility of the individual user to make the connection to his home, and have tanks or containers to store the water. There is no charge for the water. Still, many come to the parish well for water for drinking and cooking. The town holding tanks are not well enough closed off and so many types of arthropods and mosquito larvae, and other junk, come along with the water. The parish holding tank is better protected against contamination. The result of this new effort is that now there is an ample supply of water in La Esmeralda, and the parish well serves only the parish and those connected to the line. Our advantage is that the quality is better, and it was available 24/7. This well also serves for those who prefer better quality water. I have been told that in the last few years water has been sold to a company which is operating a few core drills exploring the ore body around the mines.
  10. 10. 10 The bottom line is that the sale of water never covered the expense of operating the well, but the assurance of a steady supply of quality water at the parish is an ample compensation for the cost. What the government did in La Esmeralda to provide the people with better water service was done also in Sierra Mojada. Sierra Mojada is about fire hundred meters higher than La Esmeralda, and the well that was drilled there is a little over five hundred meters deep. THE PARISH WELL IN SIERRA MOJADA A picture of Roberto González being lowered by hand into the well. My sister, Marcella, and I are standing in the shade. At this stage we were digging the tunnels ------------------------------------------------ In the late ‘70s the rectory in Sierra Mojada was upgraded. The floors there were still dirt floors, and the plaster was the sand/clay plaster. Cement floors were poured and the walls were plastered with lime/cement plaster. A full bath was installed. At the back and immediately adjacent to the rectory a ground level four-hundred gallon cement tank was built, and immediately adjacent to the tank a four foot square cement block tower twelve feet high was constructed. The top five feet of the tower was an elevated water tank. The room below this tank housed a pump to fill the upper tank, and also a butane water hearer. As in La Esmeralda, and really more so, there was always the problem with water in Sierra Mojada. When the town water system was functioning, that was source was used. And since the town holding tank was higher up the hill, the elevated tank filled automatically without the use of the pump. At other times when the town water system was not operating, we brought the water from the well in the Metalúrgica in barrels to fill the ground level tank, and then pump it to the elevated tank. It was during the water crisis In Sierra Mojada in the early ’90s that I decided we needed our own hand-dug well at the rectory there. Within two hundred feet of the rectory there were three productive old hand-dug wells. And so on February 22 1996 I drew an X on the ground about eight feet from the water tower at the back of the rectory, and we started digging. When I use the word ‘we’ let it be understood that I never for an instant wielded pick and shovel, or hammer and chisel. I was there
  11. 11. 11 only to provide what was necessary for the job. Because the first few meters were easy digging in the top alluvial, the pay was according to distance excavated. Later on when the going became much more difficult, the pay was by daily wage. The shaft we dug was four feet wide and six feet long. Over the shaft we installed a windlass with a crank on either end. The excavated material was removed using the windlass and a five gallon bucket, and from there by wheel borrow to dump it in the arroyo next to which the church was built. When the shaft became too deep for a ladder, the workers were lowered and raised by replacing the bucket with a sling made by using only the bead from a truck tire. The worker would sit in the sling and hold onto the rope. Most often two men were employed to lower a man, and always two men for raising him. It was up to me to replace handles in the hammers and sledges, and take the chisels to be sharpened. There was a man in La Esmeralda who had a home forge as a sideline, and he was a master at hammering out a new point on the red hot chisel and, most important, giving it the proper temper. Most of the chisels were made from old jack hammer drilling bar. When the shaft became deep enough to retain the stale air, an extractor system was created by lowering lengths of four-inch plastic pipe down to the bottom, and on the upper end we mounted a used high speed sewing machine motor with a fan blade. It needed to be used only intermittently. Ordinarily there was a crew of three; because the shaft was four by six feet, only two could work below, and one on top worked the windlass. Later on when we started tunneling in two directions, a fourth worker was added. All had worked in the mines, and so they were adept at the work. The first twelve meters (forty feet) was a bed of alluvial. There were some problems with strata of non-consolidated material, and these had to be walled off with cement blocks. At about eight meters we ran into a curious three-foot stratum of loose boulders. There was hardly any sand or gravel between them. Some boulders were more than three feet in diameter, and so were far beyond our ability to lift them. We borrowed an air compressor and a jack hammer to drill holes in them, and then split them with wedges. We could not blast because there was a small contingent of soldiers in town, and the army is extremely delicate about the use of explosives outside of the mining sector. I had gone to army headquarters in Monclova to apply for permission to use explosives in the well, but permission was denied. On an earlier occasion when we came upon a stratum of hard caliche with rock, we did use, in the dead of night when everyone was supposed to be sleeping, a couple of sticks of explosives. There are dozens of ex -miners in town who had brought home explosives when they were still working. So it was not difficult to obtain explosives. But the blast did not escape detection. For some reason the soldiers did not come down on us, but rather went to the dolomite mine, owned by Peñoles, and the superintendent of the mine was sternly warned to make sure that none of the workers snuck off explosives. The superintendent of the mine came to me to ask us not to do it again because it could get all of us in trouble. True. At first it struck me as very strange to find loose boulders below the ground. Then I remembered the 1979 storm that had, in another place several miles away, created a wide arroyo filled with just this type of boulders. I noticed that with the passing of time weeds, brush, and small trees started to grow among the boulders, and the spaces between the boulders were being filled with vegetal matter. Another minor flood could cover this with sand, gravel and dirt. In time the vegetal material between the boulders would rot and leave the boulders free. At twelve meters we struck bedrock, but not the water-bearing Red Conglomerate Formation we had expected. And by pure chance we had come upon a point where three faults converged. On one side, toward the street, was tan limestone. On the other side toward the arroyo the rock was mostly an igneous conglomerate with rock of various sizes and dark hues. The igneous rock conglomerate section was in turn cut by a fault. On one side of this fault the conglomerate was more consolidated; on the other side the rocks were in places separated by spaces filled with a sort of clay. We kept digging, and after a little more than another several meters a tiny trickle of water emerged from the fault on the side toward the street. In a day’s time the trickle would yield several quarts. We continued digging until we reached seventy-nine feet. The tan limestone had been sloping toward the igneous, and now the floor of the shaft was entirely of this formation. Now we gave up hope of finding the red conglomerate.
  12. 12. 12 So we started a low side tunnel following that little trickle of water about nine meters above the floor. The water was following the slickenside of a fault which was about twenty degrees off vertical, and, fortunately, leaning outward from the tunnel we were making. The water was following a variable layer of blue clay lying next to the slickenside. The farther we dug, the more abundant the trickle became, but all in all, after about five meters it amounted to only a few buckets a day. On the igneous rock side of the shaft (toward the arroyo) there was a slight oozing of water several meters below the first trickle of water. So another man was set to tunneling in that direction. The various types and colors of igneous rock and clay that come out of that area were very interesting. Since the mines were closed and most everyone was out of work, there were always some onlookers around to see how things were going. One of them was Trini Puerta, He was in his fifties, and partially crippled. One day he caught me aside and said that he knew that he could not do as much work as the others did, and that he was willing to work for less, just so long as he had some work. A good job for Trini was transporting the excavated material to the shaft and loading the buckets for hauling it to the top. Trini did not do as much work as the others, but he worked as hard. And got the same pay. The fact is that the cost of digging would have been prohibitive if the workers had been paid what normally ‘the private sector’ paid for rough labor when the mines were in operation. But all were paid the legal minimal wage for rough labor, plus some bonuses. All were more than willing to work for the legal wage just so long as they had some work. We extended the first tunnel about fifty-five feet, and by this time we had reached the property line of the man across the street. We were now getting maybe fifty gallons of water per day. So about ten feet from the end of the tunnel we started a side tunnel up toward the mountain. Here the rock was more fractured and easier to dig. At about ten feet we found a sister fault which too had a nice trickle of water. We followed along side of this fault for another six feet. By this time the combined yield from all tunnels was about a hundred and fifty gallons a day. We would have liked more, but this was really sufficient for the needs of the rectory. For this we had hand dug a shaft 4’ X 6’ X 79’, and 91 feet of hard rock tunnel about 2.5’ X 4’. We calculated that the well with its tunnels had a capacity of 18,000 gallons. On March 26, 1997, thirteen months after starting, the ring of sledge on chisel fell silent, and we removed the windlass. A cement plaque was poured over the shaft. A permanent short-derrick was erected, and a 3hp / 50gpm submersible pump was installed on April 10. This pump lifted the water directly into the elevated tank which was only about eight feet away. ----------------------------------------------------- Now for the STORY OF JORGE. Because the family lived sort of a reclusive life, I never knew of the situation of the people who lived at that place until one day when someone mentioned to me that she had taken a pot of beans over to Juanita, and Juanita remarked that they were so grateful because they had nothing else in the house to eat. It turned out that actually this was a ploy that Juanita occasionally used to call attention to their poverty. No matter, I went to see for myself what the situation was. Another reason why I was unaware of the family and their situation was that none of them ever came to church-----well, maybe so on big feast days when they would be lost in the crowd. First there was Juanita, a widowed grandmother, and the head of the household. Then there was her daughter. I do not remember her name, but for convenience, let us call her Lupe. Next were Lupe’s two children: Jorge, about eighteen years of age, and Angelina thirteen. Finally there was Roque, a man in has late fifties. I guess you would call him a live-along. There are reasons to believe that sometimes he and Juanita slept together. Juanita had one other daughter living in Sierra Mojada, but because this daughter followed the religion of her husband, and so was a member of the Apostolic Church of Faith in Jesus Christ, the relationship between mother and daughter was lukewarm. Lupe had married and lived in Chihuahua. When her husband was killed in an accident, Lupe was traumatized and became deranged. So Juanita took her and the grandchildren under her care. Lupe lost all interest in taking care of herself and her children. She was irritable, unpredictable and difficult to live with.
  13. 13. 13 Jorge had polio as a small boy. His right leg was almost completely paralyzed, and his right arm partially so. Because of his physical handicap, poor clothes and very humble circumstances, he was extremely shy. He never looked one in the face. Angelina was a normal girl. But she too hung back because of her very humble circumstances. Roque was an unmarried man and mentally deficient. Only a mentally deficient girl could have wanted him. Basically he was a mild natured man, but constant taunts had made him acerbic and irascible for the sake of self defense. He had a fixed gaze, always looked straight forward, and walked with a little shuffle. Up to a point he was adept at the art tinkering, and fashioned from junk some useful articles. He was quite good at lead soldering. For a time he was the local constable. It was to the advantage of the local officials to have around someone who did not know what was going on. Roque at any occasion would overplay his authority and get himself and others into trouble. For this reason he was openly disliked. There were several occasions when he went to break up a fight, and ended up getting pistol whipped with his own pistol. A very close friend of mine told me about the occasion when he was in a cantina having a drink or two. In comes Roque to see if everyone was behaving themselves. Two other men who were also having a drink started calling Roque the worst of names. Roque left, and, wisely, so did the two men. It so happened that there were in town two federal police, and Roque reported to them that the two men had called him names. The police came to the cantina and finding only Rodolfo took him to be one of the culprits. They beat Rodolfo, and while he was on the floor they kicked him and cracked one of his ribs. After the police left Rodolfo picked himself up, went to his pickup and laid his hand on his .45 automatic. But then he thought of his family. Roque was for some years the official gravedigger. Only he had the right to dig a grave… for a set price. He would arrive to perform his privileged task with pick and shovel, and a huge fifty-meter steel tape hanging conspicuously from his belt. The gravedigger was obliged to be present at the burial, just in case. Of course I was present for every burial, and it was only one or two occasions when the grave was large enough. Roque would unhook his tape, again take measurements of the coffin and then of the grave, and then start enlarging the hole by a few centimeters. When he worked, Roque always had the tip of his tongue outside the corner of his mouth, and bit on it at every swing of the pick and toss of the shovel. Quite often some of the men would help so as to speed up the process. When ready, three pairs of men, each pair with a rope between them, carried the coffin over the grave and lowered it to the bottom. So Roque living at Juanita’s place was a convenient arrangement. Roque could add some degree of security, bring in the water and collect firewood from the surrounding brush, make little repairs, and contribute to the groceries. Roque earned a little bit from the odd jobs he did, and also had a small pension from working for the town. In turn, Roque had a place to live, and someone to cook for him and wash his clothes. There were several government programs to help the very poor, and Juanita used these for some of the groceries. Roque’s mother, who had passed her mental condition on to her son, lived alone. When she was no longer able to take care of herself, she came to live and share the bed with Juanita. When she became bedridden another son, half brother to Roque, and his wife cared for her during her remaining short time. I went to see her several times, and felt so sorry for her. Her life had been a hard one. Juanita’s house consisted of four rooms and a porch. Two rooms were each about ten feet square. One of these was Juanita’s bedroom; the other was the bedroom of Lupe and Angelina. There was another room about six feet wide and fourteen feet long. This was sort of the living room. In the winter time when the weather was bad, the cooking and dining was done here. There was a cot in it, and at night it was Jorge’s bedroom. Off to one side of the house there was sort of closed in lean-to made of scraps of boards and pieces of tin. It was just large enough for a bed and a little closet for Roque. All the floors were dirt floors. When the weather was favorable, the cooking and dining was done in a little wattle (ocotillo) and mud hut just a few feet from the house. The reason why Juanita never went to mass was because she had partial facial paralysis. The right corner of her lips was contorted, and especially her right eye, so much so that she always wore dark glasses to hide it. Her clothes and sandals were very poor, and this
  14. 14. 14 embarrassed her. Besides, because Lupe was unpredictable; it was necessary to stay close and keep an eye on her. Jorge, because he could only hobble on a crutch, and the terrain around the house was rocky and uneven, hardly ever ventured away from the house. Angelina did come occasionally with some friends. Once Roque was quite ill for some months, and when he recovered he made several very clever and attractive ‘wreathes” from sotol and brought them to the church as a thanksgiving offering. When I saw the plight of these people I came to their aid. First of all seeing to it that they were supplied with groceries. Next was electricity. It was several hundred yards to the nearest power line. There the consumer is responsible for providing the line if it is more than a specified number of meters. . I got some heavy pipe to use as poles, and the wire. And then wired the house for light and a few outlets. Plus a couple of outdoor lights because the privy was a little distance from the house. Also a radio and a small used b/w TV. I paid the light bill, along with the bills of four or five other meters. Also it was arranged for someone to accompany Jorge to Monclova and lodge him there while measurements were taken to make a brace for his leg. The government paid most of the cost of the brace. Then once the brace was fabricated, another trip had to be made to have it fitted. Jorge was so happy that now he could get around so much better. And he started to smile. I noticed that Jorge puttered around making little things, and so I set him up with tools and materials to make bird cages. There is hardly a home in Mexico that does not have several birds, even though they are not song birds. So there is always a market for bird cages. Jorge sold a few around town, and I took the rest to Química where a friend who had a small restaurant sold them for Jorge. Maybe Jorge agreed to the project only not to offend me, or else he lost interest. Too, because of his handicap it was harder and more tiresome for Jorge to work. But gradually the quality of his work deteriorated to the point that the product would not sell. So. A cement floor was poured in the ‘living room’ and in the little porch where they spent a lot of their time. In the ‘living room’ I put a two-burner butane stove, and provided the butane cylinders, for cooking when the weather was inclement. The roofs leaked badly, and I provided wide sheets of heavy gauge plastic to cover the roofs and then cover the plastic with an inch of lime plaster to protect the plastic from the sun or from ripping. Such a roof is waterproof for many years. Roque and Don Eugenio were close friends, and between the both of them they did the work. Jorge slowly overcame part of his shyness, regularly went to mass and the plaza. When we equipped the well, he was put in charge of selling the water, and was given a share of the take. He used part of it to help with the expenses of the house, but for good reasons was rather secretive about how much he had. Angelina graduated from grade school (six years). Because grade school is obligatory, the government provides all the school materials. But the students have to bear some of the costs for materials and extra curricular expenses in the three yeas of junior high. I paid these costs for Angelina, including her uniform. Angelina too was at first quite self conscious because of conditions at home, but in junior high she overcame much of her shyness. Afterwards she moved to Química where some relatives lived. She found work there, and sent part of her earnings home. She married at an early age, and Juanita became a doting great grandmother. When the town water system came into operation only a limited number of people came to the parish well for water for drinking and cooking. It was no longer practical for Jorge to spend all his time at the well waiting for a chance customer. When one does come, the customer first goes to see Nacho who dispatches the water. ------------------------------------------------------------------- This article is entitled THE WELL AND SIDELINE STORIES. However, according to the proportion of its content, it would appear that the titles should have been in the reverse order. SIDELINE STORIES - AND THE WELLS. My intention when starting this story was to make the well in La Esmeralda the sole protagonist, but as other characters came on stage, they begged to play a fuller part. And now that all is said and done, they were right in wanting it known that the WELL is not the only, and much less the most important, thing in La Esmeralda. ¡Viva la raza!