Well Repair

-- by Joe Hage

Sycamore Islander, June 2003

The Easterday crew measuring and testing the new
installation behind the Caretakerís quarters.
The day had finally arrived and they were on their way to begin the work on the Sycamore Island well. All of the preliminaries had been taken care of. The contract with Easterday Well Co. had been signed and Frank Easterday had brought down his foreman, Lester, the week before to look things over. I made the important call to the Park Ranger to get permission for the trucks to drive on the towpath. And of course I made sure that I had all the laundry and dishes done and that I had plenty of fresh water stored, since I might not have running water again for five days.

It was a perfect spring day when Lester and his crew showed up. The river was at a nice safe level and everything went smoothly. The men were busy unloading tools and equipment from their truck by the time I arrived with the ferry. They had a little heavy-duty wagon that they used to quickly load the ferry. There were four of them, and two other, younger guys were going to show up later when it was time to move the gravel. Naturally, they had many questions about the island and what it was like to live here, but they wasted no time in getting the old well dismantled and our pump disconnected.

At the ferry landing. Well digging operations call for lots of
equipment and materials. All hauled over on the ferry.
The first thing they wanted to do was to flush out the well. Over time, large amounts of sediment had settled in the bottom and needed to be washed out. They were able to pump water from the river to do this. They then lowered another pump down into the well to pump it out. Now they could inspect the condition of the bottom of the well as well as the sidewalls. They invited me to look down into the shaft and I was amazed at what I saw. The shaft is 24 feet deep and I could easily see down to the bottom. The walls were lined with what looked like 50-gallon drums with the tops and bottoms cut out. These lined the walls for the first 20 feet or so but then the shaft opened up at the bottom. The last four feet of the hole was wider and the sides were hidden in darkness. I could see big rocks and pieces of concrete on the bottom. I was thinking that it looked like a cave when I realize it was actually an underground stream. When the pump was turned off the well filled up quickly, which was a good sign, plenty of water.

A day of pumping water out was needed to clear the
clay from the loads of gravel placed in the well.
The big boss, Frank Easterday showed up later and he and Lester assessed the situation in the well and decided on the best strategy. It was decided that an insert of PVC tubing would be fabricated and placed inside the existing well. This insert would have a large screened section and would reach all the way to the bottom of the well/creek. Inside of this would be a smaller piece of pipe, also equipped with screens. Between the two pipes there was to be a gravel pack, hundreds of pounds of pea gravel. The first pipe would be flush with the ground but the second, smaller pipe, from where my water was to be pumped, was to extend 4 feet above the ground for high water protection. To seal the inside of the well they would use something called "hole filler" (Imagine!) that expands and then hardens when it comes in contact with water. And so it was done and my water was back on in four days. The most difficult part of the project must have been moving those many wheel barrels full of gravel!

The top of the gravel pack (surrounding the white PVC tube)
is 13 feet below ground level; the well itself is much deeper,
down 11 feet more.
The Islandís tap water now seeps through the screens of the large pipe, is further filtered in the gravel and then passes through the screens of the smaller pipe where it is pumped into a holding tank inside the house. Inside the holding tank is a pressurized air bag to maintain water pressure and ensure that the pump doesn't get over worked. Our holding tank was low on air so Lester brought down his air pump and took care of that.

The water is then filtered and then finally it passes under an ultraviolet light to kill any bacteria that may be present. I'm very happy that this work was done on the well. I have improved water pressure and the peace of mind of having nice clear tap water.

Joe Hage, as the Clubís Caretaker, lives on the Island year 'round.