World’s Largest Hand-Dug Well

My family went on a western road trip over spring break this year. It’s traditional to stop at kooky roadside attractions on a trip like that. There were many as we made our way out to New Mexico — the big blue hole, the Dalton gang hideout, Fort Larned.  We stopped at some and let others pass by when a shower and a hotel bed were more appealing than Truckhenge.

The world’s largest hand-dug well is in my home state, Kansas. It was completed in the late 1800’s in the times before heavy machinery did all the digging and when the US population would still elect hardcore racists to political office. Wait…nevermind. Let’s just say before heavy digging equipment.

The pamphlet says the well is 32 feet wide and 109 feet deep which sounds pretty impressive for a bunch of dudes with shovels. I always need to translate measurement like that into units I can really comprehend, so let’s put into terms that I can understand.

If you take four tanker trucks like the one in Terminator 2 full of liquid nitrogen. You know the one, it busted open an froze the liquid-metal bad guy.  If you take four of those tankers and strap them together like a bundle of dynamite, that’s how wide the well is. If you drop that bundle down the hole and then stack two more massive liquid nitrogen dynamite bundles on top, that’s how deep the well is.

It was dug by guys with shovels getting paid 50 cents a day. Pretty impressive.

I imagine those guys digging that hole – dirty faces,  smelling like guys that have been digging for months, eating mostly beans.  No access to showers or toilet paper. They both lean on their shovels to take a short break. One takes out a waterskin and lifts it for a swallow. It tastes like the bag – leather? goat’s ass?  A few drips run down his chin and he looks to his partner.

“Shamus.” He says. (They are, in my mind, both Irish. It’s how the western labor narrative plays in my head.) “Shamus. How far you think we’ve got?”

He shades his eyes with his hand and looks at the little disc of light above them. “Fook, Connor, I’m not sure. We’re past a hundred feet.”

“How much more you think we got, Shamus?”

” I don’t rightly know. Not far I’d say.”

“You think we’ll hit water or bedrock, Shamus?”

Shamus shrugs and says, “Does it matter, Connor? We’ll be done either way.”

Shamus and Connor have been my companions for a while now. I’m nearly to the end of the first draft of my first novel.  I’ve been jabbing my shovel into the rocky soil at the bottom of the well for a while now waiting for the water to rush in.

I know I’ll get there soon, but the soil seems harder, each shovelful heavier than it did through the rest of the process.

Welp, it’s time to hang my goats-ass canteen back on the peg and pick up the shovel.

Beans for lunch anyone?


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