Monday, May 3, 2010

Cool, Clear, Water

Another thing that played a major role in our lives was water, or maybe I should say a lack of it.  Maybe it was the constant struggle to have adequate water for our crops and animals as well as that of the entire community that seemed to occupy so much of our time and energy.

Midnight Mountain and the surrounding area was the reservoir God created to help supply the farmers of Lanark with the water they needed to grow their crops and supply their families with the necessities of life.
It loomed over our childhood home, an ever preasant reminder that God was watching over us.

Dad used to love this song:  "Cool, Clear, Water" especially the versions sung by the Sons of the Pioneers,  Frankie Lane, or Marty Robbins.  I have often heard Dad sing the song.  He had a very good voice sang in the ward choir for much of his life together with Mother and on occasion they even sang duets together.  Neither was musically trained, but they both loved certain kinds of music, especially the hymns of the Church, ballads and country/western songs.  Maybe that is where I developed my love for songs belonging to these genres.
When Dad and Mother bought the farm it was a very dry place.  The soil was fertile and I don't think there was a rock on the entire farm that had not been hauled there by either Dad or the previous owners of the place.  Even with this fertile soil ,crops were difficult to grow, partly because of the short growing season of the high mountain valley, which is Bear Lake Valley, but also because of the marginal and unpredictable water supply.  Bear Lake Valley is a part of the Great Basin area of the western United States, which is considered by most to be a desert region.  Bear Lake Valley is located near the Great Basin's northern extremeties and so is not really a desert, though there were times when we wondered.  The very earliest pioneers who settled in the Lanark and Liberty areas began digging irrigation ditches and canals to carry the water which came mostly from the spring and summer runoff as the mountain snowpack slowly melted.  Sometimes the mountains were covered with deep snow which lasted well into the summer months.  Sometimes, there would be an especially warm spring and much of the water that was needed for the summer crops descended from the mountains prematurely and flooded The Bottoms as well as lowlying areas along the streams.  Sometimes the winter snows were not so abundant and this forbode a dry and difficult summer for the farmers of the area, including Dad. One ditch which played a very important role in our lives was a thirteen mile long canal which hugged the western perimiter of the Lanark and Liberty area. It began near the Derricott farm in Liberty and was fed primarily by Mill Creek. It fed lateral ditches which allowed the water to run down by gravity flow to the farms located below the canal. Our farm was the one furthest from the canal and was fed by a, for the most part, hand dug ditch about a mile in length.  Levees had to be built to allow the water to cross over lower lying areas en route to our farm.  One great benefit of our farm when Dad and Mom bought it was that it came with a rather large water right.  It was no more than we needed and often times not enough, but the farm would never have been very productive without it.  Also, Dad served as the Water Master from about forty years.  This required considerable travel, usually on horseback around the Lanark area to turn streams of water to the farmers on a perdetermined basis and then to turn them off when their time expired.  This requied a lot of time, the wages were very poor, though Dad did get paid for this job, and every little bit of extra moeney was needed and much appreciated.  Being Water Master required considerable organizational as well as diplomatic skill, which Dad seemed to have in rather large measure.  Many times he was the mediator between farmers who were trying to get every last drop of their alotted water, and all to often, a little more than their fair share.  Dad seemed to be able to settle these disputes and keep everybody happy, at least for the most part.  I think his main tools for success in this effort were his unflappable honesty and absolute dependability.  Brcause of these characteristics he was well respected and everybody knew that in the end they would get their fair share of irrigation water from the canal, which was seldom enough, especially as the summer wore on.
     Dad was cleaning one of the long lateral ditches that led to our farm on the day that I was born and as I began to grow older, I too got to do my share.  One of the chief problems was squirrels, ground squirrels.  Often times they would dig their holes in the levvees along the ditch.  As we would clean the ditches these holes became visible and we tried to stop them up so that the water wouldn't escape after it had been turned into the ditch.  More often than not, however, there would be holes we either hadn't noticed or that were not adequaetly stopped off.  This required searching around in the ditch under water to find the hole which was causing the ditch to leak and then getting a large shovel full of sod and stuffing it as tightly as possible into the squirrel hole.  Usually this worked, but it was not always easy and always took more time than we wanted it to, which meant wasting some of the precious water that made the difference between a good crop and one which was less than desired.  This was a yearly process and sometimes had to be repeated, at least to some degree, between  turns for streams of water.
      A springtime ritual in the Lanark area was the cleaning of the South Liberty Canal, as it was known.  It was organized with crews starting from both ends, one at the south end and one at the north end. The size of these crews varied, but was usually about fifteen or twenty men and boys working from both ends.  It was a cooperative venture and each stockholder and owner of water rights in the canal company was required to provide enough labor for cleaning the canal to equal the size of their water right.  It was hard work, but as I look back now, there were  a lot of good times as well.  The men and boys seemed to look forward to working shoulder to shoulder in a project that was vital to them all.  Lunch breaks were always filled with good converstaion, stories, and for the most part, what wa known as locally as BS.  This project usually took about a week.  When the canal was ready, Dad, as the watermaster, would turn the waters from Mill Creek into the Canal and then would walk around the entire length of the canal throwing brush and debris from the canal as the water pushed it out in front of the ever advancing stream.  Sometimes he would have another man with him to help.  It would usually take the better part of the day for the water to make it around to the end of the canal.  It depended somewhat on how much water had been turned in to start with.  More water made for a faster flow to the end of the ditch and less water might have doubled the amout of time it took to reach the end.  Dad became very adept at knowing just how much water to turn in and how much help was going to be needed to throw the debris out onto the bank as the water advanced.  I remember he always came home from these days very tired.  He had a right to be tired.  Just think of walking thirteen miles in a pair of hip boots and throwing debris from the ditch all along the way, with no chance to even set down and rest.  Sometimes I think the older generation was made of sterner stuff than we are today.
     Dad and Mom rarely missed their Sunday church meetings and  the kids were always taken along.  There was only one thing that Dad would miss church for.  That was in the summer in a dry year when the irrigation turn happened to fall on a Sunday.  He would then stay home sometimes and try to steer the water onto any parched knoll he could find.  I'm not sure it payed off, but you could never fault Dad for not trying to get the water where it would do the most good.
     Later Dad was among the first in the area to adopt sprinkler irrigation for the farm.  It was a costly proposition and there was still a lot of work involved as we had hand lines at first, but there was a definite advantage.  Water could readily be applied to any area of the farm and we didn't have to wait for a water turn from the South Liberty Canal.  A couple of small dams were created in the slough which ran through the main pasture.  These dams could hold excess water enough to keep the pipes running for several days.  Additionally a knew source of water was utilized as the flood waters of the meadows north of our place backed up into our pasture.  Dad had an electric line run over to a spot at the far north end of the pasture and was then able to utilize electric power to run the pump for irrigating with the sprinkler system.  Originally the power had been supplied by an old tractor, which was a lot more trouble and not nearly as efficient.  With sprinkler irrigation the farm became generally much more productive than it had been when we had to irrigate using gravity flow and ditches.  Eventually the ditches, which at one time seemed so vital, fell in to disrepair and were mostly plowed under and the area they had occupied was planted and crops were cultivated where the ditches had been.  This is just one example of the progress Dad made on the farm.  Others included the shift from horses and horsedrawn equipment for most of the farm work to tractors and more modern machinery.  Likewise the milking operation was modernized over the years to allow for more production and better use of one's time.  The problem with the modern methods of farming was their expense.  It was a careful balancing act to keep the profits from production ahead of the costs of the same.  Generally, Dad was a very good manager and seemed to make ends meet quite well.  Part of the reason for that was his concern about debt.  He tired to stay out of debt and when he did have to borrow, he made a point ot pay of his debt ahead of schedule.  People knew this and he always had good credit.

By Bart

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting that! Brought so many memories back of Grandpa and makes me miss him.