Working stiffs restore faith in humanity

My faith in fellow humanoids' ability to solve problems has been shaken of late, given the nation's growing economic woes, the ongoing wars and endless political bickering.

But it is back on solid footing, thanks to Fred the well driller, Sean the concrete guy and Doug the pump man.

Yeah, I know. This sounds like the set-up for an off-color joke.

No joke. These were problem solvers who quickly assessed the situation, rolled up their sleeves and did the job. What's more, they did their work competently, on schedule and within the agreed cost.

They were honest, straightforward folks who looked you squarely in the eye when they talked.

To my delicate system accustomed to assorted scalawags and eccentric characters, it was a bit of a shock.

But nevermind my profession.

Maureen and I had decided to replace the old pump that was on its last gasp on our rural Jacksonville property. We figured it would be a good time to deepen the well, which produced little more than a trickle on a good day.

I took a week off for what I expected would be one continuous headache. After all, well and pump work was an unfathomable mystery to me.

The problem with journalists is that we are generalists, not specialists. We know a little about a lot of things but not a lot about any one thing.

That makes us interesting to chat with but not someone you'd call on for expertise should you want to launch a rocket into space.

Or drill a well, pour concrete or install a pump, for that matter.

For callus-building experience, I probably have more than most journalists: bucking hay, setting chokers in the logging woods, cutting firewood, digging ditches and building countless carpentry projects.

My hitch in the Marine Corps also fits the blue-collar category. The experience certainly didn't hurt when it came to using a sledge hammer to demolish the old pump house which looked like an askew outhouse.

Based on recommendations from a plumber friend well-respected in the trade, we called in the experts.

First came Fred, a veteran well driller looking like a fellow who knew his way around a drilling rig. Wearing broken-in coveralls and boots, he was ready to slop about in mud and muck.

And he talked with an impressive precision when he explained how drilling worked. By the time he got to the geology found in the Applegate Valley, particularly the characteristics of the metamorphic rock deep underneath, he was way over my head.

Turns out he was a former attorney who had grown weary of the legal profession in the Southwest. When he moved to Oregon 30 years ago, he got a part-time job while studying for the Oregon bar exam. Hailing from New York state, he found he enjoyed working outside with his hands much more than sitting at a desk in suit and tie.

A one-man operation, Fred worked the complex drilling rig with the skill of a maestro. After punching the well 140 feet deeper, he found plenty of water for our domestic needs.

That's when I brought the sledge hammer out again, this time to demolish the cracked concrete pad poured around the well on Aug. 6, 1948, according to the date written into the concrete when it was still wet. A kitten had also walked across the foundation before it hardened, leaving tracks in time.

Maureen and I then built a form for a new concrete pad on the same footprint as the old one. We had just thrown in concrete wire mesh and rebar when Sean pulled up with his concrete truck.

Like Fred, he explained what needed to be done and went to it. A former carpet layer from California, Sean, with his young son assisting, quickly poured the concrete, then told us we could start screeding.


Before I could inform him we weren't that kind of couple, Sean explained screeding was using a 2-by-4 board to smooth out the concrete.

"Just saw it back and forth — it'll smooth over," he said.

We sawed. Sure enough, the concrete became as smooth as a baby's bottom.

Batting cleanup was Doug the pump man.

Originally from Lakeview, the former logger turned to the pumping business when the logging industry hit hard times. Before talking pumps, we covered the important business of what it meant to be reared in rural Oregon a few decades ago, of our youths spent fishing and hunting.

After we framed the new pump house, Doug installed the new pump, pressure tank and related gadgetry as promised. In one day, no less.

Now we have water at our beck and call.

And we've been reminded that our country still has good people who can solve problems.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or at

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