Yes, I’m still busy constructing Old Black Truck III after wrecking OBTII early last month. I want to get this project as far along as possible before fall. That’s the most beautiful time of year to be riding around the Shenandoah Valley and Virginia Hunt Country tinkering on tractors.
But that’s not why I’m going all NPR and running an encore story.
At the intersection of School Street and Cold Stream Road in Capon Bridge is a casually maintained storm drain with a sizable opening where support around the grate has given way.
This happens to be the exact location of a mysterious bottomless hole that was the talk of the town when it was discovered 40 years ago. Though a network of metal culverts were installed since then, there is reason to believe that the remnant of an old hand-dug well exists below them.
Knowing what resources were available to the town in 1979 (mostly volunteers using their own equipment) it would seem unlikely that the well was ever filled in.
No better than the hole is protected at ground level leads one to suspect that it may be a loose fit below the grate as well. Anything that falls through that hole and finds the old well isn’t likely to ever come back.
The old well was the inspiration for the following story. Hopefully, this subtle reminder will help the Capon Bridge Public Works to focus on the mitigation of this hazard.
* * *
It was around 6:30 a.m. and I had just dropped off the Old Hippie school bus driver at her bus in Capon Bridge. It was raining an uninspiring rain; Neither the fury of Summer thunder nor the deep, contemplative state inspired by a winter ice storm.
Just rain — not hot, not cold — here it is on time, in the right amount — regulation rain that meets all the basic requirements of being rain and little else. Rain with a serial number.
The sky was just starting to brighten as I stopped at the intersection of School Street and Cold Stream Road. The sound of rainwater cascading into a storm drain caught my attention.
“Horton hears a who,” I chuckled. Now why did I say that-? Oh, I remember, it’s kind of like "Marvin found a hole."
Marvin Miller, who I described in The Traveling Mechanic some years ago, was an old-time mechanic who was just as comfortable working on a turbocharged Diesel tractor as he was working on a Siegler oil stove. He often coached us youngsters at Baker Equipment, the local Massey Ferguson dealer, whenever our foreman, Vaughn Keiter was busy on his own farm. Marvin was quiet and large in stature with an unfailing sense of humor and wonder.
The town’s wells had an unsavory iron content and as the local water hauler and cistern filler Cleat Whitacre and his 1940s vintage Chevy tanker truck were nearing the ends of their careers, the town installed a fresh-water system fed by a large mountain spring. Marvin became the town employee in charge of the water system. I often had the privilege of helping him.
I sat near this iron storm sewer grate trying to discern from the noise how far the water might be falling — and remembering the summer’s day in 1979 when this spot was the talk of the town.
It was another hot day in the greasy, wooden floored, un-air conditioned shop at Baker Equipment. We were finishing up work on a backhoe for local excavator, Joe Boone. Joe, another quietly humorous man, stopped by to check on our progress. He mentioned that Marvin had found a hole near the school where some pavement had collapsed. The hole was apparently quite deep as a weighted 20-foot string line remained taut when lowered.
I had noticed that the old-timers who usually hung around the shop giving advice were absent. They had found their day’s excitement elsewhere. Those present with the freedom to do so immediately left the shop to marvel at this natural, or at least historical, wonder. I had to wait until my lunch break.
The area is all concrete and asphalt now but back then I seem to recall a gravel town road, a grassy area and tar-and-chip pavement on the school’s parking lot and on the adjacent state road. A small crowd had gathered as Marvin lowered the line once again to demonstrate the hole’s depth.
Old-timers and some not-so-old stood about discussing — and at times, arguing about — what might have stood there prior to the school’s construction in 1947. There were several suggestions made but the consensus, when finally reached, was that nothing of any consequence had stood on this spot. I don’t recall specifically but I think that it turned out to be an old hand-dug well covered over with planks perhaps during the 1920s. Dirt washed over the planks and pavement was carelessly spread over it.
Some old movies help us to recall the days when people were frequently falling into these old wells. Usually, the well had either collapsed or was mostly filled with household trash so that the fall was often survivable.
I remember hearing of some such instances personally way back in the New Jersey farm days. More recently, though, one appeared in a paved parking lot in Waterloo, Va., a few years ago. I was also warned about one at a jobsite near an old farmhouse foundation at Stephenson, Va.
I guess that most of these old wells have been found and filled in. Still, it stands to reason that a few remain.
They’re out there, near old stone foundations, in open fields or woods, maybe on a golf course or posh suburban lawn — even a shopping mall parking lot. Waiting silently, patiently, faithfully for .... you? o