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There’s One In Every Family – The Tinkerer

Every family has fellows who love to tinker with stuff.  If there is something in the home that they think they can improve, its sanctity is lost. 

With tools and pocketknife in hand, the pristine factory casing is cracked and its interior is inspected, scrambled and tweaked.  Tim Taylor on Home Improvement has nothing on these guys.

Of course, sometimes, we, (yes, I’m one of tinkerer’s too), actually do make a worthwhile improvement.   Case in point:  My great grandfather, David Lewis Drew, moved to Copperopolis, Calaveras County, California from Plymouth, Massachusetts during the Gold Rush.  Eventually he married and a family was started. 

David Lewis Drew Family

David and Helen Drew Family


A house full of kids requires a LOT of water in everyday living.  Folks in Copperopolis either had wells that required a drop bucket or if they were lucky, had a windmill to pump the water out of the ground up to the surface.  Of course, that meant that you still had to haul a lot of water when needed or you had to have a cistern.  You still had to haul the water into your home by hand.   Work.  Lots of never-ending effort and work.

Tired of drudgery, David put his tinkering skills to use and built a greatly improved home water system. 

The family windmill was several hundred feet behind their home and about 40 feet upslope from the home elevation. 

Gravity is free, powerful and always on.  With this knowledge, David built the first and only gravity-fed, pressurized water system in town.  

David Lewis Drew Home water supply

David Drew Water System


After constructing a tower outside of the kitchen, he topped it off with a large metal tank.  Next, a hard-won trench was dug through the extremely rocky soil from the tower to the windmill.  Piping, like that used in the surrounding copper mines, brought the water from the windmill to the tank.  

It sounds like a simple project until you try to build one yourself, especially in the 1800’s.  The gravity fall of the water produces a lot of pressure.  At about 8 1/2 pounds per gallon, a 1-inch column of water several hundred feet long, results in a great weight and pressure that must be contained. 

The David Drew water system was designed with a float valve in the tank to turn the water on and off when needed against the pressure of the water and associated windmill pumping pressure.  The height of the tank above the ground partially offset the incoming pressure thus reducing the requirements on the valve.  I don’t know where he obtained or if he made the valve, but it worked. 

Without the tank, the home would only have flowing water when the wind was blowing.  With it, the family always had pressurized water in their home thanks again to gravity.

David Lewis Drew Home Water Tower

David Drew Home Water Tank


Great grandma was the envy of all of the ladies in town.  Water for cooking, washing and cleaning with a simple twist of the wrist … right at her kitchen sink.

Sometimes, life is pretty good when you are married to a tinkerer.


30 November 2010 Posted by | Genealogy | , , , | Leave a comment

Recording Life ~ Fishing

My father had a unique skill in interpersonal relationships.  Without selling someone something they didn’t want, he could nonetheless divert their objections as if he was Obi-Wan in the Star Wars movie.

The power company needed to install a new feeder circuit in a fast growing city in Utah.  Everyone wanted the power for their homes, offices and stores but none of them wanted the power lines necessary to provide that service.  Frustrated with months of fruitless powerline conversations, public meetings and incentives, the district manager responsible for the city turned to my father.

“Elwood, I’m taking you out of your position as foreman and am giving you a car, line plans and little if no money.”  “Go get the right-of-way we have to have to upgrade that feeder circuit before the whole south end of the city goes black!”

Great!  An assignment that had stymied numerous ‘professional’ right-of-way agents, management and even high level city officials.  “Get the right-of-way”.  “Much of the city will be in a permanent blackout by July – three months away.”  “You have little money to spend.”  In those days, little money was the $100 contingent fund in district offices.  Management authorized their district managers to spend up to that amount without having to go through an arduous budget hearing.

Opening the rusted trunk lock on the 1962 Ford, he placed a bucket full of wood stakes, wood lathe, fluorescent marking tape and a hammer inside.  A puff of smoke always followed the vehicle when a foot pressed the accelerator.  Two hundred plus thousand miles of start, stop, idling city driving will cause that problem in a meter reading vehicle.

Within three weeks, Dad’s uniquely calm reasoning had awaken the common sense in all but one property owner along the route.  He hadn’t approached the old man yet.  Having heard the stories by the legions who had preceded him in the quest, he opted to resolve the issue last and with finality.

Soda at camp Wearing his normal tan Dickie work shirt, shrink-to-fit Levi’s with rolled up cuffs, work boots and a shirt pocket full of pens, pencils and a plastic template, he told the old man answering the door that he was there to finish driving the last stake in place before construction started the next morning.   The old man shouted, “What power pole on my property?”  “You aren’t doing anything on my property!”

Giving the old man a look of pity just as you would to a dunce and with a slight shake of the head, Dad pointed to the four foot tall lathe with four six-foot-long tails of fluttering survey tape centered in front of the man’s living room window.  “It’s going in there.”  “We’ll be here at 7:00 a.m. and I just wanted to let you know to not sleep in tomorrow.”

Sleep in?  The old codger probably hadn’t slept past 6 a.m. in his life.  Dad knew he was always up working around his house or yard shortly after 5:00 a.m. every morning.

With his hands on his hips, Dad looked at the stake then up at the living room window and back again at the stake.  Shaking his head, he unrolled maps.  “I’d have put it a little that way – closer to the house if I’d have designed the job, but it looks like one of the engineers has definitely taken your view into consideration.”

“What?”  “A pole in front of my window is taking my view into consideration?”  “Are they crazy?”  Commiserating with the old man, Dad agreed that a fifty foot tall pole was hard to interpret as a window even with the best imagination, but that’s what Dad’s ink dot on the plans said … “See?”  “Don’t worry, the auger on the truck is only 28” wide.  In this rocky soil, the hole will get bigger as it bounces around, but it shouldn’t end up being much over four feet wide when we’re done.”

You know the rest of the story.  After ten minutes of arguing, Dad let the man move the lathe stake to the fence line and pound it in the ground — right where he wanted it when he arrived that morning.

Turning to leave, he heard the old man say, “See.  You can’t push me around.  I’m a better negotiator than all of you”.  Yep.  Dad had brought out the best common sense negotiation skills from the old man.

Flash back to the early 1950’s.  A stream fisher all of his life, he frequented the hard to access streams where the big fish lived.  The Ute Indian Reservation in eastern Utah includes the south slope of the Uintah Mountains.  Rock Creek was a favorite stream for serious fishermen but it was both expensive to fish because of the fees associated with the permit and the permit restrictions themselves.

A fishing trip was needed.  If you stayed just a little to the west, there were excellent streams to fish.  The old Plymouth and LaFayette were loaded with tents, grub boxes, sleeping bags and fishing gear.  My sister, brother-in-law, father, mother and myself enjoyed the two hour ride to the campsite.

Plymouth and LaFayette Early the next morning, Dad and Roy went fishing and fishing was good.  Some were released.  Many were kept for breakfast back at camp.

The splashing behind them got louder.  Looking up, they saw a federal game warden riding up on his horse.  Dad lifted the front brim of his old fishing fly covered Stetson to get a good look at the wardens face.

“Good morning.”  “How is the fishing this morning?”  “Oh, its not too bad.  We’ve released all the smaller ones.  We just need enough good pan sized Brookies for a good breakfast.”  “What fly are you using?”  “Well, according to Ken Aycock over in the Basin, these rock roller flies are the best and they seem to be working this morning.”

“Ken Aycock?”  “You know Ken Aycock?”  “Sure we work together.  I’m out this way working on projects all of the time.”  “Do you know …. “ The list of names and places started to flow.

Staying close to hear when the power of the law was going to drop on them, Roy finally moved away to fish up stream while they talked.

When he came back almost an hour later, they were still talking.  The fishing creel on Dad’s hip was still full of grass and trout although they were both getting a little dry.  Dad’s old bamboo fishing rod was still in his left hand.  The three pound test leader and fly was trapped between his palm and the pole.

Finally, the warden tired of reminiscing and comparing notes on people and features in the area.  “Well, I guess I’d better ask to see your fishing licenses and permit.”  Roy’s heart stopped and his blood ran cold.  Fishing on the reservation without the permit could result in a thousand dollar penalty and loss of fishing rights for a long time.

Dad turned his head and the warden could see Dad’s fishing license in its plastic holder neatly tucked under the hat band on the right side.

“Well, you do have a permit too don’t you?”  With a guffaw, smile and a headshake, Dad said; “You don’t think we’d be fool enough to be fishing here without one do you?”  Apparently, the music of the conversation still echoed through the mind of the warden.  He turned his horse and started off saying; “No, I don’t suppose you would.”  cleaning_fish

Roy claims he didn’t start breathing again for twenty minutes, but everyone knows that even standing in water the temperature of ice, humans can’t hold their breath for more than fifteen minutes.

As I remember, the fish were very good eating although I was really hungry by the time they arrived back in camp to be cooked.

Another Elwood Drew story to add to the book.  There are hundreds of them.  Probably thousands.  Forty years after his death, I still hear them from time to time, especially from people who were children in the families that received his quiet assistance.

There are choices.  There are consequences.  Paying it forward will eventually rebound to your own assistance.

I suppose you’ve recorded your own similar family stories so they won’t be lost in the next generations.  Without them, how will your grandchildren know your parents and grandparents?  Don’t let them be lost to time.

Spend a little time and effort and record your own precious family stories.  They are the flavor, texture, smell and substance that extend the memory of our ancestors.

9 May 2009 Posted by | Journals | , , , | Leave a comment