Tales of the South Fork


Water Should Run Downhill

This is a first of three stories that Paul Wendt wrote in 1991 of his experiences in Lake Creek. They bought Farlows place on South Fork Little Butte. Susan Shoemaker donated these stories that her father wrote to the LCHS. Thank you Susan.  Copied from the Lake Creek Letter, Spring/Summer 2014.

By Paul Wendt

The Farlows had a big spring a mile up the mountain in the middle of a good pasture with lots of shade trees. So they built a barn and a cabin up there, hayed the fields and rode the horses up and down the mountain. The main house was down by the creek. They pumped out of a small spring fed by Deer Creek.

When we arrived in 1958 we wanted plenty of good spring water for the house. My engineering colleagues at the University of California advised me that a ½ inch stream of water running through a ¾ inch pipe downhill for one mile would never make it. The” friction” in the pipe would cause evaporation.

I talked with my friendly plumber and fishing pal, Maury Rossi, and we decided the theory was B……..S. He agreed to lay the pipe and hook up the system if I was willing to pay for the experiment.

His big Cat, with the blade canted, provided the power to dig a three foot trench through the rocky soil from the spring to the house. He manned the Cat and I dodged the boulders which came rolling and bounding down the mountain. The other part of my job was to cover the pipe using a hand shovel. We couldn’t risk using the tractor with so many rocks around to crush the plastic pipe.

At the end of two weeks of work, we reached the bottom of the hill. NO WATER! I was ready to give the engineers credit for their theory.

Maury wasn’t! “I’ll bet there are air locks in the pipe”, he said. “The dips in the line create air pockets.” So we installed bleeders in the pipe at a half dozen locations, and proceeded to monitor the flow.

Later that afternoon, we made our way down to the house, exhausted and depressed. NO WATER! We decided to commiserate over a beer on the front porch and cuss out the engineers who had invented “friction”.

Suddenly, Maury looked at the standpipe in the yard and yelled, “We got water!”. Sure enough, a beautiful ½ inch stream of our cool spring water was spouting out of the pipe.

That triumph paved the way for the next problem. We needed pressure to use the water in the house. Jake Lane, our caretaker, located a 3,000 gallon steel tank in White City, which we installed on a plateau about a quarter mile up the hill. We had good water at last.

A few years later, the ground squirrels discovered that they like to chew on our black plastic pipe. My Geologist nephew, Dave McGeary, had explained to me a few years before that our upper meadow was a layer of adobe soil over a ledge of rock. The ground water from above filtered through the adobe and accumulated in our rock springs. We were worried that clear-cutting above us on the BLM land would affect the quality of our water supply.

To protect against this, Frank Brown came up in the 1970’s with his little trench digger and dug six-foot gravel filled trenches just above a big collection pond on the slope of the mountain. These led to a catch basin. To thwart the ground squirrels, we laid a new one inch white plastic pipe down to the holding tanks above the house.

It hadn’t been easy, but at last we had a good gravity flow of spring water at Turning Rock Ranch.

One of the advantages of having a spring a mile up the mountain was that it gave me an excuse to ride our tractor, and old Oliver. On one memorable trip, my last on that machine, our grandchildren were in a two wheel trailer behind, loaded with tools, wire, shovels, etc.

Trying to shift down to brake the tractor, I ended up in NAUTRAL! With no brakes, I hollered JUMP, and headed for a stout oak tree beside the steep road. No one was seriously injured, but as a result I was grounded for the rest of the summer. My wife insisted we sell the tractor. By this time I had earned a reputation for double jeopardy, having fallen off a horse several times. I was confined to burying the garbage and weeding the garden!

The U. S. Forest Service recently announced that timber cutting would be restricted on over 11 million acres of government owned land in Oregon to protect the Spotted Owl, an endangered species. This signal of a major change in Federal land use and conservation policies will alter employment patterns, land uses, and land development in the whole Rogue River Valley. It was pointed out in the press at the time of the announcement, that the supply of uncut timber in the valley was already being rapidly exhausted.

The Homestead Act of 1860 had attracted many German immigrants to the Lake Creek Area with the promise of free land and political freedom. The Hostutlers, Edlers, and other were among those. It took only a few years for them to discover that the poor soil, short growing season, and lack of rainfall in the summer made agricultural use of most land in the area unprofitable.

Cattle raising became the primary land use. Grazing rights in the National Forest permitted the cattle growers to raise hay on their own land in the summer and drive their cattle into the higher government land in the dry season.

Mountain Fir Lumber Company and others soon found it profitable to acquire private land bordering the National Forest. This gave them ready access to timber sales conducted regularly by the BLM.

Gradually, the economy on the South Fork changed to timber cutting on government land, as private timber supplies were exhausted. Many of the old former farmers, including the Farlows, Millards, Days, Lillys, Burrells and Walchs were among those who experienced this change in the economic base of the area.

By the 1950’s, when we arrived, farming, as such, had virtually disappeared on the South Fork. The barns had fallen down, pastures deteriorated, equipment became obsolete or worn out, and often old water rights were neglected. I can recall having to dig up an old hay rake and mower out of a trash dump on the ranch.

New migrants to the area were a mixture of retired or soon to be retired farmers or professional people, church, or religious groups. Most of these retired were taking advantage of generous IRS tax deductions for losses on farms producing no profit. It was cheaper to buy beef than to produce it, and many gave up their grazing rights.

The growing emphasis on logging and the start of clear cutting brought new problems. Ground water supplies were reduced or contaminated. The beautiful hills no longer reseeded with little Douglas Firs. Instead the winter rains drained into new gullies and floods increased. Traffic noise and danger increased, with the only offsetting factor the improved maintenance of the roads so the trucks could race by at higher speeds.

How is the Spotted Owl decision likely to change this economic scenario?

1. The volume of timber cut, hauled, processed and shipped will be reduced.

2. The reduction in the number of employees living in and near the affected area will cause hardship for many families.

3. Surplus workers will have a choice of following the timber supply to other areas, or retraining for other types of work.

4. The rural living environment in the South Fork will be improved with reduced highway noise an danger, better scenic preservation and environmental protection.

5. Higher prices for timber and zoning laws will encourage tree farming by private owners.

6. Lake Creek will develop as an attractive, low-density residential area out of the valley heat in the summer and away from the smog in the winter.

Economic change is constant and inevitable. Hopefully, it will be accompanied by improved schools, fire protection, churches, stores and other community services.