September 19, 2008

The Rainmaker (Sketch #10)

Category: News — Ira @ 6:54 pm


And Isaac’s servants digged in the valley, and
found there a well of springing water.

—Genesis 26:19

His name was Chuck Norman. But he was known to everyone as “Fine and Dandy” because that was his automatic response to most questions. He used the phrase to answer anything from how he was to discussing the weather.

He was the local well driller. Tall, wiry, toothless, he was always dressed in stained olive green coveralls and wore a dented, dirty yellow hard hat, his ever-present cigar-ette dangling from his lips or cradled in a grease-blackened hand. A typical roughneck, a man who made his living drilling great holes into the earth, wrestling with ancient clanking machinery and carbide-tipped bits capable of chewing through solid rock.

He usually showed up at our farm of an evening, after supper. Dad always walked out and greeted him. “How are you tonight?’

“Fine and dandy. Fine and dandy,” he always replied, smiling his toothless grin, lighting another cigarette.

Dad then walked out to a tree in the yard and broke off a slim Y-shaped branch. Usually he allowed one of us boys to accompany him. We got into Fine and Dandy’s dilapidated old pickup and roared down the gravel road.

To the place where he was fixing to drill another well. Usually a new building site, but sometimes at an existing residence. Dad got out of the truck holding his little forked tree branch. Palms up, thumbs out, he grasped the ends of the Y shape and stuck the branch straight out in front of him. He then began to walk slowly back and forth across the lot in the general area where Fine and Dandy wanted to dig a well.

An observer would have witnessed quite the sight, an Amishman in a battered wide-brimmed black wool hat, holding a forked stick, slowly crisscrossing the yard. To the side lounged a dirty chain-smoking roughneck and a ragged little boy in galluses.

Sooner or later, the branch in Dad’s hands lunged downward, quivering, alive, pulled by an invisible force. Dad carefully marked the spot. Then he walked back and forth crosswise over the spot. Again and again, the branch lunged down, twitching in Dad’s hands.

Fine and Dandy always stood back, observing and dragging on his cigarette. Some-times Dad found more than one spot that caused the branch to plunge down. He then tested the spots to check which had the strongest pull.

Finally he stopped, X’ed the spot he’d chosen, and told Fine and Dandy, “This is where you want to drill.” Fine and Dandy always smiled his toothless smile, handed Dad a crumpled $10 or $20 bill, and took us home again in his dilapidated pickup. If we were lucky, we might stop at a store for an ice cream bar or soda pop on the way home.

Fine and Dandy always drilled where Dad told him to. Sometimes hundreds of feet down. And he always, always found good wells with abundant supplies of fresh, clear water. He developed quite a reputation as a top notch driller of wells that didn’t run dry.

He strayed a few times, before he learned. Tried to dig where he figured there would be water, without consulting Dad. Often ending up with dry runs. Shamefacedly then he came and fetched Dad to show him where to dig. And Dad would. Always there was water under the spot he marked.

Dad was a dowser. Because of him, untold amounts of water flowed onto the earth where none had flowed before. Like rain from the ground instead of the sky. Some would call him evil and brand him a water witch, a label he stridently rejected. If there was water to be found below the ground, he could locate it. Not only that, he could tell you where to drill for the best flow and the clearest water.

He never failed. Not that I’m aware of. He always found water. Always. If he didn’t, there was none to be found. His record for accuracy was 100%.

I don’t know where his “gift” came from and I don’t know why he had it. Or how it worked. It may have been a latent ability, a remnant of ancient practices, buried deep within the psyche of his Swiss-German heritage. His mother was a Lengacher. Probably came from that bloodline. To my knowledge, Waglers not from that lineage are devoid of the gift.

I don’t think he ever knew quite what it was or why he possessed it. It was passed on to none of his eleven children. All he knew is that he had the gift, and he could use it. And he did.

It was what it was. Growing up with dowsing, we thought nothing of it. As children, we played at imitating our father, walking back and forth in the yard with a little forked stick. Since none of us had the actual ability, we made the stick jump down with imper-ceptible movements of our wrists.

Dowsing has been around for thousands of years. Probably even in biblical times. Maybe Isaac’s servants used it to find water in the desert. How else would they have known where to dig a well? Through the centuries, people dowsed for other things too, such as detecting buried metals. And minerals such as coal.

In recorded history, dowsing has always had a bit of a shady reputation. People who couldn’t understand it feared it. During the Middle Ages, it was believed to be from the devil. It has never been scientifically proven to work. Most people today view it with suspicion and fear and skepticism.

I don’t. I know it works. Provided the dowser really has the gift. I saw it with my own eyes. Many times. It is real and it does work.

Today Dad is 86 years old. He still gets around well. I would wager my last penny that the man could still walk over any site with his little forked stick, and locate the purest strongest stream of water available anywhere under the ground.


He was a man who boldly pursued his dreams, some to failure and some to fruition. An ordinary man with some extraordinary abilities. One of which happened to be dowsing.

I wonder, is he the last of his kind, or are there others out there like him?


We live in interesting times. Times now turning a bit scary. The country and the world are abuzz with all the bad economic news. In this last week, Wall Street reeled from blow after blow as institution after institution hit the dust. Russia’s stock market was shut down after the bottom fell out on Monday.

That morning, Lehman Bros., a venerable financial institution, collapsed in the largest bankruptcy in history. Lehman was founded in 1850, and survived the Civil War, both World Wars and the Great Depression. Because of its insane investments, it did not survive the current housing bubble collapse.

The Feds, who bailed out Bear Stearns, and now the insurance giant, AIG, stepped back and let Lehman fall. As they should have for all of them. With Bear Stearns, AIG and Fannie and Freddie, our collective debt ballooned by trillions of dollars.

The guys I read on the web, William Norman Grigg and Gary North, among others, predict dark times ahead. They have always tended toward pessimism, but this time I think they are on to something. The collapse of the dollar, I believe, is imminent.

On the phone with a friend earlier this week, I asked him what he made of the whole mess. He blithely said it would affect only the rich, who had stupidly invested in the companies whose stock is now worthless. I was stunned by his naïve conclusions.

On the surface, it may mostly affect the rich. Like Lehman’s now suddenly unemployed investment bankers and their wives. But what affects them affects us all. Sooner or later. Mostly sooner this time, I think.

The whole thing will likely shake out by late October. By then, we’ll know how bad it really is. Whether a Depression approaches, or something less. It would be wise to anticipate a Depression and prepare accordingly while there is yet time. At the most basic level, a few extra tins of Spam and a case of bottled water wouldn’t be a bad idea. At a more advanced level, well, there’s always guns and gold.

In the long run, economies come and go. As do world powers, and empires. As will this country, at some point. Maybe soon.

Only the Lord endures unchanged forever.

Phillies fans are waxing delirious at their team’s late spurt toward the playoffs. Back and forth it goes, with the Mets and the Phillies half a game up, half a game down. Should be an interesting finish. Since the Phillies swept my Braves this week, and the Braves now begin a three-game series with the Mets, I’m in the awkward position of cheering for the Mets against my own team. I’d rather see the Mets in the playoffs. Oh, well. As I’ve said before, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

In football, I was one for two last weekend. The vile Brady-less Patriots beat my Jets in New York. I wasn’t too surprised. My buddy Favre threw his first interception as a Jet. The Pats are an evil well-oiled machine. I could probably play quarterback for them and win.

But the Cowboys-Eagles. Whooee, what a game. Pretty much came down to who had the ball last. I went to bed at halftime, convinced the thug Eagles would prevail. They were pretty much moving the ball at will. The next morning I was delighted to see the Cowboys had pulled it out. That made me, ahem, ten dollars richer.



  1. It’s funny you mentioned ‘Fine and Dandy’. At some point after I left home, Dad bought a real steering-wheeled tractor. [That steering wheel perhaps influenced you guys to get cars later. ha.].

    Anyway, Dad had to take the air tires off that tractor and put a pair of those clod busting steel wheels on it. Church Rules. Fine and Dandy furnished Dad with a pair of those steel wheels, and somehow they never settled up for them, til the day of the sale in 1976. Fine and Dandy showed up at the sale before they sold the old tractor and said he wants his wheels back. Didn’t want to sell them. When it came time to sell the tractor, the auctioneer, Les Shackleton, made a nice little speech about how he’s never before sold a tractor without its wheels. But today he would, he said. Then he proceeded, and several Amish from a nieghboring area, who were only allowed power units, without wheels, bid it right on up. Anyway, ole Fine and Dandy got to take his wheels home, but without the tractor he thought he was going to get cheap, without its wheels. [So he really appears to have been a scoundrel.]

    Ira’s response: Yeah, I remember Dad was pretty disappointed that Fine and Dandy would do something like that to him after all those years of what Dad thought was real friendship, or at least a cordial respectful relationship.

    Comment by Granpa Jess — September 19, 2008 @ 11:55 pm

  2. Hu, it was while I was living at Aylmer that I was taught water witching is wrong! And here your Dad was doing it all the time. Well Omer Eicher was another of those guys. I remember him walking through the Pathway building and right in the doorway leading to the main office his stick dipped down. I still don’t know what I believe about it but it doesn’t bother me what others believe.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — September 20, 2008 @ 12:55 pm

  3. Six years ago, we needed a well dug and one of the owners of the drilling company came to check out the property. He asked a few questions as to where we would like to have it dug etc. After taking a few measurements with a tape measure to make sure we followed code in respect to the septic, he went to his pickup truck and came back with two pieces of copper wire. He started walking back and forth across the yard holding one wire in each hand. At certain spots the wires would cross and as he kept moving they would again go straight forward. After a few back and forth trips across the yard and having several spots marked, he said right here you have two streams crossing and plenty of water. I asked, how far down? His reply was, I do not know, maybe a hundred feet, maybe six hundred.

    Several days later he sent the crew out to start digging, at five feet deep they hit solid rock and drilled for hours on end. One hundred, two hundred, three hundred feet, then they broke the bit and had to pull everything back up, change the bit and go back down. At four hundred feet they hit water, not much, eight to ten gallon per minute, now you have enough water for your house they said. I need water for the critters we will accumulate in the next several years, I said. There reply was, we will dig as deep as you want but the cost per foot goes up from here. Well your boss said there was lots of water down there, keep going. Five hundred feet, a little more water, not much. Should we keep going or try somewhere else they asked.

    I am scratching my head thinking, I was not holding the wires and forecasting lots of water. So I asked what would you do? The foreman said if the boss marked the spot we will hit water. So they kept drilling, I was working on the inside of the house and quite some time later I heard a triumphant yell and rushed to the window to find the crew with big grins on their faces and thumbs up and water everywhere. At exactly six hundred feet, they had seventy five plus gallons per minute. Plenty of water for all the critters, two and four legged.

    I was convinced they knew what they were talking about. They were drilling for almost two and a half days, but well worth the efforts.

    Comment by Bear — September 20, 2008 @ 8:57 pm

  4. I am one who has some of the gift of dowsing. I am able to find water pipes and electric lines with two bent copper rods. The affect is real. When I cross the line, the rods turn in my hands and cross. When I walk back over the same line, the same happens every time. I no longer choose to dowse.

    I am not sure of the origin of this “gift”. I believe that it is a gift of nature and not of Hell but there is enough uncertainty in my mind that I have put aside this activity. When I was 12 years old, I found that I could lift the pointer off the surface of an Ouija board with the help of a Spiritualist and rapidly spell out communications with her Spirit guide. Apparently, I am able to channel. When I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and understood the spiritual danger that I was in, I publically repudiated any claim that any evil spirit may have on my life in front of Christian witnesses and rebuked these claims in the Name of the Lord. I will not condemn anyone who dowses, but I have chosen to not continue to use this gift.

    I believe that we are tunneling into a depression. I do not think it will be a great depression but will meet the minimum definition of a depression, three years of negative GDP and a national unemployment rate above 10%. So it will not be the 1930’s again but will be the worst economic event in the lives of the readers born after 1939. The world economy is deleveraging. This will be an awesome process of taking $62 Trillion in leveraged instruments and trimming them down. What makes this deleveraging difficult to predict and probably wrenching in its outcome is that the national and world economy has double and triple leveraging that needs unwound.

    Here is an example. Conventional banks (that is as opposed to the investment banks such as the former Bear Sterns) work as fractional banks (the investment banks do also but in a much more perverse and unregulated way). This means that if a new bank (First National of Lancaster) wants to form, it gathers $1 billion in capital, registers as a bank with the federal government (it is a National bank), obtains FDIC insurance, subjects itself to FDIC regulation and opens its doors. The people of Lancaster love this new bank because of the toasters they offer for new accounts and flood the bank with money. In one week, the bank has $500 million in deposits. Now the bank has a reserve of $1.5 billion. The management immediately starts out doing what conventional banks do to make money; they lend it out at higher interest rates than they pay the savings and checking depositors. Right now, the reserve requirement is about 20%. This means that from $1.5 billion in real money (this is not the time to argue about Federal Reserve Notes versus gold, they have worked for many decades), they can create another $6.0 billion from thin air by writing checks for loans, a total of $7.5 billion. If First National of Lancaster makes wise loans, about 98% of those loans will be repaid in times extending from several months to 30 years.

    This creation of money from thin air to fund the loans is called leverage. The leverage disappears when the loan is repaid but the well run bank in the stable, growing economy makes a profit from the difference between the loans’ interest rates and the what the depositors receive. Now, First National has some hot rocks MBAs come to work for it. They show that the bank can increase its revenue stream if it sells its longer term loans (think home mortgages) on the secondary market and pull down immediate cash so the bank can make more loans at this 5:1 ratio. Wow. First National takes its long term loans, some rock solid, others subprime, and along with Second National and Peoples Savings of San Francisco and other banks put together bundles of mortgages and sell them on the secondary market as neat little mortgage packages worth $30 million dollars each.

    Furthermore, these packages have three levels of debt bound inside them. There is supposed rock solid debt, middling debt and really speculative debt. The buyers get to pick which certificate to buy or buy the whole thing. The rock solid debt pays off at pretty ordinary interest rates but has the first claims on payments made by mortgages bound up in the bundle. The middling debt is just that, in the middle and the risky debt has very high interest rates but gets paid last as the underlying mortgages in the bundle are paid off, hopefully soon as people move and finish out their old mortgages.

    Now, along comes Bear Sterns, an investment bank. This is not your corner bank with the ATM and the drive up. This is a bank for governments and big business to get loans from. They buy First National of Lancaster’s (and the other ordinary banks) bundle for $30 million and now they have a $30 million asset on their books (assuming that in the end, the mortgage holders will repay their principal with interest, that is the big if). Now this is a really big bank, so they buy many of these $30 million bundles, showered onto the secondary market by the huge run up in home and commercial property values that we saw from 2003 until early 2007. So these people maybe have bought up 1,000 of these bundles, for a value of $30 billion. Now they go out and loan money to big business and government. They use the 20% reserve requirement to be able to write $150 billion in loans from these 1,000 bundles. Notice that each bundle is $6 million in real ordinary bank reserves and $24 million in first level leverage. Bear Sterns has now created a second level of leverage where each $30 million in loans they generate are $1.2 million in real ordinary bank reserves and $28.8 million in first and second level leverage. This works fine if in the end, everyone or almost everyone pays off their debts according to the terms of their loan agreements. However, if about 4% of the debt goes bad, the $1.2 million in real bank reserves is gone. A lot more than 4% of the debt will go bad.

    That is the essence of the subprime mortgage crisis that started to collapse this house of cards. Many loans were made to people and business that any non hot rock MBA greed merchant could see would never be paid off. Furthermore, there is about $500 billion in bad debt lurking in instruments like these and no one knows where it is. This causes old name companies to write down debt almost monthly, diminishing the value of the company with no sure end in sight, not knowing if they still have significant bad debt lurking in their investments. This makes people, businesses and governments not willing to loan money to these investment banks because the extent of exposure is not yet known. This drying up of credit prevents consumers and businesses from obtaining easy credit. The investment banks die for the lack of life blood, namely reasonably priced credit. The economy starts to seize up as credit is not available for even good business ventures and solid home buyers.

    The United States government is trying to stand in to guarantee the line of credit of certain key financial entities but our large debt (about 60% of our $13 trillion gross domestic product), huge deficit (probably over $450 billion in fiscal 2009, maybe 4% of the gross domestic product) and truly awesome current account (our trade deficit with other countries) cripple the government’s ability to use fiscal policy (running deep deficits to buck up aggregate demand) and monetary policy (the Fed adjusting short term interest rates).

    We should have run budget surpluses in the good times 2000’s so we had the depth of credit worthiness to fight this on rushing disaster with deficits but that opportunity is gone. Now for the great unwinding. Economies have laws just as physics has laws. I cannot leap from the Empire State Building without a parachute and proclaim that the curvature of space-time imposed by the earth’s mass does not apply to me because we are now in a New Era of Physics and expect that declaration to change reality. I can unequivocally state for over 1,000 feet that everything is fine. However, the end result is SPLAT.

    You are witnesses to history, enjoy the ride. Remember that cash is now King and debt is death. Also, unlike the dive from the Empire State Building, the economy will put itself back together after the unwinding is done and a hardnosed capitalism, forged in the fires of severe recession or depression, will rise from the ashes. It has happened before and will happen again.

    Our fathers and grandfathers went through a Great Depression and WWII. Our great, great, great grandfathers (those in the US in the 1860’s) went through a terrible Civil War. We have what it takes, it is only that the unleashing of reality will be terrible for some time, and some will not survive the trip.

    Comment by Mark Hersch — September 20, 2008 @ 10:42 pm

  5. Fine and Dandy doesn’t live anymore, probably, with how he smoked and such. But yes I remember exactly how you and Jesse wrote. Him and his truck were both greasy and dirty. Once in a great while the new well owner himself would come out to pick up Dad, and had a much nicer vehicle.

    I don’t understand all the economic crisis, but I have heard the same story many times in my life. The first time was in the lower grades at school, when Esther Graber said the Russians are coming just any day now. I think it is a crime to scare children with such talk. How I worried about something I should never have heard to start with….

    Comment by Rachel — September 22, 2008 @ 8:32 pm

  6. few thots….

    Can’t quite comprehend how dowsing for water and messing with a ouija board have any comparisions.

    Haven’t been around either one, very much, but from the little that i have been around, someone dowsing for water isn’t going thru some kind of mental/spiritual…strain/exercise/game.

    A fleshly body is made up of various atoms in various arrangements…who interact with each other thru electrictal currents…held together by magnetic fields….negative/positive fields.
    The rest of nature is the same.
    I believe the answer to water dowsing fits in this catergory/field somewhere.

    There are folks who believe that if someone takes their picture their soul is being stolen.
    Their ‘soul’ isn’t stolen, but their spirit is in all kinds of fear/confusion/dismay/turmoil due to believing such falsehoods.

    As for these end times. There is a being…that IS the ‘god of this world’.
    He is an expert at creating/causing delusions of all sorts.
    He has been at work for years now….having people cry ‘wolf’ over and over and over.
    So now folks are hardened to that cry.
    [Remember the story? The fellow who was watching the sheep…and thot it was a funny game to cry ‘wolf’ and to see the people come running. Then when the wolf DID come, no one paid him any heed!]

    We can update that story a bit. Picture a ‘wolf’ that is very smart and capable. He knows that his time IS coming when he gets to cause all kinds of turmoil/havoc.
    So what does he do to prepare? Gets various ones thru the ages…and especially down at the last…to cry ‘wolf’ over and over.
    All false alarms.
    But, this has been the WOLF at work!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    So now the time is close….and everyone is immune/hardened to the cry of ‘wolf’.
    No one pays any heed.
    Why should we?
    Look at all the false cries of ‘wolf’ that have rang out down thru the ages!

    The fact remains that the ‘wolf’ IS coming!
    The ‘wolf’ has done his job very well!!!

    It is written…that God will do NOTHING without letting His people KNOW!

    Paul…in writing to the Thessolians..
    1 But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.
    2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. \
    [Cometh as a ‘thief’ in the night to whom? The world! Not HIS people! Read vs 4!]
    3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
    4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
    5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
    6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.

    Comment by fritz — September 24, 2008 @ 5:27 pm

  7. on a bit of a lighter note :)
    our “discussion” of last week made me chuckle when I read the latest on PETA…they are asking Ben ANd Jerry’s icecream to use human breast milk in their products so as to avoid cruelty to cows and their calves :)….go figure!

    Comment by Dorothy — September 26, 2008 @ 10:06 am

  8. The Federal Reserve is a private corporation – it is not federal and has no reserves, just fiat currency, backed by faith in nothing.

    The answer is to get back to value-based currency (medium of exchange). Yes, the central bank will eventually collapse, but no one can say when. God does not approve of unjust weights and measures, so it cannot succeed, in the nature of things.

    Comment by LeRoy Whitman — October 4, 2008 @ 10:44 pm

  9. I never gave much thought to dowsing since I had relegated it to the level of medieval superstition. So it was fascinating for me to read your first-hand account and those of some of the commenters.

    There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio…

    From what you say, it sounds more natural than spiritual. And from what I’ve read here and in some of your other articles, your dad sounds like a really neat person.

    Comment by Eric — April 16, 2013 @ 3:57 pm

  10. I wonder why people think dowsing is of the devil. From what you said many positive things came from your father’s ability to strike water. Personally, I see it as a gift from God just as one has a gift for writing, farming, compassion, etc. Fear. Always an undercurrent of fear.
    Speaking of a dismal future- I wonder if it would be so bad. I guess it all depends on what a person would see dismal as. People will have to start depending on their neighbors for survival. Less fossil fuels will be available to the average Joe so more bikes will be used and horses. Communities will become small again with a corner grocer, family owned bakery, and one bank instead of ten. Instead of coffee at Big Bucks it will be at a friend’s kitchen table. Maybe people will start spending more time with their kids. I’m all for a little farm for eggs, meat, vegs., and fruits. Fear. Always an undercurrent of fear.

    Comment by Francine — September 17, 2013 @ 12:45 am

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