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Water Boy

Submitted by Ray Evans

These days, people take for granted conveniences such as electricity, modern plumbing, central heating and other labor saving appliances. When I grew up during the late 30’s and early 40’s in the Oak Hill Section of Rockcastle County near Renfro Valley, most of those things were not available.

For example, modern plumbing and running water were almost non-existent. Families used a number of different ways to secure their water for drinking, cooking, bathing and laundry purposes. Some simply carried water in a bucket from a nearby spring or a well. Others had cisterns where they captured rain water and then used a hand pump or one of those tubular water buckets that looked much like a stovepipe to get water from the cistern or a well. Some of the more ingenious ones employed a hydraulic ram to pump water from a spring to a place near the house.

We had what was referred to as a “Water Boy.” Our house was on the edge of a plateau of relatively flat land. On one side of the house, the terrain of the land fell away abruptly to form a rather steep hillside. There was a good spring about 400 feet from the house diagonally down the hill. The “Water Boy” consisted of a heavy gauge cable that was strung overhead on “L” shaped brackets fastened to poles or trees from the house to the spring. The upper end of the cable was fastened essentially to the eave of the roof over a side porch. A small platform about 3’ by 4’ extended beyond the porch. A “J” shape hanger with a pulley arrangement at the top end of it was hung over the cable. A three gallon galvanized water bucket was hung from the bottom of the “J” hanger. One end of a rope about 3/16” in diameter was tied to the hanger and the other end was tied to a reel arrangement with a crank handle. With this contraption one could lower an empty water bucket where it came to rest under the end of a two-inch pipe from which a good stream of water was usually available. After the water bucket filled with water, it could be pulled up to the house by turning the crank handle that was fastened to the reel.

One of my frequent chores as a youngster was to retrieve water from the spring with the “water boy.” This was quite a task on washdays when my mother, Elizabeth Lawrence Evans (1906 – 1980), did the family laundry.

If you gave the rope attached to the hanger and bucket too much slack, the bucket would go too fast down the wire and fall off the cable. I had triplet cousins, Willard, Wilbert and Willie “Bill” Chasteen, who lived in Louisville and visited me fairly often on the farm. They were “city boys” and mean as rattlesnakes. They would do almost anything for a laugh. They always wanted to play with the “water boy.” They would essentially turn the rope loose and let the hanger and bucket go racing down the hill. Consequently, we ended up with a lot of bent and dented water buckets.

One time, John Lair of Renfro Valley fame, staged a foxhunt near our house. Horseback riders on the finest saddle horses that I had ever seen came from far and wide. Needless to say, our “water boy” attracted a lot of attention from the foxhunters. My Uncle Hayse Clark had a similar arrangement for getting water at a house where he lived in the Hummel area. You could see our water bucket all the way to the spring, but his disappeared quickly over the edge of the hill.