Tuesday, November 30, 2010

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.



Sheri Fenley said...

Copperopolis! Why that is just about 20 minutes away from Stockton where I live. Do you know if the home is still standing or the windmill?

Lee Drew said...

The home was there 10 years ago but the water tower was taken down a long time ago. The home may still be there, but with all of the growth and changes in Copper, I can't tell by looking at Google Earth photos.

my Heritage Happens said...

I'd say there was a little more than tinkering going on! Wow. Amazing the work that was done, all the way around. We have it so good these days.

Nancy said...

I usually think of a tinker as doing small-time kind of "work." I think David was an inventor! Amazing that he was able to imagine the system and then put it into effect. They were a family ahead of their times.

lumpy39us said...

there is a lot to be said for the innovators of the past. Not only were times hard and of course, requiring maximum effort to ensure the daily survival was handled. These hardships made many think of ways to ease the daily burdens. The stories of past innovation and creation inspire me and should be shared with the present generations. Life can be hard and to make it easier is even harder!
Thanks for sharing this story.