Joe T. Bell drills a White County well.

Holly Springs Well Driller Charged by the Foot


My grandfather Joe T. Bell and my father Eulys Joyner owned a water well drilling rig during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. I believe this business started when my father married my mother Ollie Bell in 1919. My parents lived in the Holly Springs community, and our mailing address was Steprock. My grandparents’ home was less than a mile from our farm.

After the crops were planted, Bell-Joyner would drill wells. They usually wanted to contract three or four in each community – to save travel time. The water well drilling rig was pulled by four mules or horses. My father had a team of large red mules named Mon and John. Everyone knew his team. They had to take food for the teams and clean clothes for themselves. They would drill wells all week, then drive the team home on Friday or Saturday. On Monday, they returned to the rig. Some of the communities where they drilled are Dewey, Little Red, Steprock, Olive Branch, Harris Chapel, Hickory Flat, Wilburn, Providence, Plainview, Pangburn, Pleasant Plains, Floral, Denmark, Union Grove and Roosevelt. They spent the nights in the homes where they were drilling and also ate their meals with the family. Sometimes we heard complaints about the food, but often they would tell us the food was good.

The cost of drilling a well in those days was $1 a foot. Sometimes they would hit solid rock and drilling would become very slow. If the well went too deep the farmer could not afford to pay the entire bill for the well. This happened many times. Sometimes when the farmers paid all their other obligations there was no money left for paying the well drillers. Many times in order to settle the debt, they paid with corn, homegrown peanuts, etc. On one debt a man paid with an old hog, a sow, and she was expecting a little of pigs. She was too old to butcher, so we sold her and her pigs.

At one place the well was very deep before they struck water. That couple could not pay much of the bill. They later divorced and still owed the debt. In order to settle the debt, they gave us their furniture. There was a bedroom suite, but the bed had bedbugs on it. My mother was frantic, for she hated bedbugs. We never got to use it until it was washed in lye soap water and free of bugs. The one piece of furniture that I was so proud of was an old library table. My sister Cleta and I did our homework on that table. I now have the table in my living room. I refinished it and it is beautiful, solid oak with a lot of woodcarving on it. I have lived in Lodi, California, almost 56 years but am proud of my White County Heritage.

(The writer is a member of the White County Historical Society who lives in Lodi, California.)