This story stands out in my memory, not so much for its successful outcome, but for the strange circumstances involved.

In June of 1998, I received a call from someone who wanted me to locate a water supply on some property in northern Minnesota. He had called a well driller recently and the driller had told him of the difficulty of locating satisfactory water supplies in the area of his property. The driller suggested that he hire me to try to locate a drilling site on the property before they began drilling. I asked him his name, and he hesitated for a few seconds before he responded by giving me his first name only, “John.” Then he said, “I just want to know what you charge.”

Thinking that he was just shopping around, trying to get the cheapest water dowser he could find, I looked at my fee map and asked where the property was located. He simply answered “northern Minnesota.” I asked if he could be a bit more specific, because we have circles drawn on our map, and charge more the farther from home we have to travel. “Just a minute,” he said, and I heard him shuffle through what sounded like a bunch of papers. After about a minute, I thought he might have hung up, but then he came back on the phone and told me where the property was located. I told him what we charge for that area of Minnesota, and he simply said, “How soon can you get up there?” I told him we could get up to his property two days later, but would want him to be there, also, to show us the property lines (and that we also collect our fee before we leave the property). He asked if I would take a check, and I told him we would.

I then asked for his phone number - in case something came up that would prevent us from coming up on the date and time we had arranged. “You can't get a hold of me,” he explained, “I don't have a telephone.”

“There's no way I can contact you?” I asked.

“That's right” he replied, “I have to borrow a truck that day, because I don't have a car, but I'll be there.” I asked if he had a neighbor or a friend I could call to let him know if something happened that we couldn't be there for some reason. “No,” he answered, “Don't worry about it; I'll be there, but I gotta borrow a truck first.”

I didn't know what to make of the situation (or his annoying attitude), but I told him we would meet him at the designated time and place, two days later. Thinking it over that evening, I wished I had told him to meet us somewhere near our home, as he had to pass through our area on the way to his property anyway. I guess I wasn't thinking clearly at the time. I had now put myself into the position of possibly driving a couple hundred miles, and having no one show up to meet us. Carol wasn't too happy with me. “Not only don't we have the guy's name,” she lamented, “There's no way we can even contact him? And he doesn't even have his own transportation? Jim, what on earth were you thinking?” How was I supposed to answer such a question?

We drove up two days later, and did manage to find the narrow road leading to his property. To say it was a “minimum maintenance road” would have been an exaggeration - it was worse. Carol made the comment that it didn't look like anyone had driven on the road recently, and I agreed. We had arrived a bit early, and there was no one in sight. I had not been told how far down the road the property was located, so we decided to stop and wait (hopefully) for the guy to show up.

As we were waiting, we were surprised to see a newer pick-up truck with a topper on it coming toward us down the trail. The road was narrow with deep ditches on either side, so I pulled as far off the road as I dared to let the truck pass. It pulled right up alongside and stopped. Looking over at us, the driver asked if we were the “water finders.” I told him we were, and he said, “You're late; I was just leaving.” I looked at my watch and told him that, actually, we were a little early.

From his need of a haircut and disheveled appearance, it didn't look like he cared much about how he presented himself to the general public (but we learned years ago not to judge people by the clothes they wore). We guessed him to be about 30 years old.

He told us he would go down the road and turn around, and that we should go on ahead and follow the road until we came to a place where he had started to put in a driveway. We followed his instructions, finding a place where there were a few shovels-full of dirt in the ditch, but we didn't think it looked like the start of any driveway, so we stopped and waited for him to return. He pulled up behind us, and I walked back to his truck and asked if we were at the right place. “Yeah,” he said, “You can just drive through the ditch there.” I told him we didn't have four-wheel drive, and if I drove in, I probably wouldn't be able to get back out. “You'll get back out,” he assured, “I got a load of rocks and dirt in the back of my truck that I'm going to shovel into the ditch while you're working, so you'll be able to get back out. Don't worry about it.”

Carol had heard most of the conversation and, when I got back in the truck, she asked, “What's going on? Has this guy been drinking, or is he on drugs or something?”

“He's on something,” I told her. “Let's do this job and get out of here. I don't like this any more than you do.” We slowly drove through the ditch, followed by “John.” Only then did I notice the yellow registration sticker attached the windshield. The pickup was brand new, and had no license plates on it.

In an effort at civility, and to make some kind of conversation, Carol asked him where he worked. His only response was, “Minneapolis.” I then ventured to ask what kind of work he did. His response was, “Look, did you come here to talk or to find water? If you came here to talk, you may as well leave right now.” We gladly would have left right then and there, but he already had backed his pickup up to the “driveway,” blocking the entrance. In reply, I told him we were going to get to work and find a place where he could drill a well instead of a dry hole.

I had a permit to carry a concealed handgun at the time, but never considered water dowsing to be such a dangerous activity that I had to carry a gun on the job! As we walked away, Carol whispered that it was one of the few times she wished I had brought it along, because she had never been so afraid on a dowsing job before in her life.

Just as we started to work, we heard the end-gate on the back of his pick-up slam down. Then, to our disbelief, he began to wildly shovel rocks and dirt out of the back of the truck bed. No one would treat a new truck that way. I commented to Carol that he must have one heavy-duty bed-liner in that truck to take that kind of abuse. “Jim,” she said, “When we're done here - even if we don't get paid - let's get out of here, but I'm at least going to try to get his name and address before we leave.” When John finished shoveling, he leaned against his truck, smoked cigarette after cigarette, and just watched us.

After about 90 minutes, we did find two promising sites, and marked them with flags and blue paint. We then walked back to his truck and told him where we suggested he drill the well. I also told him that if he had any problems during the drilling process, or had any questions that I might be able to answer, he shouldn't hesitate calling me (I really didn't mean it). I then asked who he was going to get to do the drilling, and he gave me the drilling contractor's name.

Carol told him we keep track of everything we do, and asked for his full name and address. He finally (supposedly?) gave us his last name, but, for his address, he had to look in his billfold and read it from a card. While Carol was getting the information, I casually walked to the back of his pick-up, which still had the end-gate down, and looked inside. I couldn't believe what I saw (or didn't see). There was no bed-liner! The inside of that brand new truck had scratches everywhere, and the new paint was freshly gouged out on the floor and sides from shovel marks. I couldn't believe that anyone would do that to a new vehicle.

Carol couldn't wait to get out of there, so she told him she would write out a receipt for his check. He then told us he had forgotten his checkbook. I told him that was not the arrangement we made, and that he had assured me we would be paid on site, and that's what I expected. Carol caught my attention about then, and motioned for me to forget it. She just wanted to get out of there (and so did I). Then the guy looked at me and said, “Alright then, I'll have to give you cash. I suppose you'll take cash, huh?”

“I'll take cash,” I told him, not knowing what was going to happen next. With that, he went to his truck, reached under the seat, and took out a paper bag. He reached into the bag and counted out 20 crumpled up $10 bills and slammed them into my hand. Without saying another word, he moved his truck, and we wasted no time getting out of his “new driveway.”

We didn't even bother counting the money until we were a few miles down the road. I handed the cash to Carol, and she said it smelled so musty, it must have been stored somewhere for a mighty long time.

When we got home, I called the well drilling contractor right away and told him about our exciting afternoon excursion, and that I wanted to give him a heads-up if this guy calls him and wants a well drilled. I suggested that he get a good bunch of money down, before he ever sets foot on that property. He thanked me much for calling, and said he'd let me know if the guy calls back.

A few days later, the driller called to tell me the guy did call him. The driller told John that he needed a $2,000 down payment before he would drill in that area. The guy arrived at the driller's office and made the down payment. “Jim,” he said, “The guy gave me 25 $100 bills!” I asked if they smelled old and musty, and he said his secretary told him that the guy “must have had them stashed away in a cream can for a few years.”

About a week later, the driller called again to tell me they had drilled a good well on that property. I asked if he had been paid. “Jim,” he said, “Would you believe the guy paid the rest of the bill, in full, with $20 bills? My drillers say he was one scary character.”

A few days later, Carol was talking to one of our daughters (who lives in Minneapolis) and told her about our rather scary encounter the week before, and gave her the address the guy had given us. Our daughter called back a few days later and told us, “Guess what? I checked out that address, and listen to this: It's the address of a half-way house where convicted felons have to serve at least six months before being paroled.”

Water dowsing is interesting.