|World of James A. Michener -004-
James A. Michener @ "Wikiquote"
|James Albert Michener (3 February 1907 - 16 October 1997) was an American author of more than 40 titles, the majority of which are novels of
sweeping sagas, covering the lives of many generations in a particular geographic locale and incorporating historical facts into the story as well.
|I was brought up in the great tradition of the late nineteenth century: that a writer never
complains, never explains and never disdains.
you're interested in drilling a tunnel.”
“That's right” Whip said. “Sit down, Mr. Overpeck. You like whiskey?”
“I like anything,” Overpeck said.
“You a tunnel man?”
“Well, yes and no,” the little man replied, gulping a huge draft of whiskey. Coughing slightly he asked, “I understand you're drilling your tunnel in order to get
“You've followed me around pretty well, Mr. Overpeck. Another whiskey?”
“Look, son, if you calculate on getting me drunk and outsmarting me, quit now, because you simply can't do it.”
“I'm offering it in hospitality,” Whip assured him.
“I never accept hospitality unless the host joins me. Now you gulp one down and catch up, and we can have a fine talk.”
The two men, Whip Hoxworth twenty-four years old and Milton Overpeck in his early fifties, guzzled straight whiskey for several hours, during which the little
engineer fascinated the Hawaiian landowner with a completely new theory about water. The doughty drinker, whose eyes were bright and clear after three quarters of
a bottle, apparently knew more about Hawaii than Whip did, at least about the island of Oahu.
“My theory is this,” he explained, using pillows, books and newspapers to build his island. “This volcano here and this one here built Oahu. That's perfectly
obvious. Now, as they built, one surely must have overflowed the rightful terrain of the other. I judge all volcanic rock to be porous, so in Oahu it seems to me you
have got to have a complex substructure, the bulk of it porous. All the fine water that falls on your island doesn't run immediately out to sea.”
“Well, the engineer I sent out there did say that he thought the mountains were probably porous,” Whip remembered.
“I'm not interested in the mountains you see above land,” Overpeck snapped. “I'm interested in the subterranean ones. Because if, as I suspect, there was a
rising and a falling of the entire mountain mass...” He stopped, studied his friend and said, “Sorry, you're drunk. I'll be back in the morning.” But as he was about to
leave he said, “Don't sleep on a pillow tonight. Leave everything just as it is.”
Whip, through bleary eyes, tried to focus on the turmoil in his room and asked, “What's all this got to do with tunnels?”
“I wouldn't know,” Overpeck replied, “I'm a well man meself.”
He appeared at seven next morning, chipper as a woodchuck, his long overcoat flapping about his ankles in the cold San Francisco weather. He surprised Whip
by completely dismissing the intricate construction of pillows, books and newspapers. “Best thing is to show you,” he said cheerily. “Wells'll be the making of
Hawaii.” And he led Whip down to the foot of Market Street, where grimy ferries left for the other side of the bay, and when after a long walk through Oakland they
stood before a well he had recently dug he pointed with unconcealed admiration at a pipe protruding from the ground, from which gushed a steady volume of water
that rose fourteen feet into the air.
“Does it run like this all the time?” Whip asked.
“Day and night,” Overpeck replied.
“What does it?”
“Artesian, that's what it is. Artesian.”
“How many gallons a day?”
“A million four.”
“How long will it last?”
This was what Wild Whip had been dreaming of, a steady source of fresh water, but he had imagined that the only way to get it was to drive a tunnel through the
mountains. If Overpeck were correct,where the water really lay was at his feet, but in business Whip was both daring and cautious. He was willing to take almost any
gamble to obtain water, but he wanted assurance that he had at least a fair chance of winning. Carefully he asked, “Why did you have to bring me all the way over
here to show me this well? Why didn't you show me one in San Francisco?”
“Artesian water don't happen everywhere,” Overpeck replied.
“Suppose there isn't any on my land in Hawaii?”
“My job is to guess where it is,” Overpeck answered. “And I guess it's under your land.”
“That's what I was explaining with the pillows and the newspapers,” he said.
“I think we better go back to the hotel,” Whip said. “But wait a minute. How did you get the well down there?”
“A special rig I invented.”
“How far down did you go?”
“Hundred and eighty feet.”
“You want to sell the rig?”
“I didn't think so.” The two men returned to the ferry, and as Whip studied the cold and windy hills of San Francisco, imagining them to be Hawaii, he became
increasingly excited, but when little Mr. Overpeck assured him that a layer of cap rock must have imprisoned enormous stores of sweet water under the sloping
flatlands of Oahu, Whip could feel actual perspiration break out on his forehead.
“What kind of deal can we make, Overpeck?” he asked bluntly.
“You're sweating, son. If I find water, I'm handing you millions of dollars, ain't I?”
“I'm a gambler, Mr. Hoxworth. What I want is the land next to yours.”
“You pay for getting the rig over there. You give me three dollars a day. And you buy, before we start, one thousand acres of land. If we get water, I buy it from you
for what you paid. If we don't you keep it.”
“Are the chances good?”
“There's one way we can test my theory without spending a cent.”
“Think a minute. If there really is a pool of inexhaustible water hiding under your land, the overflow has got to be escaping somewhere. Logically, it's running
away under the sea level, but some of it must be seeping out over the upmost edge of the cap rock. Go out to your land. Tell people you're going to raise cattle. Walk
along the upper areas until you find a spring. Calculate how high above sea level you are, and the walk back and forth along that elevation. If you find half a dozen
more springs, it's not even a gamble, Mr. Hoxworth. Because then you know the water's hiding down below you.”
“You come out and check,” Whip suggested.
“People might guess. Then land values go up.”
Whip reflected on this shrewd observation and made a quick decision. “ Buy yourself a good bull. Bring him to the islands with you and we'll announce that you're
going to help me raise cattle. Then everybody'll feel sorry for me, because lots of people have gone bust trying that on the barren lands. Takes twenty of our acres to
support one cow, and nobody makes money.”
Three weeks later little Mr. Overpeck arrived in Honolulu with a bull and announced to the Honolulu Mail that he was going to advise Mr. Whipple Hoxworth in the
raising of cattle on the latter's big ranch west of the city. He led his bull out to the vast, arid, useless acres, and as soon as he got there he told Whip “Buy that land
over there for me.” And Whip did, for practically nothing, and the next day he concluded that he had been victimized by the shrewd little man, for they tramped both
Whip's acres and Overpeck's, and there were no springs.
“Why the hell did you bother me with your nonsense?” the young man railed.
“I didn't expect any springs today,” Overpeck said calmly. “But I know where they'll crop out after the next big storm up in the mountains,” and sure enough, three
days after the rain clouds left, along the line that Overpeck had predicted, he and Whip discovered sure evidences of seepage. They stood on the hillside looking
down over the bleak and barren acres, Whip's four thousand and Overpeck's one, and the little man said, “We're standing on a gold mine, Mr. Hoxworth. I'm mortally
certain there's water below. Buy up all the land you can afford.”
Eight weeks later the little man reappeared in Hawaii without any cattle, but with nine large boxes of gear. This time he informed the Mail: “It looks as if Mr.
Hoxworth's investment in cattle is going to be lost unless somehow we can find water on those acres.”
He set up a pyramidal wooden derrick about twelve feet high, at the bottom of which were slung two large iron wheels connected by an axle upon which rope
could be wound when the wheels were turned by hand. This rope went from the axle and up to the top of the derrick, where it crossed on a pulley and dropped down
to be lashed to the end of a heavy iron drill. Laboriously Overpeck cranked the heavy wheels until the iron drill was hauled to the top of the derrick. Then he tripped a
catch and jumped back as the drill plunged downward, biting its way through sand and rock. Laboriously he turned the wheels and lifted the drill back into position;
then a swift whirrrrr, and the next bite was taken.
“How long will this take?” Hoxworth asked, amazed at the effort required.
“A long time.”
“Have you the strength?”
“I'm boring for a million dollars,” the wiry little man replied. “I got the strength.”
Days passed and weeks, and the determined engineer kept hoisting his drills, breaking their points on almost impenetrable hard pan, sharpening them by
hand, and hoisting them once more. “You ought to have an engine,” Whip growled as the work made slow progress.
“When I get some money, I'll get an engine.” Overpeck snapped.
Now Whip saw the little fighter in a new light. “All your life you've been broke, haven't you?”
“Yep. All my life I was waiting for a man like you.”
“Are we going to hit water?”
At two hundred feet the drills were hammering their way through cap rock, once soft ocean mud but now, millions of years later, rock as hard as diamonds. Whip
grew despondent and was afraid to pass through the streets of Honolulu, where people already hated him for the way he had treated his former wife Iliki Janders,
and where they now laughed at him for his folly in trying to raise cattle on his barren acres. At first, when those who had sold additional land saw Overpeck's drilling
rig, there had been consternation: “Has Whip bamboozled us? Did he know there was water below that rubble?” Such fears relaxed when it was apparent that no
water existed. “He's down to two hundred and fifty feet and is running out of rope,” spies reported.
And then on the fourteenth of September, 1881, Milton Overpeck's plunging drill crashed through the last two inches of cap rock, and up past the iron, past the
rope, gushed cold sweet water at the rate of one million three hundred thousand gallons a day. When it gurgled to the top of the well it kept rising until it reached the
apex of the twelve-foot derrick and stood a steady fourteen feet in the air, hour after hour, month after month.
When Whip saw the glorious sight he became agitated and cried “We must save that water!” But little Mr. Overpeck assured him. “Son, it'll run forever.” They
scooped out a large depression in which the water was impounded and then pumped to wherever it was needed. They drilled additional wells, all by hand, and Whip
said, “Overpeck, it's ridiculous for you to do so much work. Let's buy an engine that'll do it for you,” but the determined little man replied, “I finish these wells, I'm never
going to work again. I'm going to get a hotel room, lease my land to you, and live easy.”
|Academy of Achievement interview (1991)
Interview, St. Petersburg, Florida (10 January 1991)
|The World Is My Home (1991)
|About James A. Michener