Hand Pumping Water with Clifford Hanley

Clifford Hanley won’t put up with bad water, hot hats or squeaky hand pumps.

Clifford Hanley
Medicine Rocks, MT

A Baker, MT resident, I met him recently at the hand-pumped well at the entrance to Medicine Rocks State Park. Clifford was a direct man -he’d ventilated his cowboy hat by slicing holes in it with a knife.

Medicine Rocks State Park
Medicine Rocks, MT

Clifford at the pump

So isn’t it odd that in 2007, a man in suspenders and a slashed hat would show up at a hand pumped well with a bunch of empty jugs? Not really, the water was worth the drive.

“This water’s the best you’ll find anywhere,” he told me. He’d driven twenty miles from Baker to fill his four gallon jugs. I had to agree. I’d filled my water jugs at the well the day before but found the well a burdensome beast to operate. It creaked, leaked, and resented the vigourous pumping I gave its cast iron handle. The water was sweet, though, a welcome change from the sulphery, often sour-smelling water that plagues farmers in Fallon County, MT.

Clifford put the first of his white jugs under the spout, gave the handle a downward stroke and stopped pushing the moment the well gave the geriatric – knee – joint – without – the – synovial – fluid creak it had subjected me to.

“Needs oil,“he noted.


He walked to his Ford and returned to the pump cradling something under his arm. “Vaseline works best” he said, “but motor oil works okay too if that’s all you’ve got.” Oil brand was unimportant as long as, “you’ve got plenty of towels on hand to clean up the mess.”

Havoline: pump greaser’s second choice

First oil, then towels

The pump’s shaft oiled, Clifford wiped his hands clean and pumped the handle anew.
Silence. Then the sound of water gushing into plastic jugs followed by the waft of oil on the morning air.

He filled his jugs and I filled mine and we parted company, content with the hushed sloshing coming from our vehicles.

Enjoy your water.

Ekalaka, MT
(click here for more on our upcoming program in Ekalaka).


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