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Water witcher, well digger stay busy

LOGAN — Quests for water during years of dry conditions have kept two Logan men busy.
Terry Gottschalk, a well driller, and Phil Altman, a water witcher, often are colleagues on the same job.
"I tell people I would not drill a well without having it witched. Otherwise, you're just shooting in the dark," Gottschalk said. "A lot of people think it's hocus-pocus."
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But he's seen some force move a green branch that Altman, 75, is carrying.
"It'll pull down, twist. I can't hold it," said Altman, a retired school counselor and math teacher.
"Don't ask me how it does it. Very few can do it," he said. "I can use any kind of fruit branch, but right now I'm using a lot of plum thicket forks, and they've got to be green."
Altman figures he's successful 85 to 90 percent of the time. He works within a 100-mile radius of Logan and charges clients to cover expenses.
"There's not always water where I tell them," Altman said. "I've got (80 acres) and I can't find water, and I've drilled."
He also locates water lines.
Many call when their wells go dry or cave in.
"They want me to witch to get on the same vein," he said.
Drought drives Gottschalk's business, although there are some customers who have wells with rusted casing that need to be revamped.
He places the success rate for finding water at 50 percent. Sometimes there is simply none where he drills.
Gottschalk works in Norton, Phillips, Smith, Rooks and Graham counties.
While costs vary, based on time and depth, the average is about $1,900 per hole drilled.
There are no guarantees.
In mid-June Gottschalk made two attempts south of Woodston.
"They were bone dry," he said. "We get paid no matter what, but you feel really bad for the landowners having to haul water for their cattle and their homes."
Witcher finds supply
A witcher can help pinpoint where water is located underground. Sometimes, a well is just not in the right place.
"Phil would say it's not in the main part of the vein. We'd move over 15 feet and have a heck of a well," Gottschalk said. "There's nothing more pleasurable than to drill a good well."
Most figure hiring a witcher gives them a better chance at finding water "than throwing a rock down and saying 'drill there,' " Altman said.
A search can take hours or just 30 minutes.
"I can witch out of the window if somebody drives," Altman said. "I've covered pretty good sized pastures."

(c)2014 The Salina Journal (Salina, Kan.)