Damming Dearing Branch was always a favorite summer activity when I was growing up. The branch entered our farm in the woods that ran along the edge of our big hay field. It came under a fence at the adjoining property line and left the other side of our land, running under another fence and going into a culvert under Iron Hill Road.
The woods were about a quarter mile wide from our field to the pasture on the other side at Rodgers’ Dairy. Right where it first hit our woods it was about eight feet wide and the area around it was flat and sandy. In other sections it had cut deep and was only three or four feet wide with two feet of water in that ditch area. The sandy area was only a few inches deep unless there had been a big rain.
About 20 yards past the fence on the upper end two big trees squeezed the water into a narrow gap three feet wide. We wanted our own private swimming hole and those two trees made a perfect place for a dam.
The first time we tried we quickly found that no matter how fast we shoveled sand between the trees it just washed away with the current. I don’t know where we got the idea for sand bags, probably from reading books, but we got croaker feed sacks from the barn and filled them with sand. That worked.
We would dig sand from the bottom of the shallow area to fill the sacks and struggle to drag them to the trees. As the water rose at the gap between the trees it would start running around either side so we extended the dam out to the sides.
Our best effort was one summer when we got an old cross tie and drug it across the field and through the woods to the dam site. It took all the strength three 12-year-olds could muster but we got it there and in place. It made a great base. We then started digging sand and filling sacks.
That summer we had a pool almost four feet deep, coming about chest high on us. We could almost swim in our 20-foot-wide, 20-foot-long private pool. Since it was down in the woods we didn’t bother with bathing suites, we just wore what we were born with. Skinny dipping was so exhilarating!
Every summer our dams would wash away with the first big rain and we learned a lesson about the power of moving water. But the cross tie was such a good base it held up for a couple of months. After a very big rain it, too, washed enough to turn the cross tie sideways, moving it from the trees and destroyed out pool. But that was a memorable summer.
It took a tremendous amount of effort to make the dams. Dragging the cross tie was the worst, but just filling bags with shovels and moving them a few feet was strenuous work. If our parents had made us work that hard we probably would have been upset but our own effort was fun and worth it. That was another lesson learned, if you wanted to do something no amount of effort was really “work.”