New Year’s wish: water

New Year’s wish: water
This centrifugal pump was used to pump water from sump into the ill-fated Soule Canal project. It pumped 30,000 gallons per minute and was powered by a steam engine. (Photo by Rod Beemer)

At this time of year many people’s thoughts turn to wondering what it would take to have a happy new year in 2013. For those living and working on the prairies and plains, especially those in agriculture, one thing that would make for a great new year would be moisture in the right amount at the right time.

Wishes and prayers for rain aren’t unique to 2013 because the pioneers faced the same cycles of too little rain and too much rain that we are experiencing today. In fact, during the nineteenth century the prairies and plains experienced three droughts that were equal to, or more severe than, the drought of the 1930s.

Whether then or now, we try to alter heaven and earth to bring water to where we need it when we need it. One example of this is found in the town of Ingalls, Kansas, where an effort was made to improve on nature and, no doubt, hopeful that the next year would be a great year with plenty of water for all.

The Soule Canal was a vision of Asa T. Soule, a New Yorker, to take water from the Arkansas River and run it east through a canal to Kinsley, Kansas. The project was underway in 1894, which was during a twelve-year drought that began in 1884 and lasted until 1895. The Monthly Weather Review reported that on April 15, 1895, “a terrible storm of sand and rain afflicted southern and western Kansas, Oklahoma, and the Panhandle of Texas. Egyptian darkness is said to have prevailed in western Oklahoma and the Panhandle . . . Drifts of sand 6 feet deep were reported along the railroad tracks in western Kansas.”

In Omaha, Nebraska, on July 25, 1895, the temperature rose almost as steadily as the wind and by noon had topped the century mark and reached 106 record-setting degrees. “In that awful holocaust corn blades shriveled in the blast like grass in an oven.” All remaining hopes for their crops were blown away in a single day. Quoted from Everett Dick’s Conquering the Great American Desert page 345.

One hundred and seventeen years later the evidence of Soule’s dream is still visible in and around Ingalls, Kansas. Unfortunately the dream didn’t work financially or technically and was abandoned after several attempts.

Along Highway 50 east of Ingalls, Kansas, remnants of the Soule Canal can still be seen today. (Photo by Rod Beemer)

Here’s hoping that 2013 won’t be another year of drought on the prairies and plains.

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