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Fossil Fools

Miss Ellie doesn’t complain, exactly, but she makes sure I know that the water at our house is hard.

“Look,” she said, “I hard-boiled these eggs in two minutes.”

“How is this is a problem?” I asked. I try to ignore the minerals in our water, because I don’t want to invest in a water-softening system. Wickenburg tap water tastes a lot better than what I was used to in Phoenix.

Elllie pointed out that our singing tea kettle, which is encrusted with minerals, was singing “Hard-hearted Hannah” in a gravelly voice.

To distract her, I told her about the community called Hard Water, and the night the recreation hall there caught fire.

When we started going together, Ellie was skeptical of some of the places I told her about. But I have shown her places called Nowhere, and Nothing, and Timbuktu, which is beyond Hope. Those places have existed for many years.

Now there are new communities springing up in equally unlikely places. I call this “rural sprawl.”

For half a century, Arizona’s growth sprawled in urban areas, connecting once-isolated farm towns in the Phoenix area into one contiguous glob. When you add Tucson, Flagstaff and Yuma, you have one of the most urbanized states in the nation.

But now there are houses everywhere you look on the desert, far from the dense traffic and chewable air of the cities. There are modest manufactured homes, and custom-built manses that cost half a million bucks, counting the well and the quarter-mile of driveway.

Now and then these houses coalesce into a community with a name. Ellie and I went looking for Closure the other day, and found it.

A couple of wise-guy developers heard people on CNN and Oprah looking for “closure” after an unresolved personal loss, or a disaster such as the Oklahoma City bombing. The morons figured that if they called their community Closure, they could confuse enough people to sell some lots. In six years, they have confused only nine buyers.

Hard Water is a ways north of Closure, and it’s much more prosperous. It was developed by a man named Richter,
who claims his family made a fortune selling scales.

Richter not only sells the parcels of land, one to five acres, but he owns the water company. He deepened an old well at a crossroads called Hard Water. Being respectful of history, he kept its historic name rather than coining a more euphemistic name.

The presence of Richter’s water company means land buyers don’t have to spend fortunes drilling their own deep wells. That attraction has made Hard Water a thriving development, a relatively new community on the desert.

Water from Richter’s well is highly mineralized–water so hard that it won’t leak.

But it is cheap, and the water pressure is good. When you put that much hard water into a vertical, 50,000-gallon tank, sitting atop a steel tower, the water flows out the bottom of the tank with a force that you won’t find in soft water from a mountain spring.

While the water freezes at 32 degrees, like water elsewhere, it’s so hard that it forms into ice cubes at 45 degrees. Ice cubes from Hard Water can chip a tile floor.

A few residents have installed intricate water-softening systems. Women who don’t like to wash their hair in hard water drive 46 miles to beauty shops in Kingman.

A few people tried cooking with a new freeze-dried water developed at the University of Nevada. They reported that it was expensive, and it gave their pasta a strong flavor of cabbage.

Most residents of Hard Water just get along with the water in the pipes, taking perverse pride in the inconvenience.

While Hard Water is scattered over wide are, it does have a center–a “downtown,” if you will. The developer provided a barn-like recreation hall, a big frame building where folks can dance and play bingo and hold potluck dinners. It serves as a polling place, Sunday school and social center.

Richter’s sister Martha runs a small convenience store in one end of the recreation hall. Adjacent to the center is the
metal building that houses the 1948 Mack fire engine. Hard Water has an active, if somewhat nonchalant, volunteer fire department.

Richter’s double-wide sales office completes the complex. The water tank towers majestically over the whole thing. Richter hired a traveling artist to paint a mural on the tank, a scene of four charging horses in a thunderstorm that Richter remembered from a painting in a motel room.

One evening last summer, a dry thunderstorm came upon Hard Water. No rain came from the black clouds–only sizzling white bolts of lightning.

One bolt struck the recreation hall and set the roof on fire. Most members of the fire department were already there, attending a potluck dinner in honor of Wally and Molly Blender’s 41st wedding anniversary.

The firemen drove the fire truck out of its garage, siren blaring, unreeled the hose and plugged it directly into a hydrant at the foot of the water tower. By now, the roof of the recreation hall was fully involved.

Fire Chief Garland Uzi put a wrench on the fire hydrant and turned it vigorously.

Hard water gushed from the other end of the hose. “Bolted” might be a better word. Six firemen finally got a handle on the business end of the hose, and aimed the water toward the roof.

The stream blew the roof clear off the building, scattering burning shingles and rafters over 500 square yards of downtown Hard Water. As the firemen lowered the stream, it broke every window in the building, and started chipping away at the wall panels of thick, scored plywood.

A chunk of water bounced back and knocked Wally Blender to the ground, bruising his forehead.

The firemen figured the hard water would have knocked the building down, except for an unbelievable thing that happened next.

Minerals in the water began to crust on the wooden building. They formed a rigid, calcified coating that held the structure together, and upright.

Richter has added a line to his sales brochure: “Visit historic Hard Water and see Fossil Hall, our unique petrified recreation center!”

Last 5 posts by Jim Cook

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