One Woman’s Story

Like many, the author’s mother had an impact on his introduction to the groundwater industry.

By Ed Butts, PE, CPI

I have penned several articles in Water Well Journal the last 15 years about many of the people in my life. I have written on my father, coworkers, best friends, associates, and even one of my original employers.

One individual from my life, though, who has received little mention is my mother. And besides my wife, there is no other woman who has had such a profound impact on my life. Now, you might think an article about a mother might be inappropriate and even boring for a water well magazine, but that could not be further from the truth here. In fact, I can attribute a portion of my exposure to the water well industry to my mother.

My mother was an extremely inventive and imaginative person. She wrote several poems, short stories, and manuscripts that were submitted to magazines and book publishers, but were not published. She could bounce between poetry one minute to an immediate oral rendition of a short story involving
a well drilling crew the next. She created various characters for her stories that often enthralled and delighted me as a kid and literally pushed me into the water well industry. So grant me a little personal indulgence and allow me to introduce you to Mom.

Orvilla June Daily

Right off the bat, you must know that my mother was a slightly different and offbeat type of person. In fact, she was given the name of Orvilla at birth and had to go through life being called various names, generally the more common man’s name of Orville or Orv for short. I never saw her get upset over this often mistaken identity. She simply preferred to use the more informal identification of Vel to her friends and family.

Orvilla June Daily was born to Gerald and Opal Daily on December 13, 1933 in Springfield, Missouri. I never met my maternal grandmother, as she died well before I was born. Gerald subsequently married Vivian Mandel, who became the maternal grandmother I knew, although now my maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother are the only true grandparents I retain memories of to this day.

The Daily family, which ultimately consisted of the two parents; an older brother, Stan; my mother, Orvilla; and two younger sisters, Donna and Rheta, moved to Grants Pass, Oregon, during the mid-1940s where my mother met and married her first husband, Jim Beck, when she was just 14 or 15 years
old. This type of marriage was fairly common at the time and in 1949 my older half-brother, Denny Beck, was born followed by my half-sister, Jannice, in 1952.

During this union an economic imperative resulted in my mother’s newfound interest and subsequent research into the water well industry, which soon led to Jim Beck’s employment as a helper on a cable-tool drilling machine. Although I know my mother would have preferred to be the one out working on the drill rig (believe it or not), convention at the time dictated she stay home with the children.

Strife and turmoil, as it often will in a family with limited financial resources and two young children, entered the marriage, culminating in a divorce around 1955. My mother, with two children in tow, then moved closer to the Corvallis, Oregon area where she met and married my father, Edward Oren
Butts, in October 1957. I was born the following July in 1958, followed by my sister, Debbie, exactly one week shy of my first birthday in 1959.

The entire Butts family, which now included two parents, two boys, and two girls, relocated 10 miles up the road to Albany, Oregon. My father worked in various industries to support his family, most notably on a green chain in a lumber mill and as a local laborer. My mother introduced him to the water
well business sometime around 1959 and he began as a helper on a cable-tool machine. He found he had a knack for this type of work and was soon operating his own drilling machine around the Albany-Corvallis area for a drilling contractor.

In search of untold riches, the family relocated to the Bakersfield region of central California around 1962 where our father gained employment for a few years working as a helper and driller on an exploratory rotary drilling machine for Shell Oil Co. He quickly learned the fundamentals of blending,
working, and drilling with mud mixtures. This experience on a mud rotary drilling machine would soon produce dividends.

I know my mother would have preferred to be the one out working on the drill rig (believe it or not), convention at the time dictated she stay home with the children.

Upon our return to Oregon in 1963 or 1964, my father and mother purchased their own Speedstar model 240 two-line cable-tool well drilling machine and started a business in Albany called Valley Well Drillers to concentrate on drilling wells in the alluvium and marine sediment-rich Mid-Willamette Valley of Oregon. Recognizing the inherent advantages a mud rotary machine could offer to speed up production on local water wells, Valley Well Drillers thereafter purchased a Western Geophysical model 1000 tabledrive mud rotary well drilling machine in the mid-1960s. Within a few years, the rolling drilling equipment stock for the firm included the Western mud rotary; the original first machine, a model 240 cable-tool rig; a Speedstar model 71 cable-tool machine; a Caldwell continuous-flight bucket type
auger; two pump hoists; and other miscellaneous equipment.

During this time my mother handled the firm’s bookkeeping and payroll. Although we were unaware at the time, these were the happiest years we were to experience as one family.

The Drilling Crew

Even after the passage of more than 50 years, the most enduring memory of the time spent with my mother occurred during this span. This is when as a 6- or 7-year-old I was introduced to “The Drilling Crew,” one of my mother’s many unique stories—and my personal favorite.

The story included three primary characters: Rick the drilling rig, Tommy the torch, and Wendell the welder. In these stories, Rick the rig always asserted he was the most important entity of the three and why not? He was the big guy; he drilled the wells, bailed them out, and sealed them up. He also never missed an opportunity to make sure everyone else knew, for without Rick nothing could get done at all.

The real argument was between Tommy the torch and Wendell the welder. Tommy would argue, “I am the most important, as I am the torch; I cut the pipe and without me the pipe would be too long and you couldn’t get the well cased or perforated.”

Wendell would soon chime in, “Tommy, you don’t know what you are talking about. It is I who is the most important since without me the pipe could not get joined together and the well could never be finished.”

This type of dialog often went on and on until all of the parties finally agreed they were all important to the job and needed in order to get the well drilled. This is a just a brief outline of the full story. Sometimes the characters included Fred the Ford F-250 support pickup, Maude the mud pump, and Al the air compressor.

My mother would weave her stories as needed to retain my interest and growing curiosity. Obviously, this type of dialog would go back and forth for quite some time with me, a young child, thrilled at it all and asking for more. These stories represent some of the earliest memories of my life. After that, how could I grow up and not want to be in this business?

The Marriage Breaks Up

Within a span of just a few more months, the arguments between our parents began to become more frequent and more violent. The two older siblings grew and moved out, leaving my sister and me to serve as quasi-referees in the ever-growing “War of the Butts.” This is a period of my life when the memories of thrown glassware, fists through walls, and even a loaded gun being brandished are vivid. The relative business success could not substitute for unhappiness in the marriage and my parents finally divorced in 1968.

Both parents remarried in subsequent years; my father twice and my mother once, but neither found true happiness with other partners. I firmly believe my mother and father belonged together in life, but the many downsides to their relationship were stronger than the few upsides and prevented things from working.

Our parents allowed my sister and me as 9- and 10-year olds to decide who we would live with. My sister went to live with our mother and I went with my father. As anyone who has read my past columns knows, my father’s life then went on reasonably stable with two more wives in retirement and numerous heart attacks until his death in 1989.

My mother, however, married a man named Jerry, who was 12 years her junior, around 1972. Jerry was a great guy, friend, and confidante—almost a playmate to me. He was supportive in my sports activities, but hardly a father figure as he was only a few years older than me. Most of us could see the writing on the wall when they married and the marriage ultimately ended in divorce shortly after I was on my own.

The intervening years were rough on all of us as petty arguments, custody and court battles, accusations and counteraccusations, and the ever-present delinquent child support payments soon became the primary focus of all discussions with our parents.

After years of absorbing cruel and unnecessary comments from both sides, I soon developed a strong resentment towards my mother for what I considered to be mean and unwarranted comments directed at my father and often me due to the association with my father. This type of nasty diatribe continued throughout Debbie’s and my childhoods, teenage years, and far into our adulthood until neither of us wanted to deal with either parent.

Fortunately, the bond between us siblings always remained strong and intact throughout the years. Unfortunately, my older half-brother, Denny, never found his happiness and he ultimately took his own life around 1990. My older sister, Jannice, died of colon cancer in her early 50s. I’ve always wondered if they passed away from the constant fighting.

Later Years

The decades of the 1970s through the 1980s were rough on our families, particularly our parents. By now Debbie and I had happy and fulfilling marriages with our own children, but our mother and father were still unhappy. My mother, who had been wise in investments in her earlier days and after attempting various business ventures such as Christmas tree farming, tree relocation and planting, landscaping, and blueberry farming (no one in the family can forget her version of blueberry pizza), finally retired in her late 50s.

My mother and father in their later years each discovered a way to find a little solace and peace in their lives and actually learned to be civil to each other. I think it was largely the result of needing to be in their children’s and grandchildren’s lives.

My mother moved frequently and went through the few later years seemingly drifting in and out of our existence until she developed early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in her early 60s. Caring for Mom after that became a true combined family effort with the principal caregivers consisting of myself, my wife, my sister and her husband, daughter, aunts, and many remarkable nurses at various care homes.

The final years of Mom’s life were rough on all, and not the least, her. Many of the vitriol expressions we experienced as youngsters only became more directed and vicious towards us as adults. All the time we tried to demonstrate compassion and understanding, but often the recall of these same comments
from earlier days would flood our conscience and make this so hard to do. We attributed most of these comments to her rapidly progressive disease.

Anyone who tries to convince others that the person does not know what they are going through has never observed a real case of Alzheimer’s. You can see it in the person’s eyes and from their soul; they are locked inside a body that can no longer willingly respond to command or instruction. My mother rapidly disintegrated in spirit until she finally resigned herself to residing in a wheelchair, usually sitting in a hall of her care home during the day and in her room at night.

My mother passed away from the accumulated ravages of Alzheimer’s on February 2, 2007. She was 73. She was never told her daughter had died.

My mother was a true contradiction in terms during her life. She could seemingly place one mask over her face in order to display happiness for one group or individual to observe while displaying a completely different facade for another group or individual she did not care for. She was capable of
expressing love and real emotion to her children and grandchildren, and at the same time demonstrate utter contempt and indifference to selected others if she felt that she had been wronged.

Most of all, though, she was a complete human being awash with all the typical human traits and characteristics like outward and inward expressions of love and consideration. When combined with her strengths and weaknesses and those other foibles that made her just like the rest of us, in the end, she was just Mom.

Until next month, work safe and smart.

Ed Butts, PE, CPI, is the chief engineer at 4B Engineering & Consulting, Salem, Oregon. He has more than 35 years experience in the water well business, specializing in engineering and business management. He can be reached at