Pahrump Correspondence – January 2018

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Wheeler Well: one man’s the labor of love

Dick Senior, the Keeper of Wheeler Well, stops to take a photo of his favorite horse, Howdy.

In the Spring Mountains off of Wheeler pass, about 7,000 feet in elevation above the town of Pahrump,  sits and old rusted cattle watering tank known as Wheeler Well. It’s not much to look at. The tank for the water had been dry for some fifty years, and It was full of holes from hunters using it for target practice. 

Dick Senior changed all that. Dick was a man driven by the love for animals and known simply as the “Keeper of the Well.” He got the water running again for the animals, and over 10 years later the community keeps that water going, even though Dick has since moved on.

The keeper

Dick Senior id a retired plumber from California who was responsible for getting the water running again.  

The first users of the tank were cattle from Pahrump. The Bowman family found a spring and piped it down sometime in the 1950s. The cattle came up from the valley in the summer to escape the heat. When the cattle stopped coming, the well or tank fell into disrepair and went dry.

Started the well again

Dick Senior, the Keeper of Wheeler Well, stands in front of a full tank of water. One can see the water line behind the tank, which is gravity fed to the tank.

In 2002, Dick found the tank bone dry. Dick is a self taught naturalist who just liked being in the mountains and spending time with the animals. For him this was a labor of love.

“I knew I could get it to run again if I could only find the source of the water,” he said. “It took some time, but I found some pipe and traced it back to an underground tank some 500 feet from the watering tank.”

Dick was able to get it running and even renovated the piping again in 2010. He had to work on it all the time because of weather and vandals.

“The rains would wash the piping away,” he said. “One time I found the piping some 500 feet away from the tank.”

                                              Wild horses gather at Wheeler Well to get a drink during the hot summer months.

Dick’s favorite thing to do was watching not only the horses drink, but the many other animals like deer, birds and Elk that frequented the well. He would sit there in front of the tank, shielded from view by some trees and just enjoy all the animals that came to drink.

“I know the tank still gets a lot of visitors,” Dick said. “Recently the man who took my place said he went up to the well and saw 45 elk gathered around it. You just have to be quiet and the animals will appear.”

Whenever dick went up there, he would carry with him some nuts and bolts for the tank.

“I like to carry a few of these nuts and bolts in my pocket,” he said. “When I come up here, I usually find a hole in the tank caused by hunters or kids who fire their guns into the tank.”

Over the years, Dick came in contact with a lot of wild horses.

“There were, at one time, some 75 up there,” Dick said. “I knew about a dozen by name. My favorite one was Howdy. He was so tame he allowed me to come right up to him by the tank. Then there was also a horse I named Crazy Mary. She was not friendly and still is there. My friends told me she just gave birth to a foal.”

A trio of wild horses drinking at Wheeler Well. The well is easily accessible off of Wheeler Pass. Once you go up the mountain, there are signs to guide you.

No longer in Pahrump

Being in his eighties, the trips up the mountain got to be too much for Dick, and he was forced to move away from the mountain he loved so much.

“I just wish that I was 15 years younger when I started this project,” he said.

Dick has moved from Pahrump for health reasons and currently lives in Southern California, but his legacy is the well, and it is in good hands. Dick is almost 90-years-old.

“I left the well some spare parts, and some people still go up there to keep the water running,” he said. “I haven’t been up there in close to three years.”

His last trip up to the well officially was in 2015, but his spirit and memory still persist to this day.

Dick has written two books on the subject. The first one was published by the Pahrump Arts Council and was made for children, called “Keeper of Wheeler Well.” The second one was by Dick and is called, “Adventures in the Mountains and Deserts.”

Who took over for Dick

The well is now more than ever a community project, according to Selway Mulkey for the Pahrump Valley 4 Wheelers.

“We have an equestrian group that helps us out, and it kind of has turned into a community deal,” Selway said. “Whereas Dick did this pretty much on his own for all that time.”

Selway recently went up there to replace most of the piping because the well was dry.

“The tank had no water, and what usually happens is people run  over the piping and it breaks,” Selway said. “We tried to put about 200 feet of it underground with hard pipe so it won’t break. As long as it doesn’t freeze, it should be okay.”

The Wheeler Well is accessible off of Wheeler Pass, and once you get up the mountain there are signs that point the way.

— Vernon Hee

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