Jumbo By: Sue Eckhoff, Grundy County Heritage Museum
June 20, 2014
Most of us have heard of Jumbo the elephant. This isn’t that story. This is the story of Jumbo, the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, which for one year and two months gushed through the streets of Belle Plaine, Iowa, leaving in its wake tons of sand, thousands of rock, and many jangled nerves. In 1886, William Weir was hired to dig a well for the City of Belle Plaine. The town was unwittingly standing on the threshold of fame! Weir was to receive $350 to dig the well that was to provide water for the south part of town and the school. He started with a two inch drill hoping to complete the job in less than a week. But fate said no. After digging one hundred ninety three feet and striking water, Weir left the job for the day. That evening people walking by noticed a little stream of water belching from the uncapped hole. The next morning Weir returned to the scene and was surprised by the amount of water spurting in the air. As the day wore on, he flow increased, until by late afternoon it was a monster, shooting eight foot high and a foot and a half in circumference. Mr. Weir decided he was not a well man, and promptly left town! By evening people were frightened. What if the fountain got bigger and washed the whole town away. The City Council called an emergency meeting, deciding to get a pile driver and force piling down the wells mouth. But it was discovered that would not work. By this time the fountain was shooting up over five million gallons each twenty-four hours. The once two inch hole was now three feet in diameter and spewing rocks, sand, wood, bones, and pebbles from its mouth. The well became known as “Jumbo”, and people poured in for miles around to see it. Jumbo quickly became a nuisance that had outgrown its novelty. Months dragged by. Now two streams over twelve feet wide and a foot deep were necessary to carry the water to the Iowa River. Tons of sand were left in city streets and on lawns. The Council, becoming increasingly worried, signed a contract with a Marshalltown man to cap the well for $2,000. The man arrived, and promptly started building a fence around Jumbo. When asked why he replied he was planning to charge admission to watch him work! The Council stopped that, and the man worked until May of 1887, and succeeded only in cutting down the flow slightly. Next the Council hired a local foundry to work on closing off the well. They rigged up a series of hydraulic jacks, and with the help of great quantities of sand and cement the well was finally closed on October 6, 1887. Before filling in the beast, Jumbo had swallowed over two hundred feet of pipe, forty carloads of stone, and one hundred thirty barrels of cement. Just to play it safe, asphalt was laid over Jumbo’s last resting place, and the whole town sighed with relief. Still, for many years, people in Belle Plaine walked around the spot, and kept a watchful eye on its grave, being just a little afraid that Jumbo would shoot right up through all the concrete and asphalt and once again show the people who was boss!
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