Fountain Spring Cave update
Sept. 19, 2013
Update on the Fountain Spring Cave project.
Well,I knew this project would not be easy, but I figured it would be a cake walk compared to some of my other conquests. After all, this sinkhole was excavated in the 1930's. What did they know about caves?What did they know about how to find caves?
Think about it. The 1930's, compared to today.
For those of you who areunfamiliar with this project, let me give you a brief overview. A young man, whose family owned a rural night club, decided that he would become fabulously wealthy if hecould excavate the lone sinkhole on the far boundary of their property.Here is what we know: after he began the project, he resorted to using a large generator and heavy duty pulley system, which we have a photo of. What we don't know is how many years the project spanned. The minimum I have heard is two years.
It was reported that he eventually broke into a large cave system at the base of the sinkhole. He was then drafted into WWII andthe commercialization dream was abandoned. Thewood shaft he had constructed in the sinkhole eventually rotted away and collapsed. As time went by,every member of his family died. The sole heir to the sinkholewas the discoverer's son-in-law.
Last year, this elderly gentleman wanted to unload it and asked around if there was anyone in Fillmore Countyderanged enough to purchase it. We connected; he told me the story and showed me a long stalactite that he believed had been harvested from the cave. He recalledhearing from his father-in law that folks familiar with commercial caves informed the family back thenthat the cave was not suitable for commercialization compared to Mystery andHarmony Cave. But perhaps because thelocation was at the intersection of two major highways, someone did express interest in commercializing it and was given a one or two year option, which theyforfeited.
When I purchased the sinkhole there was not much to see. Just a nice deep sinkhole in a forest. After negotiating a 50'bank, you reach the base of the sinkhole, which was relativelyflat.A nicepeaceful and serenesetting.
The planning began.
Last fall,I cleared trees aroundthe side that provided theeasiest approach to the sinkhole.Since I could not use the Cave Finder to excavate this deep sinkhole, I had to decide how to transport the fill to the surface.Instead of a generator andpulley system, a 55' long hay bale lift was purchased and redesigned over the winter bya local handyman genius into a conveyor belt. Several long wiring harnesses were made to allow the user to operate the lift from the base of the sinkhole, where the material would be loaded.In the spring,the Cave Finder was transported to the site and everything was set up.
And then it rained. And rained. And rained. If it didn't rain in the morning, it rained at night. Rivers of water poured into the sinkhole. Thank God I hadn't begun the excavation because it would have been futile. Finally, the rains stopped.
I decided to establish a secure structure at the base of the sinkhole where the fun would begin. I used 6" x 6" treated timbers to span the base of the sinkhole and then laid thick treated plywood over the timbers. Once everything was in place, the project began - but not without problems. After three generators and numerous hair-raising electrical zings, we began to make downward progress.
Soon, I encountered a 10' long horizontal passage but knew we had to go much deeper before hitting the real cave. I also began to encounter artifacts such as metal conduit, rotted shoring, wiring insulators, and even a speaker system, which was obviously mounted on the original wood shaft they had constructed. Was this speaker system used to communicate with people in the cave? Was it used to signal the generator operator that another load was ready to be hoisted from the shaft?
And so down I went, following the electrical conduit and rotted wood planks. Since the sinkhole was so large, I decided to shore up one end while concentrating on following the conduit and plank remnants. Once I had excavated about 8' below the shoring, I decided to add even more shoring to the base of what had already constructed. As I climbed up and over it, the entire structure suddenly collapsed due to thetremendous water-soaked load of fill behind it.I tumbled down with it but was relatively unscathed. I backed up and cleared everything wall-to-wall, then decided to continue that way until I reached China.
At the ten-foot level, I could see that this project would be quite dangerous for the poor soul down below (me),and sure enough,a full bucket of heavy muck was inadvertently dropped from above and landed directly on my head. My teeth snapped shut, and I saw stars. But the sharp nerve pain that had been running down my spine for several months immediately ceased. What a Godsend...until the pain returned with a vengeance a week later.
Around the 20' level, the folks on top of the platform were afraid to look down. We had created a gaping hole. At about this depth, after I removed one random rock in the floor along the SW wall, a patch of blackness opened up. I peered into a 12' wide x 10' deep highly decorated passage, and within an hour, I was exploring it. After thirty horizontal feet, the lower level of this passage became choked with formations, blocking the way ahead. The upper level continued out of sight but would have required removing dirt to continue. I doubt the original explorers ever discovered this passage because the formations were untouched. Back in the 1930's, it was common practice to harvest formations for sale.
And so I continued downward, following the old planks and artifacts. As I kept getting deeper, my anxiety level began to increase. This project was getting more and more dangerous. Safety talks were common. After I loaded each bucket, I would get up off the quicksand-like "floor" and hug a portion of wall that provided a bit of protection in case something, or someone, should fall down the shaft. After I would hear the hoist motor stop and could hear the bucket slam down on the platform, I would move back into the fall zone to scoop up more material.
One afternoon, with absolutely no warning and no sound, three heavybuckets, laden with muck which were stacked together, came sailing down as I was in the fall zone. They landed directly on my shoulder; yes, the onewith the pinched nerve. I landed face down in the muck and thought that someone had struck me with a sledgehammer from behind. When I awoke, I heard someone up top ask his helper if they thought I was dead. Against my better judgment, I pressed onward and downward - with lots of pain killers.
What I really needed was some good old common sense. No, strike that. What I was really desperate for was somebody who knew as much as I did about sniffing out caves. I prayed to the Cave Gods, and they sent me David Gerboth; you know, the guy who can actually see through solid rock. Thanks to the Gestapo Wisconsin DNR, Dave had been shut out of his project at Crystal Cave.
Dave scaled down the pit and sniffed it out like a hound dog. After he was finished, we had a clear attack plan. I would continue to do allthe digging, and he would stay up on top, telling tall cave tales until the cows came home.(No, that was just a little joke, we did arrive at a game plan.)
Eventually, a stout steel concrete filled post was encountered and I knew we must be close to the base. Dave and I surmised that they would have set this post in the actual cave opening as an anchor to hold back tons of loose material. I estimated that this pipe would be 20' long because that seems to be the standard length of pipes of this nature. I decided to stick with it until I reached the bottom of this pipe. "That is where I will find the answer," I said with confidence.
After what seemed like eternity, I reached the end of the pipe. And found another pipe connected to it!
Throughout this project, there were white dots on the bottoms of the rocks, caused by wind blowing up through tiny voids in the floor, which indicates air movement from below.
Needless to say, it is cold, wet, breezy, and dangerous down there. Last Saturday, as I had done a thousand times previously, I pulled myself up off the gooey wet base of the dig site and took refuge along the sinkhole wall, as the bucket of fill rose to the platform above.Tiny streams of frigid water ran down my neckand back as I hugged the wall. Then, out of the blackness, a lone empty bucket sailed down and crashed an inch away from me. As I reminded those above me, an empty bucket will only break my neck or back. A full bucket will kill me.
For the life of me, I cannot believe the sheer brute willpower the original excavator possessed. I have excavated 40 feet of material from the base of this sinkhole (think 4-story building) and understand that there may be a long way to go before reaching an answer. I have always been labeled as the craziest, fearless, and most successful caver in these parts; however, I am officially turningthat title over to the man who headed up this amazing project.
For almost 25 years I haveinsisted, and later proven, that a sinkhole is actually a blockage of a major cave passage. And Dave has reminded me that certainly there is a passage opposite the one I uncovered 20 feet up from where I am currently. "Excavate the sinkhole and it will appear on the east wall," he said. Sure enough, I have uncovered 6 feet of it already. However, it is not belling out quite as fast as we had hoped. But, I have no doubt that there is a large cave down there.And I also have no doubt that this project could go on and on, and on and on, until we finally breach the cave-or I die trying.
Therefore, I have decided to match up the passage direction on the surface and drill test holes to find Fountain Spring Cave. If that is not successful, then I will continue to follow the pipe. Surely that will provide an answer!
More updates as time passes.