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The Strange Story of Jumbo Well

Old Jumbo

West of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, there's a little town called Belle Plaine. The name means "Beautiful Prairie," and it still is. Rolling green hills and wide valleys of rich, fertile land. Add a bit of water, and Belle Plaine is a slice of heaven.

In 1886, a local businessman planned to build a large creamery there, and the city fathers voted to proceed with a major new water source. Little did they know that Old Jumbo was rumbling beneath their feet. Waiting for his moment, Old Jumbo had a song to sing.

Being the frugal city fathers they were, they took bids on the well, and awarded the work to the lowest bidder: Willy Weir. Low Budget Willy lived in Monticello; he and his sons made a good living finding and drilling artesian wells. 
At a discount.

Willy had drilled many wells and had never run into any trouble. But then, Low Budget Willy had never run into Old Jumbo.

I should tell you about Old Jumbo. Jumbo was an underground river - an aquifer. Centuries earlier, the weight of the Northern glaciers had pressured Old Jumbo into silence. And now, less than 200 feet below Belle Plaine, there was a song pent up in the heart of Old Jumbo...and that boy was ready to sing.

Low Budget Willy met his match when he drilled into Old Jumbo. Called from the darkness into marvelous light, Jumbo cleared his throat and began to sing. That 2" hole blasted water 50 feet into the air, and given Jumbo's enthusiasm, the hole kept eroding. Soon, Jumbo was a gushing geyser erupting out of a 3 foot crater in the earth.

Right there on the corner of 8th and 8th in Belle Plaine Iowa, Low Budget Willy had opened a high velocity aquifer. Old Jumbo was roiling from the ground at about 50,000 gallons per minute.

Jumbo finally had the opportunity to sing his song, and it was a big song. Low Budget Willy had never heard a song quite like it, and had absolutely no idea what to do. The City Fathers of Belle Plaine were understandably concerned about the song, because it was washing their fair city right off the countryside.

News of Old Jumbo quickly spread to the world. Reporters visited Belle Plaine to take pictures of Old Jumbo. 
They nick-named him the "Eighth Wonder of the World." A newspaper in Paris published cartoons of Belle Plaine submerged in Old Jumbo's water, with small children standing on roof tops calling for help.
 It was only a minor exaggeration.

Low Budget Willy was plainly out of his league. He loaded his wagon, told people he was getting more equipment and promptly left town. William Weir was never seen in Belle Plaine again.

In the meanwhile, Old Jumbo continued to sing and sing and sing. He was thundering out about 3 million gallons a day, and other wells in the area were shutting down. Every able mind and body in the area labored to silence Old Jumbo. The University of Chicago offered their best engineers. All to no avail. Old Jumbo just kept singing. He sang for 14 months!

A local foundry owner, George Palmer, finally came up with a solution. According to a local historian, here's what it took to silence Jumbo's song: 

• A custom iron cone 3 feet in diameter and 24 feet long

• 163 feet of 18-inch pipe

• 77 feet of 16-inch pipe

• 60 feet of 5-inch pipe

• 40 carloads of stone

• 130 barrels of cement

• And more sand and clay than could be measured.

It appeared they'd quieted the old boy down, but the song on Jumbo's heart is still ready to ring today. In 1982, almost a century later, the US Geological Survey revisited the site. They drilled a test hole, and Jumbo starting singing again! It took them four hours to seal him off!


Belle Plaine will never forget Old Jumbo. A bronze plaque stands on the corner of 8th and 8th; it marks the place Old Jumbo and his song entered the history of that town. In September, the people of Belle Plaine still celebrate Jumbo Well Days.

Child of God, like Old Jumbo, you have a song to sing. It's a song of praise for your Maker...that song is welling up in your heart just waiting to be released. I can say that confidently because Scripture says it.

"...You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Pet. 2:9 NIV)

Consider the - privilege - the honor - the identity - that God has conferred upon you, Christian. Consider the gift He's woven into the very DNA of who you are. 

You belong to God, created to declare His praises as calls you into His marvelous light."

Given the opportunity, Old Jumbo didn't hesitate to sing. The pressure of praise is in your heart - have you let it erupt?

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