Search the site:
Illinois Country Living


By Laura Dotson, Adams Electric Cooperative


Ron Jansen shows where a water vein runs underground across his property. Ron used a dry branch which broke off during demonstration.

In the old days, when a farmer wanted to dig a well or a cattle pond, he found the nearest dowser, a fellow with a “gift” for finding water with a forked stick. The farmer and the dowser would set out on the farmer’s property and go dowsing or “water witching” as many refer to it. When the fellow’s stick would point toward the earth, they’d know where to start digging.

Dowsing is the practice of detecting hidden or buried water without the use of a scientific device. The same technique is sometimes used to find metals or other objects.

Dowsing has even been used to detect pregnant cattle. Apparently, some dowsers can detect water around the calf.

Not everyone has the talent to dowse water, and those that do, all have their own techniques. Some say you must use a forked green peach tree branch and it only works in the spring. Some claim they can only dowse with two L-shaped copper rods that will cross when water is located. Yet, others say they can dowse anytime with just about anything.

Ron Jansen, from Plainville, is one such talented fellow. He’s been dowsing since junior high. He says, “As far as I know, I’ve always been able to do it. My dad never could witch for water but Grandpa could.” Jansen adds, “I can use just about anything. I’ve used twigs, coat hangers, brass rod, baling wire, pliers – it doesn’t matter. I can tell you where water is and which direction it flows but I can’t tell you how deep it is. I’ve heard the stick will bob. My stick doesn’t bob; it breaks off, wiggles or twists in my hand.”

Some dowsers wear gloves to protect their hands. The forked twig not only points down but you can hear it twisting and cracking.

Jansen has found water for wells, sewer lines, field tile, a buried fence row and old telephone lines. “I can find a telephone line but I can’t tell you if it’s in use or not,” Jansen says. “I met a guy once from Arkansas who claimed he could witch for oil. I tried to get him to show me how but he wouldn’t do it.”

Jansen explains how he once went out on his pond when it was frozen and dowsed for water. “I can pick up a vein of water under my pond. Snow, running water in a creek or a puddle doesn’t affect the stick. It has to come from a spring-fed source.” says Jansen.

“Once someone was driving me to a site east of Quincy looking for water for a subdivision. On the way, going 50 miles an hour down the road, I held onto the stick just for fun. It broke off!” says Jansen.

“There’s probably people who can do it but don’t know they can or don’t know how. I’ve heard every story in the book. I’ve had people tell me they didn’t believe it. I can put my hands on their arms while they hang on to the stick and they can feel the same thing I feel,” Jansen explains.


Jerry Aden also uses L-shaped rods to dowse water. The rods cross as shown when Jerry passes over a water vein.

Strange as it may seem, Jerry Aden, from Quincy, has had similar experiences. Aden says he started dowsing for water about 25 years ago. “I was watching Johnny Carson. He had a dowser on the show that used coat hangers. It sounded impossible but I wanted to try it. To my amazement it worked! I was finding water veins all over the back yard. I couldn’t prove it though.”

Aden wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to know if water was where he thought it was. He knew his well was 150 feet deep but didn’t want to dig down that far. After learning how to determine depth, Aden found a water vein in his back yard that was 13 feet deep. A friend gave him a 12-inch auger with extensions and Aden started digging.

“I kept saying ‘Boy, this is crazy.’ I dug down 5 feet and it was dry as a bone. At 8 feet, the same thing. At 10 foot, it was damp. At 13 feet, there was water in the hole! I couldn’t believe it, knowing how deep my well is,” says Aden.

Aden’s wife, Janet, says, “He’d be out in the yard dowsing and I’d wonder what the neighbors were thinking. But, once they saw it work, it was different.” Soon after, Aden found water for his neighbor.

Since then, Aden has found water for several wells. Aden’s brother lived in Emerson, Mo., near some Amish families. An Amish man was getting ready to build a farmhouse, a barn and a blacksmith shop, but didn’t have any water. Aden helped him out, “I found a vein of water 6 feet wide and 135 feet deep. Two to three weeks went by and I hadn’t heard anything. Finally, my brother called. He said, ‘They hit water.’ I asked how far down. He said, ‘At 135 foot.’”

Aden says, “Everyone is wired differently.” He says that his dad could do it but his kids can’t. Aden thinks it has something to do with an electrical charge in the water and the magnetism of our bodies. Jansen comments, “Cleveland Clinic told me I’ve got such a magnetic field in my body; they’ve never experienced anything like it.” Dowsing has been around for years but it has never been scientifically proven. Whatever the explanation, it’s strange to see.

No matter what the dowser finds, whether underground water or metal, and even if they’re always right, always remember to call JULIE (dial 811) before you actually dig. It’s required by law and could save your life.

Today, utilities and well-drilling companies use special locating devices to find water, underground lines, etc. “We can use two different locating devices. One can act as a backup for the other. When someone plans to dig, there is no room for error,” says Steve Fanning, Adams Electric Cooperative’s maintenance supervisor.

© 2016 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

Designed and Maintained by Cooperative Design and Print.

Current Issue Archive About Us Advertisers Contact Us FAQ