Divine Business

An old-school dowser plies his trade

| May-June 2011

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    David Fullarton / www.joaniebrep.com

  • divine-business

Bozeman, Montana’s Vernon G. Bandy takes a humble pleasure in poking holes in hydrologists’ assumptions. Those who study the ways of aquifers and groundwater declare that you can sink a drill bit just about anywhere in the earth and find water. “Maybe,” says Bandy, flicking one of the Benson and Hedges cigarettes he sneaks while he’s driving. “But what kind of water? Hard? Soft? Maybe laced with arsenic. How much water? And at $32 per foot in drilling costs, just how deep do you want to go to prove your scientific theory?”

Bandy is a dowser who plies the inscrutable art of finding objects and liquids with a divining rod or stick. He says he can locate, with something approaching regularity, just about anything—water, gold, drugs, oil, dead bodies—with his nylon dowsing rods. Today, he’s headed to dowse a well six miles west of Rapelje, a ranching community in south central Montana. “This is tough country for dowsing,” he observes. “Lot of bad water. Sulfides. Sodium and salt.”

After we pull into a pasture that is being transformed into a homesite, Bandy heads to the hatch of his trusty Buick SUV (he puts 35,000 miles on it annually) and straps on an equipment belt loaded with flagging, spray cans, hammer, and five sizes of rods. He developed these in conjunction with the late Charlie Bowman, a professor of agricultural engineering at Montana State University who claimed dowsing rods helped him locate perch while he was ice-fishing.

Gear clacking, Bandy takes out his smallest rod and walks a straight line; when he feels the rod pull to earth, Bandy marks the spot with a flag. He continues walking until the end of the rod rises. He takes out another flag and marks the width of what he calls the water “vein.” Then, using a stouter rod (if one of his bigger rods pulls hard, it means more water), he flags the vein until he’s found the area of greatest concentration of what he calls “heavy water,” a term that would tickle any nuclear physicist. There, he hammers in a piece of rebar, which he sprays at the bottom with orange and at the top with blue: his trademark.

What comes next addles the mind.

Using his smallest rod, Bandy stands over the newly marked well, silently, for perhaps a minute, his jaw trembling slightly and lips moving. He is talking to the stick, measuring depth and volume. The dowsing rod rises and falls like some priapic oracle. There is no scientific evidence supporting Bandy’s ability to find anything by dowsing. Still, he has kept records (which he’ll show to anyone) that he says support his claim to have dowsed over 4,000 water wells with 90 percent accuracy, and hundreds of gas and oil wells. He says he’s roughly 70 percent accurate on depth and volume.

Brenda Bixler
5/17/2011 7:33:54 PM

There is nothing magic about about this as some believe.Anyone can do it.My husband has used it many times to find pipes,electric lines etc.Even helped the cable company once find the right place to dig.Then they all had to do it. My husband bent two welding rods down at right angle, about 6" from the end of each.You hold each "handle" gently and walk.Try walking back and forth across a broom handle for practice,and watch the rods swing outward.Once you pass over they cross closed.It's just a break in the magnetic field.Water,pipes, etc can be quite deep and it will work.

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