Rods help divine placement of pipes

These L-shaped rods can help find irrigation systems, buried electric lines and gas lines.

Special to The Sun
Published: Saturday, March 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 29, 2008 at 8:34 p.m.

Q: I am the child of a scientist and the father of two doctors, and not one inclined to believe superstitions. When I was a young chemistry student in my first house in Gainesville I had a neighbor who used a Y-shaped branch to locate an underground stream in my next-door neighbor's yard so he could drill a shallow well.

I expressed my skepticism and he handed me the branch and told me how to hold it so there was a little tension in the Y. I then walked across the yard and to my amazement the Y suddenly pointed down rather forcefully.

Many years, a degree in horticulture, a career in the nursery business and a stint in graduate school later, I found myself as the grounds superintendent at Santa Fe Community College. One of the problems I had to deal with was many lost irrigation pipes, heads, valves, etc. and the college had no as-builts to show where buried pipes, gas lines, electric lines, etc. were placed.

Lo and behold, the college mechanic was my former neighbor. He had refined his dowsing technique to use L-shaped lengths of welding rod just as several of your callers described. We used a set of these rods to find many, many long lost pieces of the irrigation system as well as buried electric lines and gas lines before we dug to lay new lines. Our experience was that the precision of locating was affected by depth of the line and probably the soil type. We would walk back and forth across the area marking with flags each time the rods crossed. Generally we could get a width of area delineated where the pipes probably lay. Sometimes we would get a precise line that was off by a few feet to one side.

Many of my workers were skeptical, insisting that the user was subconsciously moving the rods, but we even blindfolded people and turned them around and had them walk until they crossed the buried pipe and the rods would cross when they crossed the pipe. I have never found anyone for whom this would not work. I do not believe there are any special powers involved but rather that it is the interaction of some naturally occurring forces within the body and some kind of electro-magnetic field generated by the buried objects. It would make a great science project for some bright kid to try to find a way to measure the effect.

Our mechanic, who is a real genius, tried putting the wires into some kind of holder and hooking up instruments but found that the rods only moved when in contact with human hands. This would suggest that some kind of force field within the body works with the metal rods. My experience over the years is that the kind of metal is not too important. I have used coat hangers and rolls of heavy wire bent into the appropriate L shape. I think I have used aluminum but would not swear to that. I heard one of your callers say that aluminum did not work and that could be true.

I would assert that even you, John, could use a set of L-shaped wires successfully. If you have an in-ground irrigation system or know approximately where the water line runs into your house and walk back and forth across the area holding the short end to the bent wire loosely like a pair of pistols pointing straight ahead, you will experience the wires crossing. Try going back and forth across the same area from various directions. Our experience was that walking perpendicular to the buried line gives the most precise "reading." When I left the college, the most precise set of as-builts for underground pipes, wires, etc. resided in the grounds department thanks in part to the use of L-shaped divining rods.

A:I will give the metal rods a try and let you know how it works out. Thanks for the interesting story. Good letter.

Sikorski's Attic airs from 11 a.m. to noon every Saturday on WUFT-FM 89.1 or WJUF-FM 90.1. Callers should direct their questions to (352) 392-8989.

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