By Brook Griffin
There's no telling if there is water below him, but something is definitely making the V-shaped divining rod in Vern Bandy's hand point down.
A water witch by trade, Bandy is standing in Donna Allison's front yard at the base of Hyalite Canyon looking for an underground water vein. Allison's well is running dry and she needs to find a new water source quickly, before her faucets dry up. So she called Bandy.
‘‘I've had a lot of highly educated people tell me about him,'' Allison said. ‘‘I'm skeptical, but I'm willing to try anything.''
Water witching is a slang term for divining elements underground without the use of sophisticated equipment. Bandy prefers to call himself a dowser. His business card reads: Dowsing; Vernon (Vern) G. Bandy.
He is elderly, but his face frequently lights up with a smile when he is on the job. He wears a carpenter's belt filled with divining rods and tiny flags that he plants in the ground to indicate where the water is.
As he and Allison make their way through the yard searching for the right spot, the V-shaped, nylon dowsing rod points out in front of him.
Suddenly the point leans down. It appears as if there is a force pulling it, like an invisible rope coming out of the dirt. The sudden tension on the rod is abrupt and strong, much stronger than the pressure a 75-year-old man could exert with just one hand.
Bandy lets Allison take one end of the rod in an effort to prove that he is not ‘‘doing it'' with his own hands.
The result is the same, a steady pull straight down that defies explanation.
‘‘It's pushing against my hand,'' Allison said. ‘‘How can you not believe that?''
Dowsing is an old practice. Stories of water dowsers go back centuries. So do the naysayers who claim it is nothing but a parlor trick.
Jim Bauder, a Montana State University earth science professor, laughed when asked about the practice.
‘‘I could find water in this valley with a Popsicle stick if I had to,'' Bauder said, referring to the fact that there is water all over the valley floor.
Bandy said nonbelievers are a given in his line of work.
‘‘I love skeptics,'' he said, offering a wide smile. ‘‘After they pay $30,000 for two or three dry holes, it makes a believer in a hurry.''
Hydrologists are among the skeptics.
Alan English, district manager for the Gallatin Local Water Quality District, said he's not convinced someone can find water using only their senses.
‘‘I think dowsers miss as much as anybody else,'' English said. ‘‘I could probably guess most places in town you could find water too. For me as a hydrologist I don't believe it. But I try to keep an open mind.''
Still, getting work doesn't seem to be a problem for Bandy. He has an extensive list of satisfied customers and carries a black three-ring binder filled with testimonials from those who have used his services.
Leslie Brietner and her husband recently bought 35 acres of land near Livingston and, at the recommendation of their real estate agent, sought out Bandy to help them find water.
‘‘I thought it was all a lot of hokey pokey,'' Brietner said of her initial thoughts on using a dowser.
But she was willing to give it a try.
One day earlier last month, Bandy walked part of the Brietner's property. Afterwards, he pointed out where water was likely and how far down it might be; he planted a stake and left. It wasn't until after a pump company came to drill that Brietner changed her mind about water witches.
‘‘He predicted not only the amount of water, but how far down we would have to go to get it,'' she said. ‘‘He was so close it was scary.''
Dowsers use a variety of materials in their work.
‘‘I use nylon rods so it doesn't tear your hands up,'' Bandy said, but he has known dowsers to use everything from tree limbs to copper wires, crowbars and even metal pliers as conduits.
But it takes more than a good conduit, Bandy said.
‘‘I believe it's a God-given gift,'' he said.
Water is one of mankind's most precious resources, he said, and the ‘‘gift'' is his way of helping people find what they need to live. His “gift” has always been there, he said, since he was a boy and he hints that it is hereditary, pointing out that one of his grandsons also appears to have the power.
Other theories about divining are a little more complex.
The head of the International Society of Dowsers, a man who would only give his name as Geo Dowser, claims that finding water or any material underground is more scientific and that anyone can do it by ‘‘accessing higher frequencies'' with their minds and literally opening themselves up to an extra sense that will tell a person where water is.
For Bandy it's just something he's always been able to do, a gift passed down from his grandfather to his father to him. He has dowsed all over the country, he said, and for awhile worked for a drilling company. He is retired for the most part now, although he still takes on a few jobs here and there.
And it's not just water that he can find.
With the right ‘‘witness'' - something placed on the end of the dowsing rod - Bandy claims to be able to find just about anything. A tiny balloon filled with gravel on the end of the rod helps him find gravel pits. A bit of sand stuck inside of a cork helps him track down underground sand deposits.
Some material works better than others, he said. Finding gold, for instance, is not easy.
‘‘Gold is the toughest dowsing there is to do,'' he said with a sigh. Water, however, is more precious than gold, he said.
‘‘Water is getting more and more scarce, it's a precious commodity,'' he said.
After he finds a good vein of water in Allison's yard, Bandy hammers a piece of rebar into the spot then stands over it with a divining rod. He doesn't speak, but stares off into the distance with his hands firmly gripping the rod.
He stands stone-still for several minutes. The dowsing rod jerks up and down randomly. Then his concentration breaks.
He explains he was searching for the water's depth.
Bandy admits he's not infallible. He estimates he has a roughly 90 percent accuracy rate for finding water, but only 50 percent for correctly divining how much water there is or how deep.
‘‘My fudge factor is about 50 feet,'' he said.
Source : http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/articles/2007/07/02/news/40dowser.txt