Birth of Modern Irrigation celebrated

By Carolyn Barbre

The gorgeous renaissance style mural, "The Birth of Modern Irrigation" by world renowned muralist and portrait artist Wei Luan was dedicated on Saturday afternoon, Jan. 10, one of these incredibly beautiful California blue sky winter days.

The only hitch was it was difficult to pull people away from the fountain area in Sweet Brier Plaza where musicians from the Mariachi Academy of Performing Arts were setting up. The guy driving the van that shepherds the Mariachis around, said in rhetorical wonderment to no one in particular, "Is this a classic setting for Mariachi! Who would have thought - in Lindsay . . .!"

But the dedication did go forward with an introduction by Paul Gottschall, Chairman of the Lindsay Mural Committee. "Lindsay at its best is innovation unbridled," Gottschall said as he invited participants to "look down the corridor at a lot of changes that were unfathomable 10 years ago." He introduced members of the mural committee present before giving the microphone to Mayor Pro Tem Pam Kimball.

"Our latest and no doubt one of the greatest downtown murals," Kimball said, was cause for the community to give itself a pat on the back for the "high minded effort to preserve history." Kimball said this mural in particular was strategically placed to be an important feature in downtown revitalization. It is on a new wall across from the town homes near Sweet Brier Plaza.

"Hopefully a new library and a new cultural arts center will provide arts and culture." Kimball said Lindsay already has the draw of affordable housing and special events while it continues to preserve open space and ag land as well as sparing the air and promoting the arts at the same time.

Gottschall introduced other luminaries present including the artist, Wei Luan, Mayor Ed Murray, City Councilman Steve Velasquez and Robert Cairns whose great grandfather was the source of inspiration for the mural. Several other Cairnses were present including Robert's wife, Jaime; his sister, Heather; Dave Cairns and his wife Carol; and the young John Cairns who operates the produce stand at Cairns Corner in Lindsay.

Mural committee member Bill Drennen next took the podium. He thanked Southern California Edison for contributing $10,000 toward the $35,000 cost of the mural. He noted that Edison also provided the wall on which the mural was painted. Drennen then gave a brief history of how the original John J. Cairns struck water, to become the father of modern irrigation.

John, a native of Scotland, came to this area via Australia and New Zealand where he was involved in raising sheep. "Cairns had a vision for this rich, fertile world," Drennen said. He said because of Cairns' sheep raising experience, where they dug holes and found water for the animals, water that didn't dry up, the man believed there was an underground river in this part of the Valley that could be tapped into to provide irrigation for crops.

Captain Hutchinson, who founded Lindsay, wanted to bring water from the Kaweah River. Both men were apparently thought of as somewhere between radical and delusional.

Cairns went to San Francisco and bought a 10-horsepower pump which he brought back to Lindsay and put down a 20 square foot hole, 20 feet deep, wherein he placed the pump. A hose went down another 35 feet into a hole from which he was able to pump more than 1,000 gallons of water a minute.

It's all in the mural. The steam engine on the left is being powered by chaff left over from the grain harvest. From the engine, a long belt wraps around the pump bringing up the liquid gold - enough water to grow crops - citrus, olives and other commodities. It was 1892 and this was the very first powered pumping of irrigation water in California.

In 1899 the Mount Whitney Power and Electric company, pictured on the right side of the mural, began providing electric power to the Lindsay pump. Mt. Whitney later became part of Southern California Edison. "The birth of modern irrigation did in fact happen right here in Lindsay," Drennen concluded.

People were invited to congregate over at the plaza for Mariachi music and refreshments, but as many stood watching the children splash about in the interactive water play area as sat to listen to the musicians, one really big kid, hizhonor the mayor, couldn't resist running through the fountains a couple of times.

Who would have thought!

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