A curriculum for mixed-age elementary grades by Dan Harper
Copyright (c) 2015 Dan Harper
Carrying water by hand from the village well to wherever it was needed was an integral part of village life. In this activity, children learn how to use a traditional shoulder pole carrier to bring water to irrigate plants. (This activity was originated by Edie Keating.)
Here’s how to make a traditional pole carrier, using contemporary materials you can get at your local lumber yard or hardware store:
Materials for 6 pole carriers:
— 100′ of 7/32″ cotton “sash cord” or “all purpose clothesline” (easy to tie, and soft on kids’ hands if they grab it)
— 12 ea. 1-gallon plastic buckets, often sold as painter’s buckets; the ones we like best look like miniature 5-gallon buckets with sturdy reinforcement at the top (see photo above)
— 6 pcs. 5/8″ dia. 4-foot long hardwood dowels
— 9/16″ drill bit and drill (hand drills work well for this project)
Mark out locations for three holes spaced equally around the bucket. Our buckets were 7-3/4″ in diameter, and spacing the holes 6-3/4″ apart (as measured on a straight line, as in the photo above) provided fairly equal spacing.
Drill three holes as shown in the photo above.
Cut two lengths of sash cord, one 6′ long, and one 4’6″ long. Thread cord through holes and tie with two half hitches as shown — the longer piece of cord is tied at its two ends through two holes, and the shorter piece of cord is tied at one end through one hole. Note that two half hitches function as a slip knot, so snug the knot down to the bucket. (If you don’t know how to tie two half hitches, look at a Scout handbook, or search the Web for instructions.)
Make two of these assemblies, one for each end of the dowel.
Loop the longer rope (tied off at both ends) over the dowel. Then tie a clove hitch, using the free end of the shorter cord, so that the clove hitch goes over the longer cord, and secures it to the dowel (see photo above).
Once you get the clove hitch tied, lift up the assembly, and see how the bucket is hanging. It will probably hang unevenly, so adjust all the cords until it hangs more or less evenly — this is much easier if you get someone to hold the dowel for you. When everything looks even, snug up the clove hitch so it’s tight. (You can also tie off the free end of the rope onto one of the other ropes, using two half hitches — this makes for a slightly more secure assembly, although it isn’t really necessary.)
Above is what the whole thing looks like when it’s completed, with each bucket filled about 1/3 full. DO NOT FILL THE BUCKETS MORE THAN HALF FULL — if you do, the water will slop all over your feet when you carry it, and there’s a good chance you’ll snap the dowel from the weight.
In fact, for most school-aged children, filling the buckets about a third full will provide the most pleasant experience. With that much water in the buckets, it’s heavy enough so that the water carrier stays in place on the child’s shoulders, but it’s not so heavy that it hurts. Notice that the dowel in this design is relatively thin so that it acts as a spring, providing some cushioning to the shoulders — carrying water with this water carrier is relatively comfortable. If you want to carry bigger buckets with more water, use a heavier dowel, experimenting until you have a diameter that’s comfortable, but doesn’t break under the load.
If you want to, you can make one or more pole carriers with cords that are about half the length specified above. Use these with shorter or younger children, for whom the regular carriers would be too long.