I was looking at my last few podcasts and I noticed that they were all fairly serious in topic. So, I decided that it was time for something that was a bit more uplifting. It’s time for the Attack of the 50-foot garden hose!
The cast of characters in this story are a 38-year-old truck driver named George Di Peso, his 30-year-old wife Ruth, their three children: 12-year-old Susanne, 10-year-old Jean, and 7-year-old George, and, most importantly, one ordinary 1/2-inch (1 cm) diameter, 50-foot (~15 m) garden hose that was about to bring them international fame. No idea about the age of the hose. I’ll just say that it had a lot of energy, so it must have been very young…
Thursday, June 30th of 1955 started out like any other day at the family’s four-year-old Downey, California home. Should you want to take a peek at the scene of the crime, although I doubt that current owners would appreciate your visit, their home was located at 7739 Alderdale Street.
So here’s what happened. Mom Ruth asked her daughter Susanne to go out and water the ivy that afternoon. She came back into the house and told her mom that the hose was stuck in the ground.
The two went back outside and sure enough, the hose had somehow buried itself into the ground. They tried pulling with all their might, but the hose would not budge. Neighbors came by, but their efforts were futile.
So, they waited for dad to get home from work. George Di Peso pulled with all the strength of his 170-pound (77-kilograms) frame, but he also had absolutely no success.
He needed something much stronger. A lightbulb went off in his head. The car! He hitched the hose to the bumper and popped it into low-gear. No luck, the hose snapped close to its free end.
And here’s where it gets bizarre. The hose appeared to be burying itself deeper and deeper into the ground. It’s Alive!
Could it really be alive? They decided to place a cloth marker on the hose to see how fast it was descending. They measured that it had moved 18-inches (46 centimeters) in five-hours.
Dad tied the hose to the spigot and when he came out the next morning, the sheer force of this oversized snake had started to bend the steel pipe. Again, they took a measurement and found that it had moved an additional 2-feet (60-centimeters). At this point, 13-feet (4-meters) of the hose had now disappeared beneath the ground. Not bad for a hose that cost $3.95 (that’s about 33 bucks in today’s money.)
Somehow the media now caught wind of this and almost immediately reporters and a very curious public started showing up on the Di Peso’s lawn.
Even an inspector from the water department raced to the scene. He found no evidence of an underground source of water and stated that the water table was about 120-feet (37-meters) beneath the surface.
Another expert, Ian Campbell, a geologist at Cal-Tech, was also unable to explain what was happening here. He said, “Sounds like a version of the Indian rope trick.” He added, “I don’t know of any natural phenomenon that could achieve this effect.”
Meanwhile, the hose continued on its downward journey to the center of the Earth. The United Press office received a message from Tokyo that stated “Tell Di Peso in Downey the other end of his hose has not turned up here yet, but we’re all looking.”
It never made it to Japan. Arizona’s Bisbee Daily Review reported that a man named Henry Fuffuffnick had discovered George DiPeso’s hose emerging from the ground in his backyard. Now, I am sure that you will agree with me that the name Fuffuffnick makes this story incredibly suspect…
This magical hose-come-to-life was starting to cause complete chaos in the De Peso’s lives. They were getting absolutely no sleep from all of the commotions outside their home. One woman sat there overnight just waiting for the hose to move. Every once in a while she would scream in excitement, “There, it’s wiggling!” More than 1000 people had trampled across their lawn within a 48 hour time period. Something had to be done to stop this madness.
The solution was incredibly simple. Snip- Snip! George De Peso grabbed a pair of heavy shears and with one cut, put the hose out of its misery. “I couldn’t stand it any longer”, he was quoted as saying. He continued, “This thing was getting out of hand. My life has been a big mess.”
You would think that this would be the end of the story in the press, but it wasn’t. A few days after this story broke, they reported that Mrs. Robert Breeze, also from Downey, California, stuck her hose down a gopher hole to drown it and, next thing that she knew, 15-feet (4.5 meters) worth of house had become a permanent part of the soil. Even with the help of 3 neighbors, they could not dislodge it.
Then, Calvin Barham of Norwalk, California reported a similar problem. His hose was only pulled down about five-feet, but when he dug it out, he reported that it was embedded in soft sand.
On July 5th, a Coronado, California retired Navy captain named Stewart S. Reynolds, stated that he pulled about 15-feet of another buried hose out of the ground at the residence of Mrs. Donald B. Ingerslew.
What’s going on here? It may sound like some mysterious force field had focused its energy over California and caused all of these hoses to bury their heads in the sand, but it was not just a California phenomenon.
There was also a report that another hose in Rochester, NY – one owned by Mr. and Mrs. Richard Redden – had plunged itself into the ground some 13-feet (or 4-meters) under a newly planted maple tree.
A few days later Neil M. Clark of El Paso, Texas reported a similar problem. His hose had burrowed itself some 17-feet (a little over 5 meters) in the ground. Instead of losing a perfectly good hose, he borrowed a second hose from a neighbor. Neil hooked that hose up to the spigot and turned it on full-blast. He kept working this second hose up and down next to his stuck hose for about ten minutes and was able to work both free from the clutches of the soil.
A couple of weeks later a Washington, DC hose owned by Mr. and Mrs. Jimmy Reynolds, who lived at 3428 13th St., SE, came to life. It took the efforts of a number of neighbors to pull it from the ground, but they eventually got it out, although the head of the beast, aka the nozzle, remained buried deep in the ground. Depending on who you spoke to, the hose was either buried 3-feet, 6-feet, 10-feet, or 12-feet in the ground.
On Sunday, September 25th of 1955, about three months after George De Peso had slaughtered that plastic hose, he was in the news again. For some reason, he decided to go outside on that day and start digging. The press reported that he dug down 25-feet (over 7-1/2 meters), which seems far exaggerated to me, to recover that darn hose. As one article reported “there were no little green men, subterranean caverns, or oversize gophers. Just a six-foot length filled with sand which must have exerted sufficient pull on the remainder to cause the disappearance.”
Okay, so it wasn’t a gopher. So how did it happen? In the course of doing my research, I did find one story published two days after this all started, which briefly mentioned that Mrs. Di Peso had turned the water on right after her daughter told her that it was stuck in the ground. She figured that the force of the water would push the hose end up to the surface.
Instead, the opposite occurred. It is possible, although we will never know for sure, that the running water created a large enough suction force to pull the hose down.
A San Francisco woman named Rena Horner offered a similar explanation. She stated that “If you leave the water running and put the nozzle in the ground it will happen every time.” She proceeded to demonstrate this to reporters by sticking her hose into the ground and turning on the water full blast. The hose ate its way six inches down into the soil.
My guess is that all of the other people that had the same thing occur were just copycats. They probably read the story and went out in their yard to see if they could do the same. Junior scientists in the making or possibly just seeking their 60-seconds of fame. That we will never know.
In fact, no one has ever fully explained why this happened at the time, and since this is not currently the main focus of modern scientific research, I doubt that we will ever know.
But then, does anyone really care? My guess is that the hoses were burying their heads in the sand due to pure embarrassment and shame. Hoses were once made of high-quality black rubber and were something to be cared for and repaired when they leaked. Now they were being mass-produced in cheap, disposable plastic. What else could a hose do but hide in shame?
Useless? Useful? I’ll leave that for you to decide.