Lewis Griswold

New book tells story of Tulare Irrigation District in California farm country

The cover of Quest For Water shows a farmer next to an artesian well. It’s from a postcard apparently produced by Southern Pacific Railroad.
The cover of Quest For Water shows a farmer next to an artesian well. It’s from a postcard apparently produced by Southern Pacific Railroad.

Richard Zack of Visalia has written a well-researched history of the Tulare Irrigation District, which has supplied water to farmers for 127 years.

“Quest for Water: Tulare Irrigation District, Its History, People, and Progression,” was commissioned by the district. Zack brings a unique perspective to the task.

Not only is he a civil engineer, but he literally grew up absorbing the ethos of the district – his father, David Zack, to whom the book is dedicated, was the district’s engineer-manager and worked there for 40 years.

Zack, 67, who also has a degree in English, spent three years researching and writing.

“If I knew about it, heard about it or discovered it along the way and it’s related to T.I.D, I put it in,” he said.

Zack has an eye for detail and the fortitude to drive hundreds of miles to interview a source or get an old family photo. He once drove to Washington state to get a photo of an early board member from an 87-year-old granddaughter.

Visalia historian Terry Ommen said he got to know Zack at the history room of Tulare County Library in Visalia and ultimately served as a proofreader.

If I knew about it, heard about it or discovered it along the way and it’s related to T.I.D., I put it in.

Richard Zack, author of “Quest for Water: Tulare Irrigation District, Its History, People, and Progression”

“It’s way more than just a factual, statistical history of Tulare Irrigation District,” Ommen said. “There’s anecdotes and things that make it lively for the reader.”

The most exciting chapter involves the district’s lawsuit from 1916 to 1937 against Lindsay-Strathmore Irrigation District.

Lindsay-Strathmore owned the Rancho de Kaweah well field along the Kaweah River and pumped so much water that neighbors, led by the Tulare Irrigation District, filed suit.

In 1926, someone blew up Lindsay-Strathmore’s pipeline. Rumors were rife about who might have done it, and Linsday-Strathmore hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to investigate.

“The Pinkertons brought in ‘Agent X,’ who posed as a door-to-door radio salesman,” Zack wrote. “The cover would allow general chit-chat conversation about radios that would lead into the pipeline sabotage question and what Tulare Irrigation District wanted for a settlement.

“Agent X was also trying out a ‘new’ camera. By taking pictures and having written communications with the potential radio buyers (actually, suspects), Agent X was able to acquire photographs and handwriting samples that could be used in the arrests and the criminal trials at the end of the investigation.”

The chapter also has details about a mysterious female investigator – Operative ELB – whose job was to ingratiate herself with court clerks. Being female also afforded her “the cover to call on the wives of Tulare Irrigation District legal team.”

The whole chapter has curious details like this.

The Pinkertons brought in ‘Agent X,’ who posed as a door-to-door radio salesman. The cover would allow general chit-chat conversation about radios that would lead into the pipeline sabotage question and what Tulare Irrigation District wanted for a settlement.

“Quest for Water: Tulare Irrigation District, Its History, People, and Progression”

In his research, Zack discovered new information about the bond burning of 1903 (an event that lives in Tulare Irrigation District folklore) and identified a previously unknown photo in Sacramento of the governor signing the Central Valley Project Act of 1933.

The book is creating buzz as proof copies make the rounds locally. But it won’t be ready for sale until March 1, said publication manager David Wagahn.

“It will not be sold on Amazon,” he said. But when the time comes, the 480-page, full-color book will be available at the Tulare Irrigation District, 6826 Avenue 240, Tulare, or www.tulareid.org. Cost: $49.95.

Meanwhile, Zack will give a presentation about the book to the Tulare County Historical Society at 2 p.m. Jan. 29 at the Exeter Museum, 125 S. B St. It’s free and open to the public.

Lewis Griswold covers news of the South Valley for The Bee: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold

Tulare County Historical Society

What: Program about “Quest for Water: Tulare Irrigation District, Its History, People, and Progression”

Who: Richard Zack, author

Where: Exeter Museum, 125 S. B St.

When: 2 p.m. Jan. 29

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