Note the resemblance of Fred Welk, 74, to his cousin Lawrence.
by Oscar Roloff
Not long ago, Paul George of Duvall sought a new water witcher. Twice they'd come out, wielded their wands, pointed, and said, "Water is there." But it was dry.
What now? Paul called Jack Perrigoue of Carnation, an old friend of mine, and asked. His reply was, "Fred Welk, who has a summer home next to me on the Tolt River Road, is a water witcher. He's a cousin of Lawrence Welk."
Although I've known and written about most of the water witchers on the Eastside, I'd not met Fred Welk.
Anyhow, Fred Welk and his assistant Joe Ginter were called, and before an hour was up, Fred pointed to Paul and said, "Water is here."
His prediction came true, Paul later told me.
My wife accompanied me on my interview with Fred and met Fred's wife Joan. I talked to Fred about his background, and at interview's end, we went outside.
Fred had two long brass rods, each bent at one end to a 90-degree angle. This was to permit him to hold each rod in an open palm. The rods were about 16 inches in length.
As I watched, Fred walked around. Suddenly, I noticed he stopped, as the two rods swung outward. Carefully I watched to observe that he did not use any force whatsoever to turn the rods. Was fascinating to watch. A strange thing. A phenomenon.
Other water witchers had used twigs, branches, sticks, and one used two welding rods, and their wands worked.
When he was about 20, Fred became interested in water witching and developed his uncanny ability.
"It's not a for-money thing," he told me. He discovered people would sooner pay for his service. His charge is $100, which he splits with his assistant. If people don't like what he does, he won't charge. Nor does he advertise, only by word of mouth.
He finds septic tanks, too. He's never missed. His wife told my wife the same thing.
"Underground water is the same as water on top; it does not run in a straight line, and one must understand that an underground boulder can throw one off," Fred said.
Fred brings along a number of wooden stakes which his friend pounds into the ground in several places as directed by Fred. By this method, too long to explain, water below can be pinpointed more accurately.
Where a previous water witcher had indicated water and the two spots were found dry, Fred was called and told the man that the water was between the two "dry" wells. Was true. Found plenty of water.
Born in Karlshrue, North Dakota, Fred later moved with his farm parents to Canada, then to Spokane. Fred's farm chores were many and arduous, as were mine.
When WWII broke out, Fred joined the Navy to become a sonarman. When he was sent to Hawaii, officials found he could play the saxophone and clarinet. They had him form a band and there he stayed and played till war's end. Shortly after discharge, he married, and the couple had five children.
Fred spent 34 years in a steel fabrication business in Spokane. Ultimately, Fred formed the Airways Industrial Park in Airway Heights, near Spokane. Whenever his cousin Lawrence came through, they'd have a get-together. In 1980, Fred retired, leaving a son, James Lawrence Welk, to manage the industrial park.
Fred has lived on the Eastside for 10 years. He said he doesn't listen to today's music.
I related a story to him of a local lady, Grace Cooper. She said her North Dakota mother told her that "one day, she saw Lawrence looking kind of seedy, and told him to take off his trousers and she'd iron them for him. He did. She did."
Also told Fred about Lawrence Kraft, whose wife and my wife, Elaine, went to school together in Minnesota.
At a get-together, L. Kraft told me, "I grew up on a farm adjacent to the Lawrence Welk farm. One day, Lawrence, who was about my age, came over to play the accordion. My father agreed, and I told Lawrence to come over. He did that eagerly."
I'd met Lawrence Welk during WWII when his band appeared at a Los Angeles dance hall. Noting me in uniform, he called me up to the stage and asked, "How's the war going?" I told him it would be over soon. He was a nice fellow, too, as is his cousin Fred. They sure look alike.