Lee Rister - The King of "Dirt Movers”

A story by Dub Ramsel



Some call them ponds and some call them tanks. It made no difference to Lee Rister. He knew how to build them, and when the location was left up to Lee it most likely held water. There are many reasons for construction tanks on farms and ranches. The most important reason for them is to impound water for livestock. Then looking at it from a conservation side of it, to kept water from running off too fast and, thus causing erosion. Then the matter of recreation comes into the picture. A tank or pond provides a place for fish to grow and gives the land owner a chance to go fishing without having to burn up a lot of gasoline getting to their fishing areas. One can take a comfortable chair and sit on the bank under a shade tree or willow and enjoy watching the bobber go down when a fish finds your bait. I personally had rather fish a stock tank or pond than any other place. If the fish are biting one can take a nice string of channel cat or bass to the kitchen for your sweet wife to clean and prepare for a nice meal. Some wives had rather have the one who catches the fish to dress them, too. Some wives don't get trained right. Then looking at it from a land value point of view, they enhance the value of most land. There are places around the county and adjoining counties where well water is hard to come by. Either the depth of the water table or the quality of the water makes a problem when that is the only source of permanent water. A pond or tank with a pump can provide plenty of water to the homestead for all uses except drinking. It can be filtered and treated but the process is expensive, I know of farms with a cistern for potable water and use tank water for other purposes. The community water supply corporations have done a good job of supplying rural homes with plenty of good water for all purposes. Still the tanks remain never the less. Most tank hold, if not right away, by time. As a last resort, one can seal a non holding tank by treating with bentonite clay. If this doesn't do the trick, then hogs are the last-resort. The method is to fence the tank with hog wire and when full pen some hogs in the enclosure, feed them and provide fresh water to them until the tanks is finally dry. Then you may remove the fencing and when it fill up again it will most likely hold. I do not know how long Lee Rister had been building these structures, but he was in business in 1952 when I first came to the county had him give me a firm bid on the first tank I had him build. After that I just told him to locate a tank and build it for me. I have been very well satisfied with his work. That was fifty years ago and he kept building them until his death sometime in the eighties. Lee lived on his farm that was situated between Walburg and Granger. He had a model tank there. It included about ten acres and was built in the draw that ran by his home. It had a large watershed and is always full. About the only water loss is from evaporation. He stocked his tank with channel cat and fed them so they would grow big in a hurry. He liked to pond fish and sold a lot of fish when they got big enough . Mr Rister was a big man, probably weighed over three hundred he had no trouble mounting his D-R Caterpillar and would stay on it for long hours. He eventually hired a few neighbor farmers to help him out. Antone Schwertner was one of the men who relieved him. Also, I understand Harold Domel helped him some. Both were good dozer operators. Regardless who was operating the dozer no extra work was done than necessary. He kept his customers in mind at all times. He was more into doing a good job than trying to make extra money doing unnecessary things. When he got through pushing up dirt and hid the tank complete, he would not waste time dressing up the top unless the land owner wanted it done. He might back drag the top one time and that would be it. As Lee Rister said, there are pre-maintenance practices to do before building a tank. A spillway needs to be sodded heavily before any water is allowed to run over it. If possible, do it ahead of time if you know where you are going to build it. This means getting Bermuda sprigs and planting the entire waterway. In order to get a heavy sod established, one must prepare a firm bed and then fertilize and water heavily so the grass will establish good root system before heavy rains cause the spillway to flow in with great force. Water flows to reach its own level and can cause a lot of washing if allowed to. If there is no time to prepare the spillway prior to building the dam, then one must waste no time in getting it ready before the first heavy rain. Many tanks have washed out after the first filling. Once the waterway is well established there is little maintenance required. Livestock will keep it mowed. After the tank is built and settled it might be necessary to treat for algae. Some water plants are necessary to provide food for fish and other creatures that live in or around the tank. Frogs and Cray fish are two creatures that like to hang out in tanks. Here again is a good reason to have tanks, besides good fishing, a tank provides water for doves and other birds that create sport for hunters. Migratory ducks and even geese sometimes stop over in tanks on their way to the coast. Some migratory birds hang around long enough for the land owner to get a bag full in a hurry. This means more food for the table. Bull frog hunting at night is a good sport and frog legs are a real delicacy. In some instances a tank will get over grown with water plants as well as fish of the undesirable varieties. In these cases, it may be necessary to drain the entire tank and clean it out. This is done by pumping it out or cutting a hole in the dam where the original channel was and allow it to drain out by gravity. It is an easy matter of dozing the hole back when it has dried out.
I have no idea how many tanks or ponds there are in Williamson County, but my guess it runs into the thousands. Very few tanks are ever filled once they are established. It has rarely been a problem of people drowning in stock tanks, but it does happen. And when it happens it makes a lot of news. Some tanks are so big they allow boats to go out on them, but it is rare for anyone to ever drown in them. In conclusion, I would venture to say that Lee Rister had his dozer in most of the tanks in Williamson County. He did nothing else for fifty years but builds and maintains tanks. There are people still building them, Lee's son John Rister is doing it and there are others. but Lee was the "king".

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 conservation,construction tanks,farms,fish,livestock,maintenance,spillway
  Williamson County, Texas
Jul 25 2024


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