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The Great Pluviculturist

Part II 

 by Cecile Page Vargo  

            Throughout the western United States, Canada, and Alaska, Charles Hatfield continued to build his towers and mix his rain concoctions.  Sometimes he was successful, sometimes he wasn’t.  If one town condemned him and kicked him out for failure to produce rain, another was dried up enough they would resort to anything for water.  There seemed to be an abundance of rainmaking jobs to keep Hatfield busy and in the money, and enough luck to keep his reputation intact.

            In December 1915, the City of San Diego was under going a severe drought.  The Lake Morena reservoir was just a trickle, and the town could not survive unless some water fell down from the sky.  Charles & Paul Hatfield would earn $10,000 if they could solve San Diego’s problems.  January 1916, the great evaporating tanks and 24 foot towers were set up near the reservoir.  Nearby farmers heard explosions and saw flames, as billows of smoke filled the cloudless sky, and chemical smells permeated the air. 

            The headlines of local papers counted the days and thousands of watchful eyes looked to the sky.  Bookies began taking bets.  On January 5, the raindrops began to fall, bringing a series of storms that created havoc not only in San Diego, but throughout Southern California.  The Morena reservoir was successfully filled to the brim, and the Sweetwater and Otay Reservoirs were overflowing.  On January 27, the Lower Otay Dam broke away washing out homes, farms, roads, bridges, and railroad tracks.  Reportedly, 20 people were killed by the waters' fury.  Meanwhile, Hatfield and his brother packed up their rainmaking equipment and headed to the city for their fat paycheck.

            The San Diego City Council, was no longer happy with the rainmaker, of course, after seeing all the devastation that had been created by some 10 billion gallons of water.  They also claimed he had never signed any rainmaking contract, so they were not bound to pay Hatfield for his bountiful skills.  When he threatened to sue them if they didn’t pay, the city agreed to, only if he would assume liability for $3.5 million in flood damage suits.  Hatfield would only take responsibility for 4 billion gallons of the water that fell on San Diego, and he proceeded to file a lawsuit against the city after all.  Twenty-two years later the suit was ended after two court decisions ruled that the great flood was not an act of Charles Hatfield, but an act of God, therefore he had done nothing for the city of San Diego to pay him for.

            In spite of his efforts in San Diego, Hatfield’s rainmaking career was not awash.  San Joaquin Valley farmers and ranchers continually hired him to bring water to their parched lands.  In Central America, banana growers asked him to bring rain to drown out  jungle fires.  The Bear Valley Mutual Water Company wanted help filling Big Bear Lake.   Hatfield even built a cabin in the great Mojave Desert out by Randsburg, near the base of Black Mountain, and built a dam below the cabin so that miners could easily collect the gold that would wash down when the rains that he created fell.  Of course, as the city of San Diego had found out, Charles Hatfield could make it rain, but he couldn’t turn it off.  Forty inches of rain fell in three hours.  The dam broke, the water, the debris and all the gold flooded down Bonanza Gulch.

            The Colorado River and the Boulder Dam Act of 1928 created water for a thirsty California, the Great Depression came, and  scientists eventually learned to squeeze water from rain clouds by sprinkling them with silver iodide crystals.  Charles Hatfield’s career as a rainmaker was drying up.  His wife divorced him and he settled in Eagle Rock, once again selling sewing machines as he had many long years before.  In 1956, Hollywood invited Hatfield to attend the movie premier of The Rainmaker starring Burt Lancaster.  On January 12th, 1958, the 82 year old Pluviculturist died in Pearblossom, California, taking the secrets of over 500 successful rainmaking events with him to the grave.  In Lake Morena, a small granite monument memorializes him with a plaque that reads simply “Hatfield the Rainmaker”.


‘Cloud Coaxer’ Had a Stormy Career In Parched Deserts

by Cecilia Rasmussen

Los Angeles Times May 6, 2001  

The Rainman



Blues Rollin in Between the Clouds

Hatfield’s Story