Birth of Modern Irrigation
Southern California Edison Substation- Sweet Brier & Hermosa

This epic mural depicts the birth of commercial irrigation. First, steam in 1892 and then, electricity in 1899 were used to “green the valley.”

John J. (Jolly) Cairns was a big man at better than 6 feet and was born in Scotland. Prior to coming to California he was involved in sheep herding in Australia and New Zealand.

In 1890 John came to the Lindsay area and before long he farmed about 100,000 acres of grain. Being a man of vision, he felt that the land was very fertile and temperate and reasoned that if a stable water supply could be developed, it could support citrus and fruit trees. He learned from the sheep herders that you could dig a shallow pit in the ground and that the water would not dry up even though the sheep were drinking it. He concluded that the water must be fed by an underground river and that therefore he might pump irrigation water from this river to the surface and thereby produce a stable source of water for grapes, citrus and fruit trees. This concept was arguably one of the most important concepts on modern irrigation in the west. His fellow farmers thought that he was crazy and that any water would be pumped up to the surface and then the well would go dry. He then ordered a 10 HP Byron Jackson pump from San Francisco and had it delivered by rail to Tulare. As he took his buckboard to Tulare he was labeled as Crazy Cairns for his foolish experiment.

He set the pump in a 20 foot by 20 foot pit and dug a 30 foot well below the pump. He then used a Berry steam engine to drive the pump via a long leather belt. The experiment was a huge success and the 14 inch casing produced approximately 1,000 gallons of water per minute.

On June 26, 1899, Mt. Whitney Power Company provided the power through the Lindsay substation for the first large-scale irrigation pumping project in the United States. The first subscriber for the power at $50 /horsepower/year was the Postlethwaite Ranch and then Captain Arthur Hutchinson, who was the founder of the City of Lindsay. Mt. Whitney Power Company was later to become know as Southern California Edison.

Thus Lindsay was very instrumental in the “Birth of Modern Irrigation.”

The mural is 10 feet in height and 120 feet in width.