REASONER: What's your problem my friend? Dandruff? A calf with water belly? Perhaps you want to grow a 32-pound squash? Do you have emphysema, or a painful burn? Well, if I told you I had something right here in this little bottle of Doc Willard's Wonder Water that would solve all of those problems . . . you'd possibly say that's the same kind of talk I heard from that snake oil salesman we ran out of town.
Well, if you went out to Rapid City, South Dakota, you'd find a lot of folks who swear by something they say will do all these things . . . the wondrous water of Doctor John Wesley Willard.
Too good to be true, you say?
We went out to take a look . . . with an open mind . . . but on the alert for the first whiff of snake oil.
What we found was a vat of hot brew being stirred up out back in a truck repair shop and watching over it was Doc Willard who is not a wizard but a Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at the South Dakota School of Mines. Here's what some folks say his Willard Water can do:
Doc Lemley says it's good for his emphysema. Chauncey Taylor used it on his second and third degree burn. Ranchers give to cattle to keep them healthy. Farmers say it makes wheat grow better. A quail breeder says it helps his birds grow faster and fatter.
DOC WILLARD: People can't comprehend that this is possible and they're skeptics. And I suppose I would have been the same way if I hadn't spent the past ten years of my life living and sleeping with this water.
REASONER: So what's in it that could make so many things happen? Well, a little liquid road salt, that's what melts snow and rots your car, and sodium silicate and magnesium sulfate and sulfated castor oil and then Doc Willard mixes some of it with powdered lignite. What you have finally are various mixtures called by different names: LA Water, (it has nothing to do with that town in California, it means lignite activated water) or CAW water, catalyst activated water. But it's all Willard Water, whatever it is.
DOC WILLARD: Well, it's the calcium magnesium, polysilicate polymer with a castor oil...
REASONER: Now that's chemist talk. You've already lost me.
DOC WILLARD: All right. It's a catalyst that alters the structure of the water making water behave in a manner that heretofore has not been reported in the literature.
REASONER: Whatever Willard Water is, we set out to visit some folks around Rapid City who talk about what it has done for them. On burns for example, producer Paul Loewenwarter talked with Chauncey Taylor who scorched his leg doing some welding on an old oil drum.
CHAUNCEY TAYLOR: The fumes in it, I guess, ignited and blowed out a hole and melted my overalls. I had a pair of poly...polyester overalls on and it melted them and melted my shirt and burnt my leg.
PAUL LOEWENWARTER: So you looked down and just saw your leg charred?
TAYLOR: I looked down and the skin was just hanging all different ways there.
LOEWENWARTER: Well what did you do to treat it?
TAYLOR: Oh, I had a bottle of this LA Water and I just started squirting it on there and just kept pouring it on, a fine mist.
LOEWENWARTER: And what does it do?
TAYLOR: It heals it I guess.
DR. RAY LEMLEY: And I said now look, let's try this out.
REASONER: Dr. Ray Lemley is a prominent surgeon, now retired, but still Chauncey Taylor's family doctor. He told Chauncey to keep spraying the burn with Willard Water. We wondered what the normal treatment would have been.
LEMLEY: Well you'd put different kinds of medicine on it. There's all kinds of medicine for burns. Any housewife has a dozen and that would kill off the new cells and damage the wound. It would be too strong, usually, and burn it and interfere with the healing of it. Thus, we did nothing to interfere with the healing of it.
REASONER: Would the normal procedure be to graft?
LEMLEY: Well, if you took him to the hospital they would have probably grafted that by this time and by the time that he gets the scabs off of this and its all healed up, your place you took your graft off from it would still be raw. So we're way ahead.
REASONER: Chauncey's scab was all gone about three weeks after the burn, and three months after that we dropped by to see the final results.
CHAUNCEY TAYLOR: Well, it's all healed up.
REASONER: Dr. Lemley does not just recommend Willard Water for others. Several times a day he guzzles the stuff which, incidentally, tastes just like water.
LEMLEY: I have emphysema and I wanted to see if it would help that. I mix up a jug of it, about three times as strong as it's supposed to be. So if it's gonna hurt anybody, it would me.
REASONER: The surprising thing is that Dr. Lemley, at 78, with emphysema, is nonetheless able to pursue his hobby of paleontology at which he's a recognized expert, digging for fossils.
LEMLEY: I don't walk too far or anything on account of my emphysema but I get around.
REASONER: And you would credit the water with part of that ability?
LEMLEY: Well I've seen a lot of emphysema in my long years of practice and most of them get worse all the time. And mine, it's a little worse than it was ten years ago, but it isn't anything like anybody I've seen before.
REASONER: (MUSIC) And then there's Vern Sheppard a popular Rapid City broadcaster who used to miss weeks on the air every winter with a bad throat. Now Sheppard sprays the throat with Willard Water every day and rarely misses a day on the air.
JOHNSON'S DAUGHTER: When I have pink eye in my eye I just squirt some LA Water in it and then after a while it isn't so pink anymore.
RALPH WHITE: I spray it on my head for my dandruff and I put it in my bath water and drink some of it some of the time.
REASONER: Because people are drinking Willard Water and pouring it on burns and infections, we wondered whether this unlikely mixture has anything in it that could do anybody any harm. We took samples to Industrial Testing Laboratories in New York City. Their results were the same as other tests. They found nothing harmful, either in the way of bacteria or metals that could hurt you. But they didn't find much else either. So, what it does, how it does it, if it does it remains a mystery. It remains a mystery even to the Chief Medical Officer of South Dakota's Department of Health, Dr. Robert Hayes
DR. ROBERT HAYES: My professional opinion about it, of course, is, has been that a lot of people use it. I've seen results of what they said it did. I've never had occasion to use it on a patient. Have had no more opinion than that, sir.
REASONER: You've never used it yourself?
HAYES: No, Sir. I haven't.
REASONER: On the other hand, you've had no reason to assume it would hurt anybody?
HAYES: No I haven't as a matter of fact. Anything I've heard about it has been nothing bad. It has always been on the positive side.
REASONER: Would you like to see it tested, Doctor?
HAYES: I sure would. I've in fact had a question in my mind why it wasn't tested before and I, I think most doctors in this area who have patients who have come in contact with it would like to see it tested.
REASONER: Willard Water gets packed for sale at a kind of Willard family bottling bee. It's not licensed in any way for sale as a drug or a fertilizer and state agencies in South Dakota watch closely to see that no false claims are made about what it can do. The little bottle costs three dollars, to be mixed with a gallon of water the way most people use it. The biggest commercial distributor of Willard Water is Tom Callahan. How much of this stuff have you distributed?
TOM CALLAHAN: Well in the last four years, close to forty thousand of those ounce bottles.
REASONER: Have you had any trouble with regulatory agencies?
TOM CALLAHAN: Yes. They've stopped the sale of it twice and I'm sure that we'd have a lot more except that we have so much public opinion around this area that when he first stop sale order came out the Governor got hundreds of letters from people that were very irate about stopping this product. And they've more or less kind of let us live ever since.
REASONER: About the only laboratory work on what Willard Water does, has been done at the South Dakota School of Mines by Sister Marmion Howe, a Professor of Biology.
SISTER MARMION HOWE: I took some different species of micro-organisms and tested them with CAW or with Doc Willard's Water and without it and then I used different antibiotics on it to see if Willard's Water enhanced the action of the antibiotic.
REASONER: Does it?
SISTER MARMION: Yes I found that it did with certain organisms, not all.
REASONER: The water also seemed to sometimes speed up the growth of bacteria, doesn't it?
SISTER MARMION: Yes, we found that out. Some of my students did some work on that.
REASONER: Do you have any theories based on your tests as to why it does what it does?
SISTER MARMION: Well no, we need about a million dollars to do some studies on it but I think the fact that this is a surfactant- or a detergent-like acting material might make it penetrate a little bit more quickly and effectively.
REASONER: Doc Willard developed the water as a cleaner. But he learned it could treat burns when he burned his own arm on a hot plate, years ago, dowsed it with his water, the sting disappeared, the burn healed. As a cleaner, he heats up some of the water and soaks an engine piston in it that's coated with carbon and the burnt on carbon comes off easily with a rag. Normally that's done only with a lot of scrubbing that can damage the piston or with harsh solvents that can be dangerous.
DOC WILLARD: This we can take and bathe in it or drink it, if it wasn't so hot.
REASONER: (SOUND OF COWS) Ranchers and farmers of Rapid City aren't waiting for scientific proof about Willard Water. They're using it now because they say it puts money in their pockets. At roundup time, Don Taylor uses it on his calves when they're branded, spraying it on fresh burns. --
--The calves seem to quiet down right away. Taylor says it helps the burns heal without infection, fewer veterinary bills. If there's a sick calf, he'll get a stiff dose out of a pop bottle and ranchers say that Willard Water can cure a calf that might otherwise die. Ranchers put it in the wells, in drinking water, and cattle drink it year around. And it's said to be particularly good as a kind of tranquilizer when calves are weaned away from their mothers and become nervous, even frantic.
TOM CALLAHAN: And we've seen this where you crowd these chickens together or quail together how they quiet down and it definitely has an effect on the nervous system and it isn't imagination with a calf or a chicken or a quail.
REASONER: Quail that get the Willard Water don't bite and scratch each other the way other quail do and Jim Dickey, who breeds quail in Rapid City, says they gain more weight on less high cost feed.
JIM DICKEY: They're plumper. They're a little heavier on Willard Water.
REASONER: Out in the wheat fields there has been a little testing done by farmers like Paul Zelfer who has one field with normal, untreated, wheat and another whose seed were soaked in the Willard Water before planting.
PAUL ZELFER: From the start it was a better color and it came up quicker and it was a thicker stand and it would yield more, would be more bushels per acre and every bushel per acre means that many more dollars per acre.
REASONER: Zelfer then took producer Loewenwarter into an untreated wheat field to show him the difference.
ZELFER: This here is the treated wheat and this is the untreated and you can just see the difference in the hair roots. That's what feed the plant, that's what makes them grow is them little hair roots. The proof is here, you can see it. But what makes the plant do so much better with the water I, I just don't know.
REASONER: (NUNS SINGING) You wouldn't expect an order of nuns to be a little hot bed of Willard Water boosters but at St. Martin's Academy the Benedictine Sisters use it daily. And it's not just because one of the members is Sister Marmion Howe, the Biology Professor we met at the School of Mines. Many of the sisters bathe in it, drink it, treat burns with it in the kitchen. And there's the garden where we found Sister Jenna spraying and spraying with Willard Water last spring, hoping for vegetables like the crops she had gotten in '79. I understand you had some prodigious squash?
SISTER JENNA: Yes I did.
REASONER: What would be the size of a good, big squash?
SISTER JENNA: Well my largest one was 32 pounds and a 25 pounder and from there on down to 18 and I believe 15 was the smallest.
REASONER: We couldn't resist going back this Fall to see whether Willard Water had worked in spite of the drought that struck the plains this summer. Sure enough monster squash, though not quite the size of the year before. I'm no judge, but that's 20 pounds I'd say anyhow, wouldn't you?
SISTER JENNA: I would say 20 at least.
REASONER: It would make a lot of meals (LAUGHTER).
REASONER: So here is Doc Willard, with a magic juice that people say works on quail and squash and people and cattle-and no scientific proof at all.
DOC WILLARD: I've worked with some top flight men at other universities and they've made the statement, as I have myself, "I see it but I still don't believe it."
REASONER: Well, where do we stand? We haven't proved anything and we didn't expect to. But we've met a lot of nice people and we found a product that, everyone agrees, can't hurt you. Maybe that's enough. Besides, anything made with road salt and castor oil can't be all bad. -END-
Editor's Note: Dr. Willard's Water
has been produced in an approved
lab for production of products for
human consumption since 1981.