5 Epic Quests Finished by One Guy Working Alone

This job requires wearing a 200-pound suit, underwater, in total darkness, for five years. Interested?
5 Epic Quests Finished by One Guy Working Alone

Sometimes, you must leave your friends behind. A task falls to you, and there is no time to assemble a crack team. You have to handle it singlehandedly. 

Will you succeed? Yes. Will you go down in history as a result? Absolutely. And will you leave the world better off? Um, well, sometimes you will; sometimes you won’t. But it will be an epic accomplishment either way, such as happened with the case of…

The Underwater Church Mission

In 1905, Winchester Cathedral was in danger of collapsing. That was surprising because in those days, before TV or air hockey, people didn’t have much to do other than look after the local church. The people of Winchester originally spent some 500 years building this cathedral, but then rot sneaked up on them, and it seemed that the building was going to collapse. 

Winchester Cathedral


Someone, take up a collection, quick!

They had a plan to fix the place up. They could dig around the cathedral so they could replace the old logs down there with concrete. But when they built a tunnel to do this, it filled up with groundwater, and they didn’t have a way to complete the construction work through all that water.

William Walker did, though. Walker was a professional diver, which was a more hardcore job back then because it meant wearing a diving suit that weighed 200 pounds. He could go down in the water and drop solid concrete there, creating a space they could pump free of water so a bigger team could then sweep in. Of course, since this was one diver taking an armful of material at a time, this job wasn’t going to finish up very quickly. 

William Walker

John Crook

Luckily, no one was in a hurry. Again, the world was very boring back then.

It took him five years. He moved down 25,000 bags of concrete, 115,000 concrete blocks and 900,000 bricks. Because of him, Winchester Cathedral still stands, and it’s now the last bastion protecting our plane from the legions of hell.

Writing the Numbers from One to a Million

Australian man Les Stewart started a writing project in 1983 that would take 16 years to complete. He was not working on some piece of scholarship or a massively long novel. He was instead using a typewriter to spell out every number from one to one million.

Consider how long it takes to type out the numbers from “one” to “ten.” Typing out a million numbers takes much more than a hundred thousand times that amount of time, because by the end of it, he was pecking out strings like “Nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine.”

He scored a world record for his efforts, but we can’t imagine that was his sole motivation. For one thing, it’s easy to get a world record by doing arbitrary feats that don’t take 16 years to complete. For another, he already held a record (for treading water). No, we choose to believe he really did it for the love of typing, as he’d previously worked as a typing instructor. 

Guinness surely awarded him the title based largely on his word rather than manually checking all 20,000 pages that he’d typed out. They trusted him, and we trust him, too. If he got one keystroke wrong somewhere around the low 700,000s, he doubtlessly would have discarded all existing pages and started again from scratch. 

Running a Gold Mine Solo

Henry Ewing had himself the start of a mine in 1904. Then he lost his sight. We don’t have details on the incident that blinded him — sources refer to the Arizona resident only as “a man of culture,” mysteriously — but you can predict that this would put a swift end to his ambitions to be a miner.

It did not. He returned to the site of his mine and sank a fresh shaft into the ground. The reasoning was obvious: There was gold in them hills. And he went on to successfully scoop out a whole lot of precious gold ore. 

Oatman in 1921


The mine was located near Oatman, named for the Oatman Massacre. No, we see no need to elaborate on this. 

His stint mining didn’t quite go off without a hitch, though. One time, he fell 30 feet and banged himself up, and he had to seek help — by climbing back up 30 feet and finding a populated camp. Another time, he almost died when a rattlesnake got him. There’s some irony in a visually impaired man struck down by an animal so easily detected by hearing it, but you have to understand that Ewing had a far greater disability than blindness: He had no sense of fear. 

The Mole Man of Hackney

We’ve looked at a couple heroes today who liked to dig. Some people, though, don’t dig for God or for riches. Some just really like digging.

William Lyttle spent 40 years digging tunnels underneath his London home. This served no purpose and caused considerable harm. The pavement outside one neighbor’s house collapsed, and he once reportedly hit a power cable and cut off electricity for the whole street. His house itself fell into disrepair as he sank all his time into digging his tunnels. This house had 20 rooms and was valued at £1 million. Lyttle had inherited it, and he lost it when the city kicked him out to punish him for his digging. 

William Lyttle house

Fin Fahey

“Oh, it’s totally worth £1 million, once you patch up all then holes.”

Lyttle was never diagnosed with any mental illness, in case you were wondering. He just liked digging. “People are asking you what the big secret is,” he said. “And you know what? There isn’t one.” 

The city billed him for the hundreds of thousands they spent filling his tunnels and for the new housing where they moved him. They put him on the top floor of an apartment, figuring this would keep him from digging. He then dug a hole through one of the walls

Living as a Bird, to Save the Birds

The whooping crane was about to go extinct in the 1970s. Canadian conservationist George Archibald figured he could play a small role in continuing the species by getting one bird at the San Antonio Zoo to lay an egg. If you’re used to hens laying an egg every day, you might think egg-laying is no big deal, but hens only lay so much because we bred them to. Other birds lay much less often, only when driven to by environmental triggers. The whooping crane, for instance, will only ovulate once it forms a pair bond with a mate.

Archibald decided to be that mate. No, not by actually having sex with the bird (whose name was Tex), but by convincing it that he wanted to. He slept in the bird enclosure for three months and danced for Tex. He and Tex built a nest together. This spurred Tex to ovulate, and the zoo’s scientists could then take over with artificial insemination. This all resulted in an egg, which had not actually been fertilized, because they’d screwed that part of the process up. Tex would produce no more eggs that year. 

Archibald tried again next year. This resulted in a fertilized egg, but the chick didn’t survive till hatching. Archibald tried the year after that, producing an egg that wasn’t strong enough. Then he had to take a couple years off, and his role was filled by other scientists, who had no luck at all because Tex wasn’t interested in them. In 1982, Archibald came back, tried the routine again and at last succeeded in producing a whooping crane chick.

George Archibald dances with Whooping Crane Gee Whiz, son of Tex

International Crane Foundation

The stork brings baby humans. George brings baby birds. 

That bird went on to have a whole lot of progeny of its own. Maybe more significantly for the species, it got a whole lot of people to care more about cranes. Because Archibald went on Johnny Carson to tell this whole wacky story, and then he shared some news that he’d received right before the show: Raccoons had broken into the bird enclosure and killed Tex. 

Tens of millions heard the news and were shocked into new awareness about the cranes’ plight. Tex died so that others may be saved. And this is why, every Easter, we honor her sacrifice by hunting for eggs. 

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for more stuff no one should see.

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