Open to certified divers from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, April through September, the quarry turns into a playground for about 60 to 80 divers every weekend. The fee is $20 a day, and passes are available at several dive shops in the Nashville area.
Massie, who is into his 21st year here, calls it “A good weekend gig six months of the year.” The quarry attracts divers for a variety of reasons. The water is clear. Divers can explore four submerged buildings left standing when the mine shut down and swim around 30 small, sunken watercrafts. There are no motor boats speeding overhead. And there is no getting entangled in fishing line.
“There’s a real good natural ecology down there,” Massie said. “It’s loaded with fish (blue gill, channel cats, Kentucky bass, gar and turtles), good grass beds, and the limestone helps the purity.”
The entrance to the diving paradise off of Quarry Road is obscure on purpose, marked by a small sign bearing the red symbol that divers recognize. A newly-bulldozed trail twists, maybe a quarter of a mile, through the woods to a primitive campsite that offers shade, picnic tables and wood chips covering the ground. Massie maintains an air refill tank nearby.
This July morning nearly two dozen carloads of eager-beaver divers arrive between 9 and 11 a.m., including Steve Dolezal, president of the 50-member Cool Springs Scuba Club.
“For the Middle Tennessee diving community this is the closest place to dive with friends,” said Dolezal, who lives in Franklin. “Here we can just enjoy the camaraderie with all of the other divers. The water’s nice. There are all kinds of things to see: the rocks, the forest, the crusher houses, the bus and the trench with the sunken sailboat.”
The club, whose members range in age from 15 to 50-something, holds underwater treasure hunts here a couple of times a year. It is not an inexpensive sport. Dolezal estimates it cost about $500 to purchase the necessary scuba diving equipment, such as a buoyancy compensator, air tank, air gauges, wet suit or dry suit and fins.
The sport of scuba diving started with the YMCA in the late 1940s and early ’50s, according to Massie.“Anybody aquatic minded went to the YMCA. At the end of WWII, the military was mostly based in the Pacific islands and on the California coast. That’s where the public got interested in scuba diving, and they got their equipment from the military,” Massie said.
“It didn’t take long for divers to find out the diving was better in Florida. Recreational diving began in California but grew up in Florida. Most of these divers here today have been to the Bahamas, Fiji, Cancun and the Grand Cayman Islands.”Wilson County Sheriff’s Deputy Justin Smith, 23, who lives within spitting distance, is a novice diver and one of the quarry’s newest explorers.
“Mr. Fred got me into diving. I’ve known about the quarry for a long time and divers here since I was little,” Smith said. “I started two months ago. I got hooked up with it and it’s been fun ever since. I enjoy it.”
The divers submerge for 20 to 30 minutes per trip, making about two dives per visit to the quarry. Most are ready to call it a day around 4 p.m., however some enjoy nocturnal trips below.
“I’ve found the best way to handle the divers is to let them alone,” said Massie, who likes to keep things uncomplicated. Probably the most exciting event here was when they sank a sailboat with an authentic Civil War cannon. It drew 273 spectators.
Lebanon’s Byron Bohrman, 51, who serves as treasurer of the Cool Springs Scuba Club, got bit by the diving bug three years ago after taking a vacation to the Caribbean. His enthusiasm infected his daughters, Melissa, 13 and Allison, 22.
“We went to a Beaches resort for family and children in the Turks and Caicos. While we were there, we found, because it was an all-inclusive resort that they had wind surfing and ocean kayaking but also had a dive shop on site. We were able to get a resort certification that allowed us to do some limited diving with an instructor,” said Bohrman, a civil engineer.
“You could see the crystal-clear, blue Caribbean waters forever, and I just fell in love with it. It was an absolutely wonderful experience. The girls loved it.
“The first summer I was in this quarry just about every weekend. You can see things here that nobody else gets to see,” said the scuba diver, who has since become certified in such areas as underwater navigation, equipment specialist, and rescue and First Aid.
Walter J. Baird Middle School eighth-grader Melissa, who loves seeing the beautiful fish in the ocean, says of Martha’s Quarry, “They sunk stuff down there like buses and a sailboat and kitchen and a four-wheeler, and there’s a forest down there, and there are buildings from the quarry. It’s pretty neat to do down and look at that stuff.”
“It’s an overwhelming and amazing experience,” said Allison, an senior accounting major at Middle Tennessee State University. “You become like a part of everything that is all around you. You really are right there. It’s almost kind of thrilling, not dangerous, but you do have to be careful. Something could happen.”
Massie, who is nearly into his sixth decade as a diver, was born in Oak Ridge and lived in South Carolina, Florida and Alabama before graduating from Nashville’s Howard High School. Drafted in 1967, he became a U.S. Army Special Forces diver and served 8½ years in Japan, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia while wearing a Green Beret.
“I had no idea (about diving). I did well on the swimming test in basic training,” recalled the aqua man. “They sent me to combat swimming school. I got down to a place called Key West. I showed up prepared to swim with my rifle. I spent the next six years in Southeast Asia doing what they trained me to do.
“I dove in these black rivers during the war. The water is black. You can’t see anything. You felt with your hands,” said Massie, who was wounded three times in three different countries in one year. “Divers served six months at a time. Six months was all a young man could take.”
Leaving the military behind him, back in civilian life, Massie settled with his Vietnamese wife, Ba, in Madison, as an auto mechanic. The water continued to attract him like a magnet.
“I was diving every opportunity I could get. My wife was the only one who would dive in the Cumberland River with me,” he says of his late mate of 30 years, who was a superb diver herself as are their three children.
Massie owned a dive shop for 12 years in Madison. He said there use to be a dozen dive shops in Davidson County, but only two or three remain. Most closed, victims of Internet shopping and the weak economy.
These days, Massie restores tractors made in 1975 or earlier and spends three to five months of the year in Vietnam where the temperature sticks constantly at 95 degrees. And he still loves to scuba dive.
“It’s an addiction,” he confessed. “I dive as often as I can—most of it here.”
Lebanon resident Bohrman, who has three years of diving beneath his belt, relates. “It’s wonderful to go diving, especially with my girls. They’re gonna remember it for the rest of their lives. We come home and talk about our dives,” he said. “You’re kind of tired when you’re done, but it’s effortless when you’re doing it.”
Ken Beck may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.