Contractor Profile: Driller thrives in Ozark Mountain foothills.

Even with the huge public utility infrastructure in the United States, there are many buildings outside the infrastructure grid of public water supply systems that require water service. Today there are more than 15 million household wells in the United States and more than 380,000 public and community wells.

In the foothills of the Ozark Mountains is the small town of Houston, Mo., home to ARPCO Pump Service Inc. ARPCO is run by David Arthur, along with his wife, Teresa. Arthur is the third generation of his family in the business of helping his community pump quality water out of the ground.

Because supplying clean, fresh water is at the heart of ARPCO Pump's business, Arthur maintains that it is very important to guard against surface contamination because it eventually will find its way into the water table. He notes that, “One of my dad's favorite sayings was that one day we'll see that water becomes more valuable than oil. He didn't live to see that, but I'm sure I will.”

ARPCO Pump is one of the largest well water pump dealers in the state of Missouri. Arthur notes that he's been in the pump business since he was a boy, remembering, “My dad started working in the business in the early 1960s - along with milking cows because he was a dairy farmer. My mom and dad started running the business on their own in the 1967 and I came on the scene in the summer of 1978 after graduating high school.” Arthur says that while growing up, he learned all about the well water pump business with his dad on nights, weekends and holidays.

With the terrain being hilly and rocky, Arthur notes that the area is mostly “cattle country.” The well water pump business for ARPCO Pumps is 95 percent residential. The remainder is light industrial, with some work for the water districts. The water table in this area of Missouri is extremely variable. There is a geological fault running through region. Arthur explains that, “On one side of the fault, the water table is about 200 feet deep and on the other side, we service some wells that are up to 700 feet deep.”

Although ARPCO's business is heavily residential, the drought of the last couple years forced farmers and ranchers in the area to drill wells for watering their cattle. Arthur recalls that, “All of the ponds dried up and all of the springs quit.” Last winter, a time that usually is a very quiet for well drillers, ARPCO drilled 42 wells for cattle.

These days, ARPCO sells only Goulds-brand equipment. Arthur recalls that back when they carried many different brands of well water pumps, ARPCO drilled one well “down in a holler,” where it was very sandy. “The best flow we ever got was a cup full of sand for every bucket full of water,” he says.

After going through pump after pump, with many pumps lasting only about a year, ARPCO decided to go with a Goulds-brand pump after the manufacturer came out with a five-year warranty on its equipment. Arthur remembers thinking that, “We thought we had a good deal here and that Goulds would replace the pumps when it failed like every other pump we put in that well.” To the surprise of the pump owner and of ARPCO, the Goulds well water pump lasted seven years. Arthur notes, “That was one of the biggest tests-by-fire that I could think of.”

Arthur notes that he now is just starting to see callbacks on the well water pumps ARPCO installed back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. “We are just starting to revisit some of the jobs that I cut my teeth on,” says Arthur. “Whenever someone has a pump that lasts 20 or 25 years, they want another one and they don't care if it is more expensive, because they want the quality.”

The electrification of rural America was a turning point.

A Little Water Well Pump History

Rural electrification really started in the 1930s as part of the Depression-era programs. The federal government decided that it was going to push the power lines into all of the rural areas. That's when most of the farms became electrified and people were able to begin to build in earnest outside the limits of the city grid, because they now had power out there.

After World War II, the government spent a lot of energy pushing housing because of all the GIs coming back from the war who were encountering a huge housing shortage.

With the economy humming along, the growth of the suburbs was pushing outside of the reach of the water mains - with everyone putting up houses on these 1-acre plots, all outside cities. At that time, the mobile home industry really came into its own as well. At this point, in the early 1950s, the demand for well water pumps really began to take off. That trend held all the way through the decade.

The submersible pump came to market in the late 1950s and quickly came into its own. Until that time, it was mostly jet pumps. The submersible pump was a completely different animal. It had a motor that was down in the well and it was very easy to install. It really changed the complexity of the industry. People became much more confident about putting a pump in and moving out into the country.