Wayne Nash gives a few pointers on what to look for when you go used rig shopping.

It's best to check out a rig while it's working. Courtesy of Barber Drilling Pty. Ltd.
When it's time for a new rig, and you know that you can't afford a new rig, it's time to start looking around the used market. There are a ton of rigs out there on the market - some good and some not so good - so I'm going to try to give you a few pointer s on what to look for when you go rig shopping.

First consider the actual size rig you will need. Make an honest appraisal of the depth and size of the holes you typically drill, and match the rig to the job. I know a driller who bought a rig about tw o sizes too big for his work; he wanted it for the occasional big job. Guess what? In addition to a bigger rig, he got bigger payments and a lot of locations he can't fit into. And while his competitor is going to the next job, he's either winching out o r filling ruts. Bottom line: less bottom line.

Next, see if you can figure out why the seller is selling. Not all rigs are for sale because they are junked out and no longer able to work. If you ask a few questions and dig a little, there probably is a different story for every rig. Because drillers seldom retire, sometimes a driller just up and dies, and his widow is faced with the job of selling the rig. Sometimes you can get a good deal on a good rig, but I would caution you not to try to buy the ri g for a scrap price just because she may not know its value. It may be the only retirement money she has.

If a rig was purchased for a certain contract and the job is done, often drillers would rather sell it than just let it rust. This can be an excel l e nt prospect. The rig may be fairly new, with only a few holes on it. Plus, the driller - if he's sharp - may already have made enough to pay for it and be willing to discount the price just to move it.

Another factor that affects rig prices and avail ab ility are the normal boom-and-bust cycles of the industry. Over the years, the shot-hole drillers and the coal bed methane drillers have been notorious for buying up everything that will turn to the right, running them 'til the market dries up, and the n d umping them. These can be good deals, but be careful; sometimes the drillers get paid by the foot and common sense maintenance goes by the wayside. You might get a good price, except the rig needs a new everything.

When you've finally settled on t he t ype of rig you need and have a couple prospects to look at, here's a tip that ought to be a corollary to Murphy's Law: The more attractive a rig seems, the further away it is. Every time I call about a rig and want to go look at it, it seems li ke it's at least 1,000 miles away - more likely 2,000. When you do finally get there and see the rig, first impressions naturally are going to be a big part of your decision-making process. A word to the wise: don't be fooled by the paint. Sometimes sellers do a ni ce "Sherwin-Williams rebuild" as a way to hide serious problems. A freshly painted rig is a red flag to me. First, it probably isn't my company color, and second, I want to see all the wear points and repaired areas. These rigs usually sell to inves tors o r young drillers with stars in their eyes. A rig that is drilling is the best one to look at. If it's not, ask the owner to rig it up and drill a test hole. A hundred feet of test hole will tell me more than 14 pages of checklists.

About t he tru ck unde r the rig: unless you are one of those drillers whoworks a huge area, don't worry too much about the truck. Trucks wear out, and rig changeovers aren't too bad of a job. What you are buying is the rig. A properly maintained rig will last practical ly forev er. I know of a couple that have worn out five or six trucks.

Don't worry too much about the expendable parts either; pump swabs, rods, tong dies and the like are going to have to be replaced anyhow. And if you do it, you know when it was done and that it was done right.

Spend more time looking at the expensive items. The gear end of a pump is an expensive pain-in-the-butt to change, and its condition should affect the price significantly. Take a close look at the rotary. The rotary drive shaft, u-joints and pinion bearings take the most abuse on a rig. Since they are usually up under the rig, they often are one of those out-of-sight-out-of-mind parts that will give you a good idea of the overall condition of the rig and how much routine maintenan ce it has had.

Look closely at any extensive repairs or modifications the owner has made. Are they properly done and safe? Be careful of derrick and crown modifications; that stuff is over your head! If the seller is not the driller w ho has been runnin g the rig, ask to talk to the driller. He can tell you what the rig needs, how it runs and a wealth of other information.

If you do make a deal and buy the rig, and it's a long way home, consider having the rig hauled rather than dri ving it. Rigs often are mounted on low geared, off-highway trucks that really don't like a lot of freeway cruising. A commercial hauler will have the equipment, permits, insurance, fuel cards and everything it takes to get it safely to your yard. It'll be quicker and cheape r than having to sit at some scale replacing tires and taillights five states from home.

Finally, consider getting a professional appraisal of the rig. It's not too expensive (we charge about $300, plus expenses) and may reveal a hi dden pro blem that would significantly change the value of the rig. It also may save you considerable time and expense by having someone else travel around looking at rigs while you stay home and make money. Then you can just go look at the best one(s) and make your decision.

If I can help you with this, or any other problem, e-mail me at rockbit@compuserve.com, or call me at 912-265-1839.

Sidebar: Industry Loses A Good Man

Don Kennedy, owner of Kennedy's Well Drilling in Brunswick, Ga., passed away Nov. 24 at the age of 51. Those are the bare facts, but there is a lot more. Don has been my friend for many years. We met when we both worked for another driller. Later, when we both went into business, we were friendly competitors, sharing drilling stories and swapping tall tales. Once when my mud pump broke down in the middle of a job, I saw Don at the caf¿nd told him what had happened. He went and got his rig, brought it to my location and ran his mud pump so I could finish the hole. That was the kind of guy he was. If a customer or another driller needed something, Don's door was always open. He touched many lives and will be sorely missed.