Donald Wertz recalls his dad's exploits drilling with a wooden drill rig.

Many years ago, I drilled water wells with my father, Charles Wertz, in Antioch, Ill. My dad started drilling way back in the 1920s with all-wood machines called cam-and-treadle drilling rigs because they used a large wooden cam to create the up-and-down action unlike the later walking-beam rigs. When they became available, he moved to steel machines but he told me many stories about what it was like drilling with these wood machines.

Some of the things I remember him telling me about the old wood machines: They had no power and casing had to be jacked back using latch jacks because you just could not pull anything with the wood machines. Casing was driven via a large steel block, and because the cable was rope and not steel, the drilling action was much superior to cable used later because the rope would stretch like a spring on each stroke. One thing he liked about the all-wood frame was that it was easy to repair, as there were no portable welders back then.

Almost all the wells back then were 11⁄2-inch or 2-inch, and they used 1-inch pipe to jet down the well until water-bearing sand or gravel they could screen was reached. The screen was dropped in using a gunnysack for a seal between the top of the screen and the casing. The casing then was pulled back away from the screen so the screen stuck out below the casing. Back then, a 100-foot well was a very deep well. All these wells were in the northeast part of Illinois.

These machines (he had three at one time) were mounted on a four-wheel wagon and pulled around from job to job with horses. One of my dad's first jobs (helping his dad) was to go to the lake with a horse-drawn wagon and fill wooden barrels and take them back to the job so they had water to drill with. The power for the wood machines usually was a Model T Ford engine. He also told of finally extending a Model A truck frame and mounting one of the machines on it. I remember him saying that he thought he really had something new. He also figured out a way to raise the derrick using power. He said, “That was a big day” for him.

Later, he went on to all-steel machines, including BE 21s, 20s and 22s, a couple of Speed Stars and a Cyclone - all cable rigs. He never got into rotary as he just figured he was too old by then to get into them. I sure enjoyed learning from him and hearing all the old stories about the old machines.

My dad passed away a few years ago and had logged more than 3,000 wells in 60 years of drilling. I worked with him for a few years after high school and always was fascinated with the old wood rigs and how hard well drilling was back then.

This past spring, we took a trip out west and I saw the machine pictured alongside a road in west Texas. It brought back many fond memories and I thought readers of National Driller might enjoy them. I have not seen a wood rig in many, many years. This one probably was used for oil drilling.