On a cold winter's day, we caught up with E.E. Gross Well Drilling Inc. at a jobsite.

A homeowner in the northern Illinois town of Wadsworth had a problem with his existing well and a contractor of dubious professionalism chose to remedy the problem through continuous dumping of chlorine into the well. In the short amount of time before everything finally froze up, the homeowner had become acquainted with drilling contractor Michael Gross through a mutual friend, so he had someone to turn to for counsel when the well quickly - and understandably - reached the end of its service life. Gross, president of E.E. Gross Well Drilling Inc., Zion, Ill., explained the situation and after digging everything up and replacing the pump, had another grateful customer - one that soon would be building a new home nearby for his father. Apparently, the homeowner learned his lesson from his previous experience. "This guy isn't afraid to spend money," Gross explains. "He just wants a good job - that's a good customer to have." Gross agreed to drill a water well for that new home when the time came. That time turned out to be a windy, single-digit-degree day this past January.

"Just typical winter working conditions," Gross shrugs. "It took [our driller] a while to get the rig started that first day. But that's what we deal with in the winter. Water freezes, equipment freezes and the ground freezes; it just takes longer to do things. It took about 45 minutes to pound through the frost line (approx. 18 inches) with the carbide bit on the cable tool rig; things went rather smoothly after that."

How Far Down?

Gross knew that the neighboring home had a well that was 180 feet deep but, as will happen, the geology was different just 300 feet away and this new well had to go to 225 feet. "It's a 10-gallon-a-minute well, which isn't great, but for this small modular house, it's more than enough," he says. "We installed a 3?Hp Red Jacket pump and a WR 260 tank - sort of an oversized tank for that pump, but going bigger is always better than going smaller." Gross explains that, in this area, there's quite a bit of hydrogen sulfide, so if you keep going down, you run the risk of picking up more of that. "If you're sulfur-free at 10 gallons a minute for a single-occupant home, you're fine. If that thing kicks on twice a day, that would be a lot. If it were a family of five living there, they'd want more water and you could drill deeper, with the understanding that the hydrogen sulfide could become an issue."

The job took four days to complete, but those were winter work days - they start later, go slower and end earlier than normal. Gross rationalizes: "If it's 7 degrees out there and if you can wait two hours until it gets into the teens, go find some paperwork or something else to do. And the next job was in a nearby subdivision in another unoccupied house, so there was some flexibility."

The Contractor

"This is our 50th year," Gross proudly mentions, "which, as well drilling companies go, isn't that big of a deal, but as businesses in general go, it is a pretty big deal." The company usually has four or five employees and uses two 22W cable rigs. The majority of the company's jobs are through referral or established contractors. "We don't do a lot of bidding," Gross explains. "Sometimes a contractor will have a customer who wants a proposal but, normally, if the contractor gets the job, we get the job - it's not 100 percent, but it's pretty close."

Gross has established a separate water conditioning company that he says, "is really going big time." Right now, it represents a quarter to a third of his overall business, with the potential to even surpass the drilling side of the business. "People are more and more concerned about their water - not just well water but municipal water and bottled water - and they want to take an active hand in doing something about it," he says.

Gross is president of the Illinois Association of Groundwater Professionals; his term ends this month and he's presided over a whirlwind of activity lately - geo-thermal regulatory matters, the state association's annual convention and the National Ground Water Association's legislative fly-in to Washington, D.C. later this month to help promote the interests of the water industry. "The more activity you show in Washington, the more people will pay attention and listen," he says. "I feel good about our association. It does a lot and tries to do more," he says.