Fourth-generation drilling firm opens a new chapter in its history.

Terry and Max Hollenbaugh can laugh about a lot of things these days.
Max Hollenbaugh retired from Hollenbaugh Well Drilling Inc. 15 months ago. So, of course, you know just where you'll be able to find the third-generation driller - at Hollenbaugh Well Drilling Inc. in Columbia City, Ind.

Max briefly explains some of the firm's evolution: “There's been a lot of changes,” he says, chuckling. “Back when I started full-time in the business, in 1947, at age 17, the company was called Hollenbaugh Brothers. For a while there, it was called Hollenbaugh Brothers Garage; they sold gasoline and one of my uncles worked in the shop repairing cars and farm equipment, and my dad and my other uncle drilled the water wells. In 1967, I took on a partner and for about 13 years, it was Hollenbaugh and Schneider.”

The first drill rig he used was all handmade in the shop. “In 1949, we bought our first 4-inch rig - a 240 Star. We paid $1,800 for the rig and mounted it on a $1,200 used truck,” Max recalls. “In 1953, we bought a brand new Bucyrus Erie 20W; that cost us about $3,600 - for tools and everything. We charged $3.25 a foot back then. At one time, we had three rigs, but we only ran two at a time. We had a homemade rig we made ourselves and we had a 35 Cyclone for 2-inch work. We quit doing 2-inch wells in 1967, but we repaired them up until about 1990.

“We do the routine-type maintenance, but for the bigger stuff, we send it out. When my uncles were around and we had the garage, we did it all ourselves, but not anymore."

Pump installation.

Old Pumps

"The first pump we put in was in 1949, when we started drilling 4-inch wells. The pump only lasted a year and we quit using them until 1954. We drilled a well on my uncle's farm that year and he installed the pump that still is in there - as is the control box. We also installed a pump for a cousin of mine and it's still working. The control box has been changed but the pump itself is still in the well, working. I was just looking through the records recently and I've got one in there from 1956 that's still working. But that guy wants to replace it with a constant-pressure pump.”

Mel Haag, manager of corporate communications for Franklin Electric, met Terry Hollenbaugh out at a well site. “We had donated a motor to Science Central, a local non-profit organization in Fort Wayne,” Haag recalls. “While the motor was being installed, Terry Hollenbaugh told me, 'You know, we have a motor that's been in the well for 50-some years.' My eyes must have gotten very big because that's just remarkable. I found out they had others, too. Max, the sort-of company historian, showed me the log books from those days and it gave me an idea for an advertising campaign.” (You probably recall seeing the advertisements in National Driller.)

Asked about the labor situation in his market, Max tells us, “We've gone through a lot of helpers. Some did better than others but, overall, they were pretty fair. We've got a real good helper now. One of the best helpers I ever had was, believe it or not, my father-in-law. He worked for me for about 10 years - during the 1950s, starting a couple months before I got married. The thing about him that I remember most is we never had a tool come up missing. If something was ever out of place, it was either me or my dad who mislaid it. These days, it seems like we always have to replace a lost tool.”

The first two generations - circa 1909-1910.

Latest Transition

“Overall, business has been real good here for us - only a couple of down times. When my son Terry came into the business in 1980, things weren't going too good for us; I don't think we drilled 50 wells. I was very concerned but each year after that, things kept picking up. By 1988-1989, he was drilling 150 wells a year. He'd leave home at 6:00 in the morning and didn't get back until 10:00 or 11:00 at night. That's just the way he worked - and he still works that way. I used to do the same thing, but not anymore.”

Terry has the prototypical fourth-generation driller background: Tagged along as a kid, started working part-time in high school - the only job he's ever had. “The rig we had when I first came on we kept way too long,” he notes. “I had a 1999 model that I traded in for the 2002 Ingersoll-Rand TW2 we're currently running. If things go right, I probably won't trade that one in quite as fast, but it just depends on the amount of work we do with it. The previous one was used to put in almost 560 wells. That rig didn't sit still ever for very long - it ran a lot of hole.” Today, Terry is company president.

During the “Hollenbaugh's Garage” years.

Types of Work

“Right now,” Terry says, “we have so many wells to drill, we haven't pushed it by trying to get bigger. Usually we're scheduled about a month out. Right now, we're two to three weeks out. During the winter, we drill for some of our competitors who don't want to deal with the weather conditions.” Within the 100-mile radius in which Hollenbaugh operates, there are 20 to 25 drilling contractors. “In this area, there are three or four different guys who advertise well drilling services,” he adds. “While they do, in fact, do the pump, the hookup and repair work, they sub out the actual drilling to us. Those are nice because I don't have to deal with the customer and all the footwork already has been taken care of.

“We've done quite a few abandoned wells for a company that does house tear-downs,” Terry continues. “And with the city water branching out, people are getting rid of some wells. We followed some cement plants around. For different sections of highway, they'll need 300 to 400 gallons per minute to dump concrete. And they also need water for dust control.”

The depth of the wells they drill varies widely. “I'd say on average, it's probably 125 feet. Some will go up to 500 feet or 600 feet; others can be as shallow as 70 feet or 80 feet.”

Hollenbaugh's current drill rig.

Looking Ahead

“I've got three boys; they seem somewhat interested in the business. One is 22 years old and finishing up college. He's been working with us over the summers. He's got a Class A CDL and a driller's license. He'll probably be going to teach school and do some coaching and work here in the summers when we're really busy. The other sons are 17 and 15 and they, too, of course, work for the company off and on. But I'm not pushing it or anything.”

Expansion plans are contingent on what happens with Terry's sons. “If they all three come in here, it's going to have to expand,” he says. “There are a lot of different ways we can go. We've done lawn sprinklers systems, commercial-type sprinklers and run a few environmental holes. We might get into drainage; where they're running sewers, they need some 30-foot bigger holes. So there are other things we can do. And we bought some extra land - another 5 acres. If things go right, we'll build a new office and put in a bigger storage building.”

Asked about getting involved with point-of-use/point-of-entry systems, Terry says, “We've done a few softeners but we're really not geared for that. We only did it when the customer wanted a whole system, including the pump, the tank and the softener. We don't push it because there are so many different companies in the softener business. If you get into it too heavy, you've got to hire someone full-time to take care of that.” Perhaps that will be something for the fifth generation to address.

Thanks to Mel Haag of Franklin Electric for providing most of the accompanying photographs.