In October this year, I called on drillers in northwestern Pennsylvania, many of them rotary and cable-tool drillers. Most of the rotary drillers are the younger generation. I was surprised at how many cable-tool drillers there are in this part of Pennsylvania. Many of these cable-tool drillers usually don’t attend the state driller shows, and many don’t attend the well supply open house days; they just drill. I find that most of them don’t have sons and daughters to carry on their businesses. I found that all of these drillers are quite knowledgeable and experienced. These drillers drill from 15 wells to 40 wells per year – usually by themselves.

I further was impressed by one senior driller who actually builds cable-tool parts that excel in quality beyond the parts currently made by major cable-tool rig and parts manufacturers in the United States today. This man had six or eight diesel engines he was rebuilding at the time of my visit. His shop wasn’t the neatest, but I can guarantee you that he knew what he had and exactly where it was. Anyone who is in need of quality cable-tool parts or parts information should contact this person first.

I called on another fellow who, in his small machine shop in a small Pennsylvania town, manufactures a special clutch-adjustment collar that replaces the stripped collar on cable-tool clutches. It can be installed without disassembling the clutch shaft assembly. I was impressed with his adjustment collar.

In my travels, I found Bucyrus-Erie cable-tool drills of all sizes and in various condition of repair everywhere. Some even had trees growing up through them.

I found a DrillTech D25K on a truck that was for sale, but not being advertised anywhere. It looked bad, but it didn’t seem to need a lot of work to get it back in usable condition.

Due to the economy and construction slowdown, many of these cable-tool drillers are contracting the abandonment of oil wells in Ohio and Pennsylvania. I understand they get to keep the salvage 2-inch tubing, sucker rods and crude oil that comes out of the wells while grouting them. One driller advised me that he is able to burn this crude in his diesel truck.

One thing about most old-time drillers: They are innovative in that they can do almost anything – and sometimes do it with almost nothing.

I met one very successful second- and possibly third-generation drilling company that does well drilling, and now has included geothermal closed-loop systems. Its offices, shops and equipment were neat and clean, and present a very professional image. Even the employees wore clean uniforms, and were courteous, friendly and helpful. I met the retired father and mother who just happened to come by for a visit. They had the company history with new and old photos on the wall inside the office. Some of these photos were of old cable-tool drills mounted on solid-rubber-tired trucks. That’s old!

Most cable-tool drills and many older rotary drills can be diagnosed and repaired by the owners. However, the newer electric, air and hydraulic drills built today must have a factory-trained technician to do the diagnosis and repair. This is costly.

Time changes technology. After replacing the battery in many cars and trucks today requires a qualified technician to reset the computer. Even when changing the oil on some vehicles today, before starting the vehicle, you must locate the reset button for the trip odometer. Then you must push and hold down the button, and starting the vehicle, then hold the button for about 10 seconds. This usually will clear the maintenance and/or the oil maintenance gauge.

The days of the shade-tree mechanic are becoming history.