In last month’s column, I wrote about the persistent discussion as to which was the best motor design – two-wire or three-wire – and hope I caused you to think about this a little bit. This month, I want to talk about another problem with early submersibles – undersized wiring or under-powered motors.

When my father and I started to sell submersibles, we were rather late getting into the game, so to speak, as we did this in the mid-1950s. At this time, some of my friends had been selling submersible pumps for more than five years, and some longer than that. We, like many others, sold a particular brand of pump – one that is no longer made, as the company is out of business, but it was a major manufacturer selling nationally with a big presence in the Midwest.

This particular company purchased its motors from a major manufacturer, well actually, two manufacturers – one that is out of the submersible motor business, and another that still is a very big player in this product line. The smallest size unit that this company offered was a 1⁄3 HP, only in three-wire and only in 115 volt. We sold quite a number of these, as a 1⁄3-HP submersible, due to its better efficiency, can outperform a 1⁄2-HP or perhaps a 3⁄4-HP jet pump. The emphasis was on gallons delivered, not horsepower. I remember going to at least two pump schools at this company’s headquarters, and the instructor emphasized performance and gallons delivered per minute or per hour.

His remark was, “Re-member your customers can’t drink horsepower.” Of course, he was absolutely right, and with these smaller HP pumps and shallow settings we have here in Michigan, we could give the customer a good value for dollars spent.

Unfortunately, after a short period of time, we began to experience a whole lot of problems with these little 1⁄3-HP, 115-volt pumps. The problem – seized rotors, the rotor being the part that is turning when the motor is running. I remember pulling one unit and finding it seized; the rotor and pump shaft would not turn at all. After disconnecting the motor from the water end, I put a strap wrench around the motor and a small pipe wrench (I think a 14-in.) on the shaft, and could not turn it. It was seized up that tight.

We really had a lot of problems with this seizing, many – unfortunately for us – just after the warranty expired. As you readers will understand, this makes for a very unhappy customer, and we had to cut some deals on service up to and including a new motor and labor for free to keep these customers happy. This, of course, didn’t make us feel very good, and it did not help our bottom line at all. Sadly, we did not get much help or support from either the pump manufacturer or the motor manufacturer. Their response was, “You must be doing something wrong.” Unfortunately for us, they were right, and we were wrong.

After several years of this problem and far too many free replacements, we decided to switch manufacturers to a different pump company, which made its own motor. We also decided to use nothing smaller than 1⁄2-HP pumps and strictly 230-volt. Guess what? Our seized motor problems disappeared, and I don’t recall ever changing a motor on this brand that had a seized rotor, other than a few lightning jobs. No manufacturer’s product is lightning-proof in my opinion, although some are better than others.

As time went by, we remained curious as to why our motor-seizing problem stopped when we changed brands. I don’t think the motors on the second brand were that much or perhaps any better than the motors on the first brand. I attended a motor school some time after our success rate had gotten a lot better, and all the students were given a handbook on motor installation. Included in the handbooks

were a number of charts that listed motor sizes and horsepower, voltages on which they run, and the minimum size wires for certain lengths of wiring from the control box on three-wire designs and the power supply to the control box. Well, guess what? There was the answer to the seizure problem right in front of me. We had underwired our installations, in some cases pretty badly, which overheated the motors and seized them up. At least that is what I think happened. The motor wiring charts, especially for 115-volt motors, are pretty restrictive on wire size, and I doubt that we wired many of these motors correctly. After all, we had been in the pump business long before we ever heard of submersibles, and we knew how to wire a pump, right? Actually, we didn’t, and we learned this lesson the hard way.

We sold a small number of submersibles made by a third manufacturer, and had very poor experience with them; they all were 115-volt designs, and I’m pretty sure we underwired every one of them. This was a learning experience, and, frankly, I have not sold a 115-volt pump in years and years, not that there is anything wrong with these; you just have a lot more freedom and leeway when it comes to wiring a 230-volt design – and you can use smaller wire.

Next time, I will write about another design problem that flummoxed us for years – problems with built-in check valves.

I don’t know how things are business-wise in your area, but the well and pump field in Michigan has been really slow and rough for quite a few years now. Not many new houses being built, some folks doing it themselves, and the fact that our products and methods have improved a lot over the decades, so there isn’t as much service work. One thing that does bother me is that ground water seems to become the stepchild of the water supply industry. I have said on occasion, and will again right here, that the private or, as it sometimes referred to, “backyard” well is to water supply as propane and butane are to the energy business – something to get people by until the water main or gas line gets close enough to hook up to.

Shirley and I enjoy the service of DirecTV, which sometimes is quite good with many programs that are fun to watch, and other times, disappointing. Recently, I watched a one-hour program on either the History Channel or National Geographic; I think it was the latter. This program was about the water problems throughout the world, including in our own country. Watching this program, you would think that we are just about out of water, although they did acknowledge that many of the problems worldwide are due to outdated delivery systems and poor choices by political leadership. What bothered me most was that in the entire one-hour program, not one word about ground water was mentioned. It strictly was about surface water supplies. One farmer in southern California did mention that his supply from the Colorado River was just about gone, as a lot of new homes had been built nearby, and as he said, “Not one new well has been drilled.” His words were the only mention of ground water or water wells in the entire show. I guess I have a question for you readers, and would be interested in your thoughts: Has ground water become an afterthought?

Spring is yet to be seen in southern Michigan, and as I write this in late April, we have had snow within the last 48 hours, sleet, freezing rain and days of just a cold, mean wind-driven rain that is so much fun to be out working in. We have not, however, had the severe weather and tornadoes that many of you in the South have had. We pray that none of you were affected by these, although I read that Sanford, N.C., the home of my dear friend Worth Pickard, was hit hard with storms.

Until next time, as always, work hard, be safe and remember your loved ones.