For a time, copper tubing was a solution to drop pipe problems.

The last couple of months, I’ve written about both steel and polyethylene material for drop pipe. In the late 1940s and actually through the 1950s, we were installing mostly jet pumps. If you read my two previous articles, you will understand that either galvanized steel or black polyethylene had its own problems. Sometime in the early ’50s, my dad came up with what he thought was the solution to drop pipe problems, and that was copper tubing.

All of you, I’m quite sure, have used copper tubing in a number of ways, and understand that it does not come with threads and, in fact, can’t be threaded. To be used as drop pipe in a well, we needed to have lengths that could be threaded together. The answer to this was very simple: We soldered a male thread adapter to one end of each length and a female adapter to the other end. Now the sections could be assembled as we needed, and tightened with ordinary wrenches. Copper tubing had a couple other advantages. First of all, it was a little lighter than steel pipe, and it was very, very smooth – both inside and out.

Copper had a couple of disadvantages in that it was quite expensive, and it could not be tightened into a so-called well seal, so we had to stop the copper just below the seal and run through it with either steel nipples or, better yet, brass. Now it seemed like we had the perfect solution, albeit a little bit expensive one, but copper would take the pressures that early

polyethylene would not, and we did not have the problem of scaling and plugged ejector nozzles. In some waters, on the rare occasions that we did have to pull the drop pipe, we found a heavy growth of minerals that had been deposited on the outside of the copper – I believe a result of different metals in water – causing a battery-like action, thus the deposits. We never did find these deposits on the inside, and copper that had been installed for many years came out just as clean as it was the day it was new.

I have talked with a couple of fellow contractors in the area, and they simplified the use of copper even further by using threaded adapters only at the ejector body and the pump itself. To connect sections of the copper tubing together, they used regular solder-type couplings, and the sections were connected right at the well during installation. If they did have to pull one of these, they had to drill a small hole in the pipe or else cut off the pipe completely, as one cannot unsolder copper with even a little of bit of water in it, which I’m sure you readers understand. Copper was a little bit pricey and a little easier to lift, but we finally had licked the problem of a good drop pipe for jet pumps, and we even installed a couple of submersibles using the same material. Of course, as years went by, polyethylene became more reliable, and we’ve had good success with it after about 1960, which led to end of using copper as drop pipe.

In an interesting side bit, I once attended the North Dakota Drillers Association Convention in Bismarck, N.D.. They were a great group, and I had a fine time with them, especially trading stories, or networking as it is known in 2012. I talked to a driller from South Dakota, and he cased his wells with 4-inch copper tubing. He told me that they had a serious mineral problem in his area, and the water was too warm to use PVC material, which had become popular at that time. It must have been expensive, but it worked for this fellow, and I would say more power to him; he did what he had to do.

Incidentally, I had a grand time at that convention, and the entertainment after the traditional dinner was a casino night using “funny money.” A lady contractor from out there who had her own license and rig (her husband had a license and rig, too) kind of took me under her wing, and saw to it that I had a good time. They were a great group, and I enjoyed my trip to Bismarck very much.

With the advent of submersibles, and as the years went by, we found a new product to use as drop pipe, that being PVC, or polyvinyl chloride. In Michigan, we are required to use Schedule 80 PVC for drop pipe, although, I must admit, I have used a couple short pieces of Schedule 40 with male and female threaded ends glued on just like we soldered those ends on copper. Schedule 80, of course, can be threaded if we are not using full lengths; however, I have learned that one needs to use dies made specifically for

PVC threading, as I have found that dies for steel pipe just don’t do a very good job.

I have found only a couple of things about PVC that can be a problem, and one of them is not really the pipe itself, but the couplings. Some of the early Schedule 80 threaded PVC couplings just would not hold up, especially when we old boys, used to steel, over-tightened them. The result of this over-tightening would be a split coupling down the road, and I guess this could

cause the pipe to come apart, although I never have had this happen. The early solution to this seemed to be to use steel couplings on PVC pipe, which really does not make a lot of sense, but it worked. Eventually, brass couplings were preferred, and in the most recent years, stainless steel couplings, as brass sort of has gone out of favor with our health authorities and the environmentalists.

A second minor problem that I occasionally have experienced using PVC on submersibles is a tendency for the pipe and the electrical wire taped to it to contact the casing on pump start-up, and if the casing is steel, to eventually rub away the wire’s insulation. I never have used centralizers or spiders on my drop pipe; some folks swear by them, some swear at them. These, of course, probably would eliminate the rubbing of the submersible against the casing. I only have experienced this bare-wire phenomenon twice in my life, and it only happened to a very short section of the wire. I never have installed a jet pump using PVC, as jet pumps are pretty much a thing

of the past here in Michigan. With all of the trials and tribulations over the last 50 years using different drop pipes, I would have to say that using PVC works very well in this area. If we had really deep pump settings, I think I might have a different opinion.

Since my last article, I successfully made it to the NGWA Expo at Las Vegas. This was my 36th in a row, and I believe 45th overall. To see the change from my first NGWA Convention/Expo in 1959 in Milwaukee, to today really is amazing. I got a chance to see a lot of old friends and a number of new and interesting products. NGWA is to be complimented on the choice of the keynote speaker – he was just plain outstanding.

This is written a week before Christmas, and we have no snow here on the ground in southern Michigan; we have had some very cool nights, but nothing really cold – not very Christmas-like. As you read this, it will be getting spring in some parts of the country, and I hope you all are busy and working safely.