You folks who regularly read this column will recall that I recently have discussed various types of pumps – both new and popular, as well as old and outdated. I also have digressed into pickups and the recent death of a dear friend, but primarily I have written about pumps.

Just about any pump that I am aware of has to be connected to a drop pipe to reach into any well and pump water. Now having said that, I am aware that I have seen shallow-well pumps connected directly to the 1.25-inch or 2-inch casings of shallow wells here in Michigan, but these no longer are legal, and, in fact, are few and far between.

When I was a young man going with my father on pump jobs – both installation and repair – we used one type of drop pipe, and that was galvanized steel. I have heard of folks using black steel, but we never used that, and I don’t think I have ever seen it. Interestingly, we used black steel casing and galvanized drop pipe. This pipe then came – and still does – in 21-foot lengths. Perhaps one of you knows why steel pipe is produced in 21-foot lengths and not 20; I would be very interested to know why.

We used this galvanized drop pipe for every type of pump – stroke pumps, jet pumps, shallow-well pumps, any type pump one could imagine. In the real old days, this type of pipe worked very well for stroke or rod pumps, although those also are a thing of the past in my area. Perhaps some of you who use windmills or real deep settings still are using rod-type pumps. After World War II, when rod pumps began to go out of fashion and were replaced by jet pumps, this galvanized steel material began to cause problems.

The ground water in southern Michigan almost always is hard, in fact, classified as very hard by water-conditioning people, and also contains iron, manganese and other rather nasty minerals. In a jet pump operation, these would cause problems, as mineral deposits would break loose and clog the injector nozzles. Now, to make sure that we had really clean pipe, my father insisted that each and every piece used in an installation be swabbed, much like one would clean the barrel of a firearm after use. Father had had extreme problems with clogged injector nozzles on some of his early jet pump installations, and usually found the culprit to be foreign matter, which somehow got into the pipe sections in storage or transport. You can guess who got the job of swabbing each section, using a steel tape and a rag formed into a ball. I don’t remember ever getting anything more than some very small particles out of the hundreds of sections that I swabbed, but Dad continued to claim that someday that we would find a pebble, a chunk of coal or perhaps a hickory nut. We never did, but he had his reasons, and they were based in fact.

When the submersible pump came along, we naturally continued to use this galvanized drop pipe. Injectors and the clogging of the same were a thing of the past. Galvanized pipe worked very well to hang submersibles, and although it was heavy, it was the only thing we knew, at least for that purpose. Galvanized steel did have one problem when used with submersibles – some brands of pumps had brass-end bells to which the drop pipe was attached, and this, along with the galvanized steel, in some waters, caused some pretty serious corrosion. When this occurred, we would get a call from the owner, saying that pump performance had fallen off even to the point where the pump was producing almost no water. Upon pulling up the unit, it was typical to find a good-sized hole in the drop pipe anywhere from an inch to a foot above the pump, sometimes several holes. Of course, the pump was merely recycling water through these holes, back through its intake, and very little was getting to the surface where the customer needed it.

Some pumps were made with cast-iron end bells, and others came with a dielectric bushing in the discharge – it was made of plastic. This helped the corrosion problem somewhat, but if the customer had the wrong water chemistry, nothing much helped. I even pulled a couple pumps that were producing no water at all, and got them out, hung only on the motor wires. The drop pipe had corroded completely away, usually in the threads, and the pump had fallen off. In these cases, it was wise to get the pump away from the wellhead really quickly, or a bad situation could result.

Although galvanized pipe is heavy, it worked quite well as a drop pipe; certainly with submersibles, we had no need for torque arrestors and the like. Galvanized pipe of 2011, I’m not quite so sure about, as much of it is of a foreign source and the galvanizing looks cheap and chintzy. Perhaps this is due to government regulations; I’m not sure. I mentioned that I never had seen black steel pipe used as drop pipe, but I have seen galvanized with brass couplings, the idea behind this I do not know. In the days when it was a difficult to get material, such as during World War II, I saw my dad, on occasion, use rigid steel conduit for pipe, carefully scraping off the IBEW label and using regular pipe couplings as conduit couplings are tapped looser, so that the ends of the conduit butt resulted in a smoother inside for the pulling of wire.

Next time, I will talk about the successor to galvanized pipe – non-metallic types and even copper.

In my monthly weather report, we have had some nice fall weather in Michigan, but that came to a quick end, as this is written in late October. Around here today, it is raining, windy, dark and gloomy; at 10 a.m., it was so badly overcast that it looked like it was 6:30 a.m. Tomorrow is predicted to be a repeat of today, but Friday and the weekend sound better.