Stoffel Bros. Drilling in Enterprise, Ore., came up with an innovative way to get a drill rig to the remote Minam River Lodge-by helicopter. The drill is shown here with the evergreens that went along for the ride to stabilize the load. Source: Kim Stoffel

It was mid July of 2011 when I received a phone call from Jeff Stoffel, owner of Stoffel Bros. Drilling in Enterprise, Ore. Work for him, like all drilling contractors in the West, had been a little on the lean side, so I was happy for him when he told me he had gotten a job drilling a well for the Minam River Lodge.

Having never heard of the place and being of an inquisitive nature I asked, “Where is this lodge at?”

He quickly replied, “Oh not far-about eight minutes by air is all.”

“Well how long does it take to drive there?” I asked.

“You don’t,” he replied.

Looking back now, I can see my next question was a little stupid, but I asked it anyway. “Why not?”

“There aren’t any roads into it,” came the chuckling voice over the phone. After he quit laughing at my ridiculous question, I asked, “Okay, Jeff, just how are you going to drill this well?”

After a moment he said, “Well I’m not exactly sure. I thought maybe we could come up with a rig small enough to be flown in by helicopter.”

It didn’t take much for me to figure out that I was part of the word “we,” so I asked Jeff to explain what “he” had gotten “we” into. He responded: “The Minam River Lodge was built in the 1950s. The Eagle Cap Wilderness Area surrounds it. It gets its water supply from a spring located on forest service land. The rights to this spring cannot be transferred to new owners in the event the lodge was sold, thus resulting in the need to develop a new water source by drilling a well. With the only access being by air, all of the drilling equipment and tooling has to be flown in by helicopter. Because of the high costs associated with hiring the big Huey type helicopters, a helicopter with the maximum lifting capacity of 6,000 pounds would be provided.”

He finished his explanation by saying, “all we need to do is find a small rotary rig and the tooling to drill in unknown formations to an unknown depth, fly it all in there and-oh, by the way, the customer wants it done in three weeks.”

My first thought was “three weeks, boy that’s mighty generous” and I was starting to formulate the words to ask Jeff if he had been having trouble sleeping lately, but somewhere between “all we need to do” and “three weeks” I realized that Jeff was serious about drilling this well, which-really, after thinking about it-was of no surprise since over the years a lot of his dad, Bob Stoffel, had rubbed off on him, including the part where Bob always felt that if somebody was in a pinch and needed water, then it was up to him to figure out a way to get it for them, no matter how difficult a job it might be.

The longer I listened to Jeff talk about the job, the more excited I became about Stoffel Drilling taking it on. And my getting to help was like old times again, only this time it would be me and Jeff, not me and Bob, working through what was needed to get the job done.

While we really did not have any geological data telling us what formations we would encounter, we assumed granite boulders set in cobbles and sand would most likely have to be dealt with. Our assumption was confirmed when Jeff took a quick flight in to look things over and pick a well site.

Trying to find a rig with the torque and hoist required wouldn’t have been all that bad if we didn’t have to deal with the 6,000-pound maximum payload of the helicopter. With providence on our side, a suitable rig was located and by removing the mast and a few other items Jeff and Jason Dexter managed to get the trailer-mounted rig under the required weight. Now, all the helicopter pilot wanted was a few “Christmas trees” and he would be ready to air-lift the rig into the lodge. The Christmas trees, the pilot said, “would be tied to the drill to break up the large flat surfaces that would cause the load to spin with the air moving against them during the flight.” In fact, several of the loads were stabilized in this fashion. The packaging up of all the tooling and equipment to maintain a stable load for the helicopter proved to be very challenging.

The size of compressor chosen was again determined by its weight which gave us 300 cfm at 125 psi. Several trips were made ferrying everything in that we thought would be needed. There was a cat and backhoe at the lodge that would be made available should they be needed, along with other miscellaneous equipment. A local rock quarry provided the test site to make sure everything was operational before flying it into the lodge. Jason, a very capable and important employee of Stoffel Drilling, oversaw the disassembly, packaging, transportation and reassembly of the equipment.

A 5-inch well was planned to best match the capabilities of the drill rig and available air compressor with the 5-inch overburden system chosen for the job. After the last load of equipment was air-lifted in, reassembling the rig was the first priority.

Once assembled, the rig was pulled to the well site with a tractor.

Things were starting to come together, however, anxiety levels were also rising. The well site could be located any place on a seven-acre parcel. After re-evaluating the well location he had previously selected, Jeff had the rig set up and started moving all the auxiliary equipment to the location. With daylight fading and everything in place, the drilling would start in the morning.

A surface pipe was installed the next moring using the backhoe and, with the assembling of the 5-inch casing, down-hole hammer, overburden tool, discharge head and a silent prayer to the drilling gods, the drilling started. With the rig being marginal in hoist and rotational torque, and with no pull down, the completion of the well would be determined by the tenacity of the driller. Despite the occasional plugging of the bit, everything started falling into place for Stoffel Drilling and progress was being made.

With the first 10-foot length of casing installed, it was beginning to look like this just might work. Fortunately, the spot Jeff had selected proved to have a significant clay bed. However, underneath that were the predicted granite boulders set in sand and gravel. Already in place at the lodge were large cisterns fed by the spring, so any amount of water more than five gallons per minute would be more than adequate. After a few encounters with boulders, the well was completed when 7 gallons per minute was found at 28 feet, and it was all over.

The lodge had a reliable water source, and Jeff and Jason had accepted the challenge to drill a well in the middle of nowhere and succeeded. When I asked Jeff about the best and worst parts of the job, he said the folks at Minam River Lodge knew how to take care of the people who came to the lodge: The best part was “the food was way too good,” and the worst part was “there was way too much of it.”

There’s no doubt Bob Stoffel left his company in very capable hands!