Spend some time with Orville Schroepfer and he’ll regale you with stories of his 60 years in the well-drilling business.
The 77-year-old is on the rig almost every day with no plans to slow down.
“(I’m) not as fast as (I) used to (be), but I still go along. I go out on the drill quite a bit, run different pump jobs. My preference is always on the drill rig,” he said.
Schroepfer got his start at age 17, when he partnered with his father, Lawrence F. Schroepfer, to open L. Schroepfer & Son Well Drilling in 1953. Lawrence had been employed by another well-drilling company for a little more than a year when the owner died and the company was bought out.
In his 40s at the time, Lawrence caught the drilling bug and decided to open his own business in Beaufort, Mo., about 60 miles from St. Louis, in 1953.
“He just liked the drillin’. Of course, in those times, it was very hard to get a loan to buy something,” Orville recalled, “but he managed to get it done and we started out with a 1947 Model 71 Speed Star cable tool.”
Turns out, the company had an ace in the hole. “Dad was the type of guy that could meet a stranger and strike up a conversation and wind up building him a well,” Orville said.
The new business, which also included pump installation and repair, grew quickly. In 1960, Orville and his wife, Marilyn, took over the daily operation and renamed the company Schroepfer Well Drilling.
Lawrence stayed on in a business development role, and the company continued its growth. In 1970, the Schroepfers moved the business a few miles south of Beaufort, where they’ve been ever since.
Expanding into Geothermal
In 1972, the company got involved in geothermal. A homeowner asked Orville to drill him two wells, and the driller couldn’t figure out why. “I said, ‘What would you want with two? I can get you all the water you want out of this.’”
After researching the technology and drilling more geothermal holes, the Schroepfers decided it made sense to install a complete geothermal system, rather than having multiple contractors do the job. The Schroepfer Geothermal division was created in 1990 and it is now led by son Darrell Schroepfer.
When the third generation of Schroepfers began getting involved in the business, the company ran two rigs. Linda Schroepfer-Busch, today the sales manager, Diane Schroepfer-Kline, now the drill manager, Anita Hoener, accountant and customer service coordinator, and Darren Schroepfer caught the bug, too.
Being the oldest, Linda started pulling pumps first. Diane soon joined her and, within six months, she could run the drill pipe by herself. The family was told that Diane was one of only three women running a rig in the United States in 1979.
“Many of the features on the earlier rigs were designed specific to her needs, (such as) the valves that open and close the air discharge,” Linda said of Diane. “They were manually operated before, but they set them up to open and close with air-she (did) not have to manually push them. This feature was adapted on all the 30K machines after that.”
Darren had a knack for pumps and was also good with geothermal. He was killed while servicing a pressure tank for an elderly couple in 2004. He was 38. The family pulled together; no one even thought of quitting.
“It shouldn’t have happened. I still, even today, can hardly believe that it did,” Orville said. “But it was determined an accident, and you just have to go on, that’s all. When I lost my dad, I was really in bad shape for a while. I thought that was as bad as it could get, but when we lost Darren, that was just as bad. … When a family’s very close and then when you lose one, it’s more devastating. But my wife and I realized we didn’t just have one son, we have five children and the rest of them were hurting just as bad as we was. That was a very hard thing, but our business has been good to us, and we try to be good to it, too.”
Word Gets Around
The family has a solid reputation in Missouri.
When former state Rep. Charlie Schlottach decided to open White Mule Winery and Bed & Breakfast with his family near Owensville, Mo., he sought out the Schroepfers to drill a well and install a water system. A former county commissioner, Schlottach remembered learning about water quality from Diane during a presentation she made. So when it came time to drill and install an irrigation system, there was only one choice.
“We appreciate them being great community partners and being a great resource for businesses like ours and people that continue to invest and build in our area,” Schlottach said. “You can’t do it without good water; it’s impossible to do. And they seem to find it.”
The vines grew and now the winery is producing about 5,000 gallons a year from the same well used for irrigation.
“In order to run our winery, we had to check the (water) quality every day for a couple of years in order to be grandfathered in (to the local water regulations), and we did that simply because they (do) great quality (work),” Schlottach said. “They sized our system right for what our future needs would be.”
Hearing that would be no surprise to Orville, who said the secret to a successful business is doing a good job at a fair price. That includes going the extra mile. Orville recalls a New Years Eve when a cold snap hit the area, and a water pipe had frozen at a nightclub. It was 11 p.m. when Orville and his father got the call.
“When we got done, everybody wanted to buy Dad and my wife and I drinks,” Orville said.
On another occasion, a customer called Orville on a hot Sunday in July. A control box and switch had gone bad at a local hog farm, and it had been several hours before the owners realized it. When water finally hit the trough, the hogs fought to reach it first. The hogs would have died if not for the extra effort.
“The people that we did it for, less than a year ago, I drilled a well for the guy. … I didn’t have to remind him of that, he reminded me,” Orville said. “And he said, ‘That’s why you’re drilling this well.’”
Sixty years after its founding, the company is still providing that level of service. The company is in its fourth generation now; Darrell’s son Dillon works on wells.
The Schroepfers aren’t planning any celebration for the company’s 60th anniversary. They might have a low-key dinner. If that happens, Orville will likely share some of his old drillin’ stories with his grandchildren. Maybe then more of them will catch the bug, too.
“We’ll be here for another 60 years,” Linda said, “but it might not be all the same players that are sittin’ here.” ND