Before we get started on the important subject of well screens, I have a request of you readers. If you have read mypast columns, you know that I am basically a cable tool driller and I also did quite a large number of wells, mostly small diameter, by the hydraulic and jetting methods. I have had some experience around rotaries, but have never owned a rotary rig.

What you really don’t know about me is that I have an extensive collection of sales literature on many kinds of spudders. These include Bucyrus-Erie, Speedstar, Cyclone, Loomis, Alten-Loomis, Keystone and, if I can find it, literature on a Walker-Neer, which is basically an oil well rig. I do not have any information on a rig that was popular years ago named an IDECO. I was told by drillers that are now dead and gone, and that this was a pretty darn good rig, but I must admit I have never seen one. I think that they ceased to be produced many years ago and for that matter very few spudders have been built in the last 35 years. If you have any catalogs or other information on this IDECO brand, I would appreciate you sending them to me. Even a copy of such literature would be greatly appreciated. If you had experience with an IDECO rig, your written remembrances would also be appreciated. I look forward to hearing from you, loyal readers.

Now, as to well screens, if you are a regular reader you know that the area of southern Michigan that I have drilled in is by and large sand and gravel country. Just to the west of me, we have a large area that has some pretty good sandstone and other consolidated formations that make good wells. In the area where I have worked all my life, the bedrock is pretty deep and usually yields poor results for a water well. That being said, I have drilled a few wells into the bedrock that yielded good quality water and these wells were very successful. However, most of the wells in this neck of the woods are completed in sand and gravel and need a well screen That screen needs to be a good quality one that lets only clear water through and will neither corrode out nor encrust over. One of the major well screen manufacturers used to have an ad that showed a picture of a red valentine–type heart and the phrase, “The Heart of the Well”—I couldn’t agree more.

In this neck of the woods, if you talked to drillers back in the ’40s and the ’50s, and these guys had drilled back as far as the early ’20s, many drillers did not believe in using screens in sand and gravel wells. They would say that they drilled down and found a formation that was “nothing but coarse stuff.” In all my years of drilling, I never found a formation like that. Actually I think these fellows—and most of them were good drillers—didn’t want to take the time to set a well screen. When they hit a water-bearing formation they would bail a couple hundred gallons of water out, it would be pretty clear, and down came the mast of the drill rig and they were off to another location. And you know what—these wells worked. The pumps that were used in those eras, however, produced anywhere from 3 to 5 gpm and would tolerate an occasional grain of sand or even a small pebble.

Back in the days before World War II, around here well drillers drilled wells and plumbers, farm implement dealers and handymen installed pumps. I’m not saying that they did this, but if the wells failed to produce, these drillers could always say that the pump was too large or make some other excuse. I knew one fellow who had a big rig and liked to drill deep. He was always telling of finding that really coarse formation. It’s possible he also, upon on hitting a good aquifer of sand and gravel, would dump a gallon or so of large pebbles into the well casing, pack them down with his drill tools and call it a well. This fellow also claimed to drill a lot of soapstone. My geologist friends say it is unlikely that he encountered any soapstone in Southern Michigan, but he might have found some very whitish shale. This fellow was by and large a good driller and I think he preferred to call the shale soapstone. He did not like to install well screens.

Now, in the old days, if you were drilling a 2-inch well in sand and gravel you almost had to have a well screen. If you were drilling a 4- or 6-inch well into this same formation you might get away with finishing an open-bottom or screenless if you had one of those low-capacity pumps I wrote about earlier in this column. If, however, the well was equipped with a jet pump with a capacity of 7 to 10 gpm or a submersible with a capacity of 12 to 25 gpm, this open-bottom well was going to give you trouble, and soon the sand and gravel would “heave” into the casing, seriously cutting production.

Now, I am not going to say there aren’t formations somewhere in the world that can’t be finished successfully as open-bottomed in sand and gravel. I am saying these don’t occur in southern Michigan and many other geographies in the United States.

Well, next time we’ll get into the real meat of this series—well screens and some successes and failures that I have had using them.

As I write this in the last week of April, our grass here in southern Michigan is nice and green but almost no one has had to mow yet. It was below freezing overnight and today we have had periods of snow driven by a nasty west wind. While this stuff melted upon contact with the ground, it would not be a good day to be on any well rig—rotary, spudder, jetter or what have you. Hope you are all busy working hard and above all, safely.

Heard of the IDECO brand?

If you have information to share, send mail to:

John Schmitt
C/O National Driller
P.O. Box 6167
Marianna, FL 32447