Before I finally get to the subject of pitless adapters, I must report another loss for our industry. Mrs. Leona Frick of Walkerville, Mich., died in early July at the age of 95 years. Leona had been in declining health for several years but had managed to stay in her own home due to the strong efforts of her son Jerry and his wife Verla. Leona’s late husband, Lyle, was a longtime treasurer of the former Michigan Well Drillers Association, now known as the Michigan Ground Water Association. He went on to serve at least a couple years as the association’s president, and Leona was a great help to him in these positions. She could be described as a “doer.” In other words, she got things done and was a hard worker. She was a person of strong opinions and you knew where she stood on any issue, as she was not afraid to express her position. Walkerville, her home, is a quiet small town about half way up the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, not far from Lake Michigan.
Leona and Lyle’s son Jerry also served as the president of MWDA and was president of the National Ground Water Association in the late 1980s. Jerry and Verla continue to operate Walkerville Well Drilling along with their son Greg and several employees. On a personal note, I guess I will miss the opportunity to be “chewed out” by Leona one last time. My deepest sympathy to Jerry, Verla and Leona’s grandchildren on her recent passing.
Now finally, after several delays, I’m going to write about one of the four great advances our industry has seen in its long and storied history: the pitless adapter.
In recent columns, I have discussed well pits, pump houses, basement offsets, well rooms and other ways to complete a well here in the North where the ground is frozen for many months of the year. I never did write about perhaps the worst of all solutions to freezing weather: the cut off or buried casing. In this method, the well driller or pump man dug a temporary hole in the ground around the casing, cut the casing off below the frost line, installed the drop pipe or pipes, and capped the thing up with the so-called — but not really — sanitary well seal. The dirt was put back in and everything was just fine until the drop pipe needed to be pulled. Then the first problem was to locate the well, as a marker was seldom ever left above it and nobody could remember exactly where the well was. This meant the use of our friendly backhoe, perhaps preceded by a jackhammer if it was mid-winter and on occasion a large excavation to find the well. This method was used for quite a number of years and was perhaps the worst method of all of building a freeze-proof well and pump system.
In the late 1950s, some smart folks started building the pitless adapter. Now you folks who operate where it does not freeze may not be familiar with this device. It is quite simply a method to prevent pumped water, no matter the type of pump, from rising above the frost line in the well and connects to a service line to any building the well serves that is also below the frost line. Oddly enough, in the years before the development of the true pitless, some drillers had developed a sort of pitless adaptor. My dad drilled 2-inch wells for many years before we finally went over to 4-inch and larger wells. If he drilled a 2-inch well with a pumping level within 25 feet of the top of the ground, he would thread a 2-inch by 2-inch by 1¼-inch tee into the casing and extend the casing above ground where he added a threaded cap. He would thread 1¼-inch pipe into the side outlet of the tee and run this into the building served, connecting it to a shallow well pump. You may be saying he must have had a good pump to lift water 25 feet, as that is about the practical limit of that type of pump. But the pump was really only lifting water 18 or 19 feet, as it was 6 or 7 feet below grade in a basement.
Access to the well itself was maintained by removing the pipe cap and the screen could be replaced with this entry. Also, with some 2-inch pipe sticking up the location of the well was obvious. The giant downfall of this system was that the line to the house and indeed every bit of the casing was under vacuum when the pump was running. Any little leak made for the potential to pull contamination into the water. These systems were severely frowned upon by local health authorities and we only hooked up a few of these after I entered the business in the late ’50s.
The manufactured pitless adapter is simply a device that keeps water below the frost line, permits access to the well casing and anything in it, and terminates above grade so that the well location is very obvious, just like the 2-inch system discussed in the previous example. The key factor in the pitless’ makeup is some sort of water tight connection between the drop pipe and the water service line. If service is needed inside the well, this connection can usually be easily broken and whatever is inside the casing — pump, drop pipe, wire or what have you — can be removed. The top of the pitless is fitted with some sort of rain proof cap that prevents rain, bird droppings and other nasty things from going down the well casing, including pebbles wielded by boys and girls. In the state of Michigan, we must now use a bug-proof termination cap, as the caps used for years to stop the rain, pebbles, etc., would allow earwigs especially to enter the well casing. These would then die, fall to the pump intake and be pumped through the system — and sometimes out the faucet for drinking water. It may sound impossible, but I have seen this happen on a couple of occasions and seen an extremely upset customer who did not like earwig parts in their glass of water. The first time I heard of this, I didn’t believe it could happen. But I have seen it with my own eyes and you’re suddenly not very thirsty when you see this.
Summer continues in Michigan. It has not been exceptionally hot but we seem to get rain several times a week. Lawns need to be mowed every five or six days if they are to look anywhere near decent. I have a large, efficient tractor that I mow with but I am getting plenty tired of it, as I know every square inch of my lawn rather intimately. ‘Til next time, I hope you are keeping busy, working hard and not swallowing any earwig parts.
For more John Schmitt columns, visit www.thedriller.com/schmitt.