A few days ago my wife, Shirley, and I returned from Las Vegas and the 2016 Groundwater Week. This used to be called the NGWA Expo and before that it was the NGWA Convention. I’m an old fashioned guy and will continue to call it the NGWA Convention or perhaps “the NGWA.” Now I have been to a lot of these conventions — 47 all told, if my records are correct. Of course, I was a member of the NGWA Board of Directors from 1989 through 1997 and am proud to have been president of the association in 1996. I attended every convention from 1976 through 2012, but for the next three years I was a bad boy and did not attend.

You’re probably saying this guy is a convention nut and you would be right. I really enjoy groundwater conventions and don’t think I could ever say attendance was a waste of time. On top of the NGWA conventions I have been to, I’ve attended 63 Michigan Ground Water Conventions and, if I make it to the next event scheduled for that group, it will be 59 consecutive. Anyway, early this fall Shirley and I decided to make the trip to Las Vegas as she had not been to an “NGWA” in six years. To summarize our trip, I would say we had a fine time with a few small glitches.

We are fortunate that we are able to fly non-stop from Detroit to Las Vegas. We’re only about an hour from Detroit Metro Airport, so this is a relatively straightforward trip. The flight itself, while smooth and with a very attentive crew, was not much fun. I think we know how sardines feel as our flight on an Airbus A320 was packed full. Even the lavatories are a squeeze for a big fellow like me. We made it to Las Vegas with no problem and checked into the Westgate Las Vegas, which used to be the Las Vegas Hotel and Club, and before that it was the Las Vegas Hilton and before that it was the International. It was even included in some scenes of a James Bond movie.

I first visited Las Vegas in 1957 and to say it has grown is perhaps the biggest understatement of all time. In 1957 it was really a small town. Today, it is a huge city teeming with activity and people everywhere. In some ways the NGWA event parallels Las Vegas’ growth. The first NGWA Convention I attended was in the fall of 1959 in Milwaukee. That show was about 3 percent of what the 2016 show was. Not a single drill rig was exhibited in 1959 and pump hoists were yet to be invented. Pumps in those days were pulled by hand or with a boom truck — an off shoot of oil field practice. In any event, the NGWA’s annual event has grown a huge, huge amount in the 57 years since that Milwaukee convention.

The exhibits this year were many and varied. I was just able in the 12 hours they were open in two days to get to see my friends and stop at a few new booths. I believe there were well over 300 individual booths, perhaps a lot more, and the exhibits included just about anything that could be used to drill and maintain a well water system. I did get to stop at the National Driller booth and visit with my editor, Jeremy Verdusco. We even shared a cold beverage as National Driller was handing these out to one and all who stopped by.

Shirley and I had a really great time at this convention, saw a lot of old friends, made some new friends and got to look at some new equipment now available for drillers and pump men. I believe if you really go to a groundwater convention you can’t fail to see a new product, learn of a new method or procedure, and make a new friend. I accomplished at least two of these and made friends with a very nice young woman who is an NGWA director and owns her own drilling company. Tori, I enjoyed talking with you very much. One of the glitches we experienced was that some of the seminars we attended had a small number of attendees. The other was that food in Las Vegas is pretty darn expensive. It used to be a cheap town to eat in, but that is no longer true.

The multi-colored jackets we saw on the floor were navy blue ones worn by current NGWA directors and officers, green ones worn by Master Ground Water Contractors and dark red or maroon ones worn by past NGWA presidents. I chose not to wear my jacket, as it is just too darn warm for me. The buildings in Las Vegas were just too warm for this “Northern boy.” I understand there are over 30 living NGWA past presidents and there were 13 present per our annual lunch meeting. A 14th past president may have been present earlier, but was called home. I believe I was the oldest past president and the one who served the most years ago. It was good to get together with fellows with whom I served and others who came after us. I would like to thank Trisha Freeman of the NGWA staff for arranging a nice luncheon and helping Shirley and I with details of our trip. Erin Rodgers, also of the NGWA staff, was very helpful in completing details of our trip. We got to see both these ladies in Las Vegas and NGWA is lucky to have them.

I am not a Master Ground Water Contractor (MGWC) and so I can’t wear the green jacket. I am a certified well driller and pump installer (CWD/PI) and have been since the first certification exam was given — an exam that I took and passed. A contractor needs seven continuing education points in a year to keep up that certification. Attendance at conventions and seminars and workshops held at these events qualifies as education points. A few times over the many years I have been certified, I needed to get to the NGWA Convention to get the required number of points. Perhaps this is just an excuse to attend NGWA Conventions, but I can’t say I’ve ever been to a bad one. National Driller’s editor has asked some of us veterans to write about problem jobs in 2017 and their solutions, so next time I will tell about saving a job due to my certification.

Quite a number of people stopped me in Las Vegas and said they enjoyed this column. That made me feel really good. Several mentioned that they enjoy my monthly weather report. So here goes: As this is written just before Christmas 2016, we have about 8 inches of snow on the ground, and yesterday I was plowing snow at 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Yes, I was using that same tractor that I mow the green grass with in the summer. Today is about like yesterday, but with a sharp wind — you need your heavy coveralls or bibs as we sometimes call them, a good hat that covers your ears and some good gloves. With all this on, it is not too uncomfortable plowing snow. A tractor with a cab is preferred. Until next time, keep warm, work safe and start thinking about getting to the 2017 NGWA Groundwater Week in Nashville, Tenn.

For more John Schmitt columns, visit www.thedriller.com/schmitt.