If you have read this column for any length of time, you know that I usually write about drill rigs, drilling methods, tools, pump installation, etc. Occasionally, I change direction and write about trucks and, sometimes, I just write about general topics. This particular column is going to be about the recently held 2017 NGWA Groundwater Week and the upcoming 2018 MGWA (Michigan Ground Water Association) Conference.

You will be reading this column in March 2018, so the 2017 NGWA Groundwater Week will seem like old history. However, the 2017 NGWA event was held the first week in December so it is still fresh in my mind. What follows are some thoughts from somebody who has been to a great many of these. It is interesting to note that this event used to be called the NGWA Convention, then it became the NGWA Expo, and now it is the Groundwater Week — whatever the name, it is a great event and worth remembering.

The 2017 Groundwater Week was held in Nashville, Tenn. I think this was the third NGWA sponsored convention, meeting or “week” held here. Nashville is a neat town, but like many growing towns or cities in the U.S., it is getting more difficult to move around in. Unfortunately, the transportation systems have not kept up with the growth, and Nashville, it seems, is no exception. In this regard, our (that being my wife, Shirley, and myself) first surprise upon arrival from Detroit was that the only transportation from the airport to downtown was private cabs. This was not a problem, but we had sadly made our arrangements for housing a bit late and could not get into the headquarters hotel. Instead, we were housed at a Holiday Inn Express several blocks from the location of the Music City Center, which was where all the events were held. 

The Music City Center is nearly brand new. One of the other NGWA events I mentioned was held at a different facility, but I understand that that building has since been torn down. One good thing is that the NGWA provided a shuttle bus that made the circuit to several different hotels, which made getting back and forth rather easy. I believe this shuttle bus was sponsored by an industry company, and I sadly admit that I don’t know the name of that company. They know who they were and their courtesy was very much appreciated. The Music City Center is a really great facility, but it is rather sprawling and the different events seemed spread over the entire building. This required a lot of walking, and with a somewhat bad knee and quite a few too many pounds, I am not a good walker anymore. However, I was able to get to all the events I had planned to attend. 

I always try to take in at least a few educational seminars, and this year, I made it to a grand total of one and also a sort of roundtable event considering the future of our industry. The seminar I did attend was 1.5 hours long and was really intended for technical members of our industry. I may have been the only contractor in the room and the audience was a respectable size. The subject of this seminar was how to do a better job of technical writing and was presented by a husband and wife team who did very well. I picked up one very good pointer that will help me in writing this column. The roundtable event I attended I got to a bit late due to the past presidents committee luncheon running way over its allotted time. The roundtable event was dominated by two persons among the 20 or so present (as these sessions always are) and was frankly a waste of time. 

I understand the 2017 Groundwater Week had right around 300 exhibits on the exhibit floor, which was too darn big. To view all 300 exhibits, an attendee could only allow perhaps one or two minutes at each booth. I frankly got to about a dozen booths and saw many old friends. It seemed to me that the number of rigs on display was somewhat smaller than the event had in Las Vegas in 2016. One really, really big drill rig was displayed — this one having the operators platform 6- or 7-feet off the ground. In the booths that I visited, I saw one really interesting pump control, but it seemed a bit pricey for what it could accomplish. Overall, the exhibits were very, very impressive.

In fact, the entire 2017 Groundwater Week was an impressive, unforgettable event. I have learned that attendance was about 4,300 persons or the highest attendance of any convention or expo sponsored by NGWA that was not held in Las Vegas. The keynote session was especially enjoyable with entertainment by John Carter Cash and his wife. Cash is the son of the very famous country singer, Johnny Cash, and his wife, June Carter. The younger Cash and his wife put on a great show. Another highlight of this event was a fond goodbye to Kevin McCray, who retired after 22 years as NGWA’s executive director. McCray certainly did a fine job in his tenure and has turned the reigns of NGWA over to Terry Morse. As the 1995 president-elect of NGWA when McCray was hired, I was heavily involved and was asked to do a video tribute to him. My somewhat nervous presentation was shown on large TV screens during the keynote event.

I am a self-proclaimed convention junky, and I believe I have been to nearly 50 of these events. I attended my first NGWA Convention in Milwaukee with my father in 1959. I do know I attended for 37 years in a row (although I missed a few years before 2016). It was about 1/30th of what the 2017 Week was. If you have never attended an NGWA convention, expo or Groundwater Week, you have really missed out. Check the schedules for 2018 when the event returns to Las Vegas. If you do go, I think you will thank me, at least in your own mind.

In February of this year, the Michigan Ground Water Association held its 90th annual “convention.” I put the word convention in quotes as I understand this year’s event was supposed to be more of a “conference.” I am further told that the exhibits would be limited to a few hours of table-top displays, as of this writing, had not heard whether we would have rigs, pump hoists, trenchers and other heavy equipment there or not. The emphasis was going to be on educational workshops and seminars. The event was set for Traverse City, Mich., in late February. I do know that I have only missed one MGWA Convention since 1952 — that being the year 1957 when I had a conflict involving my class schedule at the University of Michigan. I planned on going this year and will try to remember to write a short report on this new format.

We have had a really weird winter here in Michigan with some extreme cold that you readers in Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Dakotas would be used to. We have had only three significant snow storms where the accumulation needed to be plowed. We have also had three “January” thaws where the snow has all melted except for where it was piled up. Today is a day like that with the temperature over 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Almost all the land I own is bare and we have a fog so thick, you can cut it with a knife and fry it up in a pan. Until next time! Make plans to attend your next local, state, regional, or national convention, expo or summit — you will be the better for it.

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