Most of us in the drilling business manage to keep busy most of the time — especially summer. But there is a seasonal slowdown, too. Usually this slowdown gives us enough time to do scheduled maintenance and get ready for the next season. Sometimes, things slow down so much you want to go outside to see if the phone wire got cut. Over the years, I’ve had that problem, and I’ve come up with a few ways that helped in the slack times. A rig doesn’t know what it’s drilling for, and will drill a lot more than a house well or a well for granny’s garden. Here are a few ways to keep a traditional rig busy.

In some areas, mineral exploration drilling can be very lucrative. For example, look for jobs in new areas without a lot of infrastructure. Other good candidates include mines that get a project too big to handle with their own equipment, or that have formations they are not rigged up to drill.

I’ve been involved with mines that knew they had production that they would usually drill with straight air. But the zone may have up to 100 feet of overburden on top that needs to be cased or mud drilled to reach production. A run-of-the-mill house-well rig will do that just fine.

I have had jobs where all I had to do was drill to the top of the production, install temporary casing and then you air-core the zone of interest. For those, I set the appropriate size of screw joint casing and pulled it out when they finished.

I have been on 100-hole projects where I only needed about enough casing for 20 holes. As soon as they finished coring one hole, I’d pull the casing for the next one. When it worked, it worked well. I could recover all my casing for later use. Sometimes, though, it was going to be months before they cored. Then I would case every hole to the appropriate depth and sell it to them. I had a job in the Carolinas like that once. I set about 40 to 60 feet of temporary casing in each hole, and sold it to the client. About a year later, they called and said, “Come get this casing.” Alrighty then! They just plain didn’t want it.

Once, back in the ’60s, we got a job from the State of Michigan. They decided they needed another rest area on Interstate-96. They sent their guys out there to locate a suitable water supply. All they had were auger rigs that didn’t have the power to drill to much of a depth, so I got the job. I drilled along 30 or 40 miles in the median. I made a hole about every 500 feet, 300-feet-deep, looking for water.

Most of them were all clay, but when I found enough sand, I’d set a 2-inch screened well in it and gravel pack so they could test quality and quantity. In 40 miles, I only found enough production to set 20 or 30 screens. The rest, we just backfilled and moved on.

We did find a suitable aquifer, and that’s where they built the rest area. The next time you drive from Lansing to Port Huron and feel the call of nature, that’s my well doing the flushing!

Another good sideline is piling holes. Many coastal areas have houses almost down to the water line. Since they are often close to the water, builders put them up on pilings to allow storm surge to pass underneath. For this type of work, we usually set utility-type poles. These need to be set with the small end down. If not, they eventually sink. With the small end down, they wedge tighter as they settle, providing a good foundation.

We have had places that were so sandy that we could wash the piles down. For these conditions, I built a shoe with a nipple for the firehose, and just pulled it free when I got deep enough. They don’t get much easier than that. We could do quite a few a day like that, and never fire the rig up!

Another good occasional side job for drillers is dewatering wells. These are put in when the work is below the water table. Dewatering provides a dry enough place to work. It’s a little different from house well drilling in that, with a domestic well, you don’t want interference with adjacent wells. In dewatering, you do. That’s why they are usually close together. Ten-foot spacing is common. I’ve drilled them farther apart on customer orders, but they could not keep up, and I had to go back and put in another one between every other hole.

Dewatering depends on the cone of depression, a thing that house well drillers in tightly packed areas are leery of. In dewatering, you need to create a large enough cone of depression to dry up the site to the depth you need to work. A large or deep foundation may take many holes to dry up. In downtown Houston, I’ve dewatered to 80 feet — in a place that had a 10-foot water table. It took a lot of pumping to lower the water table at that site enough to work.

These are just a few of the ways that a driller can keep his people and rig busy in slack times. We are usually equipped for it. Sometimes we have to buy a special tool or something, but usually any new tools come in handy in other ways. Plus, if you can slip the unique tool into the bid, you’ve got a free tool in the box! Well drilling takes a good range of skills besides being a “brake weight.” I’ve done a lot of things with my rig that were not in the manual. I made money sometimes, too. 

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