As I said at the end of last month’s column, in about 1950, my dad found a well-used 1935 Ford truck chassis and decided that would be a great basis for his new and improved shop-built rig.

As I look back, I remember this truck as kind of a wreck. I don’t think any of the lights worked. It had a cab, but no windshield wipers and, of course, no in-cab heater. It was powered by one of Ford’s famous flathead V-8 engines, but I think it was pretty well worn-out. It could power the rig down the road rather well on level ground, but any hills were a challenge. I think these engines rated at about 85 horsepower. Compare that to the engines in even downsized pickups today. This engine mated to a four-speed transmission with a creeper low gear (sometimes referred to as a “granny” gear).

The best (or worst) part of this truck was its mechanical brakes. It had brake drums all the way around, but they were actuated by levers and rods and not hydraulic cylinders. This may have worked when the truck was new, but at 15-years-old or so, the brakes had hardly any effect. I knew a fellow who had a 1936 Ford pickup bought new by his father-in-law, and he agreed that the brakes were useless. As I have said often, such were the times years ago. 

Whatever this old truck chassis was or was not, my dad had a basis to start building the rig. For the frame, he used timbers — mostly 4-by-6s or 3-by-6s. In those days, we did not own a set of torches or an arc welder (we did get these both about 10 years later), so he was limited in what he could do with steel — thus the choice of wooden frame members. If we were building this rig today with wood timbers, we would use all sorts of coatings and several types of paint to prevent the timbers from rotting. We never thought of this at the time, but the timbers did last a long, long time. I remember the mast was made from 4-by-6s that, due to their length, had to be special ordered. These were much stronger than the 4-by-4s on the really, really old rig this rig replaced (which was described in previous columns). 

For a power unit, my dad took the engine from an old Dodge doodlebug. A doodlebug was kind of a homemade tractor built from a car chassis with a shortened wheelbase. Adding tire chains to the rear tires made for a reasonably effective, one-bottom plow tractor. As I recall, he mounted this engine on the framework with its transmission. Once we got the rig running for tests, we found this engine had a couple broken connecting rods. That was the end of the doodlebug engine. It never drilled a foot.

He then found a very used Kaiser car. You will note I frequently refer to the “very used” quality of materials in these builds. These kinds of parts topped my dad’s shopping list because they were cheap. The Kaiser car was built at a plant near Ypsilanti, Michigan, which is in our county. (The area, known as Willow Run, is where B-24 bomber planes were built during World War II.) Facing competition later from the Big Three, this auto plant only ran for a few years. 

Now the engine in the Kaiser was supposedly a Continental made by the well-known engine manufacturer in Muskegon, Michigan, right on Lake Michigan. Continental Motors was known for good designs in all types of engines, including industrial and aircraft. However, years later I learned that this Kaiser-Continental wasn’t really a Continental at all, but may have shared some parts with that famous make. I don’t know if this is a “true” fact or not, but either way, my dad put the Kaiser on the rig. We used the three-speed transmission the Kaiser came with, and eight “B” section V belts powered the jackshaft. We ran this rig for well over 30 years — first, my dad and I, and, later by myself — and we replaced these V-belts only once.

For the drawworks, my dad found a used commercial winch. These winches, often used at building sites, would raise and lower an elevator that ran on vertical rails (and which got removed after the building project finished). This hoist had two winches: one quite powerful and rather slow and another a lot faster but much less powerful. Both of the cable drums were powered by a cone clutch. While these worked OK, they were not as effective as a back-geared clutch on a commercially built spudder that was connected to the bull reel by either gears or a roller chain. This hoist was powered off the jackshaft by a good-sized roller chain that we kept well lubricated, and it lasted the life of the rig. Both drums had a band brake and were far, far more capable than the clutch-pulley driven bull reel on the older rig.

For the spudder, my dad got some gears from an International Harvester stationary hay baler. These had cast teeth and were a bit noisy, but very robust. The spudder shaft was modeled after the Speedstar system with the spudder gear in the middle and two crank arms. A downside in our design was that the spudding gear shaft was vertical in line with the connection to the Pittman. This rig did not have the slow pickup, fast drop of commercially built rigs. This never seemed to be a real problem, though, and this rig would bump pipe back out of the hole better than any other rig ever we had. The spudder shaft sat in two large bearings that slid back and forth on some steel H beams. So, to make the spudder work one had to stop the jackshaft, slide the spudder gear into engagement with its pinion and start the jackshaft up again. We did have an engine clutch control at the driller’s station. Other drillers have commented that this must have been very slow compared to a clutch control spudding pinion gear. But we never thought it was that much of a problem. 

Next time, I will write about the mast, shock absorber and mast hoist of this rig. The photo of the rig with this column shows it on a job run by my dad and his helper (as I was going to school at the time). You can tell by the driving block that they were drilling by the hollow-rod method. Both of them are wearing baseball caps — no hard hats in this era. To the right of the mast, you can see double lengths of drilling rod stacked in the mast.

A sort of spring has come to Michigan in mid-March and all of our snow is gone. I can see tinges of green in my famous (or infamous) lawn. We still have pretty cold nights and lawn mowing is five or six weeks away. I will not comment on the seemingly mass hysteria about the Coronavirus. I do know the news media seems to create panic with every broadcast and then says, “Don’t panic!” Until next time, remember we are providing an essential for life — water. But keep your crews and yourself as safe as possible and use common sense in your service calls. Common sense seems pretty uncommon in our country and the world nowadays.

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