I have written these last few columns for you younger fellows who have never run a spudder or hollow rod-type rig. I realize both these types still run in some areas, but other areas have gone strictly to rotary. I hope you young fellows enjoy and learn something. For you older fellows, it will remind you of days gone by.
As I wrote in my last column, by the late ’50s we were drilling 4-inch wells on most every job. We even did a few 6-inch wells to shallow depths. I think we drilled our last 2-inch well in 1974 on the specific request of a customer in an adjoining county.
In the fall of 1967, we had an unfortunate experience. It was nobody’s fault — just one of those things. We contracted to drill a new well for a home being built by a local judge. The site sat high above the major river in this area, and the ground leading to it was quite hilly. Of course, there was no driveway to the house — that’s the last thing builders around here put in.
We got onto the site in very late fall and had a couple good days of drilling. On about the third morning, the weather was cold and crisp with light frost on the ground. We got to the drill site with no problem and proceeded to drill. Toward evening when it was time to call it a day, we realized the sun had turned the red-clay ground into a slippery mess. Our service truck was a ton-and-half Ford with two-wheel drive. In those days, few people had a four-wheel drive truck, and the SUV had not been developed. To put it bluntly, we were stuck.
I vividly recall walking about 2 miles to find a place with a telephone. This happened to be a horse riding academy, which was one of our customers. Of course, there were no cell phones — I don’t think anybody in that era ever thought we would have such a thing. I called a local towing service and this guy had a great big wrecker unit on an even bigger Ford truck. This outfit had some spear-like parts that could dig into the ground, adding strength to the winch’s pulling efforts.
He met me at the horse academy and we drove back to the jobsite where my dad waited patiently. Even with the spear-like device, he had some problems getting our service truck onto drivable land before finally succeeding. We paid him, thanked him and drove back to our shop plenty late. Having had a bad and expensive day, we decided not to go back to this site until the ground froze. The new house was a long way from completion so the well was not really needed yet.
In the meantime, we were out of the drilling business and couldn’t even do heavy well repairs. We kept busy doing hand work, but we really missed the rig. This incident solidified things for us, especially for my father: We needed a second rig. He had toyed with building another rig in the mid ’50s, this time out of steel instead of timber, but had abandoned the idea for several reasons.
That winter, we were at a drillers’ event and spoke to another driller who said he was going to quit drilling and that his rig was for sale. He had a 15-year-old Bucyrus Erie 20W. He was the second owner — the first owner also being from our area. The rig was in reasonably good shape, with just a few minor repairs and touch-ups needed. This driller offered the rig on a good truck with the lines and a whole bunch of cable tools. His price was reasonable and so, in the spring of 1968, at a price one would laugh at now, we bought this rig with 4-inch cable tools. We now had a manufactured rig for the first time.
In those days, spudders were the norm in our area. One fellow we knew of did get a mud rotary and, while he and his drillers could make fast time drilling, they seemed unable to produce sand-free water. Years later, drillers learned how to make a good well using a rotary — but not around here in 1968.
The rigs used around here at the time were Bucyrus-Erie, Speedstar and Cyclone. Bucyrus-Erie was based in Milwaukee and the other two brands were made in Ohio. I think each make of rig had strengths and weaknesses. All of them could drill a well, though the designs were rather different. Drillers of the time were very passionate about the brand of rig they ran. This was not unlike the arguments about General Motors versus Ford trucks, or between International Harvester and John Deere farm equipment. I guess this loyalty to a rig brand still exists.
Based on reading I’ve done, the 20W was the second most popular of a wide variety of spudders made by Bucyrus-Erie. The 20W was the smallest and the largest was the 48L oil well spudder. The 20W of those days was rated to drill 3- to 6-inch wells to a depth of 500 feet. This was right in the ball park for our area. The 4-inch wells that made up the vast majority of our work sat right in the sweet spot for a 20W. It could drill a 6-inch well to a good depth, but we did not see much demand for those around here in the 1960s. This rig was well mounted on a 1½-ton truck chassis, had three reels (bull, sand and casing), a 36-foot telescoping mast and a small but effective four-cylinder engine that ran on gasoline.
Next time, I will get into the details of my trusty 20W — its strong points and its weak ones too. It was a good rig and I am a loyal believer in Bucyrus-Erie and its successor, the Buckeye drill rig from the company that bought the line in the mid-1980s.
We have had a lot of hot, dry weather around here with very little rain. My infamous lawn does have a touch of green to it and a bumper crop of a really nasty weed called buckhorn. If you don’t recognize this weed it looks a bit like wheat with a long stem and a nasty little bud at the top containing the seeds. It grows great in dry weather and, if you mow it off, it will come back three or four times. I don’t know if there is a weed killer that would take it out — I’m not much into weed killers, since what we can buy as non-farmers is ineffective.
Continue to work safe in these unusual times. Remember to be aware of the heat and, if you are running a spudder, keep your hands out from the gears and at all cost from under the drive blocks.
For more John Schmitt columns, visit www.thedriller.com/schmitt.