Companies designed spudders to move to a jobsite, drill the hole and move on. I think that goes without saying, regardless of whether they were made by Bucyrus-Erie, Speedstar, Cyclone, Loomis, Ideco or Walker-Neer (yes, all real brands). These were not stationary items. I find how they moved almost as interesting as the design of the rigs themselves.

This column deals with water well rigs, which would include mostly Bucyrus-Erie 20Ws and 22Ws, Speedstar 55s and 71s, and Cyclone 36s and 42s. These were popular rigs in my area, where 250 feet was about the deepest we ever drilled for water. I know of deeper wells in Michigan, but in my area much deeper than 250 feet flirts with saltwater. 

Most operators mounted and moved their spudder rig on a truck. Manufacturers also offered rigs on one-axle semi-trailers, two-axle full trailers and, on the big oil rigs, skid mounting. Based on experience my dad and I had with a two-axle trailer on an older rig, I would avoid that type of mounting. We found it difficult to spot these trailers over a well for service work.

I have seen water well rigs mounted on single-axle trailers rigged up like a semi or a gooseneck hitch. At a demonstration in Canada, I once saw a water well rig mounted on a regular trailer that hooked to the bumper of the towing truck. Of course, by using a trailer you avoid the expense of a truck to mount the rig on. As these rigs only driven infrequently, the trucks required more maintenance than a truck driven daily. That was my experience, at least. I think manufacturers mainly exported these trailer-mounted rigs to areas where it was likely trucks wouldn’t be available for mounting. In 2021, this is probably different.

I have seen 20Ws and Speedstar 55s mounted on single-axle trailers in Michigan. If this worked for the owners, more power to them. At a convention of the Michigan Ground Water Association some years ago, one dealer displayed a 20W or 22W (I can’t remember which) mounted on a neat little tandem-axle gooseneck trailer. Farmers 20 or 30 years ago bought a lot of these trailers because, once equipped with a grain body, they could haul 250 to 300 bushels of corn — and pull the trailer with a one-ton truck, perhaps even a pick-up. Today those farmers use tandem-axle straight trucks that haul 500 bushels of grain, or even full semis that haul nearly a 1,000 bushels. The exhibitor of the trailer-mounted rig I saw at the convention had sold it for export. In my opinion, it had an excellent design. But, even with the occasional good trailer mount, the vast majority of spudders I have seen were mounted on trucks.

A two-ton truck provided the best mount for a 20W or a 55. The brand didn’t matter: Chevrolet/GMC, Ford, Dodge or International. These trucks usually fell within the the 15,000- to 18,000-pound gross vehicle weight (GVW) class. Most of them had an 84-inch cab-to-axle dimension, which left some room between the front of the rig frame and the back of the cab. This space allowed for a platform or even a large toolbox to protect assorted tools and to keep them out of the weather and safe from theft. If you ran a 22W or a Speedstar 71, you would want a little heavier truck. Understand that most of these trucks were single-rear-axle and in the 21,000- to 24,000-pound GVW class. They also had a longer cab-to-axle measurement, since these larger rigs were just that — larger. 

We has several Fords and a good Dodge for the rigs I used. I got the Dodge when I bought a used rig, and I was the third owner. This rig had never left our county and I knew both the earlier owners well. The original owner went to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to pick up a brand new 20W at the factory. He mounted this 20W on a brand new Dodge chassis, which I consider a waste of a good truck. A vehicle dealer and I once discussed chassis for drill rigs, and we agreed that using the truck for 80,000 to 100,000 miles and then putting a rig on it made more sense. You have to understand that these spudder rigs had their own deck engines. The truck just moved them from place to place. This differs from a modern rotary where the truck engine does the moving and also powers the rig at the jobsite.

My dad and I kept the Dodge/20W combination for years before we decided to mount another rig on that Dodge chassis. (We thought we would keep that second rig forever but, in fact, did not.) We bought a well-used Ford F-600 and mounted the 20W on it. This turned out to be double the work and, in fact, a bit stupid. We should have just bought the F-600 and put the second rig on it. This Ford had a more powerful engine than the Dodge, as well as larger tires and a two-speed axle. I think these types of axles fell out of favor, as they were difficult to shift properly. These axles had two ratios that drivers shifted electrically by a switch on the gearshift lever. They were handy in the low ratio for moving about a jobsite but, as I said, tricky to shift properly. They may no longer be available. In fact, I understand many drivers today can’t drive a manual transmission vehicle. Anyhow, we kept that Ford F-600/20W combination for quite a few years, before mounting a new rig on the Ford and later selling the whole thing — rig, truck and all — to a driller in Western Michigan.

Next time, I will write about truck options for spudders in 2021, and offer a few lines about larger spudders used for oil well drilling and service.

I write this in early January at a time when our country seems very unsettled. We do have a bit of snow on the ground but the weather has not been extremely cold. We can expect that in coming months, though. As we say in Michigan, if you don’t like the weather wait five minutes and it will change. I hope you and yours have stayed healthy and well — especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic. We lost the wife of a dear, retired well driller friend to the virus about a month ago — a sad event. Dick you have our sympathy. Best wishes to all my readers.

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