I find the interest in these columns a bit surprising. My editor has sent me contact information for several drillers who want to talk about cable-tool drilling. A few days ago, I had a very pleasant phone conversation with a driller from Wyoming. He had recently switched from primarily rotary drilling to a cable-tool rig. He said he could make a lot of hole with the rotary, but had less-than-expected success in finding water. He had better results case using a spudder.

This is not to diminish or put down the use of any drilling method — certainly, a good water well can be drilled by several methods. Usually, the geology and the intended use of the well have a major effect on what method works best. You can do a good or bad job of drilling a water well by any of several methods. My friend in Wyoming runs a Walker-Neer, a rig brand made in Texas. As I recall, the Walker-Neer brand primarily served the oil and gas drilling markets.

I once saw a Walker-Neer oil well spudder operating in our area during an oil boom of the 1950s. My father and I drove up to the rig and visited with the driller. We found it an interesting rig, in that V-belts drove both the jackshaft and the crankshaft. Of course, this rig operated very quietly, as there were no gears meshing. The mast was unusual too, in that it consisted of two pipes a few feet apart and not braced to the machine frame. During operation, a series of guy wires held the mast steady. I remember it as a really smooth machine.

Around the late ’60s, Walker-Neer attempted to get into the water well drilling side with a spudder built like a beefed-up Bucyrus-Erie 20W. This machine had a gear-driven crankshaft that appeared ruggedly built. I saw only one — at a National Water Well Association (NWWA) convention held in Des Moines, Iowa. I don’t know if Walker-Neer’s efforts to get into water well drilling succeeded or not, but I have never seen a Walker-Neer water well rig operating in Michigan.

My friend from Wyoming had a number of questions, some of which were about tool size for the casing he uses. As I recall, he was drilling 6-inch wells. He also had questions about parts availability and other subjects. He asked me if I believe the crankshaft gears should be lubricated or not. He had been advised to run these dry. By all means, I told him, run these gears lubricated using open gear grease, which is available in a spray can and other forms. I think this wet/dry controversy goes back to the early 1900s, when the rear wheels of tractors were powered by open gears. The “wet” argument says that metal-to-metal gears need lubrication. The “dry” argument says that oil and grease hold sand dust and other grit, and wear gears out faster. This debate ended a few years later when manufacturers embraced enclosed gears.

I enjoyed the conversation with my friend from Wyoming. If any other readers have questions about cable-tool drilling or cable-tool rigs please, contact my editor. He’ll pass along your contact details, and we can have a good discussion.

Last time I mentioned I would talk about transporting larger spudders. Bucyrus-Erie made the most popular water well spudders in this part of Michigan, the 20Ws and 22Ws. Speedstar provided some competition with the 55s and the 71s. Just about all these rigs mounted on trucks. Both companies, Bucyrus-Erie and Speedstar, offered trailer mountings. Bucyrus-Erie, oddly, offered only a single-axle semi-trailer mounting, while Speedstar offered both single- and double-axle full-trailers. I think these manufacturers intended the full trailers for export.

I have seen pictures of full trailer-mounted rigs pulled by farm tractors. Trailer-mounted rigs were considerably heavier than their truck-mounted companions. For instance, a 20W Bucyrus-Erie mounted on a semi-trailer with enough wire line to drill to 400 feet weighed about 7,500 pounds. A 22W mounted on a semi-trailer with enough line to drill to 650 feet weighed just under 11,000 pounds. These numbers are all without drilling tools — just the rig and wire lines. A Speedstar 55 mounted on a semi- or full-trailer weighed about the same as a 20W. A Speedstar 71 on a full-trailer would weigh in at close to 12,000 pounds. I have seen all of these rigs mounted on trailers operating in Michigan, but not very many of them. Speedstar, I think, pushed full-trailer mountings to serve an export market where trucks might not be readily available.

When you get into heavier spudder rigs, the Bucyrus-Erie line did mainly oil and gas well work. This included the 60L (an improved version of the 24W), as well as the 28L and the 36L. I don’t think drillers used the 36L —a really, really big rig — for water well drilling in Michigan. I understand from talking to other drillers that these 36Ls were, and possibly still are, used for water wells in Minnesota, the Dakotas and Montana where deep wells are quite normal.

These larger rigs, if used in Michigan, would have drilled municipal or industrial wells — usually from 12 inches and up. For example, I recall seeing a 60L drilling a 16-inch municipal well for a small town not far from where I live. In an older Bucyrus-Erie catalog they show a picture of a 60L mounted on a single-axle truck, the company’s recommended mounting. A 60L with tools to drill to 1,200 feet would weigh close to 16,000 pounds with the lines but no drilling tools. The unit I saw drilling the well nearby mounted on a tandem-axle truck, which was probably required to meet axle-loading requirements in Michigan.

Bucyrus-Erie also sold 60Ls a single-axle trailer and skid mounting. I believe the skid-mounted rigs were set on a prepared base in the oil fields and then winched onto a heavy truck for transport. Of course, if you drilled 1,200-feet-deep, it would take a while so mobility was not such an important factor. The skid-mounted rig weighed about the same as a truck-mounted unit. I think you would need a really heavy truck with a heavy bed, and even heavier winch, to move a rig like a 60L. I will not go into mounting for a 36L. While not really water well rigs, I will say from the B-E catalogs I have they were a really, really heavy rig.

Next time I will talk a bit about the cable tools you need to use on these rigs for wells of various sizes. We have had a strange winter so far here in Michigan. I can look out and see a lot of bare, brown grass. I had plowed snow a grand total of once through early February. Regardless of what the groundhog saw on Feb. 2, we will have six more weeks of winter. On Feb. 1, our governor allowed restaurants to open for inside seating. They had all been take out only or drive-up for weeks and weeks. Inside seating is limited to only 25% of capacity at this time. Hope you are well and busy, and learn something from my writings.

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