Recently, I received a phone call from a driller in Wyoming. We talked at some length about cable tool drilling and we got along very well. This man is currently drilling by the cable tool or spudder method using a Walker-Neer make of machine. He said he was getting good results with this machine and was pleased with it but had some questions about rig maintenance.

I’m not sure if Walker-Neer is still in business or not. They have a website and appear to operate in Wichita Falls, Texas, but I have been unable to contact them by telephone. In making more calls, I learned that it is unlikely any company will build you a new spudder unless you order a dozen or more at a time. I did learn that the company in Ohio that bought out the Bucyrus-Erie line in the mid-1980s will rebuild a B-E spudder to like-new condition and include a new power plant. Their sales rep told me that they had a number of rigs undergoing rebuilds in the shop as we spoke. He said there are any number of candidates in the field for this process, so there is little need to build brand new rigs.

I’m not sure if other popular brands of spudder rigs can be purchased new or even rebuilt. If you are looking to go that route, do your own research. The advertising section of this magazine — and other industry publications — has featured a number of used cable-tool listings over the years. These ads seem to have gotten fewer and fewer. I see quite a few spudder type rigs listed for sale elsewhere on the internet too, even including some Walker-Neers. You will, I think, face a challenge if you are looking for a good spudder rig, especially if you want a specific model.

The Walker-Neer brand that my friend from Wyoming runs was better known as an oil field rig. Many years ago, Walker-Neer exhibited a water well-sized spudder at a National Water Well Association (NWWA) convention. (The NWWA was the former name of today’s National Ground Water Association.) I was at that convention and got a good look at the Walker-Neer rig. It appeared quite heavily built. I’m not surprised that my friend in Wyoming still has success with its bigger cousin so many years later. He did say that spare parts were very difficult to find. This is common for older machinery of any type. He asked me a number of questions about cable-tool drilling — or spudder drilling, as some call it.

One key question focused on the spudder gears on his rig: Run dry or lubricated? His other trusted sources are split on this topic. In my experience, you should always lubricate or grease spudder gears. Use a product called open gear grease, available from a number of sources. One popular type of lubricant comes in a spray can. Spray it on the spudder gears as they turn slowly, and I believe these gears should enjoy a long, well lubricated life.

I used to, in the really old days, make my own gear grease. I’d mix the grease you would use in a grease gun with a small amount of oil to thin it. I would then heat the mixture and dribble it onto the gears as they ran slowly. On the Bucyrus-Erie rigs, a sheet metal ring protected the top of the spudder gear. I think many makes of drills shared this feature. This ring had a hole in it near where the spudder gear contacted the pinion gear on the jackshaft. You would spray or pour lubricating grease through this hole.

In my experience, any gears on a rig should be kept lubricated. The wet-versus-dry argument goes back to older farm tractors that had exposed gears turning the rear wheels. The big argument then was whether it was better to use grease, which supposedly trapped grit and dust, or to run the gears dry. I don’t know if this argument was ever resolved, but it became moot when manufacturers went to enclosed rear ends on these tractors.

Open gear grease in a spray can also works well for lubing roller chain. One of the shop-built rigs we had had a roller chain that turned any time the jackshaft was turning. We kept this well lubricated and the original chain lasted the life of the rig. On some Speedstar rigs, a roller chain drives the bull reel. This chain only moved when running tools into or out of the hole, so it would not need a lot of lubricating. I think it goes without saying that the bearings, chains and gears of any drill rig need to be kept lubricated.

The Walker-Neer brand is interesting in that they built an oil well spudder that drove the crankshaft with V belts. We had some oilfield activity in this area of southeast Michigan in the mid-1950s. I got to see one of these belt-driven rigs up close. It was extremely quiet. It appeared to be a very good rig, and had a unique mast that consisted of two pipes several feet apart — rather than the channel iron masts of other brands. This mast was stabilized by several guy wires, and I don’t believe it had any pipe braces connected to the frame. As I said, it seemed a really well-built rig.

My friend from Wyoming and I discussed a number of matters pertaining to spudder rigs and I enjoyed talking to him. If you want to talk cable-tool or spudder, contact my editor, Jeremy Verdusco, and he will get in touch with me. Next time, I’ll discuss the wire rope or cables we need for a spudder rig.

During February here in Michigan, we had a lot of snow. It got so bad that most people, including myself, had nowhere to go amid the big piles along our driveways and parking areas. I finally put the snow blower on my lawn tractor and blew most of the piles out of the way. Then the weather turned warm and everything except the largest piles melted. As I write this in the first part of March, I look out at dead, brown grass and hardly enough snow to make a snowball. It will be fine with me if I don’t have to plow snow another time this season. Until next time, keep working safely and keep your rigs well lubricated.

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