Regular readers know my recent columns have focused on fishing tools. However, each month our editor gives a choice of topics so this month I let the fictional stuck tools be and write about a great advancement from many years ago: the pump hoist.

Pump hoists, at least in our region, were unknown when as a young boy I went with my father on jobs, at first as a companion and later as a helper. My dad did a lot of pump work, mostly on smaller 2-, 3- and 4-inch wells. We serviced many homes and dairy farms. How did we pull up the pipe that went down the casing? Or, perhaps, the pump rod on a stroke-type pump? Well, sometimes my dad and the farmer just used their backs and hands to do the lifting. For heavier jobs, he used a tripod with a block-and-tackle assembly.

The tripod, as the name implies, consisted of three sections of steel pipe. Ours was made from 1½-inch standard pipe, about 10-feet long. (You could also use 2-by-4s or other timbers.) A long ¾-inch-diameter bolt connected the pipes at one end. The bolt allowed some play in positioning the pipes, so they could spread 120 degrees apart to make the tripod. A clevis, also attached to the bolt, held the block-and-tackle. This unit did the lifting.

You may or may not be familiar with a block and tackle. It consists of two or three pulleys or sheave units attached to a frame. A hook attaches to this frame at both ends. You “reeve” or thread a manila hemp rope of perhaps ¾-inch diameter through the pulleys, and fasten the rope at one end to the frame work. This whole rig hung from the clevis of the tripod. My dad had both four-sheave and six-sheave units. The number of sheaves in the unit multiplies the pull applied to the free end of the rope. For example, our six-sheave model would lift six times the pull on the rope alone. Two people pulling on the free end of the rope — each pulling 100 pounds — could use the hook to lift about 1,200 pounds (6 x 200, less a slight loss for friction). Dad used this method to lift the drop pipe on pumps.

This block-and-tackle system had a huge downside: no self-locking mechanism. If the people pulling let go of the free end of the rope, everything would fall back into the well. You had to use some type of blocking device to prevent this. Some people used a locking chain hoist instead of the block-and-tackle, but we did not get one of these until after I joined the business. Although I stupidly scrapped out the tripod some years ago, I still have that chain hoist.

In the later 1940s, the jet-type pump became popular and, on 3- and 4-inch wells, it could utilize polyethylene pipe in parallel. These connected to the ejector down in the well. Many contractors found this polyethylene far lighter and easier to use than steel pipe for this purpose. Early versions of polyethylene had some reliability issues but it was far, far easier to use than steel or copper (yes, we used copper on occasion) for the two-pipe jet pump.

Those doing larger-diameter work, I expect, had some sort of winch truck or other heavier lifting device for their pump work. We never work for factories or cities, so I cannot vouch for what they may have used. In later years, I knew of contractors who purchased a regular crane. I was good friends with a driller from another state (now deceased) who purchased a crane for his company to do heavy pump work. He called it one of the smarter decisions he ever made.

Two factors spurred development of the pump hoist as we know it today: the submersible pump and the pitless adapter.

Two factors spurred development of the pump hoist as we know it today: the submersible pump and the pitless adapter. I realize that today many submersibles are hung on coiled polyethylene pipe, but the polyethylene of the 1950s lacked the robustness needed with a submersible. For submersibles, we pretty much used galvanized drop pipe or nothing. Plus, in northern climates with freezing an issue, we finished most wells in a well pit. These pits were dirty, unsanitary and downright dangerous. The development of the pitless adapter eliminated the need for these pits and gave our industry a great step forward.

Let me paint a picture for readers of pump service in the old, old days. Sometimes a well pit had a building over top of it. Of course, we know to avoid this type of completion at all costs, but it had one advantage. When the serviceperson pulled a steel drop pipe, it would go up through a hole in the well pit and, perhaps, a second hole in the roof of the building over the well pit. This gave the person good control over each section of drop pipe, since much of the pipe section lay beneath and only a small portion lingered above (trying to fall over). The hole in the roof of the building prevented this. After the invention of pitless adapters, I can think of no other advantage of this type of completion.

That drop-pipe balancing act, during servicing or installation, showed the need for a hoist. You need a way to get a hold of the drop-pipe section it its top, thus eliminating the tendency of that section to accidentally fall over. When installing or pulling pipe, the entire 21 feet of a section can rise above the feet of the serviceperson, with the balance point hitting about 11 feet above ground. Uncoupled from the drop-pipe string, this section often wants to fall over — and frequently did. This resulted in the occasional bent pipe or perhaps the destruction of surrounding items (to the dismay of all concerned). Thus, the need for and birth of the pump hoist as we know it.

Consider this a historical record for those of you who don’t remember the days of tripods, and block-and-tackle rigs. Next time I will discuss pump hoists themselves.

As I write this in early December, the ground is bare here in southern Michigan and my infamous lawn is kind of grey/green. We had one small snowstorm and that melted off quickly. Much more is on the way, I’m sure. I have my lawn tractor equipped with a snow blade, so I am ready. You will likely read this well into the year 2023. I hope it will be successful for you (and that 2022 was, indeed, a good year too). Until next time, remember to work hard, watch those pipes up over your head and, on occasion, take a break and relax.

A Lifetime in Drilling

We interviewed columnist and former NGWA President John Schmitt for our Drilling In-Site video series. Click here to hear him share his cable-tool expertise and wisdom earned with decades in the industry.

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