As I remember, the first true pump hoists (as we know them today) started appearing in southern Michigan in the early 1960s. A popular unit used in our area was made in Ohio. The manufacturer, a drill rig company, had hired an engineer — a real graduate engineer — who came from a drilling family and had drilling experience himself.

Here in the Great Lakes region, with relatively shallow wells, we found the products of this company with this engineer in charge quite innovative. The company, however, sold to a larger company many years ago and moved, I believe, to Oklahoma. Now, we only find the name in the history books, but people still use its products in 2023.

The frame of this unit was only about 18 inches wide. The mast attached to a substantial vertical member at the rear of the hoist. As I recall, the hydraulic controls also mounted on this vertical member and the levers, as such, came through a hole cut through it. The mast or boom had frame of square tubing in two sizes, with the upper section telescoping into the lower section. The upper section extended by a hydraulic cylinder with a long stroke housed in the lower section.

The company designed this unit to mount on a pickup or flatbed truck, leaving most of the truck’s bed open and clear to carry items. (In fact, I saw one of these units going down the road on a pickup three days ago.) This design had big advantages. A friend of mine had one mounted in the bed of the utility body on a 2-ton Ford truck. He mounted his unit not in the center of the bed, but as far to the driver’s side as possible. He had almost complete use of the rest of the bed — a clever idea.

This hoist had five controls: one to raise the mast, one to extend it, two for hydraulic riggers to stabilize and level the entire unit, and one to operate the lifting cable. The bed of this pump hoist was used as the hydraulic oil tank, another neat idea.

The company designed this unit to mount on a pickup or flatbed truck, leaving most of the truck’s bed open and clear to carry items. This design had big advantages.

It also had a unique lifting mechanism. Most hoists then and now use some sort of a hydraulic winch. This one hoisted by using a block and tackle in reverse. I discussed block-and-tackle systems in my previous column. Just to reiterate, the principle there says a pull on the free rope multiplies by as many sheaves as the rope strings through. This pump hoist had a four-sheave block-and-tackle, as I recall, that attached to the mast just above the frame. The pulley ends of the blocks attached to opposite ends of a hydraulic cylinder. This cylinder could develop tremendous force and a quarter of that, there being four sheaves, was what was available on the lifting hook. I never owned one of these, but I believe this unit could lift somewhere between 2,000 to 3,000 pounds on a single line. I don’t think it was designed to use multiple lines. I can also see control of the hook would be as smooth as silk by controlling the cylinder.

The company later improved the design of this pump hoist by going to a true drum-type winch driven by a hydraulic motor through a transmission. I never had one of these, but I think it had a clutch between the transmission and the cable drum. The drum itself had two steps: one small-diameter step for hoisting and a larger-diameter section for use as a sand line (which could, indeed, reel a lot of line).

The clutch would allow free fall of things on the sand line. The transmission gave the operator a large range of speeds for hoisting, baling or whatever. Another unique feature? The hydraulic motor/transmission/clutch/reel all operated on a forward-backward location on the main frame. This was a 90-degree change from a typical winch. I understand from people who owned this model that it worked great as a hoist but not so great when bailing.

They later improved the hoist a second time adding a small spudding beam to the top of the frame. The spudding beam operated by a gearbox with twin crank arms powered by yet another hydraulic motor. Here in Michigan we are allowed to put so-called 4-inch submersible pumps in 4-inch wells. They pump a lot of water and, when service is needed and the pump needs to be pulled, many of them come right out. Unfortunately, some of them don’t come out easily. They have attach themselves to the casing with redeposited products of corrosion. If you apply a massive pull to break this hold, you will probably pull the drop pipe out of the top of the pump. Now, you are looking at a new well.

With this spudding beam, the pump man could do some jarring both up and down, and break the pump loose — a huge capability. This company never intended this spudding beam to drill wells but a number of people, including my friend with the offset hoist, successfully drilled 2-inch diameter wells with his hoist. Now, readers in some areas of the country may think we lost our minds to drill just a 2-inch well but, believe it or not, it works just fine in the upper portions of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Water there is not so highly charged with minerals, so the design is a good one. In the southern portions of the Lower Peninsula, higher mineral content in the water makes a 2-inch well problematic. In any event, this pump hoist, especially with a spudder beam was — and still is — a solid workhorse that saved a lot of sore muscles and aching backs.

As I write this in early January 2023, we have no snow on the ground. My infamous lawn looks a little bit brown. We had dangerously low temperatures and high winds over the Christmas holiday but today the temperature is in the high 30s. As you read this, I hope that 2023 is going well for you. Next time, I will write a bit about succeeding pump hoist designs.

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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