Virtually every pump hoist has the same features: a frame, an adjustable mast, one or more winches, and controls. Hydraulic pumps power all functions of the hoist, including raising the mast. Generally, a gasoline or diesel engine powers the hydraulics. Hoists of all sizes usually mount on a truck, everything from a pickup to a heavy-duty tandem-axle model.

That’s the usual setup. But I’ve seen some rather unusual hoists I consider worth mentioning. The first unusual type has a mast that swivels — not unlike a crane. I have seen these at conventions and dealer meetings, but never on a job. The swiveling mast gives this type of hoist an extra feature. The operator has the option of parking the truck carrying the hoist in different locations. They could pull a pump from the sides of the truck, not just the back. I consider this an added value.

After well installation, we often see landscape features, even buildings blocking access to the well. I had a customer many years ago who built a garage in the location I parked my rig when I drilled the well. To make matters worse, this was a lot on a lake and access from the lake side could only be done in good weather. In winter with snow or spring with soft ground, this well was not serviceable. The last time I worked on it was in the late fall and the ground was dry. Somebody did not think through the location of that garage. Water for the home was far more important than a place to park a vehicle.

These rotating mast hoists, however, have a drawback. I don’t believe they have a light-duty bailing line, so bailing a well would be impossible. Of course, not every well that needs pump service needs bailing, but some do, putting this crane-type hoist at a disadvantage.

Speaking of hoists, two of my driller friends — neither of whom is with us anymore — did actually use a crane as a pump hoist. The first purchased what he called an RO unit (which I think stood for remote operation). The mast mounted behind the cab of the carrying truck and the rest of the truck was a long, flatbed platform. The truck itself was at least a 2½-ton. I did see this unit pulling a pump while parked in a driveway, servicing a well location inaccessible to a regular pump hoist.

The other fellow did mostly commercial, municipal and industrial work, and he bought an actual crane. He worked in an area with much deeper wells than we typically see in southern Michigan. He said he considered the crane one of the smartest purchases he ever made. He also said his company did some actual crane work — not just well service — with this unit.

A word of caution here: In many states, one has to have a license to operate a crane. I have also heard that some states consider a pump hoist a crane and require proper licensing to run one. The use of a crane or an RO unit, while not for everyday well service, makes a lot of sense and I think my late friends both made wise, profitable decisions. Having such a unit can come in handy. I once had a large pile of drill tools, pipe and what-have-you that needed moving. My friend with the RO unit sent an operator with that truck. The operator put a sling made of steel cable around the pile, picked it up in one fell swoop and off we went to a better location.

The last type of pump hoist I want to talk about is not a hoist at all, but what folks call a pump puller. These usually small devices mount on an aluminum frame that one person can push about like a wheelbarrow. The operator simply wheels the unit over the well to pull a pump —very valuable where space is limited or the customer is finicky about the lawn. Three rubber tires grip and lift the drop pipe. I’ve seen versions that use rubber tracks (a small version of the tracks on a track-type tractor). Whether wheels or tracks, they are powered by an electric motor running through a gearbox. The motor is powered by electricity that runs the pump.

Many years ago there was a version of this type puller that cut little notches into the drop pipe to get the force to lift it. This was in the days of steel drop pipe. It would not be so good on the PVC commonly used today.

These pullers excel at pulling pumps hung on flexible plastic pipe. I have never hung a pump on flexible plastic pipe, but many operators do. A pump man I knew (sadly, also no longer with us) rigged up a platform that attached to the trailer hitch of a pickup. Using a ramp he could roll the puller on and off the truck easily. I don’t really know the capacity of these pullers for sure, but I have heard tales of lifting 200 feet of drop pipe with a pump attached. Impressive for a man-portable unit.

These pullers do have, in my opinion, a big drawback. Once the operator has pulled a length of pipe out of the well, it can rise high above his head trying very hard to tip over. That puts you back in the days of the tripod and the chain hoist. Some of these pullers have a support bar with a ring in it that stands up about 10 feet above the ground. I guess this helps support that pipe overhead. These puller units have their advantages but they are not like a true hoist.

Pump hoists, along with several other inventions of the last 50, maybe 70 years, have been a great help to people who set and service pumps. Some fellows in our area, where the wells are not too deep, set and pull pumps using their back. I think they are sadly mistaken, and will pay for it when they get older.

Well, readers enough about pump hoists. Next time, I get back to talking about fishing tools for a cable tool rig.

Until last week, we had a relatively mild winter here in southern Michigan. That all changed a week ago to this day when we had a terrific ice storm. The media called it a 50-year storm. I don’t know about that, but I read that at one time the two major utility companies in southern Michigan had 600,000 people out of power. Personally, we were out for about 72 hours and our home got cold enough that we moved in with a daughter for a couple of days. Our house suffered no damage but I did lose a tree that was “junk” wood that my wife wanted sawed down 30 years ago. My infamous lawn is all brown and has not one flake of snow on it on the first of March. Until next time, continue to work safe and if you have a pump hoist enjoy the work it saves you. If you don’t, you really should consider getting one.

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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.