For Submersible Pumps, It Pays to Read the Manual
The editor of National Driller magazine, Jeremy Verdusco, has asked us older writers to write about some difficult jobs we have encountered in our careers and how we solved the difficulty. This first chapter of my many years of experience was not really a great problem, but it was difficult. So here is chapter number one.
In the years shortly after World War II, our industry saw many new products. Some of these used new materials that had become popular during the war. I think it is safe to say there were many innovations — some good, which we still use today, and some not so good. Some materials that our industry had to use in the war years due to shortages worked very well, and others didn’t work well at all.
Sometime around 1946, 1947 or 1948, I went on a job with my father and his brother, who worked as his helper. The job was the installation of a shallow well jet pump in a replacement situation. This pump was the first effort in shallow well jets by a then well-known Ohio manufacturer that made quality products. I don’t think this company exists anymore. Anyway, this jet pump was a rather unusual design in that it required not one but two pipe connections to the pressure tank it was used with. One of these connections, as I remember, was down near the bottom of the tank and was 1-inch pipe size. The second connection was about halfway up the tank and was ¾-inch pipe size. To make the piping system even more unusual, perhaps goofy, the discharge line to the house, barn or whatever came off the pump and not the tank.
As my dad and uncle started to make this installation I, being about 12 or 13 years old, began to read the installation manual. I was old enough and experienced enough to realize that they were hooking the pump up in an incorrect manner. I mentioned this to my dad and he informed me somewhat sharply that he had installed pumps — including a few jet pumps — of other makes before I was born. Having been admonished, I just watched them complete the installation, helping as a gofer or runner when needed.
They got the installation made, primed the pump and turned it on. The motor ran just fine and the pump pumped absolutely nothing at all, not a single drop. There was some cussing by my dad and uncle, who rechecked the prime with no different results, and I handed dad the installation manual. He read it and after issuing a cuss word or two said to my uncle, “It looks like John was right all along.” With considerable effort, they replumbed the installation — this was in the days of threaded iron pipe, which took a lot of work — reprimed the pump, turned it back on and it worked just fine. I don’t think this manufacturer kept this pump in its product line for very long — it was just too complicated.
So what was the problem? The pump wouldn’t pump water after installation. Solution? Hook it up right, and it worked pretty well. As I remember, the owner of the residence inquired as to what was taking so long on this installation and my dad replied they were having difficulty. I also recall we got home plenty late that night, a not unusual occurrence for anyone who works in our industry. This was not a super serious problem, but a little more cautious approach to the installation would have saved time and embarrassment.
Jet pumps themselves were not very popular with many in our industry as, while they seemed simple in design and operation, they were actually a bit tricky. Well drillers especially who, before 1941 drilled wells only and left pump installation to plumbers, farm equipment dealers and handymen, really never liked or trusted jet pumps. Some homeowners disliked them because many designs of that era were only capable of about 42 to 44 psi maximum. Older piston-and-rod pumps could easily do 60 or 70 psi.
In an effort to get around this dislike of jet pumps, one manufacturer came out with a shallow well pump that I think is properly called a progressive cavity pump. This design utilizes a corkscrew-like rotor made of stainless steel that turns inside a rubber stator. These pumps were virtually positive displacement, and pressures of 60 psi and higher were no problem. This particular design suffered from two problems: a weak coupling between the rotor and motor, and the fact that the pump body was cast aluminum, the sections being held together with standard steel screws tapped into the aluminum. The aluminum body would seize on the steel screws, making disassembly very difficult or impossible.
At the 2016 NGWA-sponsored Groundwater Week, I saw a submersible pump that used a progressive cavity pumping system. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The weather in Michigan has been unusual this winter. We have had two significant snow storms and then the snow all melted. We have had temperatures below 0 degrees F and, as I write this in mid-January, my well-known lawn looks like it could be mowed if it was growing. There is not a flake of snow on it. We haven’t seen the sun in quite a few days, making everyone kind of crabby.
’Til next time when I write about some more fiasco-type jobs, work safe and remember to read the installation manual if the product is new to you.
For more John Schmitt columns, visit www.nationaldriller.com/schmitt.