In last month’s column, I wrote about the persistent discussion as to which was the best motor design – two-wire or three-wire – and hope I caused you to think about this a little bit. This month, I want to talk about another problem with early submersibles – undersized wiring or under-powered motors.
When my father and I started to sell submersibles, we were rather late getting
into the game, so to speak, as we did this in the mid-1950s. At this time, some
of my friends had been selling submersible pumps for more than five years, and
some longer than that. We, like many others, sold a particular brand of pump –
one that is no longer made, as the company is out of business, but it was a
major manufacturer selling nationally with a big presence in the
This particular company purchased its motors from a major manufacturer, well
actually, two manufacturers – one that is out of the submersible motor
business, and another that still is a very big player in this product line. The
smallest size unit that this company offered was a 1⁄3 HP, only in three-wire
and only in 115 volt. We sold quite a number of these, as a 1⁄3-HP submersible,
due to its better efficiency, can outperform a 1⁄2-HP or perhaps a 3⁄4-HP jet
pump. The emphasis was on gallons delivered, not horsepower. I remember going
to at least two pump schools at this company’s headquarters, and the instructor
emphasized performance and gallons delivered per minute or per hour.
His remark was, “Re-member your customers can’t drink horsepower.” Of course,
he was absolutely right, and with these smaller HP pumps and shallow settings
we have here in Michigan,
we could give the customer a good value for dollars spent.
Unfortunately, after a short period of time, we began to experience a whole lot
of problems with these little 1⁄3-HP, 115-volt pumps. The problem – seized
rotors, the rotor being the part that is turning when the motor is running. I
remember pulling one unit and finding it seized; the rotor and pump shaft would
not turn at all. After disconnecting the motor from the water end, I put a strap wrench around the motor and a small
pipe wrench (I think a 14-in.) on the shaft, and could not turn it. It was
seized up that tight.
We really had a lot of problems with this seizing, many – unfortunately for us
– just after the warranty expired. As you readers will understand, this makes
for a very unhappy customer, and we had to cut some deals on service up to and
including a new motor and labor for free to keep these customers happy. This,
of course, didn’t make us feel very good, and it did not help our bottom line
at all. Sadly, we did not get much help or support from either the pump manufacturer
or the motor manufacturer. Their response was, “You must be doing something
wrong.” Unfortunately for us, they were right, and we were wrong.
After several years of this problem and far too many free replacements, we
decided to switch manufacturers to a different pump company, which made its own
motor. We also decided to use nothing smaller than 1⁄2-HP pumps and strictly
230-volt. Guess what? Our seized motor problems disappeared, and I don’t recall
ever changing a motor on this brand that had a seized rotor, other than a few
lightning jobs. No manufacturer’s product is lightning-proof in my opinion,
although some are better than others.
As time went by, we remained curious as to why our motor-seizing problem
stopped when we changed brands. I don’t think the motors on the second brand
were that much or perhaps any better than the motors on the first brand. I
attended a motor school some time after our success rate had gotten a lot
better, and all the students were given a handbook on motor installation.
Included in the handbooks
were a number of charts that listed motor sizes and horsepower, voltages on
which they run, and the minimum size wires for certain lengths of wiring from
the control box on three-wire designs and the power supply to the control box.
Well, guess what? There was the answer to the seizure problem right in front of
me. We had underwired our installations, in some cases pretty badly, which
overheated the motors and seized them up. At least that is what I think
happened. The motor wiring charts, especially for 115-volt motors, are pretty
restrictive on wire size, and I doubt that we wired many of these motors
correctly. After all, we had been in the pump business long before we ever heard of submersibles, and
we knew how to wire a pump, right? Actually, we didn’t, and we learned this
lesson the hard way.
We sold a small number of submersibles made by a third manufacturer, and had
very poor experience with them; they all were 115-volt designs, and I’m pretty
sure we underwired every one of them. This was a learning experience, and,
frankly, I have not sold a 115-volt pump in years and years, not that there is
anything wrong with these; you just have a lot more freedom and leeway when it
comes to wiring a 230-volt design – and you can use smaller wire.
Next time, I will write about another design problem that flummoxed us for
years – problems with built-in check valves.
I don’t know how things are business-wise in your area, but the well and pump
field in Michigan has been really slow and rough for quite a few years now. Not
many new houses being built, some folks doing it themselves, and the fact that
our products and methods have improved a lot over the decades, so there isn’t
as much service work. One thing that does bother me is that ground water seems
to become the stepchild of the water supply industry. I have said on occasion,
and will again right here, that the private or, as it sometimes referred to,
“backyard” well is to water supply as propane and butane are to the energy
business – something to get people by until the water main or gas line gets
close enough to hook up to.
Shirley and I enjoy the service of DirecTV, which sometimes is quite good with
many programs that are fun to watch, and other times, disappointing. Recently,
I watched a one-hour program on either the History Channel or National
Geographic; I think it was the latter. This program was about the water
problems throughout the world, including in our own country. Watching this
program, you would think that we are just about out of water, although they did
acknowledge that many of the problems worldwide are due to outdated delivery
systems and poor choices by political leadership. What bothered me most was
that in the entire one-hour program, not one word about ground water was
mentioned. It strictly was about surface water supplies. One farmer in southern
California did mention that his supply from
the Colorado River was just about gone, as a
lot of new homes had been built nearby, and as he said, “Not one new well has
been drilled.” His words were the only mention of ground water or water wells
in the entire show. I guess I have a question for you readers, and would be
interested in your thoughts: Has ground water become an
Spring is yet to be seen in southern Michigan, and as I write this in late
April, we have had snow within the last 48 hours, sleet, freezing rain and days
of just a cold, mean wind-driven rain that is so much fun to be out working in.
We have not, however, had the severe weather and tornadoes that many of you in
the South have had. We pray that none of you were affected by these, although I
read that Sanford, N.C., the home of my dear friend Worth
Pickard, was hit hard
Until next time, as always, work hard, be safe and remember your loved
“Let Me Tell Ya”: Still More Yet about Older Submersibles
June 1, 2011