I must start this column with some sad news. I learned this morning that the Canadian Ground Water Association has ceased operations. This is a sad and bad deal for drillers everywhere. I have been privileged to attend their conventions known as CanWell, which I believe are held every other year. Those I attended were in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Toronto. I was always warmly greeted by drillers in Canada and found these events to be very interesting. The CanWell held in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1996 held the best drilling demonstration I have ever witnessed. The CGWA had just about every type of drill rig that you could imagine operating in a provincial park. This included some unusual types, like direct push and dual rotary. I thoroughly enjoyed that convention, especially the drill rig demonstration. Incidentally, they had bulldozed away about three feet of snow, and this was after we had started mowing lawn in Michigan. Winter lasts a long time in Manitoba, I guess. Let’s hope our Canadian friends can get reorganized and hold some more CanWells.
Those of you who have read my columns over the years know that my father was a pump man who got into well drilling also. In previous columns, I have indicated that in the old days—that is before World War II—well drillers around here drilled wells and plumbers, farm implement dealers and handymen installed pumps. He was in the later category, originally having been a farm boy who was recruited to go to work at a dealership that sold Allis Chalmers and, later, Oliver too, both brands that no longer exist—although I think you can still get parts through the AGCO dealers. He was an excellent mechanic, so the transition from tractors and other farm equipment to pumps and milking machines was an easy one.
He started working for this dealer in 1922 and stayed until the spring of 1945 when the dealership was sold and he went on his own, forming the company which I run today, J.P. Schmitt & Co. After selling pumps for a few years, he and his boss acquired a shop-built well rig that I have also written about and went to mainly repairing but also drilling primarily 2-inch wells, once in a while a goofy 2-inch and very occasionally a 3-inch. If I remember correctly, he actually jetted down a rather shallow 4-inch well for a school house with this rig and did it successfully.
As I wrote in my last column, the predominant formations in this part of Michigan are sands and gravels, which usually result in a good yield. Wells do, however, especially in these small sizes, really need a well screen. He used 1-inch pipe size drive points in the 2-inch and 2-inch wells and 1-inch and 2-inch pipe size in the 3-inch wells. He used both gauze-type screens and also wire-wound, but in those days the wire was galvanized steel, not stainless. The gauze screens had a pipe base with holes punched in the pipe, this covered by a gauze-type screen, the “mesh” of which determined the coarseness or fineness of the screen. All of this was covered with a brass jacket with holes punched in it so the gauze could withstand driving. The gauze was either copper or brass, and I believe today is stainless steel—although neither my father nor I ever used one of those. We did use in later years almost exclusively stainless steel wire-wound screens.
Now, as I have written earlier, these small wells by the limits of what type of pump could be used on them were pumped at rather low rates, usually from around 3 gpm with a stroke or plunger pump up to 5 and 6 gpm with an early jet pump. As I have also written, the water we are pumping around here is of good quality with sulphur, salt and other nasty minerals rather unknown. However, typical southern Michigan water will be about 22 grains hard and contain at least 2 to 3 parts per million iron. I’m not saying that there aren’t a few fairly “soft” water wells and even some that have very little iron, but these are the exception and not the rule. Considering the slow rate of pumping and the mineral content of the water, the screens in these small-diameter wells that my dad was working with would go on the average of five to six years before they encrusted over or, in layman’s terms, plugged up.
Unfortunately, with the demand for more water faster by our customers, we were pretty much forced to go to larger and higher capacity pumps. By the 1950s and beyond, jet pump technology had advanced to where these were competitive with early submersibles and could produce anywhere from 10 to 15 gpm. Yes, all this from a 2-inch well. The unfortunate side effect was that these well screens, which had been lasting five years and longer, now would plug up sometimes in a year to two years. We then made the big mistake of believing that the water wasn’t going through the screen fast enough to keep it “clean” and so we took out jet pumps that would produce 6 to 8 gpm and replaced them with bigger, multistage jets that would pump 10, 12 or 15 gpm—for a short time, that is. With these high capacity pumps screens, plugging became epidemic and it seemed like we were on some jobs almost constantly.
So at this point we had to look at other options, one of them being stainless wire-wound screens in these 2-inch wells and another being the use of longer screens if we had that much formation. Unfortunately, we sometimes only had three or four feet of formation to use and an eight-foot screen in a four-foot formation does not give much improvement.
Well, readers that is going to do it for this segment of a long and complicated subject—well screens. Next time I will write more on our slow but sure progress to bigger wells, bigger and better screens, and a better product for the customer.
We have had rather a late spring here in Michigan—10 days ago I mowed lawn wearing the exact insulated Carhartt coveralls that I wear when plowing snow. Early this week, it was very hot and humid and now the weather has changed again and, as is this is written, it is 50 degrees Fahrenheit with some much needed rain coming down. Remember to work hard and safely, but also remember to enjoy yourself if not daily at least weekly.