In my last column, I wrote about a revolutionary solution to air control in tanks — the air separator tank that came out in the 1950s. Looking back, I would have to say this was a true revolution and a great leap forward over air pumping devices of many designs that, as I said last time, sometimes even worked. Another big advantage of the air separator tank was that, even if it failed and did not separate the air from the water, it was no real big deal. The customer was not out of water, which he could have been with some of the air pumping devices — especially those on jet pumps.

Now, it wasn’t long after the introduction of the factory made air separator tank that pump men began to wonder if a conventional tank could be made into an air separator type. The answer from several manufacturers was “yes.” While a conventional pre-1955 to 1960 pressure tank wasn’t plumbed as ideally as a later model, if an air disc could be installed in the tank it would work reasonably well. One of the first designs for an installable air disc was really quite unique. This consisted of a series of Styrofoam “boards” that, when properly assembled, made a circular disc using some type of cord to hold them together. The installer was supposedly able to assemble the disc inside the tank like building a model ship in a bottle. I never used one of these, but have to admit it was a pretty interesting solution. I don’t think this was ever very popular, as they weren’t around long in our area.

The second attempt by some other manufacturers was equally unique but far more successful. This was a round air disc made of rubber or a rubber-like material with a floatation device near the outer edge that was sort of like a small hula hoop. The installer merely had to wrap this device up much like he would wrap up a wash rag and it could be inserted in a 1-inch opening. As I remember, the floatation device was two 180-degree sections that made it easier to fold up and then wrap the whole thing. Some of these even came with a plastic sleeve to cover the threads of the opening to avoid tearing the disc during installation. Once inside, the disc flopped into the circular shape and even had a sort of a wiper edge to wipe the inside surface of the tank of all water much like a windshield wiper blade works. Now we could make an air separator out of any tank — what progress.

An interesting side light for my dad and me was encountering some 18-inch diameter tanks. Now the normal size of tanks is 16-, 20-, 24-, 30- or 36-inch, at least for sizes from 42 gallon to 525 gallon, which covers an awful lot of domestic and commercial installations. However, in the old days at least two manufacturers made 18-inch diameter tanks. One company made these in 33 gallon and 66 gallon sizes, the larger being just twice as tall as the smaller. My dad had installed some of these in the 1930s and we had a service call where we convinced the owner of an 18-inch diameter tank that the answer to his water-logging problems was to install an air disc, the rubber kind with a floatation ring.

On checking with our supplier, we found that 18-inch discs were indeed available so we ordered a dozen. We installed the first one in this customer’s tank and many, many, many years later junked the other 11 as we never sold another one. Now these discs of any size were simplicity in themselves and, as I have said, a leap forward. The wrap-up-to-install type did have a huge disadvantage that, thank God, happened only rarely. Somehow, the floatation device would fail and the disc would wind itself up and go out the discharge line. This would cause a severe loss of pressure to the system and a customer who needed a serious service call. A couple times my dad spent a whole afternoon on jobs digging out the remains of a floatation device that decided to go on a trip. Thankfully, this only happened rarely.

One of the more positive aspects of these tanks, whether they came from the factory or were modified in the field, was that they resulted in a large number of service calls. Now, I know that many of you readers don’t like service. But, properly done, service can be a profit maker and a goodwill builder. All you really needed to de-waterlog a tank was a small air compressor, a few simple tools, a hose and a pail. You could make a service call to do this with a Ford Ranger pickup, a Pinto automobile or even a motorcycle with a side car. The service was easy to perform, quick to complete and not very strenuous to the service man.

A downside to this air charging, as we called it, was the homeowner who attempted to do it himself. Even if the concept “water out and new air in” was fairly simple, few of my customers ever understood it. Of course, most of them attempted to do this after a late lunch on Saturday afternoon. They would get themselves out of water and make a frantic call to us or other pump men in the area. They were really glad to see us and happy to pay our fee. As I have said before, the air separator tank was simplicity in itself: It worked and was an important step as our industry evolved and improved. Next time, I will write about the next huge step — the bladder tank.

We have had some pretty nice weather here in mid-July — a few hot sultry days, which is normal. However, the last couple days have been in the low 70s with temps in the mid-50s at night. We did get a nice shower yesterday in the early evening and my grass is nice and green. I mow a lot of ground, perhaps too much, with a John Deere lawn tractor and a Kubota utility tractor. Neither are getting stiff from sitting around. I hope you had some time to have a little fun this summer and worked safe while you were working.


For more John Schmitt columns, visit www.nationaldriller.com/schmitt.