Ken Wood has been working with water wells since 1961. He founded his Denton, Md., drilling and pump installation business, Lifetime Well Drilling, in 1968. Then, just over nine years ago, he started Lifetime Wells for Ghana, which has drilled more than 1,000 water wells for residents without drinking water in Ghana and Tanzania. “We had a rig for sale and a mission wanted to buy the rig and they asked if I would go to Ghana and show the locals how to drill, and I ended up there and never got out of it,” Wood says. This year, he has been selected to receive a National Ground Water Association (NGWA) Life Member Award, which will be presented at this month’s Groundwater Expo in Las Vegas. The award recognizes his special service in the furtherance of the groundwater industry. His son Ben now runs the business in the states, but Wood still goes to work every day and oversees business operations the nine months out of the year that he isn’t in Africa.
Q. What do you do and what keeps you coming back every day?
A. It’s always interesting when you love what you do and you’re always helping people, meeting new people. It’s always a challenge. … In the states here I normally get in the office at seven, check emails and see if there’s any place for me to go or service to do or people to see or whatever. We also have a horseracing business, so I check with them and see what’s going on there. Usually there are two or three emails from Ghana that I have to address. We have a crew drilling every day in Ghana, a local crew. So that takes a lot of time keeping that rolling. Then four times a year I go to Tanzania and drill myself, and Ben goes in the winter with me, but he has to run the business here to keep the wolves away from the door. … I’m more or less the overseer. Now we have several drillers, more drillers than we have rigs now, so I’m not needed as much unless there is an emergency or something. But, normally, I’m just an overseer with the drilling.
Q. What does a typical workday involve?
A. In [Tanzania], I’m there three months of the year. Then we have our local drillers in Ghana. But in Tanzania we normally work sun up to sun down, sometimes after sundown, drilling as fast as we can to help as many people as we can. You get up in the morning, grab a cereal bar and whatever there is to drink, and get on one of the roughest roads you’ve ever been on. Normally, we can find a hotel about an hour from where we’re working. We load up all of the guys, cram them into a pickup and go over the rough road. So we drill every day, including Saturday and Sunday, while we’re gone for three weeks. So it’s a very good challenge.
Q. What does it take to succeed in what you do?
A. Hard work, honesty and making things right when they go bad. It takes longer for someone to be successful by doing that, but in the long run it pays off big time. The ones that try to take the shortcuts don’t last as long. We’ve been at this quite a while.
Q. What do you wish you knew when you started?
A. Oh so many things, but probably how to price things better at the beginning and buying better equipment. I’ve worked with junk for many years and trying to fix junk all of the time, and it would have been so much nicer if I had ventured out a little further and bought something better. But at the time money was very tight, but it would have been nice to have better equipment to work with.
Q. What tool can you not imagine working without?
A. My favorite tool that I cannot do without is a sledgehammer and pry bar. It sounds crazy, but working in Africa, especially with the older equipment, you can’t imagine how you can’t do without a basic sledgehammer that can break things loose. It’s one of my favorite tools that I have to have.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A. Basically, doing a fair job and keeping the prices where they should be. In the beginning I was told I was going to fail. That kept me going and made me work harder to prove them wrong.
Q. How would you describe the present state of the industry?
A. It’s not so bad. You have to adjust every time there’s a big change or something, but we seem to adjust and get along OK. … [Business] is very good. We are down to two and a half rigs right now and when we took the one to Ghana we were running five rigs and we’re down to two and a half and everything’s adjusted out. We’re busy thankfully.