Some Final Thoughts on Pitless Adapter Tanks
You, regular readers, will recall that I have been doing a few columns lately on a product that was popular in the past, the pitless adapter tank or PAT. Last month I took a slight detour and wrote about a drilling demonstration and, in this column, I’m going to catch up on a few details that I had forgotten about the PATs.
A few days ago, I got a phone call from a retired contractor who is also a dear friend and he wanted me to know, based on my first articles on PATs, that I was absolutely out of my mind. He went on to say that these PATs were among the worst things ever invented by man. According to him, they were and are an absolutely worthless abomination to mankind and should be, if they have not already been, destroyed, burned to a crisp, the remains buried in a landfill and forgotten about. He did not use any swear words, as he is not prone to doing that like some well drillers and pump men — myself included — but he certainly hated PATs, and hate is perhaps too mild a term.
It seems that in his area, which is across the state from where I operate, they at one time at least had a lot of dairy operations, some small, some rather large. The local milk inspector who represented the Michigan Department of Agriculture thought these buried tanks were just the greatest thing ever. He recommended that virtually every dairy farm have one installed. As a historical fact, in the 1950s and ’60s many dairy farmers in Michigan had to upgrade their wells and pumping systems to meet Michigan Department of Ag rules if they sold milk. One thing that was absolutely forbidden was the well pit. Thus, the recommendation of a well equipped with a submersible pump, pitless adapter or PAT.
Another idea that was recommended to dairy farmers in that era was the electrical “maypole” system. In this system electrical power is brought into a pole, the meter attached to the pole and right next to it a rainproof distribution or breaker box. From this location electrical power is sent to the assorted buildings, including the house of the farmstead. One of the advantages of this system is that if a building gets on fire, electrical power to the farm is not destroyed. It is also a convenient place to have a transfer switch and a hookup for a standby generator, which most farmers have generally powered from a tractor.
This milk inspector had figured out that if you had a well with a buried tank system and fed the pump power from the “maypole,” even if a fire occurred, there was still some water available. The likelihood of the maypole and electrical distribution equipment burning was very slight indeed — this actually is a pretty good design in my opinion.
Unfortunately for my friend, he was called on to service many of these installations on which he had not been the original installer. He said many of the other contractors in his area failed to lubricate the O rings of the spool used on a PAT. I have written about the problems this causes in an earlier article. He said he also found many cases where a small stone lodged against the tank wall during backfill, and almost every leak he discovered was right where that stone touched the tank. I covered replacing leaking tanks in an earlier article and have to admit this is a mean, nasty, dirty, unpleasant job made even worse in cold weather.
As years went by and my father and I installed these tanks, we came to believe that the steel rotted from the outside. In later years, we would coat the tanks with an asphalt-like substance called Asphaltum. It was like a very thick black paint that was applied by a brush. We also had good, clean fill sand hauled in to bury around the tank. Our experience was that this greatly extended tank life.
One other so-called advantage that these tanks had was that they created a lot of precipitated iron, a.k.a. rust. “Wait a minute,” you say, rust is a real pain — and I agree. By the nature of the design of the PAT, a fair amount of aeration of the water took place in the iron-laden water that is prevalent in this part of Michigan. This precipitated the iron into rust particles and if iron control was necessary it could be strained with a cartridge filter or a silica sand filter. This really worked. I had one of these systems in a house that I built new in 1970 and we had great iron control. I sold that place and built another new house in 1990 using a regular pitless and a captive air tank. Only recently have we had good iron control at this house, and that from an iron filter that uses air to precipitate the iron in the water.
A couple of other disadvantages the PAT system had were that the casing had to be cut and threaded at exactly the right depth, and we were using just about all steel casing in those days. This was a lot more work and still is compared to boring a hole in the side of the casing and using a clamp-on pitless. To handle a PAT, even a small one, you needed a hoist of some sort, pump hoist, RO unit or perhaps you could use the bucket on a backhoe with a chain. Compare this to a system in 2016 where one man can easily handle a clamp-on like I mentioned above and a fiberglass pressure tank if one is needed, or just a few assorted small items if a VFD system is installed.
Readers, you have to remember that these PAT systems came into use about 60 years ago and a lot of things have changed in the time since. Our industry has made great strides. We drill a lot faster. I’m not sure if pumps last longer, but we seem to do less service than we did years ago. So if a system with a PAT seems outdated, it would be just like driving a 1960 pickup with a manual transmission, a none too strong engine, open window air conditioning and manual steering and brakes. Compare that to a 2016 model with all the bells and whistles, and you can understand that just about every industry has made progress. You could, however, install a PAT on a well today and it would work just fine.
Well, readers, I have rattled on at some length about these pitless adapter tanks, and I admit I kind of miss them. In my opinion, they had some advantages over an inside tank and I also freely admit they had some serious disadvantageous compared to other systems. They are a little bit like cable tool rigs, which did the job for many, many years but are hardly ever used in this area of Michigan in 2016. Some of us old guys miss the CT rigs and I must admit I kind of miss the PAT tanks.
As I write this in mid-July, we are gripped by a drought here in Michigan. We are about 3 inches low on rainfall in this month alone, and the weather guys say next weekend our heat index — not actual temperature — is going to be about 105 degrees Fahrenheit. My well-written-about lawn is growing slowly but with a great growth of a nasty weed called buckhorn. Everyone I talk to is plagued by this weed, which grows under all conditions and makes a lawn look terrible. Until next time when I start some sort of new subject, I think, keep cool and I hope you don’t have to replace any leaking PATs any time soon.
For more John Schmitt columns, visit www.nationaldriller.com/schmitt.