On Drilling Jobs, Customers Can Be 'Light' on Being Right
I know that one of the so-called principles of being in business is that the customer is always right. I take this to mean that, when we finish a job, the people we work for are pleased with the result or, if we go into a business to make a purchase — be it large or small — that we come away happy feeling that we got fair value for our money. Sometimes, in the water well and pump business, the customer who generally lacks any technical knowledge of what we do is, in fact, wrong. In a continuing series of difficult jobs, this article talks about one where the customer really was wrong.
Quite a few years ago, we got a call from a man who was a really good customer. This gentleman called and said he wanted us to look at a job. We met and he, my dad and I drove to a location. This was sort of a government-type business that served the public. I think they may have been a non-profit. It seems our customer was a member of the board of directors and may have been the treasurer. They needed a fair amount of water for their operation. When we got to the site we quickly learned that one of their wells was out of commission.
This was a 4-inch well completed in a well pit, which was a very popular completion type years ago. We saw an open casing with no evidence of any kind of pump being in or connected to the well. It seems that this well was equipped with a submersible pump that had failed, and the maintenance crew at the facility had attempted to pull it themselves. I don’t know what method of pulling device they used but they managed to break the drop pipe off, it being made of steel right at the pump. The head maintenance man told us they almost got the pump out of the casing when this happened. They then, not smartly, after they had broken the drop pipe off, cut the wires to the submersible pump and knocked it to the bottom of the well, either on top of the well screen, which was most likely, or way to the bottom if it was a rock well. They knew the well was about 90 feet deep, so we are not talking about a really deep hole for this part of Michigan.
The maintenance men then installed a new submersible in the well and — guess what? — it didn’t work. Of course the old pump, which was probably encrusted, was blocking the flow of water to the new pump. At this point, I believe, they contacted the board of directors and our customer called us. When we visited the job with him, he asked us what we thought was wrong. We told him that a 4-inch well won’t work with two pumps, one on top of the other, down in the casing. He understood a little bit about wells and told us he wanted us to fish that old pump out. Looking at the condition of the casing and guessing at the age of the installation, I told him it was unlikely we could do that. My dad concurred. The customer did not like this answer. He said we were, in his opinion, the best drillers around and we could get that pump out. I replied that we appreciated his confidence but we really, really didn’t want to try to fish the pump out of this old well. He spoke for the board of directors and said to go ahead.
We brought in a drill rig and went to fishing with 1-inch extra-heavy pipe as our fishing tool and a taper tap on the end. This tap had been cut off so the small end was almost as large as the discharge opening in most submersible pumps. We quickly got a hold of the pump and got it at least half way to the surface when it broke off. We went down and got a hold of it a second time and the same thing happened — at about the same spot. We must have gotten a hold of the pump at least a dozen times, if not more, and we never got past that same spot about 40 feet below the surface. I talked to the maintenance man who had been involved in the original process, and he told me that there were some coupling-like devices on the feed wires to the pump that they could see with a flash light and they left these on the wires.
These coupling-like devices were insulated wire connectors that covered the crimped like connectors on the wires. They were not unlike a small “dresser” coupling, if you readers are familiar with those. Certainly, these connectors were not making our job any easier. Thinking back years later, we might have had better success if we had reamed the casing out down to where the pump was, flushed the reamings with some fresh water and tried with a clean casing. Unfortunately, we didn’t think of this at the time.
In any event, after several days of fruitless fishing we got our customer and some other directors together and said that what we suspected at the start of the job was true. We could not get that pump out. They were somewhat miffed and asked what we proposed, and I said to move over and drill a new well. Now they were really miffed. I said it was either that, or we would fold the mast and head for another job. They then asked what they owed us for our fishing efforts and, as we had spent a lot of hours on this job with no results, it added up to a goodly amount. Now they were more miffed yet. So, to ease their pain my dad and I gave them a discount on the fishing job, which we probably should not have. But they felt better at that point and told us to go ahead with the new well.
We moved the rig about 5 feet and drilled a new well without incident. We hooked this up using a pitless adapter and a submersible pump, and the facility had a good water supply again. One thing that made this job more difficult was that we were drilling right near the entrance to the facility and a lot of their customers walked near our drill rig and we were kept busy “shooing” them away. The bottom line on this job is that, despite our customer’s confidence in us, the impossible takes longer and is usually far more expensive. Even if we had gotten the pump out and a new one in the old well, it would have been a patched-up job. It turns out John really did know what he was talking about.
I have often used this as an example to convince customers that you really don’t want to pour a lot of money into an old well. I’m not opposed to making repairs to an old well or cleaning the screen if it is so equipped, but sometimes you have to say, enough is enough. Perhaps we should have stood our ground, but we wanted to keep our customer happy so we went ahead. We did get paid for this job, and I think the customers learned something and we learned something. The result turned out to be good but it was one of the more unpleasant jobs I ever did.
Folks are starting to mow lawns in Michigan, so I guess spring is here. Until next time, use your own good judgment on well repairs and keep your customers’ best interest in mind, but remember that sometimes they really don’t know what the job calls for.
For more John Schmitt columns, visit www.nationaldriller.com/schmitt.