As you regular readers understand, I’ve been writing about problem jobs I’ve encountered in my career and the solutions to these problems. As I think back, it seems I encountered more problems with pumps and water conditioners than with wells I drilled. This is probably because I, and my father before me, did more pump work than well drilling. He got into the industry as what we would call nowadays a pump installer while working for a farm implement dealer. He later bought a well rig, the first of several, and this led to well repair and true well drilling.
I also remember that many of the difficult jobs (and I did not have a huge number of these, thank goodness) were due to the attitudes of my customers. Following are my memories of two different jobs, one with a very unreasonable customer and another with a fellow who was really quite easy to work for. Both of these jobs occurred many, many years ago.
On the first job, we had repaired a well. We either acidized the screen or replaced the screen on a 4-inch well drilled by another contractor. I do not remember what type of pump was on the well when we started, but we installed a new submersible pump. This job was for a commercial operation that had a medium number of employees and not a huge need for water — that is, they did not need a lot of gpm. We got the job done in about normal time and it looked like it had been a routine job — this was not to be though.
After we finished the job, the president or CEO of this business complained that the water was a lot harder than before we made the repairs and installed the new pump. You experienced contractors will understand that this is pure bunk. Cleaning the screen and installing a new pump is not going to change the makeup of water pumped from a well. This CEO somehow figured out that we had set the pump down close to the screen, which was our standard procedure. A lot of the wells we worked on or drilled didn’t have a huge head — in other words, not hundreds of feet of water in the casing. Many of the wells were less than 100 feet in total. I know some contractors and even pump companies recommend that you keep the pump 10 feet above the screen. We set many, many pumps with the bottom of the motor not 10 inches above the screen and never had any problems.
Anyway, this CEO maintained that the hardness in the water was like marbles or other large objects in it. He maintained that by setting the pump near the screen we were pulling the hard marbles into the system. He further maintained that if we moved the pump up in the well, the hard marbles of water would stay at the bottom. This, of course, is nonsense. The hardness is in all of the water and that water comes from the aquifer through the screen, through the pump, up the drop pipe, into the pressure tank and all the way to its use points (unless it goes through a water softener).
We told this CEO that we would not move the pump up since we were concerned with breaking suction on a fairly good well. We tried reasoning with this fellow and never could get him to understand our point. I think he was one of those types (and there are many of these) who wanted something to complain about to get a discount or perhaps even a free job. This company did pay its bill in full and we never heard from them again, which was frankly a blessing.
The second job in this double header was also a 4-inch well, this one at a residence. The owner was a partner in another commercial operation and this one used a lot of water. We did the well and pump work at the commercial operation, and he was easygoing and a pleasure to work for. He had a brother who was like the fellow in the first part of this article, but we did the residential wells for both these brothers and many of their employees. They were a good source of business.
This customer had a 4-inch well drilled by others equipped with a multi-stage jet pump installed by my father. Years ago, many of the drillers in our area wanted nothing to do with pumps, especially jet pumps. They were content to drill the well, fold the mast and get on to the next job. Today, every contractor I know installs and services pumps — and who better to do this than the people who drilled the wells, as they know what those wells will do and not do. Our customer had a problem and I really don’t remember what the problem was, but his jet pump quit pumping. We took it off the well and back to our shop and found some of the castings were defective. This was a name brand jet pump and the multi-stage version, which this was, was equal to the early submersibles and perhaps more reliable.
We ordered new parts, including castings, reassembled the pump and put it back on the well. We started the motor and it pumped absolutely nothing. What the heck? Perhaps we assembled the pump wrong. We took it back to our shop, took it apart, found nothing wrong, reassembled it and put it back on the well. It did the same thing: pumped absolutely nothing. At this point, our customer had every reason to be pretty miffed, if not down-right mad. I remember him coming home from work after our second failure and saying, “I don’t like the look on your faces.” He did have a big advantage in that he was hooked up to his neighbor’s system through an underground pipe. He was getting water from his neighbor and sometimes his neighbor got water from him. This was a common practice years ago, but I don’t believe is an approved method in 2017.
We took the pump apart a third time and on checking very carefully found we had the wrong castings. I think the six-digit part number was off by one number from what we really needed, but the casting was quite different. How we found the difference I don’t really remember, but we got the correct castings and on re-installation the pump worked just fine. Our customer could have complained or even said he wanted a big discount, but he said only that he was glad to have his own pump working again. We did not charge him for the multiple service calls when we made the mistake. The main point here is: make sure you are ordering the absolutely correct parts.
So there you have two different jobs, both with successful results, and two owners with far different opinions on how the jobs had gone.
As I write this in mid-July we have a decent summer here in southern Michigan. Last week, we had extremely high humidity, which is not unusual in our area, along with fairly high temperatures. That would make outside work unpleasant, whether you have the right parts or not. Our lawns look a little pale and we have huge crops of a really nasty weed called buckhorn. Until next time, watch those part numbers and be prepared for unreasonable customers.
For more John Schmitt columns, visit www.nationaldriller.com/schmitt.