As regular readers know, I have been writing a series on tough and difficult jobs I have encountered in my career. In this column, I’m going to write about the most difficult job I ever encountered, one that took a long time to conquer but eventually ended up being successful. This may run to two issues of National Driller. It’s that long a story.

About 50 years ago my dad and I were contacted by a customer who had bought a piece of land and was going to move his house onto it. Even though it was that long ago I can remember every detail of drilling a new well on this property just like I remember the details of getting burned on a job, which I wrote about a couple columns back. This customer was actually the neighbor of the man where we had the awful time with a jet pump, which I also wrote about a few columns back. I believe our new customer supplied water to the house where we had the jet pump problem — this through a garden hose. Both of these customers had sold their homes for a commercial development — I believe a hotel. The second fellow had his house rigged up with an extensive series of electrical controls. I believe he was an electrical engineer and he was employed by the University of Michigan Engineering Laboratories. Due to this unique control system, he wanted to move his house to a new location — an understandable desire.

He purchased a plot of several acres about 4 miles from where he had been living. Most of the acreage was a very high hill, as the plot had very little flat land. The view from the hill was just great. The geology of the hill turned out to be not so great. We agreed to drill a 4-inch well on this new property and started in the spring of the year drilling with a spudder-type machine. We rather quickly encountered many feet of fine sand, some of it wet and some of it bone dry. As you spudder drillers will understand, fine sand is not the ideal formation to drill with a spudder. We kept drilling and drilling, finding nothing that looked like a water-bearing formation. The going got slower and slower, and finally at about 130 feet we just could not drive the casing any deeper. Thinking back, our rig was none too big for the job. But later we had a much, much bigger spudder on this job, and it wasn’t much more successful than the small rig.

At this point, we decided to pull the casing and try another spot. We were bumping the casing from the top and after pulling a few feet managed to snap off a joint 20 feet below the surface. We then borrowed a trip spear and fishing jars and began bumping from near the bottom of our casing string. Oh great, this action just bounced the broken upper section enough that it was “shoveling” a bit of sand down the lower hole. Not wanting to lock up some borrowed fishing tools, we pulled them out, grouted the hole shut and called that hole a lost cause. Thinking about it years later, we could have driven 25 feet of 6-inch casing down over the 4-inch and possibly retrieved the 110 feet of pipe left in the hole. That did not occur to us at the time of the job.

About this time, somebody, perhaps my father, wondered if this wasn’t an ideal location to drill by the mud rotary method. At this time, only one contractor in our county and several surrounding counties was running a rotary, and he was not having much success. We did know of a driller about 100 miles away who had been drilling rotary for several years. His company drilled in an area where the wells were much deeper than we usually drilled, and most of them finished in the bedrock. I had gotten to know this man through activities in the Michigan Well Drillers Association (MWDA), now known as the Michigan Ground Water Association (MGWA). Sadly this fellow died quite young as a result of a heart attack, not helped by the fact that he was a heavy smoker.

We contacted my friend, told him of our troubles on this job and asked if he would drill a hole for us. He said he would but he had some work to clean up himself. So we moved our spudder from the problem job and drilled a couple wells in other areas. We had set a date when my friend was to show up with his rotary, a table-drive machine and a well-known brand. We waited on the job and waited, much like the people in the movie, “Casablanca.” He never did show up.

In talking with his wife the next morning, she told us that he had gotten into a big argument with his partners, who were his brother and another fellow. She further said that they would not be coming to drill for us, as they had held a corporate meeting and my friend was no longer in charge of scheduling work for their business. As a comedian used to say, “What a revolting development.” We were back to square one on this job and no closer to getting water for our customer than we had been at hour one of day one.

I then contacted the president of our MWDA and told him what had happened. He drilled in the area near where our friend did, where rotaries were quite common. He said he knew a driller he was pretty sure would come to our area and drill a hole for us and make a water well, but he wanted us to come see this driller at his location and we said that was fair. This is going to be the end of chapter one of this long tale, during which we have lost some casing, drilled in effect a dry hole and caused a friend some business problems. Incidentally, our friend and his partners made up and worked together for quite a number of years until his untimely death.

As I write this in the middle of August, we have had a lengthy dry spell here in southern Michigan. Some areas near us have gotten flooding rains, but none of this has fallen here. Our grass is still a bit green but pretty dry and I have not mowed in some time. Our friendly buckhorn weed is doing very well and I will need to mow it off for the third time this season. Until next time, keep working and hope that you don’t get your friends in trouble with their business partners.


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