Remembering Two Longtime Michigan Drilling Contractors
If you have read this column many times, you have probably figured out that I am what might be called a “convention freak.” I think this is a true statement since I went to my first well driller’s convention in 1952. I don’t think I have ever been to a convention, what we now call a conference or a dealer day at a supply house that I did not enjoy. I haven’t added up the total recently, but I think I am approaching 150 of these types of events in my lifetime. I am of the opinion that if you really go to one of these things, you can’t fail to meet someone new who it will be in your best interest to know, see a new product that you might want to use or learn a new process, especially in drilling, that can be valuable to you.
If you are a regular reader of this column, you know that sometimes I get on a subject — be it drilling, pumps, repairing or my experience at a convention —and stay on it like a bulldog that has grabbed your pant leg. In this column, I’m going to cover a number of subjects that I hope will be informational and which contain a bit of opinion. Not incidentally, my wife informs me that this is the 120th column I have written for National Driller. It seems like the day before yesterday that I started, but I’m not at the end of the line yet. I do appreciate the comments I get from you readers about my writing.
Sadly, I must start this column with news that the groundwater industry in Michigan recently lost two good and longtime members: Robert Larson from L’Anse and Harry Kleiman from Iron Mountain. L’Anse and Iron Mountain are both in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. For those that don’t know, there are really two Michigans. The Lower Peninsula is heavily populated, and has roads going everywhere and a moderate climate. The Upper Peninsula is thinly populated, and has fewer roads (although they are generally in better shape than those in the lower) and a far more harsh climate. To live and operate in the Upper Peninsula, one needs to be a rugged individualist. The geology up there is also far different from southern Michigan.
Robert “Bob” Larson, who passed away in his 80s, was a longtime member of our industry from the small town of L’Anse. He was a longtime member of the Michigan Ground Water Association (MGWA) and made the long trip to the annual convention (which has never, ever been held in the Upper Peninsula) every year. He also served as a member of the Well Drillers’ Advisory Board, which is part of our Department of Environmental Quality. This board oversees the registration of well drilling and pump contractors in Michigan. The registration is equivalent to licensing, but for some reason, the legislature chose that name for the process back in 1965.
Bob Larson was a friendly and outgoing fellow who was always happy to sit and network or just visit. My wife, Shirley, and I wondered privately why he was not at the recent convention in Acme, Mich. We have since learned that he died a few days before this event. Our current MGWA president told me that Bob did his oral interview when he, the president, became registered. He said Bob was very professional, yet cordial. I think that describes Bob Larson pretty well. Shirley and I wish to express our sympathies to the Larson family.
The other longtime industry member who recently left us was Harry Kleiman from Iron Mountain. I think I first met Harry more than 50 years ago at a Michigan Well Drillers Association (our old association name) board meeting. Harry was a big guy physically, and he came on as a rough, tough and formidable fellow. In truth, he was very formidable and very knowledgeable about well drilling. He was a genuine man and, beneath the bluster, was a really friendly guy. We might say he was case hardened. He seemed like he had a hard shell, but was really soft inside — at least that is what he seemed to me. Harry, like Bob Larson, was a longtime member of the MGWA and served as a director for a number of years. He also served as a member of the Well Drillers’ Advisory Board, representing the Upper Peninsula.
I understand Harry had been in declining health for some months prior to his passing. His son, Erik, continues the business and is a director of the MGWA, continuing in his father’s footsteps. Our sympathies are extended to the Kleiman family on Harry’s passing.
As I, like Harry and Robert, have reached my mid-80s, it seems like more and more of my friends are passing on or having serious health issues. Last week, I lost another longtime friend who was not in the groundwater industry. He was 88, and had been in a facility for over a year — not really where most of us want to end up. Yet another friend, who was born the same month as I was, has a serious health problem known as dementia. This fellow was the chief engineer of a major electronics firm in Michigan, proving that no matter how smart you are, no matter how hard you work or how much money you made, we will all come to our end. I can assure you that life is short so, while it is good to work hard and make money, take a little time to enjoy life and those who love you.
Last month, I told you readers I would write about a couple of dealer days that I attended this winter. Like most anywhere, we have many supply houses in Michigan serving our industry. Some are a one-store operation, but we have one group with four branches and another with, I believe, six. These last two groups have a “day” each year, usually in March or April. They did so in 2018 in both those months, with one having an event in the Lansing, Mich., area and the other at a casino in Mount Pleasant, Mich. Shirley and I attended both, and we had a fine time at each one. We even gambled and lost a small amount of money at the Mount Pleasant event. We do not consider ourselves gamblers.
The format for each of the events was similar: The supply house has the manufacturers they represent come and set up table-top displays. This is a good chance to visit with these exhibitors, because not all of them attend our annual MGWA convention. There is also usually a chance to visit with other drillers and pump men and discuss business and industry matters in a relaxed setting. There is always a free lunch at noontime, a drawing for free prizes (some of them pretty major) and, at the Mount Pleasant event, even professional entertainment. These were both one-day events and it was time well spent for both Shirley and myself. I believe these are both “invitation only.” If you get invited to a dealer day in your state, go to it — it will be worth your time and the fuel it costs to get there.
As I write this in mid-May, my famous — or infamous — lawn is green as all get out and growing like crazy. We have had a lot of rain, and I have had a problem getting in enough mower time between the raindrops. The environmentalists, who in 2003 were predicting us here in Michigan were pumping the Great Lakes dry, are not wringing their hands about beaches being eroded and seawalls toppled. People should understand that things like precipitation and lake levels go in a natural cycle. I have seen a number of these cycles in my lifetime in Michigan. ’Til next time, be good and thanks for reading this column.
For more John Schmitt columns, visit www.nationaldriller.com/schmitt.