My last two columns have been about World War II and its effect on the well drilling industry. After some tough years, the United States and its allies won the war. It took a few years for things to get back to normal after that (and these were interrupted by the Korean conflict). Eventually things got back to normal, or what was considered normal for those times. We will get past the coronavirus pandemic and get back to normal, or what will be the new normal. I’m going to write the last of the details on the new and improved “really old rig” from three columns back.
As I said earlier, my dad built this rig with a wooden frame. Wooden-frame rigs were common in the really old days, but by 1950 steel had taken over for frames and masts. This rig was a bit outdated from the first foot it drilled. For the mast, my dad used 4-by-6s, which I believe had to be specially ordered due to their length. They were held together by horizontal slats, 1-by-4s that at the time were actually a full 1 inch thick. It had no X bracing, as seen on commercially built rigs even in that time. When all assembled, this mast was about 32 feet from the ground to the crown sheave. This was plenty tall for the hollow-rod work this rig was designed for.
Dad used a car spring assembly at the top of the mast for a shock absorber. He had long since given up on manila rope for drill line, and steel-wire rope really needs a shock absorber. Later, when we converted the rig to cable tool, we found this spring too light and broke quite a few rather quickly. Dad then went to a spring manufacturing company. They made him a much heavier coil spring, which lasted the life of the rig. I don’t think these spring-type absorbers were as effective as the rubber disc ones on commercial rigs, but they did work. In those days, just having things that did work was sometimes the goal.
Dad also realized that the block-and-tackle, Rube Goldberg mast hoist from his old rig would not work on this rig. He built a small, slow-speed winch with two drums that connected to the lower end of the mast at two points. The connection was steel cable and, by using pulleys on the mast, the load on the cable was always equal on both sides. These winches were operated by a worm gear system, so there was no danger of anything slipping and dropping the mast if it was part way up. Initially, we tried to turn the worm gear with a hand crank and, to our dismay, found the cranking effort too much for any one man. The mast could be raised by this method, but it would take one man an hour to do so, as he would have to rest quite often. Dad devised a right-angle gear box drive using V belts for the worm gear system. This gear box was driven by other V belts off the jackshaft. When the mast was completely raised, we took the second set of V belts off. This system would not have worked without a transmission with reverse gear on the engine. As I remember, we raised the mast in reverse and lowered it in one of the three forward speeds. This hoist worked very well.
It took my dad and myself about 3 years to complete this rig, between all the do-it-yourself construction in our spare time while still drilling and doing pump work too. We took it on its first job in late summer 1953. We still drilled by the hollow-rod method at that time, mostly 3-inch wells. We still did a few 2-inch and did a lot of 2-inch repairs, including screen changes. The 3-inch wells in those days had huge advantages over 2-inch: Screen life was much, much longer and jet pumps produced a lot more water with their larger drop pipe.
After a couple years, we realized this rig was really too heavy for hollow-rod drilling, so we purchased a string of cable tools, strung them up and went to drilling 4-inch wells as our bread and butter. We used the higher-speed winch on the drawworks as a combination sand reel and light casing reel. Of course, we had to disconnect the bailer when we used it for casing. But we had a pretty good quick connect on this line and, as I have said many times, it worked. We even drilled a few 6-inch wells with this rig by threading a 6-inch bit onto the normally 4-inch tools and using larger bailers.
After a number of years of using the smaller winch for two purposes, we designed a separate sand reel and mounted it high up on the drill frame. This was powered by a roller chain from the jackshaft. It was driven by V belts that were back geared and controlled by a belt tightener. For the brake, we used a regular automotive drum brake. This reel was a lot faster than the original sand reel we used, which we converted to a better casing reel. We took most all of the steel cable off so it pulled on the bare drum and added a traveling block, and this served as a decent light-duty casing line.
The old Kaiser Continental engine finally wore out and my dad replaced it with a flathead six out of a Dodge car. In about 1959, we put in a rebuilt model of that same engine, and that ran and ran and ran until I finally cut the rig up in the 1990s. I’m not a big fan of Chrysler products, but that engine ran for a zillion hours and would start easily in any weather, which is more than I could say for some of the so-called “industrial” engines that powered the commercially built rigs that replaced this rig.
This old rig was remounted onto a Dodge truck when the old 1935 Ford just became unsafe to drive. We learned an interesting lesson when we remounted the rig. The Ford did not have a standard 34-inch-wide frame. I think it had a 38- or 40-inch frame, so we had to build a sub-frame to make up the difference.
This all worked out well but in 1968 we bought a used Bucyrus-Erie 20W. That became our primary drilling rig. For a few years, while dad was still in good shape, we ran both rigs. But the rig I have been writing about shifted more to occasional use —for repairs or as a pump hoist.
Sadly that old rig came to a bad end. By the early 1990s, the wooden frame had mostly rotted out. I cut it up and scraped out the steel, including the winches. It was kind of sad, but that rig had made us a lot of money and served us well. I got a decent price for the Dodge truck it was mounted on as a trade-in for a new pickup. I understand that truck ended up in Maryland owned by a collector. If he still has it, I hope he enjoys it.
As I write this column in mid-June our weather has turned hot but our grass is still green. The field crops planted nearby, especially the corn, look good. Our governor has allowed drillers to go back to non-essential work, but many businesses are struggling and the auto dealers have practically nothing to sell. Most restaurants are open again but half the tables are closed or labeled for non-use, and you have to wear a mask when coming in or going out. (You do not have to wear the mask while eating, of course.) Until next time, keep yourself and your crews safe, don’t take unnecessary risks and remember that someday we will get through this pandemic.
For more John Schmitt columns, visit www.nationaldriller.com/schmitt.