In my last column, I wrote in detail about the Bucyrus-Erie 20W spudder rig my family bought in 1968. In this column, I’m going to discuss the cable reels of this rig.

The bull reel on a 20W was gear driven with a band brake, and could spool about 600-700 feet of ⅝-inch wire line on each side of a central divider. I believe the idea was to keep most of the wire line on the so-called storage side, with enough to drill the hole you were working on on the so-called drilling side. In other words if you were drilling wells 150 feet deep you kept about 160 or 170 feet of line on the drilling side. I’m not sure if this was any great advantage, but you did have more line pull due to the reduced diameter of the accumulated line on the reel.

Changing from the drilling side to the storage side was quite easy in that the heel sheave, which was the sheave the drilling cable was wrapped around when it first left the bull reel, could be moved side to side by a cable mechanism operated by a hand wheel at the driller’s position. 

As I have said, the bull reel was controlled by a clutch and a band brake. Bucyrus-Erie had an unusual system to control this brake, in that the control lever could lock into one of several slots. This set the brake from fairly loose to tight. The steel piece from which the slots were cut was itself adjustable, with a large-diameter nut that could be turned by hand. Using the slots and the nut adjustment, the driller could really fine-tune the tension on the bull reel brake. The idea was that this tension would be just enough to allow the reel to slip a little bit on every stroke of the tools. By doing this, each stroke would supposedly have the same effect. If the adjustment was too loose slack line would result, which was hard on the rig and especially hard on the line. If the adjustment was too tight, after a few strokes the tools would hit air and not advance at all.

I was never able use this “slippage control,” if you want to call it that, to any great extent. I have talked to other drillers who owned this model of rig and they said they could not make the adjustment either. Maybe we needed to talk to Bucyrus-Erie engineers, or maybe this was just not a very good feature.

The sand reel on a Bucyrus-Erie 20W would spool about as much ⅜-inch sand line as the bull reel would spool drill line. The sand reel was fairly narrow and operated by a friction wheel drive and a shoe brake. The shoe brake only contacted a wide flange on the sand reel for perhaps 15 or 20 percent of its circumference. It was adequate, however, to control any load the sand reel would lift. The drive for this reel was from a paper pulley on the jackshaft. Both power up (against the paper pulley) and braking (against the brake shoe) were controlled by one lever that turned an eccentric shaft on which the sand reel was mounted. This reel was, of course, much faster than the bull reel when it came to line speed, and you could free-wheel a bailer into the hole rapidly. In wet weather, the paper pulley and the shoe brake could be a little tricky but after some use they would dry out and work just fine.

The third reel on my 20W was a casing reel. It operated on the crankshaft that held the spudder gear and was operated by the same clutch as the bull reel — a system I have written about earlier. The casing reel had its own independent brake and, unlike the bull reel, had a single position lock to hold it tight. This casing reel was also fairly narrow and located right in front of the driller’s position. The casing line, which was recommended to be ⅝-inch, went from the casing reel up over a sheave on the top of the mast, came back down and reeved through a single-line tackle block, went back up over another sheave on the other side of the mast, and finally came back down and anchored to the top frame of the rig opposite the casing reel.

You are probably saying to yourself, “Gosh, this guy knew this rig like the back of his hand.” You would be right. You controlled this machine all day long and had to grease it rather often, as the 20W was mostly a bushing machine.

The idea of all these lines going up and down was, I believe, to place an even strain on the mast. And with the tackle block pull at the hook attached to it, it was pretty close to double the pull at the reel. A bit of pull was lost due to friction in the sheaves. It was important not to spool any more line than absolutely needed on this reel, so it could pull on its bare drum giving it the most pull possible. A little extra line was desirable so the tackle block could move out and hook onto pipe or other heavy items that were not really close to the rig. I believe capacity of this two-part line was about 6,700 pounds. This reel worked well for handling casing, drop pipe for test pumping or any heavy lifting job around the rig. As I wrote in my last column, I believe the casing real was optional on early 20Ws. I don’t believe I would have wanted to run one of those rigs if I was handling any casing at all.

You are probably saying to yourself, “Gosh, this guy knew this rig like the back of his hand.” You would be right. You controlled this machine all day long and had to grease it rather often, as the 20W was mostly a bushing machine. It had very few ball or roller bearings. I think you could almost see the mechanism in your sleep, much like assembly line workers in the auto plants would do their job in their mind even in their off hours. Next time I will write about the spudding mechanism of the 20W, the mast (which was a weak point on this rig) and, if I have room, the power unit.

As I write this column Oct. 1, we have so far had a beautiful late summer/early fall here in Michigan. Nice, warm days and enough rain to keep my infamous lawn nice and green. I mowed the day before yesterday and the grass was too long, but I got it done. Over the last three days, the weather has turned rather cool and I wore a fleece coat while I mowed this last time. In Michigan, with winter coming on, fall is a busy time for drillers. Wherever you are, I hope you keep busy, make a profit and take a bit of time to enjoy life. With the Covid-19 pandemic, we can’t talk about going to football or baseball games and have to watch the goofy format on television. Hopefully, we will have a vaccine next year and we can go back to those events live. Until next time, I hope I haven’t bored you too much with this column. If I have, just chalk it up the memories of an older driller.


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