The well driller showed up on Monday, June 29. I heard the rig so I went up to the lot and looked. Here it is at work.
This is a Bucyrus-Erie cable drilling rig. It’s nearly as old as I am, and it’s in operation in this video by the fourth generation in a well-drilling family. According to the young fellow working the rig, it belonged to the grandfather of the current owner, who passed it to his son, who passed it to his son. Now the young fellow, who married the owner’s step-daughter, is using it. He said it dates to 1955, although the truck it’s mounted on probably dates to around 1970.
Cable drilling rigs are obsolescent, if not obsolete. They have been largely replaced by rotary drilling rigs, which, according to what I have read, drill holes significantly faster than the brute-strength method of a cable rig. The cable rig raises a heavy steel pipe with a bit on the end and drops it repeatedly. There is no rotation of the bit, so the bit drives through the earth and rock simply by pulverizing it.
In the last part of the video, you can see another steel pipe resting at an angle in a larger metal pipe. The operator periodically pulls the drilling bit out and drops the other pipe in. There is a trip mechanism at the end of the other pipe which opens the end when it reaches the bottom of the hole, so it lets the slurry into the hollow pipe. Then, as it’s raised, the trip mechanism closes the valve and the operator brings it up to dump the slurry. It runs out through the open end of the larger section of pipe and then down the hill. Then the operator drops the drilling pipe back in, puts some fresh water in, and begins drilling again.
This is some of the slurry from early in the drilling process. It’s lighter and not as red as the overlying soil. That means it came from the upper layer of sandstone, which varies in color from white to brown to reddish. This slurry was gritty from the pulverized sandstone.
Later on the slurry was darker. The operator said that came from a layer of dirt beneath the upper rock layer. And then after that, there was some lighter slurry with a mixture of larger rock pieces, which came from a lower, harder rock layer that didn’t turn into sand when the bit pulverized it.
This type of rig is based on a drilling rig patented back in the mid-1860’s. Bucyrus-Erie bought the rights to it some decades later. The rigs were used not only to drill water wells, but also to drill oil wells, back when oil well depths were measured in just a couple of thousand feet.
Bucyrus-Erie apparently sold its cable rig manufacturing to another company which continues to offer parts for old rigs like this one.
Petroleumhistory.org has an informative description of cable drilling rigs as well as information about Bucyrus-Erie. I would say it’s interesting, but that’s probably a matter of opinion.
This old rig is slowly drilling its way into the earth. As of Wednesday, I can still open the door and hear the rig working down the street at our new house site. The same rig was used to extend our neighbor’s well to 450 feet after they had some well problems. Our current well is less than 300 feet deep, but we have never had any hint of supply problems, even back a few summers ago when we had a fairly severe drought. I don’t know how deep the new well will go, but we will probably be conservative about it, which means deep.