NationalDriller — August 2012
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John Schmitt

A Few More Thoughts about Spudde

In my last column, I wrote that I had remembered a few more facts and interesting stories about spudders, and would relate them in another column. I recently was reminded of how dangerous a spudder can be, even when it is not running. Shirley and I recently had dinner with a lifetime friend and his wife. This man worked with me on a rig that ran both cable-tool and jetting equipment in the spudsummers of 1956 and 1957. My friend later went to law school, and became a professor of law at the University of Michigan, a position from which he recently retired. He also headed up the anti-trust section of the United States Department of Justice while on leave from his professorship a few years back.

This man was with me in the summer of 1956, the only time I was badly injured on a well drilling job. Actually, my injury occurred not while we were drilling, but getting ready to drill. We were changing over from 2-inch jetting tools, where we just used a hook on our spudder line, to 4-inch cable tools. We were setting the swivel socket, and getting ready to poor molten zinc into the swivel, or the stinger, as some fellows called it. We were heating the zinc with a plumber’s fire pot, which was a gasoline-operated stove. The fire pot air pump backfired on me, and sprayed me about my neck with gasoline, which instantly ignited. I received first- and second- degree burns, and my friend transported me to a hospital where they held me for about a week.

A new, spray-on antiseptic had been developed about that time. When it was applied to my burned area, it stung like heck for a short time, and then solidified into a greasy mess. It must have worked, though, as I never had any scars, and you would not know today where I was burned. On the second day of my hospitalization, I got out of bed, looked at myself in the mirror and darn-near fainted. I was a mess, but as I said, I completely recovered. It probably goes without saying that we got rid of that fire pot very quickly after this all happened, and went to a propane furnace.

In some past articles, I have written extensively about 22-W spudders and the British version thereof. At the Kansas City Convention the then-National Water Well Association held, I think, in 1981, an exhibitor had a British version of the Bucyrus Erie 60-L, which was the next-size-larger rig from the 22-W. I think this rig was designated a 60-RL, indicating that it was made by Ruston in Great Britain. In any event, Ruston had built a large number of these for a project in Africa, and the project either never got off the ground or was greatly reduced in size. Ruston was left with these rigs, which it stored in a warehouse somewhere in Great Britain, and I think eventually sold them to this private individual.

This individual decided to market these rigs in the United States, and, I think, worldwide; one rig was brought to Kansas City where it was on display. If one looked closely at the rig, one would see that it was very similar to a U.S.-made 60-L, but had many, many minor differences and the engine was, I believe, British-made. I was told that parts for this rig were unavailable in the United States, so if anyone bought one and it broke down, they might have some serious problems, even if they were nice-looking rigs and brand-new. The sales staff at this exhibit was the owner’s two daughters, and they were very nicely dressed, but in more of a European style. I enjoyed visiting with them, and found that many of the phrases we use in American English are not the same as British English, especially the term we use for calling a person on the telephone.

Years ago, when Bucyrus Erie still was building rigs, it had built a perfect onequarter scale model of a 22-W, and I understand another of a 24-W, or perhaps 24-L. The 24-W was the forerunner of the 60-L, which I wrote about earlier in this column. Being a quarter scale model, the 22-W had a 10-foot-high mast that telescoped down to about 6 feet when folded up. The main machinery was small enough to be placed in a wooden box with the mast sticking out of a hole cut in the box. The entire model unit could be lifted by four men, and transported in the bed of a pickup truck. Upon arrival at the exhibition site or convention, it was removed from the box. Then the box became a platform, and the main frame sat on it, as the model was skid-mounted.

As I said, the rig was an absolute perfect copy of a full-size rig, and was operated by a small electric motor. It had a casing line and a small weight that could be lifted with that; a dart valve baler on the sand line; and a cute, little string of tools of maybe 3.4 inch or 1 inch in diameter. The tool string must have weighed about 10 pounds or 15 pounds, an important fact in a later part of the history of this rig. The spudder mechanism worked, and it looked just like a miniature rig running out on a job, which, in fact, it was. The last I knew the miniature 22-W is safely in the hands of an industry member in Ohio, and the 24-W is owned by a contractor in Illinois.

Legend has it that some drillers were sitting around at a convention years ago, and this little rig was running merrily away. Somebody, perhaps feeling his Jack Daniels, wondered if it really would drill. These jokers proceeded to pay out some drill line, and, I was told, managed to drill a hole through the floor of the ballroom that they were in and through the ceiling of the lobby. Needless to say, the hotel management was not pleased. Who paid for the damage, I do not know. And maybe this is an old driller's tale, but I suspect that there is some truth to it.

In a rather sad note, I have learned that Bucyrus International, the successor to Bucyrus Erie, recently was sold to a foreign firm. It looks like all our companies eventually will be owned by folks across the water. Bucyrus Erie stopped making drill rigs in the 1980s, and sold the manufacturing rights to Buckeye Drill, a company from Ohio. As far as I know, the company still will make you a brand-new spudder, especially a 22-W if you need one. And that is a good fact.

If you give an old spudder driller a chance to talk about or write about one of his favorite subjects, he will go on and on, and that is what I have done. I hope you found it interesting, and that it brought memories for some of you fellows who no longer are young.

As I write this in mid-June, it is going to nearly 100 degrees F in southern Michigan today, and we badly need rain. Running a spudder or any other rig in 100-degree weather is not fun. And if you're melting zinc, be very careful.
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