A Water Well Drilling Business

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MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
[PHOTO 2] Two shallow ditches and settling holes are dug and a mud pump set in place before the drilling of a new well is begun.

Folks, if you’ve been waiting for us to come up with the
perfect, rural-based, “be your own boss” business–one that
might be right up your alley–be sure you give this article
a darn good looking over … because we’ve discovered an
inexpensive way to get into a one-person water well drilling
business that may just be one of the best home enterprises
ever!

Now, anyone who has ever seen a conventional drilling
machine will probably feel it’s unlikely that an individual
could set him- or herself up in this business for a
reasonable investment … and there’s good reason for
such skepticism! After all, the rigs most well drillers use
are massive ten-wheeled trucks-loaded with 30-foot towers,
giant engines, and heavy equipment-that can cost as much as
$300,000!

But suppose (just suppose) that you could purchase a
completely functional, hydraulic-powered, domestic water
well drilling rig that would fit on a small trailer or the
back of a pickup truck, be capable of boring a hole eight
inches in diameter and 600 feet deep … and yet cost a
relatively affordable $7,500? Furthermore, suppose that the
fellows who made such a miracle earth piercer were willing
to provide a two-day training course in using the device
(even if you weren’t at all sure that you wanted to buy
it)?

Sounds pretty good, huh? Especially when you consider that
owning an inexpensive well drilling machine would enable
you to charge less for your services than the “big boys” do
(thus giving your customers a money-saving break) … yet
still clear more profit-and get more customers-than does
the competition!

Well, it’s all true! A couple of tool-happy New Mexicans
named Gailard “Skip” Piper and Roy Proctor have–entirely on
their own–invented the Piper Hydro EXPLORER 2000, a unique
well drilling machine that actually accomplishes
everything described above! And MOTHER EARTH NEWS can assure you that
the small but hardy rig does, indeed, do the job … because we’ve seen it perform!  

How Well Drilling Works

Before we can describe the specific functional virtues of
the EXPLORER 1200, we’ll have to explain a bit about well
drilling in general. To begin with, there are two principal
techniques used for boring domestic water holes: cable and
rotary drilling. Cable (or “pounder”) rigs hammer out a
hole by repeatedly dropping a 1,500-pound “tool string”
onto an earth-cutting bit. Any driller using such a rig
must stop every few feet and–with water and a long
bailing bucket–clean out the bottom of the hole. You might
imagine that all the required pounding and bailing would
make for some pretty slow progress … and, in fact,
cable rigs can take up to two weeks to drill a household
well. 

Rotary drills, on the other hand, use a high-powered engine
that screws a cutting bit into the earth while continuously flushing water down through the hollow sections of
drilling pipe (or “drill stems”), and out through holes in
the bit. The liquid washes the cuttings to the surface to
clean out the hole. Any suspended particles are then
allowed to settle out, after which a second engine (the mud
pump) cycles the water to the bottom of the well again.
Rotary drilling machines are much more expensive than cable
rigs (they cost $200,000 or $300,000, whereas new pounder
setups go for around $80,000), but the more costly devices
are also powerful enough to bore a household well in a day
or two. 

Small Is Beautiful

Both rotary and cable drill operators have to charge a
considerable price for their services: The first group are
forced to do so because their equipment is so costly, and
the second because theirs is so slow. The rotary-driven
EXPLORER 2000, though, can work rapidly enough to–as Skip
Piper says–“wax those cable pounders,” yet its
purchase price undercuts that of other rotary rigs by a
factor of 30! 

What’s the secret of Roy and Skip’s rig? Well, its main
asset is, simply enough, an economy of scale. Most rotary
machines are, in addition to their water-finding
jobs, designed to have the capability to drill oil or
industrial wells that are over 2,400 feet deep! Every
feature of such a machine must be massive: It uses a pair
of large, fuel-guzzling engines, a 30- to 60 foot tall
drilling tower, drill stems that often can’t be raised
without a crane, massive pumps to circulate huge quantities
of water, etc. (In fact, the rig’s operators may need to
own one extra truck just to carry the drill stems …
another for toting essential spare parts … and yet a
third to haul the necessary water!)

Obviously, using such a large-capacity drill to cut a 100-
or 200-foot domestic well is a clear case of mechanical
overkill. So Skip and Roy are able to save a great deal of
expense and energy simply by using a machine whose size
more nearly matches the demands of the specific job. As an
example, the EXPLORER 2000’s tower is only 14 feet tall and
the drill stems are 10 feet long, so all of the portable
equipment can actually be lifted by hand. The drilling
engine also uses much less power than do those of the big
rigs … the mud pump needs to cycle a great deal less
water … and the body of the rig is small and,
therefore, less expensive to build.

The two inventors have also devised several improvements
that further increase the efficiency of their scaled-down
rig. For instance, they added a wiper paddle, at a point
just above the drill bit, that–by packing the sides of the
hole as the bit descends–enables a surprisingly modest
amount of water to clear the bored opening. They’ve also
incorporated a labor-saving system for placing one section
of drill stem right on top of another as the well is bored
(most rotary rig operators have to raise all their buried
drill stems every time they want to add a new section!).
Not only that, but the two tinkering Southwesterners have
created a uniquely effective hydraulic system which
enables the 2000 to achieve extra drilling torque with its
small engine.

The end result is a machine that appears downright flimsy
when compared to big well drilling devices. “In fact,”
jokes Skip Piper, “when I first started drilling, I had to
charge less than the other guys because my machine looked
so ridiculous!” But puny-appearing or not, the EXPLORER
2000 works so well that, these days, the joke’s on the
other foot … many competing Alamogordo drillers have
had to lower their rates to match Piper’s more closely.
(One such hole cutter recently complained to Skip that the
EXPLORER has “made the whole business so simple there’s no
money in it anymore.”) 

Drilling Know-How

Should you sign up to train at Piper Hydro in Alamogordo
(the $100 fee for a two-day session is refunded if you buy
a rig), Skip and Roy will, of course, give you plenty of
field instruction in using the EXPLORER 2000. They’ll also
make darn sure that you have a good understanding of such
basics as never running the drill unless you’ve first made
sure that water is circulating through the well hole (if it
isn’t doing so, rock and mud segments can accumulate at the
base of the hole and permanently trap your expensive drill
bit! )  

Still, the two New Mexicans will not be able to teach you
everything about the trade, because–make no mistake about
it–a lot of well drilling expertise has to come from
experience. Only a practiced “carrier” (or driller) can
recognize the stem vibration that means his or her bit is
cutting through gravel … and spot the color and texture
changes in the recirculating water that indicate whether
the drill is boring through rock, sand, or limestone.
There’s also a lot of know-how associated with such trade
arts as using bentonite mud (aka “driller’s mud”) to seal the sides
of a collapsing hole, finding the best available
water-bearing layer, and installing pumps. But the Piper
crew will happily advise you after you’ve finished
training–as well as during the instruction period–and can
also help you obtain useful drilling reference manuals. 

$$$ and ¢¢¢

If you do set yourself up in business with Piper Hydro’s
EXPLORER 2000 (or with the bigger 3000 model), you’ll probably
soon be in the enviable position of being able to charge
less yet make more money than your competition can! Skip,
for example, charges $6.50 a foot for four-inch diameter
wells, while most of his Alamogordo area competition asks
$8.00 a foot. (Before Piper came along, the local prices
often went as high as $12.50 a foot!) Yet while the other
drillers have so many loan, insurance, upkeep, operating,
and labor expenses that they operate on a fairly slim
profit margin, Skip clears $5.00 a foot … after
expenses!

Now stop and think about that figure for a minute. True,
standard well drilling charges do vary widely around the
country (our research shows that such costs range from as
little as $6.00 a foot to over $20.00). In addition, the
depth of wells will differ from one area to another (with
the average depth being around 200 feet). But if you can
make the same margin of profit where you live that Piper
does, then every time you spend a day drilling a 100-foot
well, you’ll clear $500! If you drill only one such well a
week, you’ll earn $26,000 a year! 

But Is It Right For You?

So now you know why we say well drilling with the EXPLORER
2000 can be a great home business! But before you hop on a
plane to Alamogordo, check out your area and see just how
open (or closed) the well drilling market is.

How can you find such information? Skip says, “Simply phone
a few local drillers, ask what they charge to drill a well,
and then find out if they can do it tomorrow … if they
can’t, there’s probably plenty of business around.”

Roy, though, likes to add some additional words of advice:
“First,” he says, “find out whether your area is experiencing some domestic growth. For instance, the outskirts of
expanding cities, or rural land that’s being split into
smaller parcels, will provide good possibilities for a new
drilling business. Then call up your County Extension Agent
or Department of Water Resources and learn the local ground
water conditions … because who knows? You just might
live in an area where people can’t find water unless they
drill to tremendous depths. Better yet, phone a local well
driller and ask about the ‘worst case’ that he or she has
encountered. You can be sure that conditions can’t possibly
be any more discouraging than what that expert will
describe!”

Roy and Skip also realize that you may be interested in
their rigs even if you don’t plan to become a professional
driller. In fact, the two men recently developed the small
EXPLORER 200 (which costs less money than many people would
likely have to pay someone else to drill a well) just to
suit folks who want to bore only one or two water holes for
themselves or their neighbors.

Both fellows are primarily interested, though, in setting
things straight in a profession that they think often
overcharges its customers by helping individuals get into
full-time well work. So if you’re interested in becoming a
well borer, check out your local market, then write off to
Piper Hydro and consider spending a few days in the of
“Land of Enchantment.” After all, no home business idea is
right for everyone … but, folks, this one is bound to
suit some of MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ readers mighty well!