Keystone Driller Direct Link to the Past
Wisconsin man restores a Keystone Driller that drilled holes for Smith Well Drilling
Bill Smith, who restored this early 1900s Keystone Driller, said he's never seen another one like it. He learned to operate the rig as a boy, and demonstrates its operation annually at a show near his home in Baraboo, Wis.
The steam-powered drilling rig was a once-common sight in rural America, as farmsteads sprouted in remote areas. Today's water wells, though, are drilled with modern equipment. But a carefully restored relic in Wisconsin recalls a different era.
"We were just lucky enough that it wasn't scrapped," said William J. "Bill" Smith, Baraboo, Wis., as he considered his Keystone Driller.
In the early '80s, Bill took a look at what was by then "just a pile of iron," and decided to restore the driller.
"The wood frame was rotted down, and the iron was so badly worn that we had to rebuild all of it," he said. "There were a few small parts we had to recast."
The original frame, he said, was probably built of red fir. But he used oak timbers for the restoration. The gleaming brass gauge reads "Keystone Driller Company."
"I was lucky enough to have a gauge that read 'Keystone' on it," he said. A friend gave him another, for a backup. Finally, it was time to paint the frame, and a wagon that hauled supplies. Bill had a copy of an old catalog promoting the rig, and the painter was enthusiastic.
"I was told that a lot of that machinery that was on display, or shown in the catalogs, was really painted up fancy," he said. "And that's what happened. But I thought the painting was overdone. I think it looks like a circus wagon."
The restoration was a mammoth undertaking. For Bill, it was also a labor of love: the rig was a direct link to the early years of what has become a fourth-generation family business Smith Well Drilling.
"My granddad and dad bought it, used, years ago," he said. "We don't know its exact age... I call it approximately a 1903." That model was made for about 30 years, he said.