In 1950, Ivan Fay Dohm started a well drilling business in Dowagiac, Michigan. A few years later, he bought a Bucyrus Erie drilling rig, built in Milwaukee, and mounted it on his truck. In 1963, he upgraded to a new GMC truck. The family believes that the drilling rig, now in someone else’s hands, remains in use today.
Longevity in this business applies to people as well as equipment. Brother and sister Kelly Schaus and Chris Gamble, two of Ivan’s six grandchildren working alongside other family members, represent the third generation to operate Dohm Well Drilling.
Relics bring past to life
One of the oldest and most unique pieces in their collection is a Goulds double-acting force pump with a shower attachment and a separate towel rack. The pump (minus the shower head and longer faucet spout) was listed for $23.50 (roughly $384 today) in an 1864 catalogue; production of the unit ended by 1912.
Their collection also includes a unit built by U.S. Well Supply Co., Valparaiso, Indiana. This pump, powered by a windmill, was once used to fill an elevated tank that supplied water to five cabins. Optional power for the pump was provided by a 6hp Sears hit-and-miss engine. Square lengths of hickory and ash, joined with metal connectors, formed the pump’s plunger rod.
Pumps for varied purposes
A Delco-Light Farm Electric Plant, which powers a small piston pump, brought electricity to the farm before the dawn of rural electrification. Charles Kettering and Edward Deeds founded Dayton Engineering Laboratories Co. (DELCO) in 1909.
In 1916, Domestic Engineering Co. was formed to manufacture Delco-Light plants, introducing electricity to rural America with Kettering’s invention. It was an immediate success. Delco was sold to General Motors in 1918. In time, more than 150 competing companies built similar units, but the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 brought the industry to an end in a relatively short time.
A submersible pump made by the Jacuzzi company is another interesting piece in the collection. The pump retains some original decals and enough paint that Kelly has opted to keep it original. Founded in 1915 in Berkeley, California, Jacuzzi is now a household name.
Siblings carve out specialties
Chris enjoys working on hand pumps. She has been known to stop at cemeteries, leaving business cards on out-of-order pumps she finds. Generally, a damaged plunger rod is the heart of the problem. Chris makes repairs for a reasonable price; she just likes to see the old relics in operating condition.
Chris has repainted most of the restored hand pumps in the collection. One, manufactured by Mast, Foos & Co., Springfield, Ohio, in the 1800s, is an odd brown color. Thinking it might be original paint, she did not repaint it. Cistern and well pumps she has restored include a Buckeye (made in Philadelphia), a Demco (built by Deming Co., Salem, Ohio), and several Flint & Walling units.
To demonstrate how a hand pump works, especially for audiences of young children, Kelly and Chris built a working display. A force pump built by F.E. Myers & Bro. in Ashland, Ohio, is mounted on a wood base and piped to a pail of water. At shows, people take turns pulling the handle to circulate water through the pump.
Kelly prefers powered pumps, specifically Flint & Walling products manufactured in nearby Kendallville, Indiana. A Flint & Walling pump in their collection built between 1915 and 1917 has a capacity of 1,200 gallons per hour; when new, it sold for $205.
The nearby manufacturer keeps legacy alive
Besides pumps, the collection includes fittings, tools, and gauges. Among them is a Flint & Walling pressure gauge with a 4.5-inch face. Kelly took the tool to the factory to learn more about it. Nobody there had ever seen one. He left there with a better appreciation of what he had.
Founded in 1866, Flint & Walling enlarged their plant in 1874, allowing mass production of windmills and hand-operated water pumps. In 1878, the company patented the Star windmill, its most successful product. By the time electric water pumps began to replace windmills, the company had pioneered the development of convertible jet pumps, centrifugal pumps and sump pumps.
In the 1950s, Flint & Walling began manufacturing submersible pumps and also sold a line of well equipment carrying the Hoosier Water Service name. In operation for more than 153 years, Flint & Walling is now the longest continually operating major industry in Kendallville. In fact, several pump manufacturers established in the U.S. more than 100 years ago remain in business today.
The collection reflects diverse finds
Some of the relics in Chris and Kelly’s collection were found in an old building once used by the family business. Many small pieces (and even pumps) have been donated, including a brass pipe fitting complete with a Flint & Walling casting. Others have been found at sales or online. Some come from random contacts.
A Paul Water Systems pump, produced by Fort Wayne Engineering & Mfg. Co. in Fort Wayne, Indiana, was donated to the collection by the owners of Shady Shores Resort in nearby Sister Lakes, Michigan. At that time, Dohm crews were installing a new pump and tank on an existing well at the resort. Another find – a Flint & Walling 5hp pump – is the result of a tip from a supply house salesman who’d seen it in an old school being razed.
And once, while looking for a good place to put a well on a piece of rural property, Chris and her brother, Harold Schaus III, stumbled onto a dilapidated pump house. Inside, they found a complete Flint & Walling pump. Chris struck a deal with the property owner, reducing the fee for water location services in exchange for the antique pump. “We’re always looking for something old,” Kelly says.
Committed to the preservation of the past
The original 1950 Dohm company building will be torn down later this year. A new facility will be constructed for the display of their collection of pumps and related parts. Wood salvaged from the old building will be used for shelving to maintain a physical link to the past. Printed placards will describe each of the pumps.
In time, Kelly hopes to add a windmill and perhaps a Ford Model A service truck, complete with vintage tools and spare parts. “My goal is to mount a hit-and-miss engine in the building and run a couple of pumps with a belt system,” he says.
In a perfect world, the engine would be a Flint & Walling product; Kelly hopes to get his hands on one someday. Once completed, the museum will be open to visitors. Kelly also hopes to create a trailer display of engines and pumps to put on display at farm equipment shows.
Man’s quest for water has persisted since the beginning of time, but the methods of getting that water have evolved dramatically. The folks at Dohm Well Drilling are doing their part to preserve some of that history. FC
Old Ways Endure: Dowsing for Water
Dohm Well Drilling relies on a unique blend of state-of-the-art technology and tradition. Third-generation driller Chris Gamble once visited the frustrated owner of a 100-acre piece of land where no source of water could be found, and where dry holes had been drilled by others.
Putting aside the electronic seismograph, her brother, Harold Schaus III, walked the property for an extended period holding a dowsing rod in his hands. Eventually, he got a hit in the middle of a paved driveway. A producing well was drilled there; today, a manhole cover marks the spot. Until that time, a cistern was used as the site’s primary water source.
– Jerry Mattson
Jerry Mattson has written magazine and newspaper articles on silos, tractors, farm implements, and many other topics. Email him at email@example.com.