Pumped About Pumps

| November 2003

Doug Wilson will practically travel to the ends of the earth for an old-iron relic once commonly found on every farm in America: the lowly well pump. This ubiquitous farm convenience was essential to every family's livelihood before the emergence of modern plumbing. Pumps aren't worth too much to many people these days, but the Grimes, Iowa, resident begs to differ.

Doug often locates pumps at auctions, antique stores, dusty barns and over-grown fencerows where most were abandoned long ago. Yet, he occasionally finds them in the oddest places. He once spied a 1920s-era A.Y. McDonald Co. pump in the bed of a pickup at a fast food restaurant. 'The owner was in the drive-thru waiting his turn to get his burger and fries,' Doug recalls. 'I came up to his window and told him I collected pumps after I noticed he had one in the back. So we got to talking, and he told me he'd sell it for $25 on the spot. So I said, 'Sold!''

The search for well pumps usually takes Doug on rural highways and dirt roads of Iowa and beyond, where he hopes to catch a glimpse of one sticking out of the bushes or in old barns that might house a batch of scrap iron. 'I drive thousands of miles looking for rusty iron - it's a terrible addiction,' Doug admits. 'After I discover something, it's not uncommon for me and a friend to stop at the farm house and knock on the door to talk with the owner. Even if he doesn't think he has anything, he still might have some old stuff stored in a shed he forgot about... We hoard them when we find them.'

After 16 years of collecting, Doug has about 150 pumps, but says he's owned in excess of 300 in the past. His prolific pump assortment may seem large to most people, but Doug takes his collection with a grain of salt. The amount of pumps isn't important, Doug says, it's all about the hunt. That nonchalant attitude about his amassed collection may stem from his earliest childhood memories of water pumps in Van Meter, Iowa.

'We didn't have any pumps on our farm at all, but relatives and neighbors did, and pumps were always a keen interest any time we kids were able to visit them,' Doug remembers. 'We, of course, were only interested in playing in the water. As long as the arm pumped water, I was happy. I didn't care how it worked, it just mattered that it pumped water.'

From those early influences on his relatives' farms, Doug's understanding of water pumps and their sales catalogs is now a deep well of knowledge.