Old Farm Equipment Working on Borrowed Time

Sale of land may break up Dan DeVaul's collection of old farm equipment


| April 2000



Dan DeVaul with a 1951 three-quarter ton Chevrolet truck

Dan DeVaul with a 1951 three-quarter ton Chevrolet truck, one of his restoration projects. At back is the barn he restored, including living quarters at the top left.

Dan DeVaul was born in a small farmhouse outside of San Luis Obispo, Calif. He grew up on a 200-acre ranch run by his father and grandfather. Since the DeVauls had no wells, they were mostly dry land farmers, working the same land they'd leased since the 1920s. 

Today, decades later, much has changed. Housing developments nose in on 40 acres of the original ranch. Much of the prized old farm equipment amassed by two generations has long since been sold. And Dan DeVaul has returned to the ranch where he grew up, and where he's farming – with well water.

"When you're used to picking crumbs with the chickens, you make it work," Dan says.

When Dan took over operation of the ranch, he knew he needed a well. Others might have paid a well driller to come in. Dan, though, took a different tack. He bought an old, dilapidated drilling well rig, complete with a wooden clutch. He replaced the clutch, rebuilt the well rig, and began drilling. After a few days, he hit water, producing 35 to 40 gallons a minute. Soon he was growing 35 acres of sugar peas.

One thing led to another. Dan drilled more wells with the well rig; one produced a flow of 80 gallons per minute. Soon he was planting tomatoes, squash and artichokes. He leased land to a nursery, and at the holidays, sold Christmas trees – all made possible by restoration of a piece of old farm equipment.

"I had never seen a water rig before," Dan says. "It was the biggest challenge I ever had in my life. And I still got all my fingers. For people who have been around well rigs, that is an accomplishment."