Drilling into Local History with a Water Well Drill

Wyoming collector rebuilds and restores water well drill dating back to the 1870s.

| May 2015

  • 1870s cable-tool drill
    This 1870s-vintage cable-tool drill with 15-foot derrick can reach depths of 300 feet. Larry spent eight months rebuilding and restoring the rig. "When I first saw it in a woodpile," he says, "it was about to be scrapped."
    Photo courtesy Larry Fulton
  • 1953 Oliver Industrial OC-3
    This 1953 Oliver Industrial OC-3 was a complete basket case. Larry reassembled the unit, which is equipped with a Ware loader. "It has two transmissions," Larry says. "The second one is from a Ford Model A. It would have been shipped from the factory as a Trasco kit to be installed by the dealer. It would only pick up 750 pounds. It looks hefty, but it was built around a row-crop tractor."
    Photo courtesy Larry Fulton
  • Loading the water well drill with a 1940 Cletrac HG
    Larry uses his 1940 Cletrac HG to load his water well drill on the trailer for transport to shows and parades. He spotted the Cletrac (since restored) as he drove past a scrap yard. "I got it for scrap iron price," he says, "and the engine wasn't stuck. It didn't take much to get it running."
    Photo courtesy Larry Fulton
  • McCormick-Deering hay loader
    Larry found this McCormick-Deering hay loader while hunting elk on his nephew's ranch near Lost Cabin, Wyoming. After restoring it, he used it in a few show demonstrations. "We've used it to pick up loose hay," he says. "I am amazed at how well it works."
    Photo courtesy Larry Fulton
  • 1943 Case VAC
    Larry bought this 1943 Case VAC (shown here freshly painted) from another collector's estate. "It was stuck when he bought it, but as we dragged it out to the trailer," he says, "I popped the clutch a couple of times and rolled it onto the trailer with a freed engine."
    Photo courtesy Larry Fulton
  • Rock crusher and 1939 International Harvester LB gas engine
    Larry paired this rock crusher with a 1939 International Harvester LB gas engine. "The crusher is from an assayer's office," he says. "It's pretty rare." To make the display easier to move, he mounted the relics on a golf cart. At shows, he lets kids drop rocks into the crusher.
    Photo courtesy Larry Fulton
  • Pair of Olivers
    A pair of Olivers. Larry found the 1941 Oliver 70 (left) on a body shop's back lot. A friend of Larry's saved the 1945 Oliver 60 from imminent destruction. "It was being dragged to the cutting torch when he saw it," he says.
    Photo courtesy Larry Fulton
  • Pat Fulton installing street pads
    Larry's wife, Pat, lends a hand with installation of street-friendly pads on Larry's early 1951 Oliver-Cletrac HG (right). At left: a late 1951 Oliver OC3.
    Photo courtesy Larry Fulton
  • 1936 Oliver Hart-Parr Model 70 row-crop
    Larry's 1936 Oliver Hart-Parr Model 70 row-crop as found. Just barely visible beyond the tractor is another buried treasure, a 1930 Cletrac Model W equipped with a 1932 Ford flathead V-8 engine.
    Photo courtesy Larry Fulton
  • 1930 Cletrac Model W
    Decades ago, this 1930 Cletrac Model W fell into highly creative hands. Modified with a Ford flathead V-8 engine, the crawler's gas tank was salvaged from an International tractor. "Somebody cut it open and flattened it to make it styled," Larry says, "and then welded it back together. Even the engine is rare. It's a 1932 or '33 Ford engine with a water pump in each head. It is quite the little workhorse."
    Photo courtesy Larry Fulton
  • Larry driving the 1951 Oliver-Cletrac HG
    Larry enjoys parading pieces from his collection. Here, he's driving his 1951 Oliver-Cletrac HG in the Cheyenne Frontier Days parade.
    Photo courtesy Larry Fulton
  • 1955 John Deere 40C
    When Larry got this 1955 John Deere 40C, it was more than a basket case. "The engine was in a trash can, but it was complete," he says, "and the tracks were rusted stiff." This 1990 project launched him into the hobby.
    Photo courtesy Larry Fulton

  • 1870s cable-tool drill
  • 1953 Oliver Industrial OC-3
  • Loading the water well drill with a 1940 Cletrac HG
  • McCormick-Deering hay loader
  • 1943 Case VAC
  • Rock crusher and 1939 International Harvester LB gas engine
  • Pair of Olivers
  • Pat Fulton installing street pads
  • 1936 Oliver Hart-Parr Model 70 row-crop
  • 1930 Cletrac Model W
  • Larry driving the 1951 Oliver-Cletrac HG
  • 1955 John Deere 40C

Following the death of a lifelong collector in Wyoming, the executor of the man’s estate faced an enormous challenge: cleanup of property groaning under the weight of old iron. Fortunately, he knew enough to alert local collectors. But they had to beat the scrap man to the scene.

Larry Fulton, Cheyenne, Wyoming, was one of those who paid a visit. “Our tractor club – the Centennial Antique Tractor & Engine Club in Cheyenne – rescued five tractors,” he says. Larry also got a pair: a 1936 Oliver Hart-Parr 70 row-crop and a 1930 Cletrac Model W equipped with a 1932 Ford flathead V-8 engine.  “I had to drag them onto the trailer,” he recalls, “as they had not moved in 20 years.”

While looking through the rest of the hoard, Larry saw remnants of a machine in the middle of what appeared to be largely rotten wood. Larry studied the pile on four different occasions before he was able to identify it as a water well drill mounted on a wagon.

“Most of the wood had rotted away and the derrick was gone,” he says. Retrieving it was a major operation. “I had a high school kid helping me,” he says. “We worked with a skid-steer all morning and half of the afternoon, and then we had to cut out a tree.”



Built just after the Civil War

Raised in the oil patches of Wyoming, Larry has a keen interest in the rig, which he’s since dated to the 1870s. A cable-tool drill, the rig used rope to suspend wooden rods and drilling tools. According to an article by the Petroleum History Institute, rope pulled the string of tools up and down as brought about by a spring pole or walking beam at the surface. The heavy bit had a blunt chisel end that cracked, chipped and smashed rock through repeated blows delivered in a measured or regular cadence. Power would have been provided by a horse power or a steam engine.

Larry believes the rig was built by Kelly & Tannyhill Co., based in Iowa, immediately after the end of America’s Civil War. “It’s not easy to find information on a water well drill that old,” he says. “I’ve seen pictures of a drill from that era, but with the derrick gone, I was just working off my imagination. But I’m a driller: Once I figured out what it was, I knew how it worked.”



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