Drive Your Own Sandpoint Well

Have you addressed the issue of water in your long term family preparedness plan, where will you get clean water when everything collapses? Have you considered installing a pitcher pump well at your home or retreat? The supplies and instructions are readily available and fairly inexpensive. It is a great project for your survival group or family. It requires no power to use and costs nothing to operate.
 If you are a regular reader of SurvivalBlog and have a preparedness mind set then I’m sure your guns are well oiled, you have trained to use them effectively and you have plenty of ammo on hand. You and yours have a plan for when WTSHTF. Food supplies are well stocked and you probably have a vast array of hand tools and spare parts for things that may break. The bookshelves are full of military manuals and Jim Rawles’s books. And it’s a safe bet you have a fancy water purification system or two but what about the water? We all know it is the most essential and vital of all necessities for surviving but it continues to be the weak link in most of our plans. It was for me I thought if worst came to worst I could just walk to the small creek about a quarter mile from my home to get water.
Then three things happened, one day my daughter and I walked down to the creek to fish and there was a crowd of about five men already there taking advantage of the good fishing and well into their beer. Though they were crude and crass and loud there was no problem and they soon left. That got me thinking that my little secret water hole wasn’t such a secret and could pose many problems and potentially lethal confrontations if everyone in the area was competing for the same vital resource.

Then I read the novel “Patriots” and decided to really shore up my preparedness régime. One night shortly afterward while working on some reloading projects I began to look for a long forgotten reference book and there on one of my selves wrapped in an oiled cloth was the answer; an old fashioned pitcher pump! It was used on my grandfather’s farm and my great grandfathers before him. It was slightly rusty but in sound condition. The only concern was the leathers which were dried and shrunken but not cracked. After a day long soak in some vegetable oil and they were like new!

Next was a trip to the plumbing supply store where I picked up 25 feet of half inch galvanized pipe in five foot sections, a three foot well point, and some heavy duty drive couplings to hold them together. Standard pipe couplings are not strong enough and will spilt when you drive the pipe into the ground so make sure you buy drive couplings no matter what the guy behind the counter says. I also bought some pipe dope to seal the threads and a drive cap so that that threads of the top pipe would not get damaged and prevent the next section of pipe or the pump from being threaded on. I also bought a new set of leathers from Tractor Supply Store incase the old ones did not draw water or ever needed to be replaced. I got all the equipment needed for under $200!

With the equipment bought and the water located the hard labor came next.  The well point and the first section of half inch pipe were threaded together with a drive coupling and a heavy dose of pipe dope on the threads. An important point here to ensure a good seal is to make sure the pipe ends meet in the coupling, end to end as the saying goes. To achieve this you will need two large pipe wrenches and two 3-4 foot breaker bars because there is no way you can turn the pipe end to end with just the power of your arms. A strong partner helps though you could do it your self, team work is always a better idea.  When the pipes have met inside the coupling they will turn no farther, until then just keep turning those wrenches!

Now very tightly thread on the drive cap to the top of the pipe you are about to pound into the ground and check it often, if it comes lose during the driving with a 40 pound pipe driver the threads will become damaged and you will have to pull your well pipe out and begin again with new pipe. If there is anything harder than hand driving a well down to 22 feet it is pulling it back out.  So check the drive cap every dozen or so hits with the pipe driver, which is about how often you’ll want to take a break from pounding anyhow. Keep adding sections of pipe until you reach water, but remember a hand pump well will only draw water to about 30 feet any deeper and you’ll need an electric pump which is contrary to the whole point of this project. 

When you think you have hit water there are several ways to check, lower a washer tied to a piece of string down the pipe and see if it comes up wet, or the simplest method while we still have running water is to fill the pipe up with a hose. When you have hit water the pipe will stay filled. If you are going to use the string and washer method make sure you use a small washer. I was told to use a washer and the directions that came with the well point said to use a small washer, I used a socket. It went down the pipe fine but coming back up it turned side ways and got stuck, I mean really stuck. It would not budge and I had to pull all 18 feet of pipe out of the ground with a tractor and this took about as long as the entire project. Once the pipe was pulled and unscrewed from the coupling in itself a herculean task and the socket removed I thought that driving the well down would be much easier the second time, it was not! Please learn from my mistake one short cut almost ruined this vital project.

One more important thing to consider is whether to install a check valve on your well or use the more traditional priming method. A check valve will close itself when you are done pumping water. It holds enough water to prime the pump on your next use. The draw back to this is that if you live in an area that is prone to cold weather the water in your pump will freeze unless you remove the check valve before the first frost. This may sound easy enough but in a total grid down situation there will be no nightly weather report and one heavy frost can render your well useless. This will split joints, crack the pump or even in a deep freeze split your well pipe. If you are relying on the pump for survival in really tough times this could spell doom for you and yours especially with no way to buy new materials.

The priming method is simple though it does add an extra step. It takes about a half gallon of water poured down the top of the pump into the well pipe to create a draw and pull the water up from the ground. I always keep several gallon jugs full of water in the garage for priming, always refilling them before I finish pumping water. When you are done pumping the water goes back down the pipe below the frost line and totally eliminates the chance of your well freezing. Keeping things as simple as possible helps to ensure that they work when you need them so I opted not to use a check valve, one less thing to keep track of in what will already be a trying and stressful time.          

It took one full day and a few hours of the next to get the well 22 feet into the ground and pumping even with having to pull it out when it was 18 feet deep. Now I have water on the property that can be had any time regardless of the power situation. There are even three spots from inside the house where whoever goes to get water can be covered by rifle fire if things get really bad.

Before I installed the pump on the well pipe I sanded it down and thoroughly cleaned it and put a John Deere green enamel finish on it. The pump that supplied water to drink and for gardens at my grandfather’s house is now happily doing so at mine!  Now I have a water source that will stay clean and cold, at 22 feet deep it will not become easily contaminated with chemicals, trash or decaying flesh. To keep it’s location a secret when the grid goes down I am building a decorative wind mill box that covers the whole thing and has doors front and back to access the pump handle and the water.                                 

Even thought the power is still up and running and water is only a faucet away I have been using the well to water the garden. I dug irrigation trenches along every row of vegetables and drilled a small hole in several empty clean five gallon buckets. I fill the buckets and the water slowly runs out and fills the ditches. I’ve found it much more efficient than using a sprinkler. And as an added bonus carrying around five gallon buckets full of water every night after work has been good exercise.