Letter Re: Deep Well Hand Pumps

Mr. Rawles:

Thank you so much for enriching our lives with your knowledge.  My question is:

I lost electricity this past week for two days.  I had enough water stored for me and my wife for cooking, drinking and flushing toilets stored and for our dogs, too.  But what would I do in a longer duration power outage?

I remember my grandfather having an old hand pump on his well that we used to get a drink from on hot summer days when I was a kid.  My question is, where can I get one of these kinds of hand pumps now and how hard is it to adapt to my well head? Thanks, – Tim P.

JWR Replies: Depending on the size of your well casing, you might be able to use a hand pump alongside your AC submersible pump.

Traditional Pitcher-type hand pumps with the pump cylinder located at the surface (“shallow well pumps”) are generally limited to lifting water from a depth no greater than one atmosphere (33.6 feet.) For a hand pump to lift water that is any deeper, you would need to use a pump that has it cylinder at the bottom of the well. Typically, the cylinder is connected to a sucker rod that is attached to an actuator at the surface. A sucker rod arrangement is commonly seen with both windmills and “jack” or “cricket” type pumps. But several vendors like Lehman’s and Ready Made Resources sell deep well hand pumps that employ a sucker rod. One relatively new brand is the Bison. They are made of stainless steel.

Deep well pump technology hasn’t changed much in 100 years: brass pump cylinders, leather valves, and ash wood sucker rods are still used. Although these days, fiberglass is often used in place of wood for the sucker rods. This is extremely reliable technology–and truly “appropriate technology” for survivalists. It is not unusual to hear of windmill pumps that haven’t been serviced in 30 years that are still going strong. It is noteworthy that one half of a set of “leathers” can be changed by pulling up just the sucker rod. But replacing the lower leathers (in the bottom of the cylinder) requires pulling up all of the well pipe sections, to access the brass pump cylinder.

For those who can afford an alternate power system, there are a lot of options for deep wells, including submersible pumps, jet pumps, and Brumby (air compressor) pumps. The latter have recently been developed with great success in Australia. Because the mechanical “works” are at the surface, and even if you have to pull up the cylinder, it can be done by hand. in most cases. Thus, they are a good choice for survivalists who own large PV power systems.

As I’ve mentioned before in SurvivalBlog, a deep well pump that has its motor “down hole” should probably be an AC motor. (With an alternative power system, AC power could be supplied by an inverter.) Because of the tremendous line loss with low voltage DC cabling, it is not efficient to have a submersible low voltage DC well pump that is more than about 60 feet underground, even when using very large gauge DC power cables.