Letter: Well Water Pump Options And Alternatives

Hello JWR, HJL, and fellow readers,

I truly appreciate the info my family and I have gleaned over the years from SB. It has become one of our most trusted sources of info as we have been embarking on our self-sufficiency. Now, on to my question that I believe could be beneficial to other readers. (I have searched the site, but no recent info came up.)

I have been researching water well hand-pumps. Bison Pumps has great customer service and so far I am leaning towards them as my grid-down water retrieval solution from my well. Their product appears to be quality made where others seem to be designed more in an aesthetic nature, rather than truly functional and hard-wearing for daily use. If anyone has experience with Bison or another well pump, please share your experiences. For folks who are in warmer climates, freezing pipes aren’t an issue, but here last year we had multiple days where temps dropped into the negative teens… needless to say, ensuring that water is accessible while keeping pipes from rupturing is of paramount importance!

Additionally there is another product called the “earth straw” by a company named FloJak. This doesn’t appear to be a permanent solution, but rather an emergency item. Does anyone have any experience with this product or another solution to water retrieval? I don’t have a pond and the closest river is about a mile away. – S.H.


  1. (“Start digging a well before you get thirsty.” Chinese proverb)
    I and others have installed the Bison hand pump…just in case. The Company who dug the well said the Bison is the Cadillac of pumps. The design has an option for locking it.

  2. Hello S.H., We have had a Bison pump for 2 years now. Its located near the barn and we use it nearly daily to water the cows and chickens. Haven’t had a single issue with it, so have not had the opportunity to test that famous customer service. We are located in NC so winters arent harsh, but we still get freezing temps in winter. The installation instructions that come with the pump instruct you to drill a 1/8″ hole in the pipe below the frost depth of your area, that way when you finish pumping the water will drain back out the hole to reach a static level in the pipe below the level where it might freeze. Our frost depth here is maybe 3″ maximum, but I drilledthe hole in my pipe about 3 feet below ground level just to be safe. I takes 2 or 3 pumps on the handle every use to get water flowing, a minor annoyance in the summer, but well worth the safety of free flowing pipes in the winter. Even with negative temps, 3 feet down for the drain hole might be far enough to avoid freezing temps in your area…….but you can always go a little deeper just to be on the safe side.

  3. I have had a Bison pump like the one pictured for three years now and I am very pleased with it. My well is 165 feet deep with the Bison pump setting 20 feet above the jet pump. It is all stainless and very well built. It is a backup pump installed at the time the well was drilled. I have used it very little and never for daily needs. It will pressurize my holding tanks. It added about $2,400 to the initial cost of the well, which would be useless in a grid down situation without it. My well and holding tanks are in a climate controlled building,built over the well, that is also used for storage.

  4. We have a SimplePump which is extremely high quality and is installed alongside a traditional well pump, about 3 pulls on the handle yields flowing water…..right now we have the d/c motor installed instead of the manual lever , fueled by a solar panel with twin battery storage, the well and battery storage share space in my garden tool storage structure. The storage tank allows me the option to route the pumped water back to the house in grid down, and to keep all the gardens, livestock, orchard, flowers and herbs watered by well water on an everyday basis. Some of the smartest money we spent designing our homestead. I can switch from submersed a/c to d/c by throwing a switch. Kind regards

    1. Hello,
      Did you do all your own designing of your homestead? I’m in the early stages and could use some help with
      layout. Could you point me in the right direction for
      getting some could solid help?
      Thank you

  5. During the freeze you will most likely need to use stored water sources.
    I’ve had to move a barrel in house once when the pipes froze on my new place. Stored it in the same room as the fireplace but not close. It’s not atheistic but priorities change in emergencies.
    I don’t know enough about the pump brands firsthand to comment.

  6. Most any farm supply store has everything you will need for a hand pump/shallow well. All made for farm use, thus, well made for a lot of use. Very inexpensive, and if you want to convert to jet pump, pressure tank, it’s also very easy. Good luck!

  7. My husband spent some months researching hand pumps and settled on the Bison Pump. Our looks exactly like the one pictured. We have it installed along side our well pump and it works fine. We haven’t had the opportunity to test it in winter as it was just installed this spring. We live in PA. I believe Bison, although costly, is considered one of the best out there.

  8. We are up in Northern British Columbia and have installed a couple of the Bison Pumps on top of outside existing well casings. We drilled the 1/8″ hole below frost line (about 6′ for us) and have had no problems at all. This has been a great pump and nice to look at also. A real conversation starter on local food security and independent living.

  9. We have had our Bison pump for maybe three years so far. The customer service initially (when shopping) was amazing. We had lots of trouble on install as the pump company putting it in failed tp read or follow any of the instructions and had never installed them before.

    They ended up fixing it all up at the end. Anyway the pump has worked fine but recently we have been getting very fine silt in out water from the pump. Turns out we need to go deeper on the hand pump. When I was initially trying to trouble shoot the issue I contacted Bison expecting the same awesome customer service………….NOT SO MUCH. They took awhile to reply and when they did weren’t helpful at all which was really surprising. They pretty much gave me zero assistance and told me to contact the installer. Very disappointed for the significant amount of money we spent with them.

    Pump is nicely made and while it doesn’t pump a ton of water quickly it works for us. We had a smaller well so had to use a smaller set up which is why we get less water.

    Over all, great pump and poor customer service after point of sale.

  10. I have a “simple pump” installed. I’ve never used a Bison pump, though they look much nicer. The Simple pump is a bit industrial looking. I installed it myself on my well and it draws water from 150′ while fitting in the same 4″ well as the submersible pump.

    Disadvantage: If I ever have to pull the submersible, I will have to pull the Simple Pump first. While the Simple Pump fits in the well along with the submersible riser, it will not allow the submersible pump to clear.

    Advantage: In addition to the standard pump handle, I have a 24V electric motor that will drive the pump as well making it possible to use it under solar power. With the water being drawn 150′, you can pump about 7gpm by hand. The electric motor will run about 4gpm. it also has a weep hole below frost line. It will weep water back into the well casing while running, but not enough to affect the output. However, when you stop, the water level in the pump drains down to the level of the hole keeping it from freezing.

    I’ve had it installed for 6 years now and use it to water Mrs Latimers herb garden. Like all wells, if the water stagnates in the riser pipe, it gets pretty gross. Using the electric motor to keep it active gives us fresh water from it at all times. Because of the weep hole, It only takes about 5 or 6 pumps to get water even though the water level is below 100′. If your pumping from that level, it will take quite a few.

  11. Have no experience with Bison pumps. I bought a Lancaster type pump made by Baker about 20 years ago and put it in a shallow well here in New Hampshire. When I bought it I also got spare leathers for it but I haven’t needed them. I was raised in Minn and on the farm was a cast iron pump that was very similar that we used that was installed in the late 1860’s or early 1870’s and is still in use. I made 2 mistakes when I bought my pump. It consists of two parts, a pump jack on the surface and a cylinder at the bottom of the well with a sucker rod connecting them. I saved a few dollars and bought a iron cylinder instead of a brass one, and if you don’t use it for a few weeks, you will pump a pail or so of rusty water out of it. That doesn’t happen if you have a brass cylinder. I don’t know how long the leather valves and piston ring will last under water, I haven’t had to replace them yet. The second mistake was buying an open top rather than a force type pump. I have set up a greenhouse and pump the water for it from the shallow well. I have to pump it into a pail, carry it to the greenhouse and dump it into my irrigation tank. With a closed top pump jack, I could run a hose or pipe to the tank and not have to carry the water. That does require a seal at the top of the pump and a second pivot point and thus a little more maintenance. but it also keeps everything out of the well. With a 1/8 in hole drilled above the water level and the cylinder below the water, I have never had to prime the pump, it drains back and has had no problems with freezing and has required only a little grease on the pivot points for maintenance for the last 20 years. I use a similar pump that still pumps water that is next to an old cellar hole near my house that I know has been there for 40 years at least with no one working on it.

  12. I live in Maine where these are made and finally had one put in this spring. It works well, no pun intended, and was installed so there is no problem with freezing in the winter by drilling a small hole in the feed pipe below the water and freeze line of the well. They are costly but made to last for years. Customer service has been good, no problems so far. Provided with the pump is every specialized tool and drill bit needed for installation. All that was needed otherwise were a screw driver, allen wrench and powered drill.

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