Saturday, January 19, 2013

Steel, Stones, and Cokes

It has been an exciting week for the well drilling team.  We have been working daily with Bouba, Ali and their crew of well drillers to drill a 5.5”diameter well on the station.   We started out with a hand auger set with 1.25” diameter drilling rods.  We made good progress, but ended up breaking 3 rods in 2 days.   From there we started using a large yellow set of drilling equipment constructed by Brendon Earl that had not been tested.  This set is made of 2.5” rotatory drilling rods with square threads on the end and welded square couplings that join with the drive handles.   These rods are very strong but are very difficult to take apart because the drilling process over-tightens the threaded couplings.  We spend a few days working on a spanner to help to take apart these rods, despite this we still need to occasionally use a torch to break the connection. 

In hand auger drilling the team must turn a riverside auger till they become full and then pull the entire well drilling system out of the ground to remove the soil.  Sometimes the soils fall out of the drill bits and a special tool called a bailer must be used.  This tool is basically just a 4” steel pipe with a steel flap valve in the bottom.  The bailer is lowered down the hole and bounced along the bottom to remove any mud or water in the hole.  As you progress deeper you eventually spend more time pulling the drill rod and making and breaking the couplings than drilling.  For this reason we started using percussion drilling once we reached 8 meters depths.

Percussion drilling is very simple and relatively low power (it can be done with less people).  In percussion drilling a heavy drill bit is suspended from a cable with large tripod.  The drill bit is then manually raised a lowered to loosen the soil.  This is done with the addition of modest amounts of water.  Once the soils are turned into a thick mud, a bailer is used to clean the hole.  This process is repeated until the required depth is reached.

When people ask me what is the secret to well drill I tell them “ there is no secret just hard work.”  That being said we have had a lot of fun working.  Bouba and Ali taught us to count to 40 in Fulfulde as we heaved on the rope, and every 20 minutes or so a West African pop song starts blaring from Bouba’s cell phone.  I also spend a lot of time working making special tools which leads to my much relished trip to Djeda’s weld shop on Matt Walsh’s motorcycle.   Last trip I saw ¾ of a butchered cow on the back of a motorcycle.  I was invited to buy a piece.  If I had been on my own I would have gotten a piece to roast into a stew, but considering my responsibility to the health of the team I passed up a good deal.
We finally hit water today at just over 11m depth, sadly I was out with Matt Walsh looking at local riverbeds to see if there are any opportunities for sand dam construction and missed the striking of water. 

Last night before dinner Lindsey, Darin and I went a got a coke and climbed up on the side of the cliff before sunset.  As I sat up on the rock, I began to remember my former life in Mozambique and my heart yearned for a place in Africa.  I love the hard work, the inane banter, dusty roads, and heart felt joy of a job well done.   Everything matters here, life is short and every minute must count.  So I will close with the words of the Hymn of Mozambique:  Stone by stone we will build tomorrow, lets gain the victory. 

Mwari Zwakka nakka Africa!  (God thank you for Africa) 


  1. Beautiful post, Tony! Thanks for all the good, hard work that you do for the Kingdom.

  2. Ha ha, I just know you really wanted a piece of that cow! :-) Love you so much.