Horsedrawn Dempster Well Driller
In the Summer 2007 issue you published a letter from Joseph Sanders of Palmdale, CA. I had hoped to shoot photos of the sort of machine you described in your response, but Harlan Essink didn’t show up to demonstrate at Homestead National Monument last June during Homestead Days like he has in previous years. A gentlemen from around Pawnee City, NE, did bring another Dempster well driller to Fall Harvest Days at the Filley Barn here in Gage County, NE, in October. He didn’t demonstrate his machine, so the possible photos were not as instructive. Here’s what I was able to get.
The driller is like an auger type post hole digger powered by one horse walking around the machine. The gear is stationary. The platform and everything on it (including operators) goes around and around with the horse. The auger shaft is clamped to the platform so the auger makes one revolution as the horse makes one revolution. The gears operate a winch. It appears the winch can also be cranked by hand. The filled bucket is raised with the winch (with shaft sections being set off to the side) until it can be hung on the hook, detached from the winch cable, swung over the edge of the platform, and the latch hammered up to open the bucket and empty the dirt. (In heavy clay it can take some digging to get the dirt out of the bucket halves.) The empty bucket is latched back together, swung back to center, hung on the winch, and lowered back into the hole with shaft sections stacked on according to depth. The horse turns the platform a few more times for another bite and then to winch up the bucket… It seems slow until you picture hand digging.
Mr. Essink had Belgians and sulky plow at this show, and listening to his conversation with the gentleman displaying this machine was quite instructive. I learned that Dempsters provided two buckets with each driller – the larger one being on display. Mr. Essink explained he wasn’t up to all the physical labor involved anymore so wasn’t sure he would demonstrate his machine again. He pointed out that the twists in the shafts were probably from hitting rocks. Mr. Essink also told that he had learned by upsetting his machine, that if you have a bucket full of heavy material, you want to swing it over an axle to dump, not between the wheels.
Dempsters, now called Dempster Industries, still operates in Beatrice, NE. They currently make water pumping and fertilizer application equipment (I learned that mouth full when I worked there for a year and a half in the 1980’s). Dempsters still supplies parts for their windmills and hand/windmill pumps, but I doubt that many current employees are aware the company ever made these well drillers. The only machines of this type that I have ever seen are this one and Mr. Essink’s.
Still enjoying your great magazine,