“Man with the Tin Hat Celebrates Golden Anniversary”

Water Well Journal – August 1997

“He actually wore a tin hat to our wedding,” remembers Diane Tasker, water well contractor Elmer Tasker’s daughter-in-law. “He wears it to church,” her husband Jeff notes; “he has a good hat, then one for work, then one for best.” His license plate reads-what else? “TIN HAT.” Plenty of people in and around Northwood and nearby Sandwich, New Hampshire, know him as “The Man with the Tin Hat,” but they’re quick to tell you that there’s much more to Elmer Tasker than headgear.

For example, if there are those among you too young to remember when it was necessary to sharpen drilling bits by hand, Tasker’s part of the reason. Back in the day, says Jeff, “when men were men, you heated the bits up until they were red hot and then hit them with a sledgehammer to sledge them out.” After rotary machines came on the market with carbide buttons in the drilling bits, Tasker wondered if this technology would work for cable tool bits as well. “So he started making phone calls,” says Jeff, “but (the manufacturers) all said they won’t stand the dropping of the bits, that the carbides will break up.”

After conducting a few experiments of his own, Tasker thought otherwise. He eventually persuaded Varel Manufacturing to install the carbide buttons, for which he offered to pay $2 a foot for every foot the bit drilled. “The first bit drilled 200 or 300 feet,” his son remembers. Following Tasker’s cue, manufacturers soon began to put carbide buttons in cable tool bits. “Once they did that,” says Jeff, “there was no sharpening-you just drill.”

“It was a big advantage, a big step for the industry,” says Tasker’s son Dan, who, along with Jeff, now owns their father’s company, Tasker’s Well Company, Inc. They are proud of the contributions their father has made, which also include the introduction of the Wilden Mud Pump to the ground water industry.

Tasker had seen the pump, which was initially designed as a de-watering pump for the construction and mining industries, demonstrated at an industrial trade show and thought it might have applications to his business. The company said it had never been used in well drilling, but agreed to send him a 2-inch model to try. The 2-inch model worked, but did not pump enough volume, so they sent him a 3-inch model. “And that’s what everybody uses to this day,” says Dan.

Its founder’s progressive nature is part of what brought Tasker’s Well Company to where it is today: in its 50th successful year. In 1947, Tasker started the company with his brother (whom he split with in the late ’50s) and one cable tool rig. The company grew under his care over the next few decades. At the company’s height, there were five cable tool rigs and 10 employees. Tasker even drilled a celebrity well.

“The movie actress Bette Davis needed a well in Sugar Hill,” Tasker recalls. “I told her, ‘This machine makes a lot of noise when it’s running and I like to get ahead a little in life and I have quite a lot of work to do, so I’d like to work a long ‘day.’ She said, ‘You can run it around the clock. We ran two weeks night and day and got 420 feet of hole with a pounder. That’s a lot of hole.”

In the early years of Tasker’s Well Company, Elmer was often relied upon to help other drillers fish lost tools from their wells. “There was no end to his generosity in always helping competitors,” says Dan. “He’d fish a lot of tools for guys that just didn’t know how. He’d say he wasn’t any better of a fisherman, but he’d fish all night sometimes. He was stubborn. Up and down a hole a thousand times, it didn’t matter.” Elmer would lend a hand to his competitors by hiring himself out as a fisherman or by offering advice. “I’ve done alot of fishing,” he notes. “A, good many times, when $100 was a lot of money, I’d go ahead and fish out the tools as a favor.”

“Dad always wanted to keep up with the newest equipment, especially fishing tools,” says Dan. He was continually on the lookout for new applications, better equipment, and more innovative techniques.

He pioneered the hydrofracturing of wells (a Tasker’s Well Company specialty) in New Hampshire decades ago in an effort to improve the development of low-yielding wells. “He spent many hours on hydrofracturing, trying different ways to get water out of a rock,” says Jeff “because it was always a thorn in the well driller’s side to leave a dry hole or not have a happy customer.”

A voracious reader, Tasker combed books and industry magazines “cover to cover,” says Diane, for new equipment and ideas. “Even to this day he says it’s got to be new, better drilling hammers, anything to drill faster,” says Jeff. “He was always open-minded and would try a new approach,” says longtime friend and employee Bud Rollins. “And that’s why he’s so respected in the industry.”

A top-notch reputation is a big accomplishment considering Tasker’s work schedule: “We only work a half-day,” he jokes, 12 hours.” Another saying of his is “You have to eat on Sunday, so you have to work on Sunday.” Regardless of the day of the week, Tasker made himself available to his customers at all times, 365 days a year. “No matter what time the phone would ring, if somebody on the other end needed help or if they had no water, Elmer would go, even if it was a holiday,” says Dan’s wife Melinda.

And if someone calls, he or she is sure to get an answer, as there are no answering machines at the company. Elmer doesn’t like them. “When you’re right there to say ‘Yes, sir’ or ‘No, sir,’ you can make a sale, especially on the weekend,” he reasons. “One day I got a call after I already down to eat dinner and my wife says, ‘You better eat before you leave.’ But I said, ‘No, if I can sell this job I can buy a better dinner.’”

Tasker served as the company’s main salesman for 48 years. “During the boom in the ‘8Os we drilled more than 300 wells in one year and my dad sold every one of them,” says Dan. Tasker put 50,000 to 60,000 miles a year on his car traveling the state to seek out drilling jobs. For the last 15 years, his wife Edith left her bookwork to daughter-in-law Diane and hit the road with Elmer. “They’d leave together in the morning and their dog Blackie would ride with them,” says Diane. Edith made sure no appointments were missed. The couple “made a good team,” says Jeff.

Tasker’s Well Company was, and still is, a family business. Dan and Jeff worked for their father during summer breaks at an early age. Now Tasker and Edith spend the winter months in Florida, the rest in Northwood. But Jeff would only call him “semi-retired, because he calls every night from Florida to see what’s going on.”

This year Tasker’s Well Co. celebrates its 50th year. If you ask Elmer Tasker how he’s managed to stay in business this long, he’s likely to say success was due to Edith’s cooking. “I’ve always had good luck with the help because they’d always eat at my place, no matter what time it is-it could be 11:00 at night. Then he doesn’t get in trouble when he gets home because his wife doesn’t have to save something for him. So I’d say Edith has saved a lot of marriages.” Rollins remembers dinners at the Tasker house fondly as well. “Edith deserves to be given credit for making the company so successful, because it was nice to come in at 10:00 and find a big supper on the table.”

Melinda says Edith is a great cook and her meals are legendary. “We used to have a pine table that was 10 feet long and 4 feet wide and she had big turntables on there to feed the help,” remembers Dan. He says he had trouble weaning himself off his mother’s cooking when he married Melinda. His brother-in-law had an even harder time. “Ted worked with my dad on the rigs and he loved my mother’s cooking, especially fried chicken, and he’d sit down and eat and never say anything,” says Dan. “Then he’d go home and eat a second dinner.”

Although Edith’s cooking played its part, success no doubt stems from this family’s integrity, reliability, and the fact that “Elmer was a good competitor,” says Jeff. “If you ask any of our competitors they’ll never tell you that they lost any work to him. He was good to bid against because he wouldn’t drop his price and never worked too cheap. Just good, honest, quality work at a fair price.”

You can’t do any better than that. We tip our hats to Mr. Tasker and his firm’s 50 years in business.