Well, Well … 50 Years in the Hole For the Taskers

The Union Leader – October 1997

If you want to know about wells, ask someone whose “business is going in the hole.” That would be Elmer Tasker or either of his two sons, Jeff and Dan.

Tasker’s Well Company, Inc., celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is a family business, with the Tasker boys now running the day-to-day operations at the company their father Elmer founded with his brother Murray.

For years the company’s trucks have crossed the state bearing the slogan, “We need your business – Our business is going in the hole.”

In addition to the countless wells it has drilled for homeowners, it put in the well at the Four Winds restaurant halfway up the Bretton Woods Ski Area and a well in Sugar Hill for the late actress Bette Davis.

Tasker’s operates two drilling rigs; each with its own crew headed by Dan or Jeff, and has a total of about 10 workers.

The drilling trucks, weighing 33 tons apiece, can bore through bedrock at a pace of between 60 and 70 feet an hour, depending on the hardness of the rock they hit on the way down.

The drills, actually pneumatic hammers with carbide tipped drill bits, are a vast improvement over the old cable tool rigs that Elmer had when he broke into the business. A modern rig can strike 1,500 blows a minute against bedrock, quickly chipping away in a steady drive downward. The old cable tool rig, also called a pounder or yo-yo, for it’s up and down action, topped out at 60 strikes a minute.

Now retired 77-year-old Elmer Tasker still takes drilling seriously. He’s known for wearing a brimmed, tin hardhat nearly everywhere he goes.

“We run a business, not a hobby,” he says pointing out a neat trailer full of differently sized copper fittings. “Everything is organized.”

He said he got into the well drilling business when he got out of the service after World War II. His brother Murray was working with a well driller and was ready to quit. Elmer suggested they buy their own rig and start a business. Then he headed to the bank, where he asked the man “with the most feathers in his hat” if he could borrow $2,500.00.

“He said he’d need to check our credit, so I said, ‘I’ll save you the trouble. We don’t have any.’ He did some checking around anyway and told us the next day we could have the loan,” Elmer said.

This was long enough ago, 1947, that the company’s phone number was 125 – that’s it, just three numbers. The drilled wells, as opposed to dug wells, were known as artesian wells. These days, it’s pretty much just a well.

Eventually, Elmer and his brother split the business and some land and parted ways, with Murray starting up his own excavating business. The two remained on good terms throughout, he said.

Elmer said he spent a lot of time looking down well holes over the years, by daylight, by twilight and floodlight. He’s been on the job weekdays, Sundays and holidays, never wanting to turn down a customer’s request or to leave one dry.

“There’s not a lot of money drilling wells. Working eight hours a day is about the break even point. The time I’d spend after that was profit. I’ve worked 12 and 14 hour days most of my life,” he said. But it wasn’t all grunt work, either. “I tell everybody that just because I wear this tin hat doesn’t mean I’ve got nothing under it,” he said.

Like any successful service provider, Jeff and Dan Tasker said they take quality seriously in this business. Dan noted that the company’s salesman recently completed a guidebook listing the local planning rules on wells in each New Hampshire community.

There’s no divining rod approach to putting in a well anymore. Septic designs pretty much run the rest of the planning, Dan said. Once the septic plan is set, the well is placed, at least 75 feet from the septic system, and usually 75 to 100 feet from a property line.

Jeff said most people can expect to spend between $4,000 and $6,000 for a well. “Like I tell people, you’ve got to figure for the worst and hope for the best,” he said.

The hole can go as deep as 520 feet on a residential well before he’ll stop drilling. If a well isn’t getting a flow of at least three gallons a minute at that point, he hydrofractures the well, forcing water into the hole at high pressure to fracture the bedrock and widen seams and veins through which groundwater runs. (His dad was a leader in the industry in converting the process, used by oil drillers, to water well drilling.)

At the other end of the spectrum, Jeff said he’s drilled wells that have produced more than 120 gallons a minute, flowing up out of the top of the well casing.

Every foot of a well shaft holds 1.5 gallons of water, Tasker said. At that rate, a 500-foot deep well will hold enough water for a family of seven to use for a day, no matter how slowly it recharges. “That’s why we go to 520 feet,” he said.

Deep wells also tend to be fed by more reliable sources of water, less affected by surface conditions and without fluctuations in the chemistry, such as ph levels, iron or manganese.

Tasker’s doesn’t restrict itself to drilling new wells. The company also deepens existing wells, looking for new sources of water below the original shaft and hydrofracturing when necessary.

Over the years, Tasker’s reputation for quality has made selling its services easier, Jeff said.

“We do a lot of word of mouth work. With that kind of work, you name your price and do the job right. You usually don’t get an argument over the price,” he said