Hand pump on existing well?

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by Missourigirl, Aug 26, 2006.

  1. Missourigirl

    Missourigirl Member

    Aug 11, 2006
    I am new to this forum, and have recently become interested in making our small farm as self-sufficient as possible.

    I have been looking into the cost and feasability of installing a hand pump on our existing well (about 400ft). Anyone done this? I have seen a few systems on the internet. I just wonder if it is possible to install yourself, and if hand-pumping from that depth is possible. I want this for an emergency backup (in case of power loss or simply the well-pump wearing out). Although I like the idea of being off-grid, we're not nearly there yet. :) No power would not be such a big deal if I could get water. We heat with wood and I could cook on that stove too if necessary.
    Also, if you have installed one of these - what was the cost?
    Thanks everyone!
  2. Dubai Vol

    Dubai Vol Well-Known Member

    Mar 22, 2006

  3. Deborah Stephenson

    Deborah Stephenson Well-Known Member

    May 10, 2002
    Hi Missourigal !

    Boy do I have THE answer for you! I also happen to live in Missouri, have a 445' well and the exact same preference for hand pumping and off grid (civilization independent) living. Pull up a comfortable chair and let me tell you the whole story...

    We moved here in 1992 with about $10 in our pocket and a piece of bare land (with a very seasonal creek). The goal was self-sufficiency and living off the land as much as possible. We hauled water from the creek (which as usual around here was full of springs - so sporadically & mysteriously full in certain places and dry in others) for about 7 years. We built up a lot of muscle and learned to take a complete bath in a couple of gallons of water (among other things) during that time.

    We finally managed to save enough cash to have the well dug back in 1999 (about $2500 for the 445' of hole plus 80' mandatory sanitary casing - and nothing else). Then the fun began...

    My husband and I shopped around for well pipe and a hand pump system that would pump from a depth of 225' (the depth at which we consistently had a reliable flow of water). Everyone told us that it would be next to impossible to hand pump from that depth. We figured the average American was merely 'soft' and continued the search.

    Enter that wonderful store of stores Lehmans . They had a pump that was perfect for our needs, and what was even more important, they had a person who was expert at this sort of thing to advise us (talk to Galen Lehman). Theoretically it was possible.

    We bought the cylinder (the thing that goes down into the well and which moves the water from that depth to the surface) and the "Rancher's Helper" (a device to hold pipe while you drop it down the well - since this sort of pipe - anywhere from 1-1/2" to 2" ID galvanized steel in our case, but you could use PVC - is heavy and only comes in maximum 20' lengths) needs to be held firmly in place while the couplings are attached to take the next piece of pipe. We also had to hold identical lengths of "sucker rod" (the thing that pulls the valve of the cylinder up and down like a string on a puppet) and insert them inside the pipe (which held the water column) as we went down. All that needed to be attached to an old fashioned "pressure pump" (those are the hand pumps with the swelled out or bell shaped area at the top just above the straight pipe-like section, and below the handle). Ours was an antique - purchased at a flea market for $200. Apparently they just don't make those anymore.

    To do this - which I have to say was no mean feat (even the well guys were amazed that we did it ourselves with no special equipment!) was a matter of 3 terror filled days. We rigged a tripod of cedar poles above the hole - carefully centered, of course, and built a small platform under it to hold the Rancher's Helper. We hung a pulley above the hole and rigged a shackle to the pipe (just in case the grip of the Rancher's Helper slipped as we were lowering the pipe into the hole to make way for the next piece). Then we slung a "come-along" to the top of each pipe section as we went - to hold the whole array of pipe in order to lower it carefully into the hole. (It weighed 700 pounds by the time it was all connected!) We added pipe one section at a time - with the sucker rod inside - until we had reached the proper depth.

    This sounds easier than it was. One of us had to keep a constant grip on the "come-along" and the other had to catch and release the lever on the Rancher's Helper very carefully - an inch at a time to keep it from free-falling down the hole the entore 245' depth of the well. We actually lost it twice. Once it went hurtling down the shaft so fast that I only managed to slam the catch on the Rancher's Helper closed just in time to catch the last section of pipe about 6" from the end. Believe me, that was a tense moment. We had to stop and wait for our hearts to stop tryng to break free of our chests before we could go on. If that pipe (the second from the last, in fact) had slipped that extra 6", we would have lost about $1200 of pipe and cylinder down a hole twice it's length in depth. There would have been no way to recover it.

    Finally, we got to the point of screwing on the actual hand pump. What ended up thrilling us the most was that after we set it in place, it actually worked. We pumped for about 5 minutes to prime it, and then clear cold wonderful water actually - most amazingly - came out of the faucet!!! It has to be one of the proudest and most memorable moments of my life. No kidding.

    Okay... fast forward now to 2001.

    For about 2 years at that point we had been hand-pumping all our water. It was very hard work. (Imagine that you need to pump all your water from a well. Every drop you need for drinking, watering animals and garden, bathing, dishwashing, clothes laundering, etc. has to come up that pipe by hand.) Imagine that it takes from 2 to 5 minutes of hard pumping just to get that water to the surface before you can begin to get water into containers. Now imagine that it take a full minute to pump one gallon of water. Do the multiplication according to your water needs. (Hint: It takes about 50 gallons just to wash one load of clothes. Even if you use an old-fashioned ringer washer as we did, and re-use the water for a second wash load, that is a lot of pumpiing. Just multiply that over a few loads of laundry and your daily dishwashing, bathing and drinking needs. You may find that you will be spending about 2 or 3 hours per day pumping water. Another hint: If you prop a book in front of you, you can read while you build biceps that Arnold Schwartznegger would envy!)

    To make a long story short, we now have an electric pump. It saves time and does not cost all that much to operate. However...

    We have not completely given in. We still do not have a pressure tank. We still walk out to our power pole to turn on our pump and switch it off. And we still fill containers rather than run water through pipes to our house. (We have no running water in our house. We use a composting toilet if you were wondering.) Our goal is to put a hand-pump adjacent to the electric and to eventually run our electric pump off solar panels. We bought a 1500 gallon water tank (which we keep full for emergency water needs) and plan to build a gravity flow in-house water system as time (and money) allow.

    The point of this story is YES you can hand-pump water, and YES you can set your own pump. BUT... you need to carefully weigh the cost in time against the savings in on-grid expenses and moral/ethical considerations. An appreciation of the smallest drop of water used is an inevitable consequence of this adventure/endeavor, and I hope, a worthwhile goal in. and of. itself.

    Good Luck! :)

    PS Please feel free to make comments and ask questions if you want to. If I can help, I cetainly will.
  4. brownthumb

    brownthumb Well-Known Member

    May 18, 2006
    Lebanon PA
    An incredible and wonderful story. Good lesson for everyone too.
  5. uncle Will in In.

    uncle Will in In. Well-Known Member Supporter

    May 11, 2002
    I grew up with a pressure pump similar to what you discribed. We had a pipe from the pump underground into the house. There was a 30 gallon tank in the corner of the kitchen above a sink. The tank had a faucet at the bottom that flowed into the sink when turned on. The tank overflowed out the top into another pipe that took the water out to a stock tank in the barnyard. We had a pumpjack hooked to the pump. A pumpjack has a gearbox with a pulley on one side, and a pair of arms the reach up to the top of the hand pump and work up and down to replace the pump handle. Ours had an electric motor that run the gearbox with a V belt. Some ran them with a little gas engine. It was a good and wonderous thing compaired to the old armstrong pump handle.
  6. rambler

    rambler Well-Known Member Supporter

    Jan 20, 2004
    Relying upon surface water, rain water, or stored water in a cistern in times of power outages or broken pump is probably going to be the better way to go over a hand pump deeper than 50 feet. It gets real expensive to hang that thing down there that deep for only occational use; and the effort required to get water pumped up by hand means you will not use it unless you absolutely must.

    Determine your water level in the well to know if it is even possible to hand pump.