The next chapter in one family’s tried and tested traditions.
April 16, 2012 By Brandi Cowen
The water well business runs in the Wilson family.
The water well business runs in the Wilson family. Five generations of Wilsons (so far) have earned a living bringing water to people living in and around Springfield, Ont. This is one family that has water in its blood.
|The Wilson clan: Doreen, Matt, Johnny and John R.
The first Wilson involved in the water industry was a jack of all trades, selling farm equipment and windmills in addition to servicing wells. More than 100 years later, his great grandson still has clippings of the ads that he ran in the local Springfield Echo newspaper, advertising all manner of goods and services.
“Back in that stage of the game, everybody did everything because nobody was just zeroed in on one thing,” says John R. Wilson, current president of J.B. Wilson & Son Well Drilling.
Business has evolved as Springfield and the surrounding area have changed over time. Water services have gradually become a greater part of the business for subsequent generations of Wilsons.
“After the Depression my dad did everything. He installed bathrooms and installed pumps and put in the work to help a couple of drilling contractors and then he worked at repairing the pumps and so forth,” says Wilson. “We got our own drilling equipment in the late ’60s and then went from there.”
At the time, Wilson wasn’t planning to carry on the family business. He attended the University of Guelph and earned a bachelor of science degree in microbiology. After graduation he worked in the food industry, first in quality assurance with General Foods in Cobourg, Ont., and then as a production manager with Kellogg Canada in London, Ont. But in 1977, Wilson decided to leave Kellogg and join his father, John B. Wilson, in the family business. In his words, “I retired and went home to work.”
|The brand new 4,800-square-foot shop.
That year, J.B. Wilson & Son Well Drilling bought its first air rotary rig. This investment opened the door to new jobs. Over the years, the company has worked on a number of larger projects, including irrigation well work for several area golf courses, municipal work, and wells for nearby industrial agriculture operations.
“There’s always something you run across that you’re not familiar with, but generally we have pretty good working knowledge in most areas,” says Wilson.
His sons, Johnny and Matt, are now contributing to that pool of knowledge after following in their father’s footsteps in more ways than one. Like Wilson, both boys earned their bachelor of science degrees (Matt attended the University of Guelph, while Johnny chose to study at the University of Windsor) before starting their careers in other fields. Just as their father did decades before, both have since returned to the family business (Johnny came back in 2000; Matt returned four years later). The two are currently co-vice-presidents.
Father and sons share a commitment to delivering quality work. In business as in life, they abide by the Golden Rule, treating others the way they want to be treated.
“We try and do the work like we were doing it for ourselves,” Johnny says. “I wouldn’t want surface water running down the outside between two different aquifers because the guy doesn’t know enough to seal up the stuff in between.”
Setting up shop
The Wilson clan occupies a fair stretch of Wilson Line (which is no coincidence), laying claim to two century farms that have been in the family for over 100 years. It’s a testament to how deeply rooted the Wilsons are in the tiny rural township of Malahide, with a population of just 9,146 people spread out over 395 square kilometres, according to the 2011 census.
|The new shop features two low-flow, composting toilets, a system costing the business half of what it would have cost to install a septic system.
While staying deeply connected to the past, J.B. Wilson & Son is also looking to the future. The company is nearing completion on construction of a brand new 4,800-square-foot shop, located not even a full 15-second drive down the road from where Wilson and his wife, Doreen, live. Now that the structure itself is finished, the Wilsons are turning their attention to installing all the bells and whistles that they’ve dreamt up over their many years in the business.
Entering the bright, open shop, visitors are greeted by a 14-foot well that will be used to test various pumps. At the back of the shop, a hinged staircase leading up to a mezzanine offering extra storage space will be rigged to lift up, doubling the width of the staircase leading down to the basement. The main floor has been designed with accessibility in mind to allow Johnny’s father-in-law, who is in a wheelchair, the full run of the place when he comes to visit. In addition to a fully accessible bathroom complete with a shower, the new shop features two low-flow, composting toilets. The toilets aren’t just eco- friendly; the composting system cost half of what it would have cost to install a septic system for the shop. The green trend continues on the roof, which has the capacity to house three solar panels. They haven’t been installed yet, but Wilson assures they’re coming.
The shop will also house the company’s main office, offering visitors a comfortable waiting area where they can read up on the latest pumps and other products, learn about the services J.B. Wilson & Son offers, and scope out the various awards and recognitions the company has received over the years.
“To do our work, we don’t necessarily need a nice shop because the shop’s not where we make our money, but it makes the job easier and it makes the equipment last longer,” Wilson says. “It’s not the bread and butter of what we’re doing; it’s just a convenience.”
He flashes a wide grin, and then adds, “A really nice convenience.”
Although it’s still early days in the new space, the sixth generation of Wilsons is already making its mark. Inside the shop, a green plastic children’s ride-on tractor sits parked alongside adult-sized equipment. Out front, tiny hands and feet mark where Johnny’s two children –Liam, two-and-a-half, and Olivia, six months – and Matt’s daughter Scarlett, just shy of three, joined their parents and grandparents in commemorating pouring the shop’s cement foundation.
“We’re pretty proud of what we’ve got here,” Wilson says. His tone leaves no doubt that’s true.
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