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B.C. well driller resurrects vintage steam cable tool

August 23, 2017  By Ground Water Canada

Qualicum Beach, B.C. – Ken Fyfe of Fyfe Well Drilling in Qualicum Beach, B.C., has worn many hats during some 43 years as a water-well driller. Fyfe shared with Ground Water Canada photos of his recently restored steam drill rig made by Keystone Company in Beaver Falls, Penn.

He bought the Keystone cable tool, or churn drill, from the Swanson family on a creek off Dease Lake near the B.C.-Yukon Territory border in 2015, which he says was a major stop for miners travelling to the gold rush in Cassiar. The rig was buried deep in the brush and the family helped him retrieve it. He hauled it home by trailer and the rest is, literally, history. It took him and his team two years to restore the machine.

Fyfe is a trained steam engineer who also has worked as a welder, machinist, logger and inventor – as showcased on the company’s website – seems uniquely qualified to lead the restoration.


“It was a pretty straightforward job,” he says, with help from friends Les Stevens, Mike Hobson and Russ McCoy. “These guys played a big part in the restoration of that machine. The engine for the machine had been removed years before and I tracked it down to a place called Jade City100 miles further north. Norm and Shirley Vickery still had it. I was able to talk them out of it as they liked the idea of the restoration of the drill rig.”

Fyfe showed off the bright red beauty to the Industrial Heritage Society in Port Alberni, of which he is a member. He believes it is the only operating steam drill in Canada but says it is entirely possible there are others out there “in someone’s boneyard.” He encourages other collectors to come forward and share their stories.

The steam drill was designed for sampling, the same technology used in mining. “A lot of youngsters have never had a chance to see something like this,” he says. “With old technology, it’s all turned inside out. You can see everything.”

Fyfe says readers who like the older technology may want to visit the Facebook page “Rotary and cable tool drill rig pictorial history” to check out vintage equipment and to share their own projects and experiences. 

If you have photos of vintage equipment, a restoration project or tales of the old days you’d like to share, email editor Colleen Cross at or call her at 519-428-3471, ext. 261.

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