Wilf Hall – Celebrates 50 years of drilling in Eastern Ontario
Ontario Ground Water Association honours veteran driller at annual convention
May 9, 2023 By Ontario Ground Water Association
In 1973, Wilf Hall drilled his first well at the “OK Economy Store,” just outside of Smiths Falls, Ont., at about 80 feet deep. Wilf is now 82 and remains a man of few words, from humble beginnings, but retains a clear and sharp memory of his experience in the water well drilling industry.
He is closely involved in the current operation and remains the “pulse” of the company – a company that is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023. Dedicated to his family, and committed to his well drilling business, it is a fine example of how to build a successful family operated business.
At 26 years of age, with a new and growing family, Wilf was ready to change his life. He grew up on a farm, one of six children, with a strong work ethic and stronger back. At his young age, tragedy struck the Hall family. His father suffered a heart attack that resulted in Wilf being pulled from his one-room schoolhouse to help maintain the family farm, resulting in only completing a Grade 8 education. For some, that would have been insurmountable, but Wilf had a secret weapon. Wilf was good at math; in fact, he was very good at math. He could add, subtract, multiply and divide faster in his head than most could with a calculator. Numbers were his friend, and that would be the ticket to his success.
In 1967, he started installing septic systems and made a name for himself and his operation. After the purchase of a used John Deere tractor/backhoe model 2010, for $5,700, he began working for other contractors, teaching him how to do it himself. In 1969, he bought a used single-axle dump truck and, for $425, he would install a complete septic system. In those days, that was enough to make money, and in the fall that year he bought his first brand-new backhoe. He hired his first employee in 1969, bought a new backhoe in 1971, and installed two complete septic systems a day. The following year a tandem axle dump truck was added to the fleet.
In the field, while customers’ septic systems were being installed, he could see that people often needed a well drilled. He seized the opportunity. He had a connection to the drilling industry as his brother-in-law, Pat Kehoe, managed Tillsonburg Pipe. He was ready to take another risk and invested in a $140,000 Schramm drilling rig with payments at $2,700 a month, and then needed a water truck.
Wilf did things right. He filed for a well contractor license, started to work on his driller’s license, and subsequently joined the Ontario Ground Water Association. For a year or so, he drilled under the ticket of another operator while he collected his hours. Wilf’s well technician license, T-0049, Class 1, 2, 4 came through in 1973, and remains valid to this day.
Wilf’s first wells were invoiced at $8 a foot for drilling, and $2 a foot for casing. Competition was stiff. There were a lot of small drilling businesses in the area. Some of the drillers would throw in the casing for free, just to get the job. There was no such a thing as a “40-hour work week.”
Wilf worked evenings and weekends making sales calls, and they drilled Monday to Friday. This successful business approach is how it is done to this day. Wilf Hall Ltd. stopped installing septic systems and focused on drilling and pump installation. The work was seasonal and when drilling was lean, the company was very successful at developing property, closing on roughly 140 severances. During the 1980 and ‘90s, they also developed four subdivisions in the County of Lanark. They had a series of drill rigs from various suppliers, but in 1989 they purchased a brand-new Ingersoll Rand T3W, the driller of choice, and it was replaced in 1994, 2001 and 2006. The latest machine is still in service with much care and maintenance.
Through it all, his wife Joann was his partner in business, making sure the “administrative ship” sailed smoothly and the growing family at home was well taken care of. Two young sons, Mark and Scott, bounced in the cab of the truck as toddlers, and developed a healthy interest in heavy equipment operation and the well drilling industry.
Mark received his drillers license in 1990 and Scott followed in 1996, both graduating from Sir Sandford Fleming College. The boys started at the bottom of the chain, working in the shop, running heavy equipment, being a driller’s helper, and eventually becoming lead drillers on the machine. They were mentored by Wilf on sales, and Joann handed off her administrative skills. Their daughter, Colleen, found her niche as a real estate appraiser, owning and operating her own business. All three were influenced by their parents’ dedication to small business. They inherited the “work hard but work smart” ethic.
In 2001, the drilling segment of the business broke out to be known as “Wilf Hall & Sons Well Drilling.” Over the past 20-plus years, Mark and Scott have focused on managing the drilling business and have three employees. With one machine, the average number of wells per year has gone from 80, to 150, to more than 200. Since 1973, more than 8,000 wells have been drilled, the majority being within 100 kilometres of our home base, creating an extensive knowledge base of the area, as well as a solid local reputation.
Over the past 50 years, Wilf has seen a lot of change in the industry. He stuck to his “old school” principles of good customer service, well-maintained equipment, knowledge, and experience. Pat Kehoe and Ron Fournier opened Rideau Pipe in 1976, and they have been our supplier of casing and drilling supplies since then. Contractors are their bread and butter and, with referrals by word of mouth, customer service is essential.
With technological developments, rigs improved, but the basic principles of their operation remain the same. One concern is that very few people are getting into drilling these days. It is hard to get good employees and on finding them, you have to hold on to them. Walkerton had a huge impact on the well drilling industry, bringing new regulations and standards. Regulation 903, for example, is clear and it is for everyone’s safety and protection. So, we step up to the plate and do the job right, going over and above the minimum standards. Our grandchildren are depending on us to protect this precious resource.
COVID was one of the biggest challenges the company has faced. Uncertainty heading into a global pandemic has challenged us in ways that we did not expect. Business increased, scheduling became difficult, and for the first time we had to wait-list customers. There were supply chain/delivery issues and the cost of steel and fuel skyrocketed. It has been difficult, but quoting Wilf, “You don’t give up. You adapt.”
As Wilf looks to the next 50 years, he feels there will always be a well drilling industry. People will always need water to live, and we’ll be there to give it to them. Environmental issues will be a dominating force. People will need to be flexible. Change is inevitable, but doing a good job consistently will keep Wilf Hall & Sons Well Drilling in business. He expects his company will not only survive, but thrive, with potential for a third and fourth generation of Hall drillers. “We do what we do best – drill wells.”
Fifty years ago, Wilf wanted to be in business. Now, Wilf and Joann remain on the family farm and enjoy the lake, but they will always be committed to providing safe drinking water for their community.
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