Seniors' grapevine rescues machine

By Geoff Lee

June 15, 2017 12:00 AM

WE CAN REBUILD IT Lloydminster area resident Norm Helm convinced three of his buddies to bid for this 1920s era cable-tool well drilling machine, seen in its original condition at an auction last summer. The buyers contributed funds and time to restore the piece to be exhibited soon at the Frenchman Butte Museum. DON WHITING PHOTO

The seniors’ news grapevine has helped to close the circle on the ownership history of an antique cable-tool well drilling machine.
The 1920s’ device was purchased by Lloydminster area residents, Norman Helm, Don Whiting, Ian McKenzie and Leonard Long at an auction last summer, and donated to Frenchman Butte Museum as a group restoration project.
“When we first started working on it, we didn’t know anything about who owned it,” said Tom Hougham, president of the Frenchman Butte Museum Society.
“We put word out in a seniors’ paper (The Senior Paper) on what we had and where it was bought.”
They were also seeking answers on how to operate and raise the derrick.
Through the response they got from that Regina-based newspaper, they found the original owner to be a deceased man named Ivan McInnes.
“We also found that his son, Roy lives in Lloyd and actually ran it when he was a teenager,” said Hougham, who noted he actually knew the younger McInnes prior to the ownership search.
“It’s kind of strange,” he said.
McInnes, a retired appraiser, said one of his cousins read the newspaper article and suspected the device was his dad’s.
“He phoned me and I phoned Tom (Hougham) and ya, it turns out it is,” said McInnes.
He said his dad used it to drill water wells in the area.
“He operated it for, I’m thinking, for 30 years,” he said.
McInnes checked out the restoration taking place at Hougham’s ranch in late May and said it was “pretty cool” to see it nearly restored.
“There is still some mysteries in it, obviously it was in multi pieces when they got it,” he said.
The machine will be on exhibit at the annual Frenchman Butte Museum Festival on Aug. 13, but it might not be fully functional by them.
“The main drill stem we don’t have, and we have to get that to make it work,” said Hougham
“Our final goal is to make it operable.”
Hougham added it’s not really a drill, but a punch.
“It works on a cable, and this punch went up and down and punched a hole,” he explained.
When it was purchased as a relic for about $350, the group of buyers donated $250 each along with their time to see it restored.
“We worked basically all last winter on it,” said Hougham.
“We brought it into my shed at the ranch; we set aside one day a week to work on it.”
The team, led by Hougham, brought in volunteer Walter Gobert to rebuild the Babbitt bearings with each guy bringing a set of restoration skills to get the job done.
“What one guy didn’t think of, the other did,” said Hougham, noting McKenzie was the go-to Mr. Solve It.
“Norm (Helm) had a lot of wood-working skills and good mechanical skills; Don (Whiting) was a great coach and promoter.”
Whiting took photographs of all stages of the restoration progress as well.
“It was fun because you could start to see the changes and start to come together,” said Whiting.
“That’s what made it interesting.”
Long didn’t take part in the restoration, but his cash donation helped pay for the work.
“Myself, I just supplied the shop, and we had coffee,” said Hougham.
In his appeal for ownership information published in The Senior Paper, Hougham noted the restoration crew looked forward to dinner and pie served by his wife Marilyn on work days.
Ken Kay from Agland in Lloydminster, donated his truck with a forklift to deliver the broken machine from the auction site south of Vermilion to Hougham’s place near Frenchman Butte.
Whiting said everything with wood on it had to be replaced.
“We had to get the wood from Spruce Grove because there was none in this area that would work for it,” he said.
“It had to be a certain type.”
Whiting, who was at the auction with the other guys, said it was really Helm who started the whole process by placing the successful bid on it.
He said nobody wanted it for themselves, and the rest is history with their donation.

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