Editor's note: This is one in a weekly series of profiles on locally owned and operated businesses in Southern Oregon.
What do you do and how long have you been doing it? I drill water wells using cable tools. I drill between 20 and 40 wells per year, depending on how much rainfall, snowpack and the economy. We don't go as deep as a rotary drill, but we get more water. My great-grandfather, Arthur Boettcher, started drilling wells back in 1896 in Iowa. My grandfather, Jack Boettcher, moved here after World War II and started drilling here. In 1947, he bought the Shirley & Son Drilling Co. I've been running the business for 23 years.
Business: Rogue Valley Drilling
Owner: Scott Coffman
Address: 3626 Catalpa Drive, White City
How long have you lived in the Rogue Valley? I've lived here all my life and went to Crater High and Oregon State University.
What inspired you to go into this line of work? I was going to Oregon State and my dad, Errol, got sick, so I came home to help my family. My grandpa called and asked if I was interested in drilling. He had a helper, and I told him if his helper quits to give me a call. He called me the next morning at 7 and said his helper had quit. That's how I started with him. He had me do some welding and all that to see if I could handle it. It took five or six years to train. The drilling is actually simple, but finding the water and dealing with the holes is something you have to concern yourself with.
What decision or action would you change if you could do it again? I might have done a little more advertising. In this age, you have Facebook and websites, but I always relied on Yellow Pages and word of mouth; that kept me busy. I don't know how many times I've done wells for people who already had six or seven wells drilled by three or four different companies. One of them was getting about a gallon-and-half a minute at 800 feet. We drilled 300 feet, about a third of the depth, and we got 100 gallons a minute. I've had helpers in the past, but some people don't have the patience for what I do. Once you get the casings set, the rig does most of the work. Every 20 or 30 minutes you check it, dump the cuttings out, put fresh water in and repeat the process.
What's the toughest business decision you've made? Basically sticking to what I believe in — cable versus rotary style. You get a whole lot more money with a rotary because they go a whole lot deeper and you get paid by the foot. The rotary is quicker, but a lot of times you end up with less water and a deeper hole. I've worked with people who have hauled water for 43 years. The two previous wells before I came out were dry. I drilled 300 feet and got 35 gallons a minute.
Who are your competitors? Medina Well Drilling and Southern Oregon Drilling are ones I respect.
What are your goals? I would like to stay small. If you get too big, you start losing customer satisfaction. I would like to get a new rig, because mine is getting pretty old; it's a 1956 Diamond Rio. I cover all the way from Ashland to Selma to Prospect. But I don't go to the Grants Pass area very much; there is no reason to travel very far. When I get a call from people on the coast, I tell them I'd go there if they line up three or four jobs. Moving the rig costs $100 to $150, but the materials for drilling is where the real cost comes in. As more people move in, aquifers are drying up and people find they have to drill a little deeper in some places.
What training or education did you need? Being able to identify geological formations is important. It takes a long time to see certain formations where there isn't much water. A lot of times I have to get through formations of 100 to 200 feet and then identify what's below there. I took one geology class at Oregon State, even before I was a well driller. A lot of drillers will pull up and say, "Where do you want your well?" But you don't want to put a well in a certain place for convenience sake, you put it where the water is. It costs a little more for the pump and pipe, but it's better to find the area to get the most water. I've only drilled six dry wells in 23 years, so that's why I stick with the cable tool.
What's your advice for budding entrepreneurs? Always go the extra mile for your customer. Sometimes you are going to take it in the shorts, but customer satisfaction is always the most important thing. If you don't have happy customers, you're not going to have repeat customers.
To suggest ideas for this column, about businesses that are at least five years old, contact reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email firstname.lastname@example.org