Arthur & Orum Well Drilling

Fighting the drought in California with innovative products
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
Eric Colby

When Floyd Arthur got out of the army in 1959, he went to work as a well driller for a small drilling operation in Readley, Calif. He stayed for a few years, eventually moving around a bit to work for other drillers. Over time, he adopted a strong skill set, learning the ins and outs of a unique industry. In 1970, he took an opportunity working with a coastal driller. While the job guaranteed a strong working wage, at the end of a few jobs, his new employer could not afford to pay him. In exchange for his hard work, Floyd was offered a drill rig. He started his own business that year, applying his experience to a new venture with his brother in-law, Orville Orum. Together, the duo established Arthur & Orum Well Drilling (A&O), a strong well drilling business that has grown steadily for more than 40 years.

Steve Arthur, Floyd’s son and vice president of A&O, began working at the company at the age of 14. In 1974, he started out helping around the shop in Fresno, Calif., loading trucks and sweeping floors. In 1989, Orville decided it was time to retire. He sold his share of the business to his nephew, bringing A&O into its second generation of family operation.

“We are definitely a family business,” explains Steve. “My mother, my sister, my brother-in-law and my niece all work here, as well. My father still serves as company president, although he is less involved in day-to-day operations.”

Cool, clean and clear gold

A&O drills water wells, primarily for agriculture. “Out here, water is worth more than oil right now,” Steve explains. “The drought has been unbelievable. California is in a really bad situation. A lot of the people living in cities don’t understand just how bad it is. They turn on the faucet and water the lawn here and there without understanding how serious the situation has become. When milk is $10 per gallon at the grocery store, maybe people will start to understand.”

Farmers in the region are spending millions of dollars just to stay in business. The struggle has a domino effect on the agricultural industry, making it hard for growers to make ends meet and driving up food costs. Water has become harder to come by throughout the San Joaquin Valley. To keep up with the demand for increasingly deeper and larger wells, Steve and his team are running three rigs 24 hours a day and another 12 hours a day. The resulting wells will produce anywhere from 50 gallons every minute to 4,000 gallons every minute, depending on the particular needs of different clients.

Innovative solutions

While A&O self-performs everything on each project, the company’s largest expense is not labor. “We spend the most on materials,” Steve says. “The casing we use is expensive, at $70 to $80 per foot. We go through approximately 3,000 feet every week. Diesel fuel for transportation is pricey, too. Everything we buy and use is hauled from our shop to the job site in our trucks. Fortunately, we have very good relationships with our suppliers. We have been working with some of them for decades. We move a large amount of pipe and they are good to us.”

These suppliers also help keep A&O up to date with the latest technology for the industry. Most recently, the team has adopted large-diameter plastic casing. While this product costs more money up front for customers, the wells last longer.

“This technology has been around for a while, but it is still the newest and best value on the market,” Steve says. “We did a lot of research before taking it on. We started selling it to our customers and everyone loves it. The water comes into well faster. The openings per-foot on a traditional steel well is approximately 12 to 13 square inches. The plastic casing has a 64’ opening at only 1 inch thick. It won’t rust and joints every 20 feet allow for more movement in the ground. The casing is a little lighter and our guys like working with it. On a hot day, it sure beats welding steel casing. We have never had a problem using this product.”

Looking ahead

Steve and his team plan to stick with the plastic casing for the foreseeable future. The crew has drilled hundreds of wells successfully with the project, including work for large farms in the area. “A lot of growers are going deeper,” he explains. “Some of the bigger ranches are drilling 2,000-foot wells to get good water and plenty of it. One ranch called us at the beginning of the year and said they want 40 wells. This is a regular customer and we are happy to take care of them. We have two books of contracts and each one is 4 inches thick. Most of our customers are growing corn, almonds or alfalfa.”

The business continues to take on new opportunities, though Steve says he wants to focus on a manageable amount of work. The company downsized in 2013 in an effort to maintain quality of work. Steve has two sons and the older, at 14 years old, is helping out in the shop already. It is too soon to know if the company will have a third generation of family ownership, but Steve plans to keep Arthur & Orum Well Drilling on track in the coming years.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Dibuduo & Defendis Insurance