Wilcox Well Drilling spans three generations
McCOOK, Nebraska - Every weekday morning at eight o'clock, the eight-member crew gathers at Wilcox Well Drilling's shop and office alongside U.S. Highway 83 south of McCook.
Shortly afterwards, armed with assignments, the Wilcox team is on the road, headed to locations in a wide section of Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas to take care of the water well, windmill, pumping and trenching needs of rural residents, farmers, ranchers and oil drillers.
In some fashion or another, this has been the case for more than 70 years. Established in the 1930s by Roy Wilcox at his farm home south of McCook, the business has been carried forward to the present day by Roy's son, Bob Wilcox, Sr., and one of Bob's sons and Roy's grandsons, Rick Wilcox.
Roy continued to operate the business until his death in a pickup accident in the mid-1960s. Bob Senior then took over and was in charge until 2000 when health issues forced his retirement. The following year, in 2001, Rick and his wife, Lisa, purchased the business and have continued to operate it since that time.
There have been many changes through the years, but the main focus of Wilcox Well Drilling has remained the same: drilling water wells. However, through the years, Wilcox Well Drilling's work load has greatly increased because of all the drilling they do for oil drilling rigs and the solar panels they put in place for pasture wells to provide water for livestock.
"The solar system installations are one of our specialties," Rick said. "It's a great thing for ranchers because it assures them that there is a reliable source of water for their cattle. We put the pump down, install the solar panels and then the sun takes over, providing the energy to keep the water flowing."
Another big part of the Wilcox business is drilling water wells for water system sales and service firms in Oberlin, St. Francis, Benkelman and Imperial.
As a result of all the activity, Rick says Wilcox Well Drilling's business has grown by leaps and bounds since he and his wife acquired the business in 2001. "We have had a lot of help," he said, paying tribute to his father and grandfather for their many years of water well service. Rick also expressed gratitude to his uncle Dale Wilcox and a long-time employee, Willard Marks, for all the guidance and advice they have provided through the years.
"We are also well-served by the staff we have. They are a darned good set of guys," Rick said. Hiring help is the hardest part of the job, Rick says. "Just think about it. They have to be electricians, mechanics and truck drivers. And, on top of that, they have to have a clean driving record."
At the start of every work day, the crews get their instructions from either Rick, Carl Wickizer or Jack Smith. "It's good to share responsibility because when one of us is gone, the others can pick up the slack," Rick says.
No matter which direction the Wilcox crews go - and they travel up to 100 miles away - they are in close contact because of cell phones, which all the men carry. To reach the well drilling team, the numbers to call during the week or for weekend emergencies are the office, 345-6708; Rick at 340-2407; Jack at 340-0614; or Carl at 340-4600.
Not only do the crews cover a wide area, but once they get to the job site they may be high in the air for windmill work, with the aid of their bucket truck, or digging down deep in a well to fix a hole in the pipe or to replace leather on a cylinder.
"More than anything else," Rick says, "our business is built on honesty. We level with our customers, letting them know throughout the process what's required and what it will cost."
Through the years, Rick and his staff have learned that one of the most critical needs in the water drilling business is when a feedlot loses its water supply. "Feedlots take priority because cattle can't go somewhere else to get a drink," he said.
It takes a lot of equipment to meet the water well needs of such a vast area. "We have two drilling rigs, three water trucks, four service rigs, two trenchers and one bucket truck," Rick said.
And they are constantly on the move, drilling water wells for homes, livestock and oil drilling rigs, as well as doing trenching, laying pipelines, doing windmill work, installing solar systems and - most important of all - doing service work to make sure there is a safe and steady flow of water to homes, farms and ranches throughout the Golden Plains of America.