By Pat Maurer
For more than 60 years, Dancer and Son’s Well Drilling has been handling well service, fixing residential water problems and drilling new wells all over the mid-Michigan area.
The business, now involving the third generation of the Dancer family, celebrated their 60th year last October. Founder Willard Dancer was an oil field worker with Pure Oil Company of Houghton Lake from the time he got out of school until he started the water well business in 1952 with a homemade rig he built from an old army jeep.
“He drilled 100,000 feet of pipe with that rig,” said son and now co-owner, Dale Dancer. “There was a lot of ‘muscle’ involved back then and long, long days. “We usually went back to work after supper and worked until after dark,” he said. “Days off and vacation time was not part of owning your own business then. It’s still not.” Dale (president) and Lee (vice-president) bought the business 14 years ago. Willard was the owner and continued to work there until he was 80 years old.
Dale started working at the family business at 14 years old and by 18, he started running the machines. That was in 1960. “We still have those machines and use them every day,” he said. He and wife of 49 years, Anne, have three children, five grandchildren and one great grandchild on the way.
Lee is a former speech therapy teacher. He and his wife Sherry have a Daughter Teresa Humphres and son Tony of Saginaw. The couple have two grandsons.
These days Willard, who is now 94, is retired, and his sons are partners in the business. It is, and always has been a family affair. Grandma Ireta worked in the office there. She is now 93 and still very interested in the business. Dale’s wife Anne had also spent a lot of time working there. She kept the books and billing straight for years, and has now retired. Their kids and Lee’s have helped out at times and now Willard’s grandson and Dale’s son Steve, a Mechanical Engineer with a degree from Central Michigan University, is the third generation Dancer working full-time in the family business.
Steve has been working at the family business since he graduated from CMU in 2001. “It is what I have always wanted to do,” he said. “Now I’m an over-educated well-driller.” Steve’s wife Jennifer Dancer is a branch manager at Lake Truss Credit Union.
Dale and his wife Anne have two other children: Jennifer Magnus who works at Firstbank and Terry who works for Pro Tech.
Dancer and Sons, located on the corner of Grant and Ireta Street in the Ireta Subdivision, (the neighborhood was developed by Willard and named after his wife Ireta) handle drilling new wells, and servicing old ones including pump work, tank repair and replacement and well screen replacement. “We do everything related to the water well industry,” Steve said.
Besides developing the Ireta Subdivision, they have drilled and serviced wells in just about every subdivision in Clare County. “We keep busy,” Dale said.
These days there’s five working rigs, four in use regularly and the office work is computerized, but it hasn’t been very long since they used to do all of the “logs” and paperwork the old fashioned way. Dale showed cabinets in the office filled with over 5,000 well logs dating from 1968.
They always keep the rigs in tip-top shape and store them inside. “A new rig can cost $500,000, so we want them to last a long time,” said Lee.
Business has been pretty steady over the years, Dale said, even during the recent economic hard times. “We never really slowed down much,” Steve said. “We have a lot of return business and customer referrals all the time so the work has stayed pretty steady.”
“We haven’t ever really had a bad year; I think it’s all because of our reputation,” Dale added. “Our customers tell others about us. That has been the reason we’ve kept busy.” He added, “Of course in recent years, it hasn’t been as busy as it was in the 70s. In just three years back then we did 1,052 wells and worked seven days a week. That work is not here anymore.”
This spring is looking pretty good for the business. They are ready and waiting for the road restrictions to go off this spring with seven new wells lined up already and a lot of service work to do.
Dancer and Sons Well Drilling is located at 3052 Ireta Street in Harrison. The phone number is 539-3011. You can also visit them on Facebook.