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More Driller's Tales
- Jervis Sparks

AS THE drilling consultant/contractor to Triple Plate Junction (TPJ) plc of London, a junior mineral explorer with projects in Vietnam, Zambia and Papua New Guinea (PNG), I travelled to Chile and Peru in January 2006 to observe in operation the man-portable Ingetrol rig designed and manufactured in South America.    I had used man-portable rigs in Indonesia, and it had taken 25 men just to carry the mast, so the hard aluminium components of the Ingetrol rig appealed to me.

Upon my recommendation, two rigs were purchased, one being shipped to Vietnam and the other to Africa.    It is indeed unusual for a junior explorer to operate its own rigs, rather than using subcontractors, but the critical shortage of rigs worldwide was a factor in the acquisition, especially in sub-Sahara.

In hindsight, I made an error in stipulating Deutz diesels (two for each rig) instead of three lighter weight (130 kg) Kubota diesels in line.    In the thin air of the Andes above 4,000 m, where the turbo-charged Deutz performed flawlessly, the Alto Plano was criss-crossed with roads, so all drilling sites were vehicular-accessible.    In PNG, helicopters were readily available for its road-less and forbidding terrain, and in fact necessary to deny access to ‘rascals’ [tribal thugs].

Vietnam was another matter altogether.   Although the TPJ drill targets were at a maximum of 2,500 m, there were just no helicopters available for mineral exploration use.   All the government Mll helicopters were seconded to the continuing US effort to locate soldiers missing in action.   The other critical factor was that there were no roads in the mountains, simply because there never has been a need for them.   The high mountains of north Vietnam have never been mined nor drilled for minerals, so the remote villages of the Hmong peoples and their small agricultural plots of land were only accessible by narrow and very steep trails, passing through boulder- strewn streams, always slippery and potentially dangerous.   Nearby Fansipan, Indo-China’s highest mountain, is 3,143 m-high.

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I commissioned the rig in north Vietnam in November 2006 and commenced drilling at a low off -road elevation.   An immediate problem was a leaking Sauer Danfoss PVG32 load independent spool valve located under the control panel.   It had been incorrectly assembled, as clearly visible were two squashed O-rings protruding from the faces of two machined surfaces.    Easily repairable with a US$10 box of assorted O- rings.   This valve was presumably purchased from Ames, Iowa in the US, but according to Google, assembled in Nordburg, Denmark.

Minor irritants when sourcing North American drilling equipment is that downhole accessories are so often manufactured in imperial sizes, and that imperial size hand tools are often required to assemble the rigs themselves.

With the exception of the engines (300 kg each) the rig was easy to move, and the controls were very driller friendly.     Minor faults (hydraulic hose couplings), and broken steel items were easily reparable in Lai Chau town.    However, those faults have made me suspicious of the integrity of South American steel, as anything we made here from an old Russian truck axle seemed to last forever.

After a visit to Asahi Indonesia (an off shoot of the Australia- based company Asahi Diamond Products) in Jakarta during January 2007, I was very impressed with its quality products, including the manufacture of drill rods, which are in critical demand in the industry now.    The company’s very competitive prices and, above all, speed of delivery was astounding.     From the date of my initial enquiry email, through setting up a credit account in Jakarta and via the TPJ FedEx account, I received products on-site in north Vietnam from Jakarta in just ten days (compared to 150 days from a competitor).


By March, 2007, I had commissioned the second rig in Ndola, Zambia and commenced drilling water wells, as a means of testing it in operation and training crews.

A major problem was encountered with the main four-cylinder Deutz diesel engine, type BF4L1011F.   After 23 hours of operation the engine stalled, and again immediately upon restarting.   The engine oil level was normal, injectors bled to check the fuel flow, so the Deutz-certified mechanics from the nearby town of Kitwe were alerted.

They verified that the oil sensor had been incorrectly installed (backwards), thus no oil flowed to cool the engine.    This overheating burnt out the solenoid and consequently the circuit board on the instrument panel.   By replacing the oil sensor correctly and removing the solenoid, the oil flowed, which cooled the engine, so I was able to drill, albeit without gauges.    Ingetrol informed me it had bought the engines in Santiago from the Deutz dealer, but they had been assembled in Hanover, Germany, so the fault again was in a European assembly line.

Although the rigs were under a 12-month warranty, Deutz Zambia claimed that I had voided the warranty by starting up the engines without their presence, and so presented TPJ with a bill for US$3,000, while still not correcting the problem.   My email to Deutz, Germany went unanswered.

From my experience of more than 50 years in the business, the farther you are away from the original source of your product (the drill rig), the more difficult it is to communicate, and thus receive back-up and spares.


Jervis is just another of those people who make the fabric of Maleny different and special.

Books that have been written by Jervis can be found by clicking on this link

I am sure that there are many more of you out there who have bits of
information that would be of great interest to the rest of us.  

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Like the naked city there are a thousand stories in the
Sunshine Coast Hinterland

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