Third-generation well drilling & water treatment business adapts to change
Louis Franklin Easterday Sr. was a farmer and trained draft horses as a young man, until he changed careers and started drilling wells in 1935 when he was 27 years old. Sixteen years later, he launched his own business, L.F. Easterday Well Drilling (now Easterday-Wilson Water Services), and began building a legacy that would transcend generations.
Building a Legacy
Located just 40 miles west of Baltimore in Mount Airy, Md., Easterday-Wilson Water Services always has been a family affair and a community staple. While when Franklin Sr. started the business in 1951 the company only had one drill rig, it expanded to provide water treatment and filtration, well pump repair and maintenance, and well drilling under the leadership of Franklin Sr.; his three sons, Louis Daniel Easterday, George Franklin Easterday and Louis Franklin Easterday Jr.; and his daughter, Olive Burns. Now, the next generation has taken the reins with current owners Michael William Easterday, Franklin Jr.’s son; Darren Ellis Wilson; and Wayne E. Johnson. While Daniel retired, George remains in charge of drilling operations, Franklin Jr. is the director of operations and Burns has office support duties.
“I’ll soon be 68 years old and my mom helped my dad move the drill rig the day I was born, so I’ve been in it all my life,” Franklin Jr. said. “It is totally a family business.”
Franklin Jr., along with his three brothers and sister, grew up in the family business and always knew it was the career for him.
“I guess you could say it was in our blood,” Franklin Jr. said. “It was the family business and we always knew this was the place we needed to be.”
While Franklin Jr.’s oldest brother, Daniel, retired from the family business 10 years ago, Franklin Jr. still comes into the office every day and provides insight to the next generation. His son, Michael, Wilson and Johnson took over the company in 2015 and together they add decades of experience onto the Easterday family legacy. While Wilson may not be an Easterday, he too has grown up immersed in the business since 1987.
“When I was a teenager, I started sweeping their floors after school as a job,” Wilson said. “I lived within walking distance of the business and I needed to earn some money, so they gave me the opportunity to come after school and sweep the floors. I never left.”
The business has weathered its fair share of storms and seen the water well industry transform over the years. During the business’ peak drilling period in the 1970s, they would run eight rotary drills at one time and had more than 30 employees. Now, Easterday-Wilson Water Services has one drill rig and approximately 15 employees. Over the past 50 years, the business’ service area has been transitioning to municipal surface water, and the foundation the company was built on—well drilling—has declined in need.
“Everybody had wells then, but now they take the same acre of ground and put 12 houses on it and pull the water out of the river,” Franklin Jr. said. “If there is a problem with a well, you basically affect one family, but if there is a problem with municipal water you affect an entire city.”
Back in the business’ drilling prime, they would drill almost 1,000 wells a year to keep up with the increasing demand as the building industry expanded, Franklin Jr. said. Throughout the years, the well drilling industry has evolved as technology has changed.
“With the old cable tools we used to drill 3 or 4 ft a day in some areas, and with the development of rotary drills you would drill usually in the same formation an hour what it would take all day with one of those,” Franklin Jr. said. “Production really increased, which we really needed at that time because of the building industry.”
As the region began the gradual shift away from wells and towards municipal water, Easterday-Wilson Water Services adapted to fit the changing needs of its customers. Franklin Jr. spearheaded this initiative by building up the company’s pump and water conditioning services, while his father and brothers always primarily focused on the drilling aspect of the business.
“Up to that point we had concentrated mainly on drilling,” Franklin Jr. said. “We always did service work, pump work and some water conditioning, but in the early 1970s when I got out of high school is when we really started work pushing the pump and water conditioning.”
Expanding the offerings proved to be a shrewd business move that enabled the company to provide better-quality service to their customers. While the business still drills and maintains wells, the water treatment division has blossomed, as the region’s water can have chloride, iron and other contamination issues, Wilson said. The change was not just about the trend away from well water, though; it was about filling a need in the community.
“Our biggest concern was our customers that we drilled wells for had water quality issues after the wells were drilled and that gap needed to be filled because your average plumbing company did not have the knowledge and the ability to fill that specialized requirement,” Wilson said.
Still, it is clear the Easterdays always will prefer well water over surface water based off of an anecdote Franklin Jr. tells. Franklin Sr., who was an officer in the National Groundwater Assn. and president of the Maryland Delaware Water Well Assn., once spoke at a national convention in Washington, D.C. When the speaker ahead of him drank from a glass of water and commented on how good it was Franklin Sr. quipped, “Good water? That water came from the Potomac and has been used 10 times since we got up here.”
Because Franklin Jr.—and now Wilson, Michael and Johnson—grew up in the business, transferring leadership generally has been a smooth transition. In 2015, Michael, Wilson and Johnson started Easterday-Wilson Water Services using the previous company’s customer base and began building onto the legacy. Wilson manages daily operations, while Michael has an accounting degree and fulfills administrative duties.
“I’m just as proud as I can be for the third generation to take over,” Franklin Jr. said. “It’s a good group—Darren and Michael are. It is the only way this was going to survive and I’m just tickled to death.”
Franklin Jr. still comes into the office every day and shares his decades of industry knowledge with the new leaders, Wilson said. Franklin Jr. was confident passing the torch because he had gradually been giving Wilson more responsibilities in the years leading up to the transition, hoping that one day he would take over the company with Michael.
As for the future, Franklin Jr. is optimistic a fourth generation may someday take over the family business. Michael’s 12-year-old son likes to wear company uniforms and go with Franklin Jr. on service calls, growing up in the business just like his father and grandfather. While the business has witnessed technology, water sources and leadership change over time, some things will always stay the same—a commitment to providing quality water to its community.
“Our dad would tell us many many times, ‘Anybody can put a hole in the ground, but we want to give our customers water and make a well with quality water,’” Franklin Jr. said. “And that is what we go by.”