A Manual Well Pump for Grid-Down Scenarios: The Bison Pump

Some of the links in this post may contain affiliate links for your convenience. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Guest post by Stephen Clay McGehee who blogs at The Southern Agrarian.

image by Stephen Clay McGehee

When we decided to add manual pumping capability to our electric pump well, it came down to two alternatives – the Simple Pump or the Bison Pump. Both are designed for different uses, so one is not necessarily “better” than the other. They are, however, very different. We chose the Bison pump. Before we discuss the Bison pump, let’s look at the Simple pump.

The well and pump company that we use – Trentham Well Drilling in Orange City, Florida – has installed a number of Simple pumps over the years and has had very good results with them. The Simple pump is significantly cheaper than the Bison pump. The Simple pump is also designed to be fairly easy to install by a reasonably skilled homeowner with a helper rather than needing to be installed using professional equipment. The Simple pump might be a good choice if you want to have a complete system stored away in case it is needed in the future. The video instructions on the Simple Pump web site show how to install it. The drop pipe is lightweight plastic and the sucker rod is thin fiberglass that can easily flex to make assembly easy. That is great if you have to install it yourself without the tools of a professional pump company. The same light weight and component flexibility that make it easy to install also mean that it clearly lacks the solid design and construction of the Bison Pump.

Where the Simple Pump is light weight and easy to work with, the Bison Pump is solid and very heavy duty. Everything about it is top quality and it is obvious that they spared no expense in making this the best hand pump available. The workmanship is flawless – welds are smooth and solid; machined parts are finished to a nice polish; moving parts work very smoothly. The material for the main pump body and the pump cylinder is solid stainless steel; the valve at the spout is brass (or bronze); the sucker rod is solid stainless steel; the drop pipe is Schedule 120 PVC. There is nothing that can rust, corrode, or deteriorate. For a hand pump installation that should last a lifetime, the Bison Pump is the hands-down winner. This is the kind of solid made-in-America craftsmanship that this country used to be famous for.

The Bison pump is not cheap (pricing information here). It is a piece of equipment that is built to last a lifetime, made from the best materials available, and designed and built by folks who truly know what they’re doing. There are some things in life where it makes sense to cut corners to save money. Bison does not cut any corners making their pumps, and when it comes to providing your family with a dependable source of clean drinking water, you shouldn’t cut corners either.

19 thoughts on “A Manual Well Pump for Grid-Down Scenarios: The Bison Pump”

  1. I am curious what you mean about the different uses for the two pumps. Aren’t they both to pump water out of a well when power is unavailable?

    I have looked into these same two pumps. My understanding is that the Bison can’t pump into the house pressure tank unless you run a garden hose into the house, which is not feasible in the north. The Simple Pump can be hooked up to pump water underground directly into the house pressure tank throught a pitless adapter. Does anyone else have details about pumping into the house pressure tank? I have been trying to decide what brand to buy. My other option, besides Simple Pump, is the one at Survival Unlimited.

    1. I had a plumber install my “Simple Pump” in my 222′ well, on top of my already-operating 3/4 hp electric pump. The electric is at 200′, the Simple Pump at 150′. Both pump into pressure, but not at the same time of course. My plumber installed a “Curb Valve” (used in municipal water systems to connect/disconnect outside fire hydrants to the mains). To use the Simple Pump and pump into pressure, I (1.) turn off the electric pump; (2.) switch the Curb Valve from “electric” to “Simple”; (3.) work the Simple Pump handle four or five times to bring the water up; (4.) throw a ball valve to connect the Simple Pump to the house main feed line; (5.) pump the handle 1,000 times to fill up my 65 gallon pressure tanks.
      I had a carpenter build a small hut with a removable roof (for pulling the pump for repairs) around the Simple Pump which sits directly over the well head, to protect it. The little hut is disguised as a potting shed; it is built of treated 4″ x 4″ and is held in place by eight five-foot rebar rods driven into the ground.
      Thus I am assured that I have fresh water for drinking, baths and toilet, and also that it is protected from scavangers and vandals.

    2. We live in the North, and I share your view about outdoor mounting. A friend of mine has installed a bison in his basement by splitting off the feed line from the well head where it enters thru the foundation wall and using backflow preventers and three way valves for the bypass loop. It’s a very simple installation, the most difficult part of which is constructing a table sturdy enough to mount the pump upon so hand operation wont allow too much flex in the piping. The hose connection is fed right into the pressure tank thru the existing petcock at the base. The only operational limitation to this set up is the static water level in the well. It must be within the same limits (shown on any pump’s specs) as if it were mounted on the well head, though there’s an advantage here when the pump is located in a basement as the head is reduced by a few feet. I’m working on setting this up in my own home, and will provide pics when I’m done. Looks to be a win-win.

  2. As far as I have seen, the Simple Pump is the only hand pump that can do that. So you’ve got all your taps, bath, toilets, etc. With the Bison and others, it’s carry buckets of water or – at best – run a hose into the kitchen to fill up the sink.

  3. We purchased a simple pump and installed it ourselves in a 230 foot well. It works ok but not as well as the manufacturer promised. We also had trouble with their gear motor and ended up returning it because it just didn’t work. The fuse holder completely melted. I took pictures to prove it was installed correctly. The company was very difficult to work with and I was never refunded the full amount for my gear motor return. I definitely would not recommend this company to anyone. If I had it to do over again; they wouldn’t even be on my radar screen.

    I actually use this pump regularly and it takes over 300 ‘pumps’ with a 3 foot handle to fill a gallon. Drastically less than the claims from the company. Of course, simple pump says that we installed it wrong… typical. We are both engineers with over 50 years (between us) of industrial generating/refining experience. We know what we’re doing.

  4. Any hand pump that has a sealed packing nut on the pump head can pump water through a pitless adapter but if you are in a cold climate you still have to keep the pump head on top of the well from freezing. You could have a custom pump head built for that purpose where the pump rod passes through the pitless is where the rod packing would be and the pump head would only have a handle to pump it. You would only be able to pump water into your tank with something like that but you could also install a standard hydrant outside of the pitless adapter to take care of that. If I were going to set something up to pump into the house tank I think I would do something similar and put a windmill on it. Pumping water manually into your pressure tank will wear you out pretty quick if someone is trying to take a bath or something. I just drilled myself a second well and put the Baker Monitor fountain hand pump on it. They are heavy duty and look nice, but they are not cheap. I live in an area where it gets cold during the winter and the pump can be used year-round. There is a small hole drilled into the drop pipe about 4 ft down (1/16 to 1/8″) that allows the water to drain below the frost level. A bit of advice- when it comes to your well water and you want to put a hand pump on your well don’t take the cheap route. Use a quality deep well pump that has a sealed pump head. Deep well pumps never have to be primed. Don’t use a pitcher pump for a well that supplies drinking water. They have an open top and can introduce harmful bacteria into your well. Spend the extra money for a good deep well pump. Andrew- Well Driller, Engineer, & Custom Machining.

  5. There is nothing more frustrating than when your rinsing the shampoo from your hair suds get in your eyes, then the water stops all of a sudden.
    But then 15 seconds later it kicks back on again.

    Your are on egg shells because your not sure if the next time you’ll be so lucky.

    We typically check the simplest things first to make sure its not a well pump issue, but if it is, check to make sure that the instillation is backed by a warranty. Make sure it’s sized correctly, by measuring the old removed pump not only for depth but check the heigh and width to ensure it will fit. Then determine the static water level for your well. After determining the well pump size (horsepower and gallons per minute) needed. then make sure you understand what the plumber will do in detail, and what the price is to finish the well pump replacement.

    Thanks and Regards
    Shane Boyle

    well pumps

  6. Well, there is another hand pump coming, more like a human powered machine on steroids.

    Very creative. The following is a partial quote from the site, but you have to read it all.

    Innovative Human-Powered Well Pump for the 21st Century

    We have created a human-powered pump head so unique and strong that new performance charts must be drafted for this machine’s capability to pump water by hand from bored wells. No charts exist for the performance of such a hand pump with this type of mechanical advantage. Our hand pump machine is also within the performance range of 1/2 horsepower submersible electric well pumps, possibly more with further testing.

    To read more: http://wellwaterboy.com/id88.html

  7. My family and I will be moving to our off grid property in the next few years. We live in Canada, winters are quite cold. I plan on havering a well dug, for washing purpose only. 30-50 footer. If I install a hand pump, in a small insulated shed. Will the pump or well water freeze ? I have 16 gallon closed containers I can fill and bring into the camper, no underground plumbing to the camper.

  8. Thanks for your review of the bison and simple pump manual well pumps. I can definitely see how it would be important to have a manual pump capability in case of power loss to your electric pump. I would imagine that the same contractors who help you install the well itself would probably be able to give you advice on pumps and which models might work well for your needs.

  9. Where can I locate spec. on a hand pump for a well requiring a 230 ft. lift,price,warranty and number of strokes to receive water from pump?

  10. This is some really good information about well pumping. That is a good thing to be aware of when you need to have a professional install the pump for you. It is also good to know that you should try to make sure it is good to have a lightweight system.

  11. I intend to choose a pump to use underground water to care for my garden. Through your sharing, I will buy a Bison pump because it made from the best materials.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *