Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

Bison Water Pump Review

Bison water pump installed in tandem with an electric submersible pump on a 4 inch well

For more information on the Simple Pump, see the July 7, 2013 post.

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. (See updated information in the Comments following this post.)

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.

In the next post, we’ll cover the installation process for the Bison pump.

The spout is not just a pipe where the water comes out. It is a solid brass (or maybe bronze) valve with a washered screw-on cap to keep bugs out. Bison didn't miss anything in designing this system.

If water is needed farther away, a standard garden hose fitting screws directly to the spout of the Bison Pump.

Notice the hinge assembly on the Bison. Solid, machined stainless steel throughout.

The cap through which the rod extends holds the full pressure of the electric pump. It can be tightened to stop water from weeping through it, but I tend to keep it a bit loose.

A bucket hangs nicely from the integrated bucket hook on the spout.

Shown here is the well cap portion of the Bison pump. It is solidly secured to the well casing with four heavy screws. The water outlet to the right feeds into the normal house water system, while the electric cable for the submersible pump feeds straight down to the left of the pump.

A glass of cool fresh water from the Bison pump.

The bison is very smooth and easy to pump and produces a fairly constant flow of water.

This review was based on Bison Deep Well Hand Pump serial number 02214, date 03/26/2012. Installation was done by Trentham Well Drilling, Inc., in Orange City, Florida (phone 386-775-3571).

I understand that there is some federal law that requires a disclaimer for reviews like this, so here it is: I have no financial interest in Bison Pumps, in Trentham Well Drilling, or any pump company, for that matter, nor have I been compensated in any way for anything written here. This entire system was paid for out of my own pocket – every penny of it.


  1. Kimberly

    I live in freezer country. How would this work for me in the winter? I’m guessing I would need an insulated pump house? I’ve been looking for a hand pump system, my well is about 600 feet deep. That is my biggest worry right now. Clean water in a blackout situation. Thank you. Kimberly

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      Hi, Kimberly. I suspect that the Bison web site would have info on that. Since I’m down in Florida, that’s something I don’t pay attention to. If you can’t find anything on their site, I’d just give them a phone call and ask. Best wishes finding a solution that works for you.

  2. Wyandotte

    Maybe it would be easier for Kimberly to just buy a gas-powered generator and make sure she always has some fuel on hand.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      I went through that same thought process some years ago when I first became concerned about water. Not only would a generator and fuel supply be easier, it could (depending on circumstances) also be cheaper. With that said though, I clearly prefer a manual pump.

      At some point it becomes more than a question of ease of use and of economics. It becomes a philosophical question – “Do I want to accept the idea that my home becomes unlivable without outside sources of energy?” My answer to that is “No”. For that reason, a hand pump is the best solution for me. Other folks will come up with a different answer, but it would still be wise to consider the question.

      Here in Florida, power outages are not at all uncommon, and I’ve been through several of a week or more. They are uncomfortable and inconvenient, but there was never any question that power would be restored very quickly. The system that makes that happen is incredibly complex and fragile. There are a number of things that have the potential to take down the entire power grid for a long, long time. I, for one, am not willing to bet my family’s future on that not happening. For me, the hand pump is the answer. In fact, I have two wells on our property that have hand pumps. Yes, it’s overkill, but that’s just the way it ended up – it wasn’t planned that way.

  3. Wyandotte

    Well, I agree with you. I wonder how far one can carry self-sufficiency, though. Depends very much on where you live. We live in the country and have been without any water at all for a few days. Yes, it was borderline calamity with much discomfort. Also, a few times we were without use of the indoor flush toilet for several days. It wasn’t a simple matter of scooping a pailful of water from the rainbarrel and throwing it into the toilet; the septic tank & system itself were not functioning, so I just set up a bucket in the chicken house, to be used with cat litter. Many acres on which to dispose of this! Thankfully we have a woodburning stove on which to melt snow (or boil rainwater) if necessary.

    Jes’ passing it along as to how some people cope when lacking the basics. I wonder what the heck a million people in the big city would do if there is no power, no sewer, etc. It boggles the mind. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that a large natural or man-made disaster could cause such a power interruption – and no solution on the horizon.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      We’re both on the same page here, Wyandotte. The question of how far one can carry self-sufficiency is a valid one, and one that too many folks fail to ask. Can one prepare for the Biblical end of the world? No, not in a physical sense – only in a spiritual sense. But one can certainly prepare for the world of our grandparents and great-grandparents. All of my grandparents were born in the late 1800’s. My father didn’t have electricity on their farm until he came back home from college. I think it is certainly a realistic goal to be prepared to live in a world such as theirs.

      The tough part is getting from here to there. My father and I were talking about this when the power was out following the 2004 hurricanes (three of them crossed paths just a few miles from our home). He pointed out that what makes it tough for us is that our entire system of life is based on instant access to unlimited electricity. Just a generation or two ago, their system of living had no such dependence. They had the manual pumps for their water, they had wood stoves for cooking, and they had horses for transportation (and food and shelter for them). None of that is now readily available today. Bridging the gap between our total dependence on electricity to a system where we depend on other alternatives is where the real problem lies. That is a huge gulf to span for those who do not plan. The issue of electricity and water is just scratching the surface though.

      Those are all practical matters. For me, this is also very much a choice of how I live my life. I want my grandchildren to truly understand that water does not come from a faucet; it comes from the ground. I want them to know that eggs come from chickens, not from styrofoam cartons in the refrigerated section of an air conditioned grocery store. Same with the garden. I collect books that show how things were done in times past, when people lived quite well in those conditions. We have accumulated a world of knowledge since those days, and that could put us at a real advantage over those living in those days.

  4. Darren

    I am developing a hand pump machine and wonder if you think it would benefit Third World countries. At present, I can pump 5 gallons in thirty seconds with just 10 strokes of the handle. It’s made for one or two operators. In my next test, I’m trying for 15 gallons a minute.

    The pump machine has the power of a 12-foot diameter windmill and actually operates the same 4-inch pump cylinder at 80 feet that’s used in windmills.

    My web page below includes links to videos of the pump in operation.

    Thanks for your time.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      I love the concept! I will be doing a post devoted to your hand pump, but it’s taken longer to get to it than I anticipated, so I went ahead and posted your comment. Sorry for the delay.

  5. Susan Rovics

    I found an overt error in your coverage of Bison’s competition pump – the Simple Pump.
    You stated and I quote, “The drop pipe is lightweight plastic and the sucker rod is thin fiberglass that can easily flex to make assembly easy. ” Being a polite and southern gentleman, you should state the truth. The Simple Pump uses SCHEDULE 120 PVC pipe (the same as you quoted the Bison uses) and 20,000 lb tensile strength fiberglass sucker rods with stainless steel threaded fittings. The truth is much different from your quote.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      Susan, thank you for pointing that out. This was based on the Simple Pump kit that I saw and handled when comparing the two systems. It could be that it is offered with different types of pipe and different types of sucker rod – or it could be that what I was shown was a kit that was put together using parts of the Simple Pump and other parts purchased elsewhere. I deeply appreciate you taking the time to post this. If you find any other bad information anywhere on this site, or anything that needs to be clarified, please don’t hesitate to do so. While I am very satisfied with my decision to use the Bison Pump, it is important to me that I present only accurate information.

    • Ron

      Geez. Relax Susan.

  6. Christina Preston

    We were wondering if you had a dedicated well for a hand pump only.
    We are in North East Florida. Our current well is a 4″ that is 180′ deep into the rock bed. It is hard but there is no sulfur or iron. If we go off grid we have a herd of cattle and other live stock that we have to water.
    We are considering having another 4″ well put in dedicated for a hand pump. We are looking at the Bison Commercial Model.
    What kind of gallons per minute can you pump with the set up you currently use?
    Any addition thoughts or recommendations?
    Best regards

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      We have two wells here – one is set up with both a Bison pump and an electric submersible pump about six feet below it. The other well is set up with a conventional hand pump only. The actual pump cylinders that is at the bottom of both wells are the same.

      Figuring out gallons per minute with a hand pump is a pretty subjective thing. You could probably crank out a lot of water in one minute, but you couldn’t keep up that pace for very long. That’s the point I was trying to make about the Bison vs. the Simple pump – you can have a very easy-to-pump system, but you’re not going to get a lot of water out per stroke. You can have a harder-to-pump system, and you’re going to get more water per stroke. There is just no getting around the basic laws of physics.

      Here’s my opinion (and that’s all it is – just my opinion). If you’ve got a herd of cattle and other livestock, keeping them supplied with water from a hand pump well is going to make you quickly decide that you need to thin out the herd. All I’ve got here that needs water (aside from the family) is the garden areas, some chickens, and some geese. That’s not a lot of water, but I know that the geese aren’t going to have their usual kiddie pool to swim around in. They’ll get enough to drink and keep their heads clean (geese and ducks need enough water to completely submerge their heads in order to keep their sinus areas clean), but that’s about it. I’ve got a pretty good idea of just how much water cattle can go through, and I think I’d be looking for some other alternative.

      I have a relative who built a solar-powered water system that supplies his house, his horses, and other livestock. It’s a great system, but it is terribly expensive. It is gravity-fed from a large water tower that he had designed and built.

      Another possibility is some kind of rain water collection and cistern system. There just isn’t any nice easy answer that I know of though. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and what you finally decide to do. I’m glad to hear from folks who understand just how important it is to have a reliable source of fresh water that is not dependent on any outside utilities.

  7. Stephen Clay McGehee

    Charles – I should have thought of this when I first replied. I’d suggest looking into the pumps described here on this post – They are designed to do some serious water pumping using more than just your arm muscles. I have no experience with them personally, but everything I see about it looks good. There was a nice write up about them in the latest issue of Farm Show. Darren (the owner) and I have exchanged a number of emails in the past, and he has been a real pleasure to deal with. Check out their web site at

  8. daniel


    I notice it has been a few years since you installed the Bison pump. I too am looking very seriously at the Bison, Simple Pump and a third you didn’t mention which is the Baker Monitor 11HD or 12HD.

    The main reason focusing on the Bison is material and construction as well as the 4.5 gallon per minute claim. It just seems very solid and I’m a big fan of buying quality the first time.

    Now that you have had your Bison for a few years, what are your thoughts? Still glad you selected it, any issues, any prolonged use?

    Thanks in advance

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      I’m glad you asked, Daniel. It is time for an update.

      Yes, I am still perfectly satisfied with it, and were I to do it all over again, I would use the exact same system. With that said, I did learn one lesson that I’m glad I learned. You need to test it regularly. At one point a while back, I went out to test the pump – and it didn’t work. After the feeling of panic subsided (I’m depending on this for my water source, so having it not work is not a good thing), I got it repaired. What had happened is that the water being pumped up from the electric pump had damaged a valve on the Bison. The well company that had installed it came out and pulled the whole thing up and simply replaced the whole cylinder. They had never seen anything like that happen before. I now have a semi-regular routine of turning a valve to bypass the electric and the tank so that I can check the pump. In my particular case, it’s not a huge thing since I have two wells, and both have Bison pumps, but still it was not very reassuring.

      Bottom line is, I guess, that like anything else, it is a mechanical device and anything can fail. Despite that failure, I am still completely satisfied with the design, materials, and construction of the Bison pump.

      One more thing – be careful about putting too much emphasis on any kind of g.p.m. claim. There is no getting around physics. No matter how you do it, it still requires the same amount of energy to lift x-amount of water up x-amount of distance. You can work really hard and get more gallons per minute or you can work easier and get fewer gallons per minute. No free lunch here. You may be better off with a lower GPM rate if you’re older or less physically able.

  9. Melvin Camnpbell

    I first noticed the Bison pump in XXXXXX’s catalog and started doing research on it. After talking with a representative at XXXXXX’s, I still had a few unanswered questions, so I called Bison directly. My questions were answered and I decided to buy their pump. Much to my surprise, I could purchase directly from the Bison, the manufacturer. So I ordered the pump and all of the accessories. A few days after the pump arrived, I received a email from XXXXXX’s with a 25% discount on all store purchases. So I went through the procedure just like I was going to order a pump through them and guess what??? The discount applied to the pump and the shipping! That would make the purchase price to be more than $550 less than buying from the manufacturer and Bison even gave me free shipping!!! I called Judy at Bison and explained the situation to her and was told that NO adjustments could be made. She told me that they have no control over individual dealer pricing and that I was given free shipping, accurate technical advice, and I requested that they try to have the pump delivered on a Friday (which it did) so that I would be here to accept it, and that XXXXXX’s probably wouldn’t do that for me. I then explained to her that XXXXXX’s ( A dealer) told me to call them for technical advice and that I knew that it would be dropped shipped from the manufacturer, Bison. I also mentioned that I could send everything back, pay the return shipping, and reorder this pump and still come out ahead with the discount offered from the Ohio dealer. Judy’s reply was, “We DO NOT take returns and we also have a 25% restocking fee, so you couldn’t send it back anyhow!” I then voiced that the there should be some sort of price controls so that a dealer would not be able to under sell the manufacture so that this would not have happened. So, regardless of how well the pump may work, the memory of this will always be with me. By the way, I haven’t had time to install it yet to rate the pump. My advice, before you buy, do some shopping.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      That’s always good advice – thanks for writing. I bought mine through the well company that installed it, so I wasn’t going to be doing any price shopping. Having installed a hand pump previously, I vowed never to do that again and I knew these folks do quality work. I hope that your Do-It-Yourself installation experience goes better than mine did. Please come back and let us know how it went once you get it installed.

  10. Ace

    I agree with your opinion on the two hand pumps. We have installed several. The Bison just screams quality. However we have not had a problem with either makes. In wells that will not have a electric pump installed we like to use the Monitor hand pump. These are just like the old hand pumps that your Grand Parents had. Much more efficient especially when the static water level is a long way down. They use a larger cylinder and steel drop pipe.

    Nice Blog, keep up the good work. Ace

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      Thank you for adding to the discussion, Ace.

      I have two hand pumps on my property – one is the Bison setup that is shown in the post. The other is a conventional cast-iron pump connected to a Bison pump cylinder. Both systems work very well. I like the stainless steel construction of the Bison with the traditional look of the cast iron above-ground pump – it’s like the best of both worlds. I previously had a large brass cylinder in that well. The problem was that it was too big. Each stroke would bring up a lot of water, but it was just too hard to pump by hand. I found out later that it should be used on a windmill or pump jack – not a hand pump. It’s now setting on my spare parts shelf.

      Again, thank you for stopping by and adding to the discussion!

  11. D Miskin

    I looked into the Bison hand pump, and also the Simple pump. Our well is 405 ft. So I was concerned about the depth . I ended up going with a 17,ooo watt. Generac Propane
    Generator with 2 500 gal. Tanks so I can store a yr in advance. I am still trying to decide which pump to get as a back up .

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      Yet another example of life being full of compromises – balancing out the pros and cons of a manual pump at that depth is a tough one. If you haven’t already done so, I’d give the folks at Bison a call and ask them about pumping at that depth. Also, a local well driller probably could tell you if he has done any hand pumps at that depth.

      Another long term water option to consider is a cistern with a rain water collection system. Couple that with a good water filter and you should have a good, reliable water source as a backup. Old buildings here in Florida had that arrangement. Not far from here is Blue Springs State Park, where an old two-story house still stands from the 1800’s. The roof drains into a water tower which stores the rain water for use on the first floor. That house is literally a stone’s throw from the Blue Springs run, so they already had all the fresh water they could possibly need, but this gave them enough water pressure to have indoor plumbing.

      Thanks for writing!

  12. Islander

    I have just inherited a Bison Pump, and wonder whether it is worth installing. Do you have any comments since seven years ago? I don’t know why the former owner threw it out. I opened it up, and looks pretty good.

    On the piston, are there supposed to be O-rings? There are two flat rubberish pieces that may have been o-rings, or are they supposed to be flat?

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      Is it worth installing? Yes! There may be some reason specific to your situation that would indicate otherwise, but I sure couldn’t think of any reason. I’ve been very please with mine, and I’ve considered replacing my old-style cast iron pump with the Bison Pump, but haven’t. The piston pump at the bottom of my cast iron pump uses the stainless steel Bison Pump, so it’s sort of a hybrid at this point.

      If I were in your place, I would call Bison and order a complete replacement parts kit. Since you’ve got it out and easily accessible, I would replace all O-rings and any other non-steel parts. The cost would be very minimal, and you’d end up with a virtually brand new pump that way. I wouldn’t even bother inspecting them – just replace them all. Especially since you apparently don’t know the real history of the pump – what it’s been used for, how it’s been stored when not in use, etc.

  13. Michael willis

    How can I receive info on on installing one of these pumps along with submersible pump.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      You’ll want to get with your local well drilling folks on that since they would be doing the job. The folks who did mine had installed them previously and knew what to do. You may have to look around to find someone willing to do it though. Keep in mind that local conditions can affect the installation. Because of the local conditions here, they installed a section of stainless steel pipe that might not be needed in other area.

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