Holbeck Water-Well Services to close after nearly 100 years in Devils Lake

Chuck Wickenhofer
Holbeck Water-Well Services owner Les Johnson and 55-year employee Eddie Kraft are moving on after the company closed.

After a 97-year run that saw ownership transfer from the Holbeck family to employee Les Johnson, Holbeck Water-Well Services is closing its doors.

Johnson, who bought the business in 1987 and kept the Holbeck name, says that health issues have forced him to retire.

“I had two back surgeries and I was told I have to quit,” Johnson said.

The business, which Johnson reports served at least ten counties during its nearly 100 years of operation, was put up for sale. Unfortunately, Johnson was unable to find a buyer, forcing him to close.

“I tried and (had) no luck, so the building will go up for sale within the next two weeks or the next month,” Johnson said. “I sold records and stuff to Interstate Drilling in Grand Forks, and I'll be working with them, training their guys on pump repair and some of the well drilling. They will cover this area as much as they can.”

Holbeck’s Water-Well Service was founded in 1919 by Ole E.J. Holbeck, who passed away in 1935. A relative of Holbeck’s, Art Johnson, took over the business and ran it until passing it along to Les Johnson.

One employee worked for the water drilling service for over 55 years. Eddie Kraft reports that he was recruited by Art Johnson while working at the cemetery in Devils Lake.

“The other guy we had, I’m not going to mention names, took two weeks to drill a well,” Kraft said. “I went down in one day and drilled it.”

After he proved himself to be a valuable employee, Kraft built a close working relationship with Les Johnson after he bought the business in May of 1987.

“It’s kind of tough,” Kraft said. “(He’s) one of the best bosses I've seen. He was a good man.”

Now that the company that Kraft has been a part of for the better part of five decades has shut its doors, Kraft is ready to hang up his boots.

“I’ll just retire, do a little fishing,” Kraft said.

Johnson plans to move back to his home state of Minnesota and take it easy while looking for a less physically demanding job. He seems both proud of the company’s history and sad to see it go.

“I didn't want to see this day come, it's been close to a hundred years,” Johnson said. “It was a good run.’’