As soon as I reached my 18th birthday, I couldn’t wait to get a job as a roughneck on a drilling rig crew. Since I turned 18 in late November, so even while I was in high school I was looking for a job as a crew member if I could work the night shift. I had always resented my high school education, since to my uneducated mind, it was just a method of allowing me to get older, not to give me much of a chance at education, so I was ready to go to work for a much better salary.
Now, looking back on those years, a roughneck is the terminology of a crewmember of a drilling rig. Usually there are three separate crews for the three eight-hour shifts, since the rig keeps on drilling around the clock once the well is started, of spudded in. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, the night job was already filled by the time I could get to the driller an apply. So, I had to wait until the next summer before I started to work.
Now let me explain the mystique or magic of this job. It is dangerous, hard work, and dirty, so why would anyone want to do it? Because the pay is above anything else available. When you have been bailing hay for a penny a bail, being paid $1. 50 to $1.75 an hour is a nice increase.
I had already helped drill a 900 ft. water well for the city of Saint Jo, Texas, and thought I knew a lot about being a rough neck. My cousin, Duane and I then went searching for another job in West Texas, we went through Wichita Falls, and then on to Midland and Odessa, and finally to Big Spring, where we knew some other guys from our home town were working. I was hired to work the rest of the summer on a rig drilling what was called ‘in field drilling’ which meant we drilled wells in a proven field. We would drill a well in about a week, cement it, and then tear down the rig and move it to the next location, and start the next well.
Our crew consisted of the driller, who was about as green at his job as I was in mine in that he had just returned from Korea and a soldier. Then the other members were the derrick man and the other floor man, who was almost 60 years old and a drunk. He told me once that he would have the driller stop by a liqour store and buy himself two pints of whiskey every evening before he went home and he would drink those that evening! I don’t know how he handled it, but he was always ready to go the next morning.
Once, we had a problem, had the Kelley over in the mouse hole while we were trying to get the problem solved. For some reason, the driller told me to climb on the elevator and he would then raise this up to the top of the Kelley for me to try and untangle the problem. Now the Kelley is the device that when in the rotary table, causes the entire drill string to rotate and makes the drill bit at the bottom turn and cut through the rock or shale. I do not recall the exact problem on the Kelley, but it was slick with drilling mud, and hardly had I stepped off on the top of this device that I slipped and would have fallen about 10 to 15 feet if my friend, the alcoholic roughneck had not caught me! I was certainly thankful for his watching out for my safety.
Once we had everything functioning as required and just standing around. My alcoholic friend said, “Grab a sledge hammer and come with me.” So, I thought there was some job that we needed to fix, but instead he had me follow him out a few yards beyond the boundary of the rig and he began to pull down his britches to take a dump. I said why did you want me to bring a sledge hammer? He then said with a laugh, “I am going to crap a tiger, and wanted you to be sure to kill it!” So, you never know what to expect! Just Sayin…RJS
Robert.... great story from the oil patch. I will share the one played on me:
Being a young geologist and sent out to sit my first well for the company....we were drilling a rank wildcat well, 40 miles due East of El Paso, Tx. Being green and the company man knew it .... as I went to his trailer to introduce myself, he and others were sitting outside with an ice chest next to them and he asked me if I was thirsty? Of course it was hot out so I opened the ice chest....Holy s!$t, they had put two rattlesnakes in there, luckily with a screen over them. Hating snakes, the next couple of days were pretty nervous for me, when they clear location there was a rattlesnake den that was uncovered. It was always an adventure going out to the drilling rig.
Yes, in the patch just about anything goes! My dad was sa pumper and this was a rather isolated field in Cooke co near the Red River. Every day at lunch the fans would gather around in the tool she for a game of 42 . The foreman was a great guy and like a member of our family, but deathly afraid of snakes of any kind. If any of the crews had found one And captured it they would wait and toss on the table! He would scram and rear backwards to escape, so someone had to always be there to catch him from falling. Just sayin…RjS
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