by Paul Wiseman
To call Dwayne Taylor’s first business a “mom and pop” operation would have been an exaggeration by two times. Taylor was it, working seven days a week, by himself, and operating a single rig.
Between that humble beginning in Hobbs, N.M., in 1986 to helping lead a group of Permian Basin citizens concerned with oil and gas to state their case before leaders at the White House in 1998 and to a family of companies today, there’s a lot of dirt, sweat, and oil.
Before starting Lucky Services, which he named after his father, Taylor had worked for Conoco for several years. When he launched out on his own, Conoco gave the new entrepreneur a Master Services Contract (MSA) and became his first customer. “They actually put me in business,” he says.
“The first four years I was in business, I was a one-man show—didn’t even have a secretary,” he continued. After four years he did hire a secretary, then added a tool pusher. He also began adding about one rig per year until reaching five. He then jumped to Wyoming with two more rigs. At this writing, Lucky Services has 24 workover rigs and there are other companies in the Taylor fold—including Lucky Rental Tool, Lucky Health and Safety (led by Taylor’s son-in-law, Ed Lauer), and TRM LLC, a trucking company. The Lucky family has offices in Hobbs and Midland/Odessa today.
Having started his business in the downturn of the 1980s, Taylor knew how to function with less-than-optimal prices. But the swoon of 1997-98, in which oil prices sank into the single digits, created a much more desperate situation—not just for him, but for the sector as a whole. Mom-and-pops like Lucky were especially hard hit.
“It got real bad in ’98—that’s when we formed a grassroots [organization] called Concerned Citizens for Energy Policy there in Hobbs,” he said.
The inspiration came from just across the border in Texas, as Kermit’s John Bell led some rallies across the Lone Star State. Recognizing their common interest, Taylor drove to Kermit to meet Bell. Soon afterwards the two, along with others, joined together to hold a rally in Austin that included a parade down Congress Avenue in front of the state capitol.
At that time, Taylor was chairman of the Association of Oilfield Service Contractors, with whom he shared the vision of getting involved in Bell’s movement. Immediately, “Everybody convinced me that I needed to lead the charge—and I did.” They knew, he says, that he would put his heart and soul into the effort.
His co-chairman was the late Will Palmer from Lovington, who Taylor says was the better speaker. Many others also contributed greatly to the effort.
Their first event was a rally at the Lea County Event Center in Hobbs. Because the area service companies had most of their equipment parked instead of in use, “We filled that whole parking lot—in front, around, and everywhere—we filled it plumb full of oilfield equipment, trying to get everybody’s attention,” he recalled. About 1,200 people came for the rally.
From there, Taylor went to the capitol at Santa Fe and met with Gary Johnson, who was the New Mexico governor at the time. Johnson got behind the effort 100 percent, Taylor recalls, agreeing to the group’s request to address a joint session of the state legislature.
One of the goals was to correct erroneous information being put out by opponents of the oil business, Taylor says. “They were showing that the revenue being generated from oil and gas was better than it really was.” Opponents also suppressed data such as unemployment figures, according to Taylor.
When the day came to address the legislature, Taylor said their group filled the observation deck and had a large number of people outside the building. Upon the announcement of Taylor as the first speaker, many legislators were at first sitting back with their feet up on their desks in a classic display of boredom.
But as Taylor stood to speak, “The upper deck just went crazy. Then people in the hallway and everywhere else just started clapping,” which startled the bored legislators into actually paying attention. Other speakers followed to similar a reception.
The ultimate goal was to get the legislature to provide tax relief to the industry—which, as he recalls, they did, helping put at least some people back to work. It also got Taylor about a 1-minute segment on CNN, which led to the biggest opportunity of all.
Word reached New Mexico native Bill Richardson, who was energy secretary under President Bill Clinton. Richardson had served as a congressman from New Mexico and would later serve as the state’s governor, from 2003 to 2011. The Secretary invited Taylor and Ben Alexander to meet at the White House. Alexander owned DA&S, a large well servicing company in Hobbs.
“Technically, what my job was, was to deliver the mom and pops’ view of what [the low oil price situation] was doing to our community and our service sector.”
The men went, wide-eyed, to the Roosevelt Room at the White House to meet with members of the cabinet and other officials. “I was shaking in my boots,” Taylor recalls. “We got national recognition on that.”
Of all the experiences, one thing sticks in Taylor’s mind. “The thing that surprised me the most is that our U.S. senators, our U.S. congressmen, they didn’t realize what oil and gas really does. You walk into their chamber and pour your heart out to them and they’re like, ‘Really?’” Taylor and his associates had to explain everything from how oil and gas are found, pumped to the surface, and converted to energy, plastics, and other products. “I was just totally amazed that people that are running our country don’t understand the importance of oil and gas.”
This was the Concerned Citizens’ biggest event. Within five years, prices had risen significantly and Taylor and the other leaders dissolved the organization.
With that huge responsibility released, Taylor was ready to forge ahead in business. He had already started TRM, the trucking company, just before getting CCEP off the ground. In 2006, he started Lucky Rental Tool and in 2011, he opened Lucky Health And Safety. Taylor himself moved to Midland with that last startup.
He started each additional business based on his knowledge and trust of the person who would run it. “It’s all about putting the right people in,” he observed. “That’s one thing I learned a long time ago—you gotta have the right people in place.”
Usually promoting from within, Taylor acknowledged that sometimes the right person comes from an outside association. Taylor started Lucky Rental Tool when Ralph Stewart, a friend of his, left a longtime job when Stewart’s employer sold his company to a bigger firm that Stewart did not want to work for. Stewart approached Taylor knowing that the latter was considering starting a rental tool company, applying for the management position. “He really took the reins and built that company up,” said Taylor. Stewart has since retired.
All of his business is built around the idea of supplying quality people and equipment so that each job goes smoothly. “We don’t penny-pinch—if something needs to be fixed, we fix it and we fix it right. And we train our people,” not only in doing the job, but in safety. “We want them to come back to their families every day.”
He laments what he sees as a loss of teamwork among producers and service companies over the last 30 years. No longer is the well site the place of working together for a common goal. Now, “It’s all about price.” Some of that is natural in a price downturn, but even downturns in years past saw everyone still working together instead of looking almost solely on pricing.
Paul Wiseman is a freelance writer in Midland.
Dwayne Taylor’s 1999 Open Letter
July 27, 1999
The American People Should Come First
Our Constitution is our shield of democracy to govern us as free people—“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”—but somehow along the way we have lost our freedom to foreign counties.
Our national leaders choose to purchase foreign commodities, letting our own people go hungry or be forced out of business for big government and big corporate gains. It is disheartening that our legislative body has become deaf to the voices of the people when our national security is in jeopardy, because of our dependence on foreign oil that can and will weaken our defense. The American people should always come first.
We cannot afford to wait and do nothing. The natural consequence of doing nothing is getting nothing. It is imperative that we educate the American people and ourselves of the situation at hand. Farmers, ranchers, miners, and steel workers need to ask our government to please help stop foreign dumping, because we are all drowning in imports.
Our President is the leading figure in foreign affairs; we need to remind him that small farmers and ranchers, mom and pop companies, and American companies competing against American companies—these are what built this country, not American companies pitted against foreign countries. We must protect our fellow workers from unfair competition that is not held accountable to the same standards as required by Americans. All that we are asking for is a fair playing field.
We believe out national security is in danger. At the beginning of 1999, we were 57 percent dependent on foreign oil and now we are reaching the 60 percent mark; this would be a national security disaster that could result in our downfall as a great nation. The United States domestic oil industry is America’s only true strength to keep our ability to defend ourselves. It has been 26 years since the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo was imposed upon our nation. This resulted in a national crisis causing inflation and high interest rates, which crippled the U.S. economy for a decade. In the past 26 years, our U.S. Department of Energy still has not developed an energy policy to help stabilize oil prices and protect our domestic energy industry.
I am the owner and President of Lucky Services, Inc., in Hobbs, New Mexico. My wife Debbie and I started this business with only one well servicing pulling unit and we operated from our home. At the present time, we provide eight pulling units and eleven tractor-trailer fluid hauling trucks. Over the past 13 years, we have expanded into a company that two years ago had more than 70 employees with good benefits. Now, due to the current downturn in the industry, we have lost many of our families that will never return because of the constant roller-coaster ride that they have experienced in the last 20 years. This represents friends and families losing their jobs, children leaving our schools, and, basically, the future of decent hard-working americans disappearing before our very eyes. If things do not turn around soon, I, like many other businesses around the country, will lose even more employees and possibly lose everything that we have worked so hard to build.
We the Concerned Citizens for Energy Policy (CCEP), united to raise public awareness to the devastation of our oil and gas industry, and also to point out that our domestic oil and gas industry cannot and will not survive the long-term impact of the unstable oil prices. Our industry must survive and grow, domestic producers should be protected from predatory pricing schemes that could wipe out most or maybe all of the oil and gas industry. In summary, this effort is about saving our national security, jobs, schools, our communities, and our way of life. We cannot stand by and watch our way of life destroyed and out children’s future erased. We need to do what is right and good for America.