Hello and welcome to the New Year! This year promises to be laden with new developments in the oil and gas industry! Here’s one definition of “new developments”: incidents of the big fish (larger companies) eating the little fish (independents), figuratively speaking. One thing that has not changed is fishing with worms. Please stay with me and I’ll explain.
When I broke out in 1971, I went out on a rig with my friend James. His father worked overseas in Saudi Arabia, but he still had roots and contacts in West Texas. He pulled a few strings and got us our first roughnecking job.
The money was double what we were making in town. Naturally I said yes.
We drove out to the rig, leaving that first morning at 5:00 a.m., as we were working daylights. I was not enamored with, nor used to, getting up at 5:00. There was no daylight.
We exchanged pleasantries as we got in the Galaxy 500 and started our inaugural trip into the world of oil and gas exploration. James and I squished into the back seat with the motorman. Three big burly men in the back seat. Two men slept, the driver drove; however, James and I did not sleep. We had the dubious honor of sharing the space with the driller chain smoking Camel Toughies, aka non-filtered Camels, the whole trip. About 20 miles out from the rig, the other two people joined in by smoking Camel Toughies as well. What a pleasurable ride for two non-smokers in the back seat with one window vent in the front left window circulating it thoroughly through the entire vehicle. By the smell of the interior, I can assure you it was never a non-smoking vehicle.
We arrived at the rig site, jumped out of the roughneck-mobile, and grabbed our greasers (clothes) and changed clothes to go to work. We were also instructed to grab the greasy, dirty 5-gallon water can (metal igloo) and take it to the top doghouse.
As we accomplished the aforementioned tasks, the other guys (morning tour) were changing clothes to go home (while smoking Lucky Strikes, non filtered). We were then instructed to grease the rig—to carry 5-gallon buckets of chain oil and lube the compound. I’m sorry, I was not fluent in the names of components of rigs.
James was lead tongs, I was on the back ups, and the other guy was a chain-chunker. I was thoroughly confused but did what I was told. Then the derrickman jumped on the elevators and rode up to the Derrick board and hopped on the monkey board. Apparently he was not scared of heights. After he put on his belt, he threw out a stand of pipe and the driller picked up on the elevators and it picked up the stand. It was a circus. I yelled at the driller and said “Stop!” He chained down the handle of what I later found out was a brake.
He stopped, explained almost graciously what was going on. Meanwhile the “chain chunker” was apparently preparing to chunk a chain. We repeated the process until James and I kind of got the hang of it. I asked “what are we doing and why?”
The driller said we are tripping. Finally! I thought I knew what he was saying and I said, “You’ve got that right! I’m tripping!”
The driller said, “Worm, you have no idea what I said.” Finally we agreed on something.
As I was already tired because I was pulling on the slips before he picked up I asked when did we get to take a break? He chained down the brake and said, “Worm, see the chain chunker? Listen to him and do exactly what he says. I asked if he was the boss. And I asked, what are we doing? I was told that “We are going into the hole with a fish.”
“What are we using for bait?” I asked (being a smart-aleck). He looked at James and I and he said. “Two Worms!”
He turned around and kept going until we tagged the fish. We caught the fish. We took a break before we started coming back out of the hole. Evening tour finally arrived and relieved us. While driving back, the inside of the car looked like a Cheech and Chong van with smoke pouring out of the vehicle. The three others had a great time laughing and talking about the day they got to go fishing with two worms.
Fifty-two years later, I’m still in the oilfield. I can honestly say that I was one of the greenest worms that I’ve ever known about.
During that day, the derrickman said to me, specifically, “I know you’re carrying the 5-gallon igloo water can to the top doghouse, but don’t drink the water or else you’ll never get out of the oilfield.” He was right!
What does this have to do with safety? It illustrates the need of New Hire orientation and proper training!
As always, it’s not how many hits you have in baseball that counts. It is how many times you reach home safely! Be blessed! —Dust
Dusty Roach is a safety professional based in Midland. He is also a public speaker on subjects of leadership and safety, and he maintains a personal website at dustyroach.com.