Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Digression (2) –My Early Life–

Digression (2) –My Early Life (Four To Six yrs old)– 

As we left off, I was four years old and we were living in a house converted from an old army barracks. We played around the house and with the other children in the neighborhood.

In back of the house was a green trailer. On one occasion as we played on and around it, I told my two sisters to get up in the back and I bent down to pick up the tongue; then I told my sisters to jump off. I quickly realized that I was not strong enough to hold the weight and fell as I dropped the tongue. As it happened, the tongue bounced when it hit the ground and came down on my neck. You can bet I didn’t try that again. On another occasion, while playing in the back yard, my step sister Dee sat on an ant bed. She was learning to walk (about one year old) at the time and tended to over balance a lot. When she fell, she generally fell on her bottom as babies do. This time she happened to be standing in a red ant bed. We heard her start screaming and mother came running out.

“What’s going on”, she shouted and, “What did you do?”

“She sat on the ant bed”, my older sister and I shouted back. Meanwhile, Dee was running around screaming and waving her arms. My mother grabbed her stripped of her diaper and started to brush the ants from her legs. Then mother carried Dee into the house to put something on the stings. My mother always had something for stings, cuts, scrapes, and the like. In this case it was probably Calamine lotion; but I don’t remember exactly.

My step mother was fond of visiting with the women in the neighborhood. Afternoon would often find her at the big house at the end of the street where a bunch of the neighborhood women gathered in the big kitchen to drink coffee and talk.

On one occasion, I recall my mother bought a couple of kites. I remember flying one of them at the end of the street near the big house. I remember the kite pulling at my arms, letting out string to make it go higher, and reeling in string; as I tried very hard to control the kite. I do not recall ever flying a kite again.

There is another story from this period that I’d like to tell. My sister “J” came down with the Chicken pox. For two weeks she was kept in the house, dobbed with Calamine lotion, and not allowed contact with the neighbor hood children. As she recovered, I contracted the illness. I was not looking forward to two weeks stuck in doors. I can tell you.

“Go out side and play”, my mother unexpectedly said. I was surprised; but quickly went out. Apparently, the women of the neighborhood got together and talked it over. They decided that it was likely all we children were going to get Chicken Pox and it was better if all of us got it around the same time. So, instead of being quarantined like my sister; I was sent out to infect the neighborhood. That was the attitude parents back had then, if a child was going to contract a childhood disease like Chicken Pox, Mumps, or Measles best to get it over with early. It was said that childhood diseases are much harder on adults, so best to have it as a child and develop an immunity.

Back then, nobody died from Chicken Pox, Mumps, or Measles; which makes me wonder are children today less hardy, less strong than we were?

Somewhere around my fifth year we moved from the barracks house to a larger house on the corner of the same dirt street. It had a huge oak tree in the yard that I longed to climb; but it was larger than I could reach around. One of my uncles, I think suggested nailing boards to the trunk to make a ladder to the lowest limbs. I started to do that; but I am pretty sure I never finished.

I started 1st grade while we lived in the house on the corner. I remember the traumatic experience of being taken to a classroom and abandoned there by my mother; but after I got used to it, I enjoyed school. There were lots of things to do and new friends to play with. The second traumatic experience that year came after Christmas vacation. My mother told me I had to go back to school.

“Where do I go? What do I do?” I ask. “Do I go to a new classroom or the same one?” For me Christmas break was an ending and returning to school was a new beginning. I was confused; but seeing my friends and my old classroom relieved my anxiety. We moved again the summer I completed the 1st grade; this time to a whole new town.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Fall of “68”/Spring of “69” –

I return to College in the fall “1968”

My oldest sister graduated High school in 1968, one year after I did. She started at Southwest Texas State University in 1968 and went off to south east Texas to learn to be a Physical Education teacher; she minored in English. Now Dee, my number two sister, really had command of the Ford Falcon. She made sure she was in the car any time she was not in a High school class. The only exception was when I had to drive the car pool to courses at the college. My first car pool (4 guys), broke up after the spring semester “1968”; but with the help of my mother I got into a new car pool (3 girls). The girls were less rowdy than the boys. They were less inclined to get drunk on class days. It worked out well for me getting to class on time; but as I had learned to drink beer in the summer. I missed the guys. I still wasn’t old enough to buy beer and I didn’t have a fake ID.

I continued to sign up for per-electrical engineering courses. Most of them math and science oriented. I enjoyed the Trigonometry course. I also enjoyed the one called Statics that involved vector calculations moments of inertia and loading forces. What I didn’t like was more English Composition, English Literature and Civics. American History I liked; although we never seemed to get to the wars I was interested in. I also think that was the semester I took Drafting. I enjoyed working with the T-square, Protractors, and Triangles. I even enjoyed working with the scaling rulers to reduce the size of the object. It was not like it is now, we used paper on drawing boards and hand letter each drawing.

For P.E. that fall I elected to take Bowling, which worked out great. We studied the book on weekdays and went to the Bowling alley on Friday and Saturday nights for practice; Grades were based on submitted score sheets.

The Spring of “1969”

I continued to not apply myself academically and my grades suffered. By the end of the academic year “1969” my grades were bad enough that I was going to be put on scholastic probation in the fall. Meaning, if my grades didn’t improve in the fall of “1969” I would be kicked out of school. Since the draft board was looking for people to send to Viet-Nam, I figured I was a prime candidate to be drafted.

I had a couple of friends in the same low college grades situation so one afternoon in May’ 69, just before semesters end, we went down to the army recruiter to volunteer.

I told my parents that evening that I had volunteered and that in a couple of days the recruiter would be coming by to pick me up and that he would put me on a bus to Abilene, Texas for a physical exam. On the day in question, I packed a brief case with a change of clothes and my shaving kit. When the recruiter came by there were two other guys in the car. The recruiter said “you’ll be in charge because you’ll be going to boot camp right away”. We caught a bus to Abilene that afternoon.

We arrived in Abilene around midnight. We had been given instructions how to get to the billeting hotel. We walked the few blocks to the hotel and checked in. I left instructions for wake up calls at 6 am. We needed to be at the exam center at 7 am.

After stashing my briefcase of clothes in a locker at the bus station so one of my companions could take it home to my parents we headed for the physical examination center. It was about a ten minute walk away.

At the examination center we were put in a room with about twenty other guys and told to wait. After about an hour an army guy came in and passed out test papers. It was a lot of multiple choice questions designed, I figured to see if we would make good army clerks. I didn’t want to be a clerk so I considered putting in some wrong answers on purpose. I didn’t of course.

That’s the way the morning went take tests, sit and wait, take tests. A little before noon we started the physicals. Stripped to our under ware and socks, we were poked and prodded in various body parts until around noon. Then we were told to get dressed and herded back to the testing room for a sandwich, a roll, and orange juice.

After lunch more physical exams began. That’s when physical exam went wrong for me. The Doctor told me to remove my socks for a foot exam. My feet were all purple and bruised looking. I explained that I had had a boot rash from working in the oil field; but it was better now. From looking at my feet, the doctor did not believe the rash was better. A couple of the doctors discussed it and decided to reject me. One of them said, “You were going in today”?

“Yes”, I replied.

“We can’t take you with that rash on your feet”, he said.

“But it is getting better”, I replied, “It’s almost gone”.

“Still, we can’t take you today”, the doctor said, “Go home get rid of the rash and come back in six months”.

Things happened fast after that. One of the soldiers at the physical exam center handed me a bus ticket and instructions on how to get to the bus terminal. This was at a different bus line from the one we came on.

I retrieved the locker key from my friends and told them I was heading home. I then ran to the first bus terminal to retrieve my brief case, jogged to the second terminal, and got aboard my bus with seconds to spare before it departed. I was unexpectedly headed home.

The bus ride home was long and mostly boring. There was one lay-over where I had to wait several hours for a bus to my home town. It was in the city where I attended college, just 30 miles from my town. I thought about calling home to ask someone to pick me up there; but decided to wait it out. Around 6 pm the scheduled bus to my town departed and I arrived in my home town around 6:40 pm. My parents were very surprised when I called.

“I’m at the bus station down town”, I said, “I flunked my physical and they sent me home. Can someone come down and pick me up?” My sister and a couple of friends showed up about 10 minutes later in the Ford Falcon.

I never went back to the army recruiter. My friend Lloyd returned from Marine boot camp a week or so later and the stories he told about basic training convinced me I didn’t want to go.

“I’ll let them draft me”, I thought; but the draft board sent me a new classification. I was now classified 1-H, I think it was. I figured this was because I volunteered. So, I never bothered to tell the draft board I was rejected. Besides, I spent years trying to get rid of that dang foot rash. The doctors tried lotions, creams, pills, every thing; but I was still having flare ups in the late 1980’s

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Digression (1) –My Early Life–

Digression (1) –My Early Life–

My earliest memories of my life start around three years old. There was a house in the country with a fence all around it. I guess the fence was to keep the cows out; although I don’t know for sure. I remember a long gate on the left side; where a car could be driven inside that fence. One morning a bulldozer showed up outside that gate and dug a big hole piling the dirt beside it. To this day, I don’t know why they dug the hole; but what happened a couple of days later left a lasting impression on me.

It rained the night before and that hole looked like a great swimming hole. My sister and I found a way to open the gate, we had been told to never go through and skipped merrily out to play in the water. There was about a foot of water in our swimming hole that day. I remember laying horizontal in the muddy water, pushing myself along the bottom with my hands, and hollering “look! I’m swimming”. My sister, who was a year younger than I, just sit and splashed. We were having a grand ole time. Then the man who was my Grandfather came running out shouting “get out of the water right now”. He grabbed both of us by the arm and marched us back to the house. I think both of us received a spanking with his belt; but my oldest sister says she doesn’t remember any of this, so maybe she didn’t get spanked.

At a later time at the house in the country, the man I later learned was my Dad decided he was going to build us a sand box. I remember him and an Uncle leveling the ground and nailing together a frame. I had no clue what they were doing; but it looked interesting. Then came the most memorable thing about the sand box. My Dad and Uncle threw several burlap bags and a shovel in the car truck.

“Come on climb in here”, he said opening the car door. I climbed in not knowing where we were going; but happy to be included. It turned out we were going down to the river, where they opened the trunk and began to fill the toe sacks with river sand. When they had filled three or four sacks, all the car trunk would hold; we headed back home. They pulled the car inside the fence and unloaded the toe sacks. Then upended them into the frame they had built. After smoothing the sand out inside the frame, my sister and I had a very nice sand box to play in.

I also remember having a pedal car and tractor that I drove on the side walk in front of the house. The side walk was only about twenty feet long and I wasn’t strong enough to make the car or tractor work in the grass. So, I would pedal to the end of the side walk, get out and turn the car around, and pedal back. My sister had a tricycle; but she didn’t know how to ride it very well

We played for a very long time around our grandfather’s house; until one day this stranger who was my Dad showed up to take my sister and I away. It was a very traumatic time for me. My grandmother wasn’t there anymore. They tried to explain that she had died; but I didn’t understand and now my grandfather said I had to go with this strange man. I couldn’t take any of my toys. I remember them filling the trunk of the car with clothes, as I stood there sick with fear. Later, my sister and I were loaded into the back seat and I am fairly sure I was crying as the stranger drove us away. The woman in the front the seat beside my Dad was our new step mother and the baby held our new step sister, Dee.

We rode in the car for a very long time. Finally, we came to a place where we stopped “This is your new home”, my Dad said. It wasn’t. I wanted to go home to my Granma and Grandpa.

The house my Dad called “your new home” was a strange house. It was long and thin. It had a living room at the west end and a master bedroom at the east end. From the living room a doorway led into the kitchen. Another doorway led from the kitchen into a hallway with two bunk beds on the left and a bathroom on the right. At the end of the hall was the door to the master bedroom. I was told I would sleep on the upper bunk and my sister on the lower.

I figured out much later that it was converted from a WWII army barracks. We would live in the barracks house for the next couple of years, then move to a rent house up the street.

I don’t think I ever saw my grandfather’s house again. When I saw my Grandpa again, a couple of years or so, later, he was living in a house in town. When I asked about where we used to live in the country house, he said it wasn’t there anymore. He said that a tornado had taken it. So, I could never go home again. That made me sad.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The shoot out at Hidden Hollow

Journal entry 6/03/10– Thursday

….We had a little excitement around here tonight. About 10:30 or 11:00 pm, I heard several loud bangs, like big firecrackers. I thought, “What the hell” and got up to investigate. I opened the door and looked out. All I saw was one man in the parking lot near the end of one building and a man out front of a unit about half way down three building. I stepped outside to the end of the porch. The man at three building shouted something I did not understand. The man at the end of one building ran toward the open area between one and four buildings. Suddenly there was a light blue car in the drive way to my left. I heard several heavy bangs and saw sparks from what looked like a rifle from the passengers’ side of the car. I turned to get back inside; but I tripped and fell over the hedge to the left of my door. I fell on my right side and back scrapping my right knee in the hedge in the process. There is now a knee shaped depression in the Hedge.

The gun in the car, which I later learned was a shot gun, fired several more shots. It occurred to me that I should stay where I was, on my back out of the line of fire. So, I did not see the car depart. A few seconds later, the car was gone. I turned over and began to get up. As I got slowly to my feet, I noticed a man standing under the lights near the entrance To Hidden Hollow complex. He had what appeared to be a pistol. I decided I had better get back inside the house.

About the time I stepped inside, my neighbor, David stepped out onto his porch wearing only in his under wear. David said something like “What’s going on?” and moved toward his right stepping off the porch. I tried to say something like, “you better get back inside”, but it came out garbled and I don’t think David heard me.

The man at the complex entrance fired two shots toward the far end of the complex. The same direction the shot gun had fired. David ducked and scrambled back inside.

I shut my door and went to tend my scrapped knee. After I had put Merthiolate on my scrapes I opened the door again. The police had arrived by that time and there was nothing to see; but police cars and a few shot gun shell casings.

In the morning, when I looked out side, even the shell casings were gone. It was as if last night never happened.

Journal entry 6/15/10– Tuesday

--the rest of the story—

….I learned the rest of the shoot out story last night. We had a Hidden Hollow board meeting to discuss the shooting. A Latino Woman, I think from three building, admitted that she was the one doing the shooting. Her story goes like this:

She and her husband were outside smoking a cigarette when two young Hispanic men (boys really) in a car approached them. One of the men in the car used foul language (curse words) to the woman. She noticed a shoot gun on the seat beside the passenger and felt threatened, so she pulled out her gun. “You want to make something of it”, she said, and fired shots at the car, as they sped away north toward Hammerly blvd. There were two distinct series of shots one, then a few seconds later another. That’s when I got up to see what was going on.

The car circled the block and came in the Campbell rd. entrance. Where stopped in the driveway near my front door. The passenger then fired the shot gun around six times. The woman replied with several shots from where she stood at her door and the car backed up and sped off on Campbell rd. I didn’t see the car depart, as I was flat on my back from where I had tripped over the porch step.

The Latino woman was unrepentant about shooting around the complex.

“I had a hand gun license”, she shouted, “The police didn’t even fine me”.

“I’ll do it again to protect my family and possessions”.

“I have a right to protect myself”, she said, with total disregard of anyone else she might endanger.

I, myself, can not believe this woman’s attitude, she seems to think it is her right to shoot up the neighborhood, and I can not understand why the police didn’t take some action.

The Summer of “68” – (Part 2)

My second summer after High School “1968”

The next weeks were similar of my first day working as a Roughneck. We left town around 2 pm every day driving to work. On the third day after I started work it was my turn to drive. So, I filled the Falcon with gas (at 17₵/gallon) in the morning. Told my sister there was to be no Drag’ gin Main today; because I needed the car with a full tank to get to work. Around 1:30 pm I left the house, stopped over at the Ice House to fill the water can with a 10 lb block of Ice. That cost me around 35₵ I think; but it might have been 50₵. I don’t quite remember. My brother probably will though and tell me “you’re wrong”. Anyway after the stop to fill the water can, I began to pick up the crew. There were four of us now because Gene had hired a Derrick Hand a couple of days ago.

We left town just before 2 pm heading north. My falcon was a small six cylinder, the weather was hot, and it was heavily loaded with four men on board. At the first small town we passed through, the car stalled at the Red Light. The guys laughed; but jumped out and pushed it out of the intersection. I managed to get it rerstarted and we drove a couple of miles down the road to a café where we stopped for coffee. I had not yet developed a taste for coffee; but ordered a cup anyway. When the waitress ask if I wanted cream, I said no. That day I decided that if I was going to drink coffee I might as well drink it black. After a ten minute coffee break, we piled back into the Falcon and headed northwest out of town, taking back roads so that we could travel at high speed. 90 miles/hour was the usual speed we traveled along those back roads. So taking roads not well traveled by the Highway patrol was a must to avoid a ticket. In about an hour we were well over the border into New Mexico and approaching the Rig. That’s when the car stalled again three to four hundred yards from the Rig. The Daylights crew razzed us as we hiked into the yard; but we were only a few minutes late relieving them. Fortunately, the car would have cooled off by the end of the evening tower shift and I was able to drive everyone home, even stopping for beer on the way.

Tripping Pipe

To Trip in oilfield slang means to remove the drill pipe string from the hole one 90 foot stand at a time and set each stand back in the derrick. When the entire string is set back vertically in the derrick, the drill bit on the bottom stand is replaced. Then, the entire string is reconnected one stand at a time and run back into the hole. The operation from start to completion is referred to as a Round Trip.

The day after my first drive I caught my first round trip. At a depth of 10 thousand feet or so, as we were at the time, this operation was going to take the entire Evening Tower.

The daylights crew was just getting ready to Trip, by dropping the Totco, when we pulled into the yard. The Totco is a heavy metal bar with a housing in the top end. Inside the housing, which screws off is a timer and a indicator patch, with concentric rings representing degrees. When the timer goes off a pin pierces the patch and gives you an indication of how many degrees off vertical the hole is. When the Totco is dropped, as they did to us this day, you must remove the entire drill string to retrieve it.

The daylights crew was taunting us as we drove up; by holding Totco bar over the hole waiting to drop it. They knew we would have hard Evening Tower retrieving it and they would have a new bit on bottom and easy day tomorrow.

After changing clothes in the Bottom Dog House, I manned my Lead Tongs and Gene began to pull pipe as we watched the Daylights crew drive off location.

“They’re laughing at us”, Roy said, “They think it’s funny, they put this trip on us”.

I don’t recall what I thought; I wasn’t happy about having to spend the next eight hours Tripping Pipe.

As the third joint in the first stand cane out of the hole, Roy shouted, “get your tongs around the pipe”, and I clamped the Lead Tongs around the middle of the joint. The Tongs closed loosely around the drill pipe. The pipe continued to slip upward through them.,

Roy shouted, “Set the slips” as the next connection point appeared and we pulled the slips around the pipe. Gene then lowered the pipe string slightly to set the slips firmly around the pipe.

“Make’ m bite”, Gene hollered at me and I pushed and pulled on the Lead Tongs to set the teeth around the pipe pin.

Gene activated the Cat-Head clutch. I felt movement as the clutch pulled the tong cable and jerk as the pipe connection broke loose. Gene spun the rotary table and the connection came free. Roy grabbed the stand and guided it over to a place on the pipe rack to be set down. 90 feet above us, the derrick man, whom we called Indian, unlatched the elevators and pulled the stand back out of the way of the blocks. He continues to pull the stand back on until he can slip into the rack (Fingers) and tie the stand into place. Meanwhile, I grabbed the Dope Brush and swished it around the lower pin threads to grease them for later reconnection. We waited as the blocks descended, then I grabbed the elevator rope and pulled back as Roy latched the elevators around the pin of the pipe in the hole. Gene activated the Draw-Works clutch and began to pull next stand out of the hole. We repeated this procedure over 100 hundred times in the next three hours; then we came to the drill collars.

Drill collars are extra heavy pipe attached to the drill string to give weight at the bottom. They weigh about 3000 lbs per foot, so handling them requires effort and special care. For one thing, we could not trust the collar slips to hold so each time we set the slips on a drill collar we had to put a clamp around the collar above the slips and tighten it down with a wrench. For another drill collars are smooth so we had to screw a special lifting device into the top of each stand to enable the elevators to latch around it. Funny, I don’t recall the name of these collars lifts (nubs?); but they weighed over 100 lbs each.

The procedure for handling drill collars goes like this. The connection point comes up through the rotary table and we set the drill collar slips. Roy grabs the clamp and puts it around the drill collar. I flip the screw head into place and begin to tighten it. As I tighten the clamp screw, Roy hits it with a hammer to make sure we get the kinks out and it is tight. Once the clamp is tight, we swing both sets of tongs into place and make them bite above and below the connection point. Gene activates left and right Cat-Head clutches to pull both tongs at the same time. Once the connection breaks loose, Gene unscrews the connection by spinning the rotary table. Roy and I then push the collar stand toward its place on the pipe rack, as Gene slowly lower the stand. When the collar stand in set in place, the Indian in the derrick then unlatches the elevators and pulls the stand back and ties it in place. As the elevators descend, Roy and I use the Cat-Head line to lift the next drill collar lift nub into place. We use a change tongs to screw it in; then the Lead and Back-up tongs to make it tight. After latching the elevators around the nub, we unscrew the collar clamp and remove it. We jerk the collar slips and Gene starts up with the new stand. Fortunately, there were 8 stands of drill collars, so we would only have to do this procedure 7 more times.

When the last stand of drill collars came out of the hole Roy pushed them aside and I put the bit breaker cover plate in place, so we would not drop anything down the hole. A tool or a bit of metal dropped down the hole could be a very bad thing.

We then lowered the bit at the end of the stand into the bit breaker plate, clamped on the Lead Tongs, and unscrewed the bit by spinning the rotary table. As Gene lifted the collar stand we finally saw the Totco bar. It had taken us 4 hours to retrieve it and we were looking at another four hours putting a new bit on bottom.

At this point we stopped to eat a quick supper; from our lunch boxes, before starting back in the hole.

After screwing a new bit onto the drill collar stand hanging in the derrick, we lowered the stand into the hole, set the collar slips, tightened the collar clamp, and removed the collar lifting nub. Going back in the hole with drill collars is pretty much a reversal of the procedure described above. So, I will not detail it here. When we reached the drill pipe; however the procedure changed. As the stand came down, we tried to judged when to set the slips. Ideally we would set them so that about three feet of pipe was sticking out above the floor. We then unlatched the elevators and Gene clutched the Draw-Works for a high speed run up the derrick. I latched the Back-Up Tongs around the pipe pin and Roy wrapped the spinning chain also around the pin, above the tongs. The Indian, meanwhile, had the next stand waiting in the derrick. As the elevators flew past him, he leaned out with the pipe and latched the elevators around it. As the bottom of the stand jumped off the floor, Roy caught it and we both guided it into the waiting pin. Gene tightened up on the spinning chain and Roy threw a loop in it to cause it to walk up on the pipe above the connection point. Once the chain loops were above the connection point Roy held back on it to cause the pipe stand to spin. I had to get the Tongs up above the connection point and make’ m bite so that when the chain ran out Gene could tighten down on the connection. When the connection was tight, Gene would pick up the drill string as Roy and I pulled the slips. Then Gene would quickly lower the stand and we would set the slips again about three feet from the top. We would repeat the same procedure, above, over one hundred time that night.

“Going in the hole” is slightly faster than “coming out of the hole”. Gravity works for you rather than against you. We saw the lights of our relief coming, as we were running the last few stands into the hole. Gene was back to drilling by the time they changed clothes. They would have an easy night.

I asked for a quart when we stopped a beer going home that night. When I had finished it, I just lay over against the window and tried to sleep. It had been an exhausting day; but I was happy and proud, I had made it through.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Summer of “68” – (Part 1)

My second summer after High School

One thing about the draft board and college exemptions, you were allowed to have summers off. Presumably, for those like me, who needed to earn money for the fall semester.

Finding myself out of school and out of work near the end of May “1968”, I began to look around for a job. I could have gone back to the roustabout crews; but it didn’t seem the right thing to do, yet. After a few days, I got a job at the local Laundromat about a block from my home. This coin operated laundry specialized in washing oil field workers clothes. The kind of oily, greasy, dirty, and smelly clothes most guys’ wives refused to let into the family washing machine. Most of the customers didn’t stick around for the washing. Sometimes they would put the dirty clothes in the washer, leave and come back in 30 minutes to transfer them into the dryer.

Others would simply show up drop the clothes off and say, “I’ll pick them up later”.

The owner would wash, dry, and fold the clothes so they were ready when the customer returned. This was mostly what I did on the job. In addition, swept, mopped, wiped, and generally cleaned up around the place.

At the end of the day, I had about $6 to show for my work.

“75₵/hour”, is all I can pay the owner said.

“I’m sorry”, I said, “I need to earn more than that.”

“That won’t cover my tuition in the fall”, I explained.

“I need to look for something that pays better.”

“I understand”, he said, “what are you looking for?”

“I’d like to hire on as Roughneck, like my dad”, I said; “but I don’t have any experience.”

“If I hear of anything, I’ll let you know”, the Laundromat owner said.

I went home discouraged that afternoon. I was thinking about hiring on with a roustabout crew next day; but the one I went to for work didn’t have anything that day. I’ll find something tomorrow, I decided.

Around 9 or 10 o’clock a car pulled up in front of my house. A short wiry guy got out, walked up the walk, and knocked.

“I here you wanna roughneck?” he said, when I answered the door.

I nodded, “How did you know?” I asked.

“I was over at the laundry earlier”, he said, “The owner said you were looking.”

I nodded again. “Can you be ready at 2 o’clock?” he asks.

“Ok, I’ll be ready”, I said.

“My names Gene and its’ for Noble Drilling”, he said as he strode away, “You’ll be working lead tongs”. I had no clue, at the time what lead tongs were; but I had a job on an oil drilling rig

“Good, I’ll pick you up at 2”, Gene said.

Sure enough around 2 pm a different car pulled up in front of my house. The driver got out open and the trunk. I threw my duffle bag in the trunk and climbed in the back seat.

Thus, I began my career as an oil well drilling rig crewman (Roughneck). We started out of town in the direction of Seminole. That was when I learned the rig was a little south of Clovis, NM.

“Pay attention to how we go”, Gene said, “in a couple of days it’ll be your turn to drive”.

It took us about 1 and ½ hours to drive it the 125 miles one way to the rig. We arrived around 3:30 pm.

“We’re relieving on the half hour”, Gene explained as we drove into the yard.

As the car stopped, Gene stepped out and walked over to the crew gathered at the bottom Dog House.

“We’re short a man”, he said, “anybody want over time”.

One of the guys said, “Yeah I’ll stay”, and we had our fourth Roughneck, at least for today.

“I’ll see if I can’t hire somebody tomorrow”, Gene Commented and turned to climb the stairs to the top Dog House where the Daylights driller was awaiting relief. Roy and I, meanwhile entered the Bottom Dog House. There weren’t any lockers; just pegs with army style Duffle Bags hanging on them. So, I found an empty peg to hang my Duffle Bag and began to change into my work clothes. The man, who had volunteered to stay, stood in the door watching longingly his ride departed.

Roy asked, “How’s it going”, as the man stood there.

“Not too bad”, the man replied, “We put a new bit on bottom this morning, so it should drill through the night”.

“That sounds good”, Roy said, as he finished dressing.

My first evening as a roughneck went fairly smoothly. Gene drilled the whole shift, which we called Evening Tower.

One thing we did that first day was we extracted a wooden plug from a joint of drill pipe. At first being a “Worm”, I thought this was normal. I would learn later that the plugged pipe was the result of a near tragic accident. Apparently, on a previous day driller on duty picked up a stand of drill pipe and the elevators were not latched properly. The elevators popped open and he dropped the stand. The bottom joint went through the wooden matting on pipe rack shoving the plug into the join. The crew removed the joint from the drill string and set it aside for later removal of the plug.

Our crew got the job of removal, which involved sticking a crow- bar into the pipe and striking it with a sledge hammer; thus chipping away at the plug. After several hours, we finally managed to break the plug up enough to get it out.

As I said I thought this was a normal work activity; but in fact, this was something I have only done once in my life.

As my Roughneck career continued, I would discover that some of my work as a

Roughneck included cleaning out the drainage ditch around the rig, maintaining/repairing mechanical and electrical equipment whenever we could, painting the rig (when we could get paint), and mixing drilling mud. One of my most frequent tasks was washing the draw works. I fact at one time or another, I washed just about every thing on the rig from the sub-structure to the derrick.

The drilling operation, which Gene handled as driller, involved rotating the long string of drill pipe and drill collars down in the hole. The day I started, about a month after the rig was set up, that string had grown, in the neighborhood, of 10 thousand feet long.

The drilling operation is as follows. A long square pipe called a “Kelly” runs through a Rotary Block and is screwed into the top join of pipe in the drill string. The rotary block sits in a square hole in the Rotary Table. The Rotary Table rotates forcing the Kelly to rotate. This in turn, forces the entire 10 thousand foot drill string to rotate. As the bit at the bottom of the drill string cuts hole the driller gradually slacks off on the Drilling Line, a winch cable that supports the Kelly and Drill String. Eventually the Kelly drills down; can’t go any further into the hole and we have to make a connection. Time to Kelly down varies with how fast the bit can cut hole. In my first day on the job this took about an hour.

Making a connection consisted of Gene pulling the square pipe called a Kelly up out of the hole. This lifted the Rotary Block so that we could get to the top joint of the drill string. We set a tool called the “Slips” into the hole in the Rotary Table. The Slips were sort of cone shaped and designed to support the drill string while we disconnected the Kelly and connected the next 30 foot joint of drill pipe. We usually set the slips about two feet below the pin on the top joint of pipe.

I found out that day the Lead Tongs were a large wrench mounted on a counter balance and attached to a pulling device called the “Cat-Head”.

I swung the Lead Tongs over and clamped them around the Kelly pin above the point where we were going to unscrew it.

Roy, the chain hand, clamped the Back-up Tongs around the pin on the top joint below the unscrew point and Gene activated the Cat-Head clutch. The Cat-Head cable pulled on my Lead Tongs and the connection loosened with a jerk. Gene then spun the Rotary Table to unscrew the joint. As he picked the Kelly up, thick muddy water spewed from the Kelly pipe. Roy and I jumped back to try and avoid being splashed by it.

Then we grabbed the Kelly and stained to push it over the joint of pipe in the Rat Hole. The “Rat Hole” is a metal tube set flush in the rig floor; used to hold the next pipe connection as it is screwed into the Kelly. Gene lowered the Kelly pin into the new pipe and once the two were mated, I swung the Lead Tongs over to clamp them around the Kelly pin. You can’t use the Rotary Table to spin this pipe, so the normal method is to use a Spinning Chain. A Spinning Chain is attached to the Back-Up Tong Cat-Head chain about half way between the Cat-Head and the end of the Back-up Tongs.

We had previously wrapped the Spinning Chain around the joint of pipe in the Rat-Hole.

Roy took hold of the Spinning Chain and held back on it while Gene activated the Cat-Head clutch to pull the chain. This caused the joint in the Rat Hole to spin screwing it into the Kelly pipe. My Lead Tongs kept the Kelly from turning while the joint was being screwed in. Gene’s pulling on the Back-up Tongs completed the connection. He then lifted the Kelly and new joint out of the Rat Hole. Roy mean while, was wrapping the Spinning Chain around the pin of the pipe in the slips. We set the new joint into the pipe in the hole and Gene tightened up on the Cat-Head chain. As the chain became taut Roy threw a loop in it so it walked up onto the new joint, then he held back on it so the Kelly and joint would spin. After that it was a matter of clamping the Back-up Tongs around the pipe and tightening the connection. Finally, Gene lifted the whole drill string so we could pull the slips and, then lowered the drill string into the hole until the Kelly block seated into the Rotary Table. Gene activated the Rotary Table and we were back to drilling. We repeated this procedure about once an hour adding a new joint of drill pipe each time the Kelly drilled down.

Evening Tower ended at 11:30 pm when the Morning Tower crew showed up to relieve us. I changed clothes and climbed into the back seat of the car for the long drive home; but I learned one more thing that night. We had to make one more stop on the way on home; at a package liquor store for beer.

“Want a beer”, Roy asked; after he had ordered a quart each for himself, Gene, and the Derrick hand, who had stayed over to make the fourth man on our crew.

“No”, I replied, that first night. At this point in my life, I didn’t drink; but I would soon learn to.

We got into town around 1:30 am. Roy dropped me off at my parent’s house across from the library and headed home himself. I tried to slip into the house quietly, so as not to wake anyone, ran a tube of hot water for a bath, and got to bed around 2:15 am.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I start College (Part 1)

I start College (Part 1)

My career as a roustabout ended abruptly in the fall of 1967. I took the college entrance exams (SAT’s). Both my parents and I expected that I would go to college. There was $900 my sister and I inherited from our grandfather, a $150 scholarship from the National Honor Society, and $2000 from an insurance policy my uncle had paid kept up over the years. This was going to get me through 4 years of college. Funny thing is, in the late 60’s $3000 would just about pay for a college education. My sister started college in 1968 and graduated Southwest Texas State University on around $3000.

But to get back to me, I had considered both Texas Tech and Alpine College as my schools of choice. My parents and I discussed it. Finally, it was decided that two years at a near by Jr. College be the best way to start. I could live at home and save on expenses.

It might have been better if I have gone far away to college; made a clean break so to speak. I ended up carpooling to school (45 minutes each way), being at home each evening, and trying to do home work in a bed room I shared with my brother. It seemed too much like a continuation of high school. Something I had just finished four years of and was not sure I wanted to continue. I quickly grew tired of the day to day study.

My dad had used a little of the college money as a down payment on a used car (two used cars actually). The first was a Ford Galaxy, which blew the engine, the second was a Ford Falcon, which I drove for the next four or five years.

Cruising Main (Drag' gin Main)

My sisters tell me that I made several errors in this part of the story:

First – the term was Drag' gin Main not Cruising Main,

Second – my oldest sister tells me she also participated in the ritual. The difference being someone else always drove, so I didn’t notice.

Third – my oldest sister drove the girls to High School that first fall before she went off to college.

A frustrating thing about my first car at first the title was in my dad’s name. He insisted that I had to share the car with my number two sister. So, once or twice a week I would carpool in it to the Jr. College. The rest of the time my sister had the use of it to drive her friends to high school. That wasn’t the worse of it; however, when not in school these four teen aged girls would have the car out Drag’ gin Main.

Drag’ gin Main — definition: To drive up and down Main Street between the Dairy Queen Drive-in and Broadway Ave waving and shouting at the teenage boys also out cruising Main. This was a courtship ritual in the town I grew up in.

My number two sister was the first one in our family who to participate in it. Why, because she was the first to have a car (My Car) available in her high school years. She and her three friends spent hours and many gallons of gas Drag’ gin Main.

I could never go anywhere, they were out Drag’ gin Main

The gas tank was always empty because they had been Drag’ gin Main.

I’d fill the tank in the evening, next morning I’d have ½ a tank. Why, Drag’ gin Main.

This frustrating situation went on the whole time I owned that Ford Falcon.

I start College (Part 2)

As I have said, I started Jr. College in the fall of ’67. I was taking a full load of classes (15 credit hours of mostly English, Math, & Science). Chemistry I loved because of the cool things we did in lab; I hated the class room work. Algebra was ok; but I missed the first class and never really caught up. Trigonometry I liked, solving trig equations was fun. Have I mentioned I like puzzles? I really loathed English composition, writing all those stupid essays on subjects I couldn’t care less about. Who cares “what I did on my summer vacation” or “What I did at the high school prom”. The teacher always had some stupid subject ready.

“Your assignment is to write a thousand word Essay on the leaves changing this fall”, she would say. How do you write a thousand words on leaves changing? They go from green to red and yellow, that’s it.

Also it did not help that I had to write each essay in pencil and then copy it in ink for submission. In this day of word processors and spell checkers, it is impossible to imagine how many sheets of paper and little blue theme notebooks (10₵ ea at the student book store) I ruined with each Essay. It was also; really painful it was to see my submitted assignment returned covered top to bottom with red correction marks. All that work for a C, or maybe a C+.

Physical Education was a required course in those days. Incoming freshmen had to sign up for P.E. You did have some choice of sport; however, I opted for Basket Ball that fall. Not because I was any good at it; but because all it required was a pair of white gym shorts and tennis shoes. It was something I was familiar with. I recall running back and forth between the nets chasing the taller guys until my tongue hung out. Basket Ball can be brutal on a short guy with small hands and no particular athletic ability. I never seemed to get the hang of dribbling. Walking and bouncing the ball at the same time was a feat I never mastered.

My second College semester (‘68), I was smarter for P. E. I chose Tennis. I wasn’t any better at it than Basket Ball; but at least my tongue wasn’t hanging out as I chased

Tennis balls all over the court and it got me outside in the warm spring air. Later in the semester, when the temperature climbed to 100+ º every day, I would not be so happy with my choice.

I pretty much had eight hours of classes each day; but some of my carpool buddies had short class days. When we weren’t in class we would sit drinking cokes the Student Union building or go over to the Baptist Student Union, where they had a pool table. Sometimes we would just sit in the car and study.

I recall that on one occasion my carpool buddies engaged in an out of class activity, I never approved of. One of them used a fake ID to buy beer. They returned to the parking lot of the Student Union building with around two cases of Schlitz Malt liqueur in the trunk of their Volks Wagon Beatle. Then, they sat in the car drinking beer until I got out of class around 4 pm.

Needless to say no one engaged in this activity was in any shape to drive. So, I asked the owner of the car to let me drive. I didn’t like beer in those days. He agreed and handed me the keys. He was happy to, it meant he could keep drinking. Each took a six pack out of the trunk. Then, five guys, four of them totally “snockered” climbed into the Beatle and headed home. It was a 36 mile drive and four of us had consumed a lot of beer so we had to make two pit stops along way. We managed to avoid the highway patrol on the way home and pulled into town around 5:30 pm. Since I was not familiar with the gear shift on the Volks Wagon, I decided to avoid main street. I went west, up a side street to the Fina station and turned north. At that point, I had to cross Broadway, one of the busiest streets in town. That’s where I lost it. I misjudged the gas and the car lurched forward into on coming traffic and died. Fortunately the on coming tanker truck managed to change lanes in time to avoid hitting us. As I hit the ignition, the little VW engine roared. I popped the clutch and we scooted across the street. We had made it into the residential area. Now it was only a matter of dropping the other three guys off and heading to the house. I was a little concerned about letting the car owner, drunk as he was, drive home; but he only had a little way to go and we were in town so I figured he would get home ok.

Thus ended my first year of college, by the end of spring semester, I was barely pasting. I resolved that would work this summer and try harder in the fall. In 1968, I had little choice; it was obtain an academic exemption (good grades) or be drafted and shipped to Viet-nam. Naturally, I chose the exemption.