You have to eat a pound of dirt in your life.



This job went wrong from the beginning.  I got the word from the office that I had to be on a drill site and set up in the next twelve hours, or we would lose the client.  When you’re in the oilfield service business, losing a client, meaning one of the big oil companies, is a bad thing.  I put the groceries away, dropped the cat off with the neighbors, and hitched the trailer up to the pickup.  I had eleven and a half hours to get myself across Ohio and half of Pennsylvania, and here it was 9 am.  The word to describe that in Ohio-ese is ‘shee-it.’  That summed it up perfectly.

The drive over was one of those scenic trips on back roads that most people never experience in their lifetime.  I did it every couple of weeks.  It’s funny that they never drill gas wells on an interstate.  I wonder why that is.  Oh, well.  The back roads consist of green, green, and more green, plus the odd split rail fence with car hub caps on it for sale.  The hubcap scavenging business in the heart of the nation is going strong.  There are also tractors, deep brown earth and the smell of manure.  Old ladies in long faded dresses.  Men in bib-alls.  Matching kids, little girls in long faded dresses learning how to be good wives, and sons sitting on the fender of the tractor as it pulls the disc harrow, learning from their dad how to make the earth produce so you can live life.

The trailer behind my truck held a full geology lab, along with gas detectors and all a fella needs to tell the driller when to drill and when to stop, and whether the well will produce.  My background in geology was often scoffed at by the tool pusher and his roughnecks, but the company man from the oil company depended on me to keep him rich, and I kept getting the calls to come out and do my magic.

I pulled onto the drill site at 8 pm, with the sun down but not yet full dark.  I got the trailer spotted as close to the rig as I could get, but the site was a swamp from the rain a day or two ago.  Every step threatened to suck a boot off a foot, and it was wearying just to walk up to the doghouse to get my depth gauges hooked up to the derrick.  I did get a cup of pretty good coffee, and the tool pusher told me not to worry, they weren’t going to spud in until midnight.  That way the surface casing could be set tomorrow in the daylight and the Halliburton cement crew would be happy.  Seven hundred fifty feet of drilling in ten hours would be a chore for the roughnecks, but they were used to it and they knew things would slow down once we got into hard bedrock.

I got back to the trailer and pulled out all of my power cords and hoses and the gas detector head that would be connected to the shaker table where the drill cuttings got sorted out of the drilling mud.  And there was the problem.  The rig and my trailer were separated by the mud pits, two deep, plastic lined holes in the ground, twenty feet across each one, and a hundred feet long, dug out by bulldozer to hold the drilling mud that kept the bit cool and flushed the rock cuttings out of the hole.  I would have to string my lines across that no-man’s-land.

I knew I had enough power line and hose.  I’d be a fool to show up on a job unprepared for any eventuality. It was just a matter of getting everything across that swamp all by my lonesome.  The rig hands were busy and couldn’t help, nor would I ask if I needed to.  It was my job, not theirs.  Their job was to make me coffee, and to produce hole.  Oh, and also to harass me as much as they could.  They sure enjoyed their work.

I pulled a long steel cable out of the trailer and fixed one end to the rear bumper, back where my propane tanks were hitched for those long cold nights.  I grabbed the other end and headed through the soup to the rig, dragging the cable through the mud all the way.  By the time I got to the stairs up to the doghouse, I was covered in mud and it was nine thirty.  Two and a half hours to go. I got to the top of the stairs, and hauled on that cable for all I was worth.  It snaked itself across the lot, through the mud, and out over the pits.  I hauled as hard as I could, and the cable came out of the mud into the air to hang between the trailer and the rig.  Just fine.

I got back to the trailer covered in another layer of mud and tied the power cable and the hoses and depth gauge line together into a long umbilical using electrical tape every five or six feet.  I spliced a spare power cord to the end, and used shackles and twine to hang that sucker to the cable hanging over the pits.  Then back to the rig, another layer of mud, a coffee while the rig hands laughed their asses off and hosed me down with the rig washing hose.  I probably should have been grateful, but I couldn’t show it.  It would upset the balance of the universe.

I had brought that extra power line with me on my last journey, and I started to haul on it, oh so slowly.  Foot by foot, the umbilical was pulled the eighty or a hundred feet out over the pits and up to the doghouse door.  The tool pusher stood there, admiring my ingenuity and trying hard not to show it.  He did this by spitting chewing tobacco as close to my boots as he could without hitting me, something which he had practiced somewhere.  I got my lines strung, smiled, and set in to connecting to the rig.

Hooking up the power line and depth gauge took all of fifteen minutes, but the gas hoses had to go out to the shaker table, and that took another forty five.  I got it done, though, and headed back to my little trailer.  Now for the real killer.

The gas collector is a metal can with a motor on top of it and a hose connection for the gas hose.  It’s stainless steel, and weighs about fifty pounds.  I had to lug this sucker through the mud, around the pits, under the rig and up to the shaker table so I could set it up and connect it to hose and power.  I headed out.

Now, it was late, and I had been working a bit here, and I was tired.  I slipped and slid my way across the site and was skirting the pits when I hit a soft spot under a corner of the pit liner.  I was close, but thought I would be all right.  Then that soft spot gave way just enough and down I went, hard on my ass with a fifty pound gas collector on my shoulder, and damned if I didn’t slide right into the first pit.  I let go of everything and twisted myself around and grabbed that plastic liner with both hands to stop my slide.  I was waist deep, but I stopped.  The gas collector slid by me and I heard it go under.  I hauled, and I came back up to a standing ovation from every single rig hand and the tool pusher.  They had seen the whole thing.

I went back and got the spare gas collector, and this time took the long way around.  Hooking it up was the easiest thing I did all night.  By midnight, when the diesels started roaring and the first joint of drill pipe was hauled up to spud in the well, I was hooked up and running, dry and warm in my trailer.  I recorded the first foot of hole drilled and smiled.  The coffee might have a bit of mud in it, but that was all right.  So did I.


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