The Texas Observer JULY 7, 1967 A Journal of Free Voices A Window to The South 25c Close-ups of the Oil Industry EARLY MORNING Drilling rigs employ three crews that work around the clock until a well is either completed as a commercially productive one, or is plugged with cement and abandoned as a dry hole. Dallas The oil industry is a truck and crew setting out from a motel about sunrise and striking out across a trackless wasteland for forty miles. They drill a small hole and string out the phones. A small explosion goes “Poof !” and shoots a geyser of dust into the cloudless sky. The echoes are recorded as wavy lines on a moving scroll of paper, and brainy guys decide whether the signs are right for the presence of a “stratigraphic trap,” which just might mean oil is down there. They move on along a straight line for another Poof! and yet Robert N. Jones another, for many miles. Then they double back and make a parallel run, mapping their stations. Get out there early when the dew is still on the cactus and on the clumps of buffalo grass and the jackrabbits are still scampering about. You scare up a covey of blue quail and occasionally a deer or two. If the wind gets up it might be a refreshing breeze that makes you feel good all over. It might be a blizzard out of the west that sweeps the desert floor of its loose sand and throws it in your face. It might be a blue norther that cuts through your clothes and chills your bones. You develop little wrinkles at the corners of your eyes from squinting against the sun’s glare, the gritty sand, and the bite of the wind. You’re soon ruddy-faced, “brown as a Mexican,” with the nape of your neck leathery and your forearms and hands tough and dark. You live on black coffee and canned beans. And at night maybe a smile from a waitress. On weekends you make the drivein malt shop and the movies and the dives in Roswell, or pick up a paperback at a newsstand before bedtime. And five years later maybe that trackless waste is an oil field. II The oil industry is, for me, Southeast 29th Street in Oklahoma City. Eight miles of oil field supply houses, parts houses, service company headquarters, pipe yards, and junk yards. Every day hundreds of shoppers along this street pick up the hardware necessary to keep the oil flowing. The typical drop-in is a man with a hard hat or a grimy stetson, mud-caked work boots, driving a radio-equipped pickup truck with mud tires and a tool box in back. If he doesn’t find what he wants in The City he takes the Turnpike to Tulsa and hunts around up there. Usually he finds it on 29th Street ; they have damn near anything you want there. If you’ve ever tried to operate in some remote new area such as Four Corners \(where the corners of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico needed some V-belts in a hurry, you’d appreciate The Street and all its wonders. You would get on a long distance phone and call a buddy in The City that you could rely on and tell him what you wanted. First he would phone a dozen places. If that didn’t locate all the parts, he would go out and turn those piles of iron upside down until he found them. If you’re 45 miles off the coast of Louisiana on a platform rig and some idiot bollof the traveling block or the shale shaker in the ocean, you get homesick for The Street in Oklahoma City. Today The Street is past middle age, like the oil industry itself in Texas and Oklahoma. The Street’s old-fashioned corrugated iron siding on the warehouses is flapping and paint-peeled; the oak timbers and concrete floors of its loading docks are battered and scored; its piles of iron are twisted and contorted and rusting brown, and its cafes are getting a little more rundown every year. It’s still very much alive, but it’s on a reduced budget and just doing maintenance work to keep things going. It’s fighting a rear guard engagement after the action has moved on. The action, the oil play, the real money, has moved on to Wyoming, to Alaska, to the Out-back region of Australia, to Iraq and Kuwait, to the middle of the Sahara Desert. The real profits these days in Texas The writer was born in Big Spring, Texas, in 1922, has lived in Ranger, Corsicana, Austin, Coahoma, Midland, Borger, Pampa, Corpus Christi, and in Pauls Valley and Chickasha, Oklahoma, and is also acquainted with the oil industry in Arkansas, Louisiana, parts of New Mexico and Illinois, and Mexico. He has a B.S. in petroleum engineering from the University of .Texas and has worked as roustabout, roughneck, office help, equipment salesman, and oil and gas engineer, including stints with the oil and gas division of the Texas Railroad Commission. He is now in manufacturing in Dallas.
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