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The skyline of Kilgore, in the heart of the East Texas Field. him, “What you do that for? We won’t eat it.” He replied, “I might not live till lunchtime.” There are lots of other ways to die around the oil field. A load of pipe can come crashing off a truck or rack. You can get tangled up in a cat line or a cable or a belt drive or a gear box. You can get burned or electrocuted. Any man who has spent 25 or 30 years in the oil fields can tell you stories to curl your hair. Likely as not he bears mute testimony himself in fingers missing, in scars from burns or accidents. The oil industry each year kills or maims its quota of men. V The more recent oil and gas fields are quite upright and orderly. For yeais’ now the more conscientious operators have built cattle guards right off. They don’t ‘Put in gates because somebody might leave them open. If an old steer gets out on a highway . . . well, a cow in court, with lawyer fees and all, gets pretty expensive. They haul in tons of gravel or crushed rock Yor lease roads if these are needed, The5Pdut a gash in the ground with a bulldozer but. when they get done they fill it up again. They honestly try to keep the oil and brackish water from running off down the hillside and killing the cotton land for twenty generations to come. The word gets around that a roughneck can get himself fired quick if he opens up a valve and lets her roar for the thrill of it. Besides, a chance spark might ignite that blast of oil and gas, and those drilling rigs cost a. hundred thousand dollars. They still call ’em roughnecks and roustabouts, but they have learned to mind their manners since the wild and woolly days of Burkburnett, Ranger, and Corsicana. VI Longview, Gladewater, Kilgore, Henderson : name these towns and you get a grin of recognition from oilfield people the world around. Old Dad Joiner and his fabulous find, the East Texas Oil Field. That was the big one the majors let get away–almost. It is the dirtiest damned oil I ever worked with anywhere, black, all of it, and stink! Good Lord, it stinks. Every tank-ful has to be boiled and cooked and treated and siphoned off and filtered. The gunk that settles in the bottom of the tank is called B.S., which in polite circles is known as “bottom settlings.” If you work within a mile or so of it, you soon learn to call it by its true name. In East Texas you pull sucker rods on an old pumping well and the stripper rubber won’t clean the rods as they come out of the hole. The grimy, waxy stuff clings to the rods and, 30 feet up, lets loose and drips and plops down on you, on your helmet and shoulders, down the back of your neck. You throw away a pair of work gloves, hopelessly caked with the mess, every hour or two. It takes you an hour to wash up and a week to get it all from under your nails and the pores of your skin. . Piney, woods. Deep, shady, and forever green. And red sandy clay hills and cool humid East Texas breeze, and often foggy mornings. Every lease has a pit of black oil and salty water. Green and red and besMirched with black. And across a genteel white rail fence is a two-story redbrick English country mansion with fourcar garage, a lovely lawn and a rose garden, a stable and a bridle path where a hired horse trainer in red-and-white riding togs trains a prancing blooded riding horse. This is the Texas of the fabled oil millionaires, one of those legendary places at the end of the rainbow where the pot o’ gold really was. And real live people actually found it, not some ethereal Wall Street corporation. My old book says: East Texas Field, 25,000 oil wells, 700 different operating companies, and billions of barrels of oil produced. VII When I first knew the oil patch, many of the old timers were still living in miserable shotgun shacks like those the Arkansas Negroes had: living room, bedroom, kitchen, one behind the other, and the doors so low you ducked slightly, and ducked again to miss the light bulb. If you reached up when putting on a shirt or a coat you hit your knuckles against the ceiling. If there were more than man and wife the front room doubled as a bedroom. There was a privy out back, or if the man had been willing to spend his own time and money, there was a lean-to bathroom. Like as not he would abandon the place after a year or two because of unemployment or a job transfer. Fifteen or twenty years ago there were four thousand trailer houses parked in Odessa, Texas. These have largely disappeared today. The companies built their own camps in many areas. These very much like the steel mill towns and mining towns of other parts of the world. With the automobile, the pickup, and all-weather roads, these isolated and introverted camps have gone the way of the buggy and the ModelT Ford; today the oil field hand lives in town, near school and stores, in whatever housing he chooses to rent or buy. Surely half the wives of this floating labor force were waitresses before marriage, and most of them continue to work in cafes after marriage. \(Where else is a young roughneck to meet a girl, but at a It’s buy a new car every year or two when you’re making big money and doubling up with overtime, working two shifts \(tours, Then it drops off to regular hours and a breather between jobs. The breather may become a restive three or, four weeks of enforced idling, and that’s when Dor’thy and her little old paycheck and tips from the restaurant come in handy. You pull up stakes and take off for Lake Charles or .Scurry County or Gainesville or Southern Illinois . . . wherever you have heard there is a flurry of activity. With luck you find work, send money back and Dor’thy moves the family, gets the kids in school again and scouts around for another waitress job. VIII Today Odessa is pretty tame. Most of the drive-in movies,are piled high with tumbleweeds and blow sand. The equipment is long since stripped from the projection room and the snack bar, and the ticket office is atilt and forlorn. The beer joints and nickelodeon barns that once thrived on the sunburnt boys and their dates are all boarded up and “For Lease or Sale.” The action has moved on. Picture the county fair cowbarn in Odessa several years ago. The American Petroleum Institute foregathers for a real whing-ding, an oil field stag party. Eight hundred key men have come in from towns and camps in a 200-mile radius, called the Permian Basin. Four big barbecue pits belch hickory smoke as the catering service tends the hundreds of pounds of beef simmering there. Nobody pulls out any money; everybody seems to have a little invitation card, furnished by oil equipment supply houses and well service people. There is beer on ice, in cold drink coolers and in tubs on the ground. Plenty of pickles and onions and piles of potato salad on the tables, and Mexican-style beans, great GI pots of them, to be dished out on paper plates. Everybody eats heartily and the young bucks come July 7, 1967 3