My father, Porky Sr., was a tool pusher – a drill supervisor – when I was young, and I went with him almost everywhere. Where you saw him, usually you would see me.
One day, dad had a clutch assembly break down on a large oilrig. The substructure – or working platform – was about 20 feet off the ground, and the crew had to remove the clutch assembly from the engine. The clutch was as big as a small car.
They used a wench truck – a large truck with long poles on the rear – to lift the clutch once it was unbolted from the engine. The clutch was so heavy that three men had to stand on the front bumper to hold the front of the truck on the ground. The driver lifted the clutch and pulled forward to lower it to the ground. On this particular day, they didn’t want to lower the clutch to the muddy ground below, so one of the crew tried to roll a big wooden cable spool to the area. He couldn’t roll it, so one of the men on the front bumper jumped off to help. Two men couldn’t roll the spool, so a second man jumped off the front of the truck. Three men couldn’t roll it, so the third man jumped off the bumper to help – then, up went the front of the wench truck. So the truck driver, not liking his position, jumped out of the truck as well. The front of the truck was way up in the air, and the clutch was in the mud.
Dad told the driver that the safest place is to stay in the truck cab and never leave a truck when it does that. He instructed the driver to climb back up the truck and get in the cab, turn off the engine and put the wench in reverse. Then he was to use the truck engine starter to let the wench reverse and, in turn, the truck front then would come down safely. The driver did as he was told, and the truck did come down! Needless to say, the clutch now was in the mud, and had to be cleaned as well as repaired. Reinstalling the clutch was much easier since they now knew they had to keep weight on the truck bumper. To do this, they tied several heavy roller-cone drill bits to the front bumper.
Another time, the drill stem was stuck in the hole, so they tied the wench truck bed to the lower legs of the rig. Then they ran the wench cable through the pulley on the rear of the truck bed, up the derrick, down to the drill stem, and they attached it with the derrick hoisting line. With the derrick hoisting line pulling all it could, they started pulling with the truck wench. All of a sudden, the chains holding the truck bed to the derrick broke. With the stretch in the cable, the rear of the truck bed took to the air. It stopped several feet off the ground. This time, the truck operator rode it out.
Drillers did things years ago that they knew they shouldn’t do, but they had to get the job done. When you did dangerous things, you did them carefully, and very seldom was anyone ever hurt.
Oilrigs had a safety line running from the crow’s nest – a platform about two-thirds the way up the derrick – to the ground some distance from the rig. This line was used to escape from the crow’s nest in case of an emergency or a fire, and it saved many lives. It had two pulleys attached to the cable with a T-bar seat and a brake handle to stop you before you reached the end at the bottom. It was called the Geronimo or Geronimo line.
Some of the most fun I ever had was when dad would park the top of his company pickup under the Geronimo line so I could ride it from the top of the pickup to the ground – not a very long ride, but fun!
In my many years growing up around drilling, I have a lot of sometimes-interesting stories to tell – now all I have to do is just remember them!