In spite of Al Gore’s warnings that Santa soon will be wearing shorts, winter is upon us, and it doesn’t feel any warmer to these old bones. I thought I’d touch on some thoughts on winterizing the crew.

Safety meetings are a good time to discuss cold weather operations with the crew, especially the younger hands who may think they know all about cold weather ’cause they hunt and fish outside year-round. I can tell you, outdoor recreational activity is not the same as working 10 hours or 12 hours straight on a rig. The right clothes can make all the difference. Have enough with you. You always can take off some, but if you don’t have enough with you, you can’t put them on. I always take a complete change with me in the winter, in case I fall in the pit or otherwise get wet. (Anyone who tells you he’s never fallen in the pit hasn’t been around a rig too long!) Wear layers, starting with the kind of long johns that wick sweat away from your skin. I wear the one-piece union suit-style, ’cause I’m tall enough that the two-piece type tends to separate at about kidney level, letting in a continuous blast of ol’ man winter. There is nothing worse than that cold, clammy feeling of cold wet skin. There are new materials on the market that do much better than they used to.

A common mistake I see people make is to start the day dressed too warmly, and then not adjust. The first thing that happens is that they start working hard and start sweating. It’s all downhill from there. You never quite warm up after you’ve broken a sweat on a cold day. If you wear enough layers, and adjust as the day’s activity goes on, you can keep a balance between freezing your buns off and breaking a sweat.

Drilling ahead and making a trip require a different amount of work and a different amount of insulation.

Socks: I’ve tried everything from the latest whiz-bang fibers to plain-jane Wal-Mart specials, and I’ve never found anything but 100-percent wool to do the job. They’re a little pricey and can be hard to find, but well worth it. Hunting supply stores are a good bet. If they itch too badly, wear a pair of 100-percent cotton socks underneath.

Don’t wear your clothes too tight: You are not making a fashion statement here – you’re trying to get a warm air layer between layers. Trust me, it helps.

Drinks: Most all of us drink coffee in the winter, but I’ll bet you didn’t know that the caffeine in coffee actually is a vasodilator, and will lower your body temperature. That is why you see a lot of the older hands drinking coffee in hot weather. A better choice is a ginseng-based drink, which is known to raise body temp. Hot chocolate works well, too. Not only does the heat from the drink warm you inside, the compounds in real, high-quality chocolate help to warm the body, and release endorphins that make you feel better.

Gloves: Have two or three pairs with you. That way you can be drying a pair on the engine and wearing a pair. Swap out often when your hands get wet. A lot of blood flows through your hands, and cold, wet hands will sap the heat out of your body quickly. Plus, the fact that cold, numb hands don’t grip tools near as well, making for an accident waiting to happen.

A good addition to your first-aid kit in cold weather is one of those silverized space blankets. If someone should get hurt, shock will cause them to lose body heat rapidly. Wrap them up and get them to a warm place as soon as possible. Back in the days before the great depression (that is, 1982-84), we usually built a fire or lit one of those diesel smudge pots to help keep warm. Worked great too, but I’ll bet, if you even could find one nowadays and light it up, you’d be accused of violating the Kyoto treaty or some such – that is, if you could afford to pour fuel in it.

Don’t worry, global warming, at least in the northern hemisphere, will kick in about May like it does every year, and we all can unload all those extra clothes out of the truck and throw them down by the washing machine. I’m sure our wives will appreciate that. In the meantime, keep warm, and keep turning to the right.