An industry example of not judging a book by its cover.

Several years ago, I taught an employee well drilling in south Georgia. I could send him to a job, and he’d get it done without much supervision. When I employed him, I advised him that he would need a driver’s license. He returned the following week with the license.

Sometime later, I left him a note on the drill at a job site. When he returned to the office, he told me, “You know that I can’t read or write!” But I didn’t know. In further conversation, I learned that his wife usually traveled with him, and she would read his notes and directions. I asked him how he got his driver’s license if he couldn’t read. He then revealed that he went to Atlanta, took the oral examination, passed it and then passed the driver’s test – no problem.

I asked him, “When I send you to drill a well for someone, how do you know how to find them?” “Easy,” he replied. “You give me the customers’ names and addresses, and point me in the general direction; then I call information for their phone numbers. Next, I call the customers and ask them for directions. When I get near a customer, I ask someone where that person lives.”

He never drilled a well at a wrong address; he had developed a system to cope. He always got the job done.

This employee wasn’t unintelligent; he just didn’t have an education, although he had completed his formal education in Atlanta. I asked him how he got all through school and couldn’t read. “I played hooky.” “Didn’t the truant officer catch you?” I asked. “Yep, and while he was checking me in, I was checking out.”

Is it possible that Atlanta schools had so many students that the schools just passed them to the next grade from year to year? Many young people had to work, and going to school wasn’t an option. This person didn’t have parents to ensure that he attended school. My parents saw to it that I attended school and made passing grades. Although my mother was a teacher, unless the subject was covering popular mechanics, popular science or popular electronics, my interest just wasn’t there (I cleaned a lot of blackboards and erasers in time out).

This particular employee had four young children, and they were teaching him to read. He could count well because he learned to count his money at a young age. He always knew how deep he was by counting the drill stems, and he could read a tape measure.

Over the years, I have met many people who couldn’t read well, but they all could count pretty well. They weren’t stupid; in fact, they were pretty smart. They had learned to get by and hide their lack of reading abilities. I learned to respect these people.

I knew a driller in the south who couldn’t read well, but he could sign his name and count his money. In fact, over the years, I know that this person purchased several new rigs from George E. Failing Co. He would come to George E. Failing, wearing his bib overalls, and would tell the salesperson exactly what he wanted. The salesperson would figure the price and ask the driller how he wanted to pay for it. Then the driller would reach into his bib overalls and count out the cash.

Never knock people because of their appearance – they always fool you.