Rig maintenance is an ongoing project for those of us who operate complicated mechanical devices in harsh conditions. Seldom do we get a day when the weather is the same as our living room, but we still need to make the job. Sometimes it is hotter’n west Texas and the radiator boils over before the corned beef hash on the manifold gets done. Sometimes, it is cold enough to remind us to send an alimony check to our exes. Either way, we need to take care of our iron or we will be sitting beside the freeway with a sign that says, “Will make connections for food.” 

Drillers should remember to check brakes

Drillers should remember to check brakes on their truck-mounted rigs, particularly if a move to the next jobsite might involve a road like this. Source: iStock

I’ve worked on all size rigs, from hand-cranked, backyard rigs, to rigs large enough to have a forklift on the floor, to offshore rigs with two derricks, but the deal is the same: If you don’t take care of the rig, it won’t take care of you.

Most larger companies have a pretty good maintenance program because they realize that NPT, or non-productive time, is not a good thing. This is the same whether you are fixing a bad bearing when you are supposed to be drilling a water well in the customer’s backyard, or you are drilling a 20,000-foot directional well for a major oil company. Downtime costs money and makes unhappy customers.

A lot of the maintenance problems I have seen are in the smaller companies, with maybe one or two rigs, that are more interested in cash flow than they are in long-term success. They seem to think that if they make a lot of feet of hole, they’ll make money. The truth is, if they make a lot of feet of payable hole they’ll make money.

Besides being broken down on location, a lot of smaller rig operators seem to forget that they spend a lot of time moving the rig. This brings them in contact with the public. It is one thing to be broken down on location, and another thing to have a catastrophic failure on a public road with “grandma” tailgating you.

One of the things I’ve seen missing on most truck or carrier mounted rigs are decent taillights, turn signals and brake lights. They all come from the factory DOT equipped, but after backing over enough stuff, they are gone. Hey, the rig works just as well, why worry? I know; it happens. But there is an easy way to deal with it. Install a trailer hitch lighting plug and buy a couple of those magnetic lights that repo guys use. Plug in the cord, mount the lights where grandma can see them and move the rig. Take the lights off on the next location, put them in the cab and bingo, you have legal lights next time you cross the scales.

On rig moves, there is another thing to consider. How far are you going? If you are just going across the pasture to the next location, tying down everything isn’t all that big of a deal (you can always go back and pick up the wayward tools). But if your next location is in the next state, or you use any public highway, you better have everything secure. Tools that just hang on a hook near the floor may not be there when you arrive. They may have gone through the windshield of the governor’s wife’s Mercedes. This will take the profits out of your next few jobs.

Consider the maintenance on your rig truck, or carrier. Are the tires in shape to pass inspection? Do the brakes work? If not, don’t just hope to coast into the next location and start making money. I saw a five-axle rig headed down the hill toward the Little Missouri river blow a front tire. This is long (three mile) six-percent grade. At that point, he realized that the brakes hadn’t been looked at or adjusted in years. He wasn’t killed, but the rig rolled over and “took a nap in the ditch” for a while. That particular bridge reminds me of another item: Don’t head down the road with stuff hanging out over-width or over-height. That bridge has been hit several times. Usually by guys that figured that, “We did the last seven rig moves with no problem.”

Another tip on the subject of rig moves: It is a good idea to have one of your own vehicles follow the rig—closely. Whether it’s your crew truck, water truck or auxiliary equipment truck, it probably has decent brake lights and taillights, and will prevent a kid on a cell phone from rear-ending the rig. Since rigs are often moving slower than normal traffic, people will try to pass. Keep your chase truck close enough so that they have to pass it and the rig. People might blow the horn and give you the one-finger salute, but it’s for their own safety.

In most states, if you have a tail of 100 cars and trucks behind you, you can get a ticket for obstructing traffic. In some states, the number can be as low as five cars. The ticket isn’t much, but I can guarantee you that, while the trooper has you on the side of the road, he’ll find 19 other things wrong and you won’t move until they are fixed. That gets expensive! If you have a “tail,” see if you can find a wide spot and pull over and let ‘em by. It won’t add much time to your rig move, it’s good public relations and it’s safer. North Dakota has passing lanes, where the road goes from two lanes to three lanes for a mile or two for just this reason. When you get to one, don’t stay in the left lane. Move over and let the traffic go but, be aware: When you get to the end of the passing lane, there will always be one more car that thinks he can get around you before the passing lane ends. This is where the chase truck helps. He should be watching and toward the end of the passing lane, he should move to the left to allow the rig plenty of time to merge. It doesn’t prevent all fools, but it protects the rig.

 The point is: Rig maintenance and safety ain’t all about yourself. You might have some good stories to tell about how you lost various body parts, but you don’t need to hurt anyone else.