Some years ago I had a job as a drilling foreman for a large contractor. Sometimes when we would bid a job, they would ask me to go look at the location to see what we needed. They were bidding a job for a pulp mill in the Southeast that needed and used a lot of water. The wells they had were spaced out as widely as possible on their plant site to avoid interference. When they needed a new one, the only place left to drill was inside a paper warehouse. It was a 36-inch well 900 feet deep, so we needed a pretty large rig to do it. I went down there and met with the man in charge, who took me to the warehouse. He said they would take the roof off an area about 80-by-120 feet for my location. Plenty of room for a 3000 class rig, above-ground mud system, pipe racks, etc. Too bad I don’t have a sarcasm font …

When we went into the warehouse, we rode in his pickup through a very narrow, twisted labyrinth of tanks, pipes, buildings and other obstacles. I realized that there was absolutely no way the rig was going to fit, but my company said, “We have confidence that you’ll figure it out.” As I walked around the warehouse, I noticed that there was a railroad siding that dead-ended into the warehouse. I went out in the train yard, and found another siding I could build a ramp on, put the rig on a flat car and bring it in. The only problem was the rig had to make a very short U-turn off the flat car to get into the location. I measured and found that I could make the turn with the trailer, but not the derrick.

Here is what we did: In the parking lot, we took the derrick off the rig, built a ramp and loaded the rig on a flat car, pushed it inside, and got it off the train and onto the dock. I had a tractor under the front, but I couldn’t make the U-turn. I borrowed some very heavy machinery roller-dollies from a friend and put them under the rear jacks, then jacked up the rig to clear the wheels and used a backhoe to push the rear around to make the turn. We had to stop every couple feet, jack down and re-aim the rollers to go in the right direction. But we eventually got the rig in, just barely. At that point, I realized that there was no way the derrick was going to make that turn. It was just too long.

Back to the parking lot … we cut the derrick in two manageable pieces that would be no trouble to get inside. Problem was how to put it back together without sacrificing strength, or safety. The derrick legs were 3-inch-heavy wall tubing, so I got four, 3-inch by 15,000-pound Halliburton unions. Strongest ones I could think of. When we got it inside, we lined it up and welded the unions to the cut-off ends of the derrick, and hammered them up. Perfect. We got two cranes in what we by then were calling the “phone booth,” and put the derrick back on the rig. Then the problem was overall length. To raise the derrick, we backed the rig partially out the location door, into the warehouse, and raised the derrick a few feet, pulled the rig ahead, and raised it a few more feet, until we finally had it over the hole. Most of the rest of the equipment came in the same way, until we were finally able to start drilling. If I remember, it took 21 days just to rig up.

Since it was a mud job, we had lots of mud and cuttings that needed to be disposed of. The entire area, being a warehouse, was a very heavy cement floor, so pit digging was out. The plant was constructed over a tidal marsh. The way they did it was, they poured 10-foot boxes of cement, about 8 to 10 feet deep, up to the floor level, and poured the floor over it. When we started the job, we pumped the mud and cuttings out to the marsh. This worked until the Coast Guard told us we were polluting one of the most polluted places on the planet. Next, the mill told us we could pump the mud into their rainwater discharge system. They had sumps everywhere with pumps to pump to the lagoon. I told them I didn’t think this would work, and sure enough it didn’t. We filled about a half a mile of rainwater discharge line with sand and mud. Oops. After that, I got a jack-hammer and made a hole in the floor. We could pump mud and cuttings in, until it filled that particular box. Then we would move over, and jack-hammer a hole in the next box and fill that. Each hole lasted two or three days. Eventually, we were able to do the job without running out of boxes to fill under the plant.

Anything that wouldn’t fit in a pickup on that job had to be brought in by rail and maneuvered through the warehouse, onto location — 36-inch casing, drill pipe, drill collars, etc. We got to know the railroad guys pretty well.

Moving off the job was just about the reverse of rigging up, except we had everything rigged up to come apart, and we knew what we were doing, so it went a lot faster. We left the mill with a well that will last them for years: 24-inch, 600-horsepower turbine pump and plenty of water. I felt satisfied, but I was glad to see that mill in the rear view mirror!