We have all seen it with the passing of loved ones or coworkers. We have seen it with those in our own industry. We all come with a magnificent biological device that magically stores a pile of information: the brain. But none of us come with a data port. This is one of the reasons I write.
We gather knowledge as we go through life. We get it from schooling, reading and interaction with others — at work, trade shows and through publications like National Driller. We get it by trial and error. But do we do enough to see our knowledge passed along to others?
In my personal life, I recently learned that my father, who died when I was 3 years old, was into art and theater in addition to playing college football on a 10-0 team. For years, I wondered about the source of my son’s artistic abilities, my daughter’s theatrics and my brother’s talent at football. When a heart problem popped up in the family, I seemed to be the only one of my siblings who knew that my recently departed mother had a heart issue in her teens.
People die. Their brains shut down. The data is lost.
As a member of the drilling industry, I have seen it over and over. Probably my first experience was with a man who had extensive knowledge about drill rigs, especially about Ingersoll Rand rigs. I would get a call from a customer looking for a quote on drill pipe for this rig or that one. If there was any doubt, I could call Henry Theller and he would know. I could tell him the rig year or even serial number of an Ingersoll Rand T5, and he could tell me which drill pipe design it took. One day, I called and left a message. His employer called later and told me he had died a few months earlier. Knowledge was lost.
Those who own and operate a family well drilling business can struggle with getting children interested in the business and, eventually, taking over. A driller’s knowledge of local formations, water depths, best methods, and the customer base can be passed on to children on the job and around the table. But, sometimes, that knowledge has nowhere to go.
So, what will happen to it? Yes, we all have knowledge, whether it is of our life, our family, our friends or our industry. Have we done enough to pass it on? I seriously doubt most of us invented our knowledge. Rather, we gathered it — gleaned it from others. Some gave willingly and, for others, it was like pulling teeth. Maybe the loss of our knowledge is not a big deal because others are learning or have also gathered it. How do we know?
In the late ’70s, we had produced a couple thousand drill rods for deeper hole drilling in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. I got a call with a report of cracked welds — a lot of them. I spoke with three welding experts and soon discovered that our weld procedure was horrible. We went with the expert that had solved the same problems during production of the Atlas rocket. We corrected the problem and rewelded about 2,000 drill rods.
I learned a lot about weld prep, welding parameters, preheat and post-heat. After speaking with so many experts, I feel that I have a unique recipe of specialized information. I have freely passed along this knowledge to others who wanted it or should have had it.
Sometimes, when people leave the industry through retirement, it doesn’t feel like a loss because they are still reachable and willing to offer their advice. I have a friend who has been everywhere in the mining/construction drilling industry and recently retired. Sure, the company picked a replacement and they worked together for a while. Yet, my friend’s knowledge was not all transferred. It is not lost, but rather parked somewhere in northern Sweden. For many well drillers, dad is still a call away.
Sometimes, that knowledge resides in an older person who still wants to be involved with work, but the company ignores that knowledge and sends him away. I lost a dear friend recently who had experienced this, and I doubt I will ever forgive that company for crumbling him up and discarding him like a piece of trash. A lot of his knowledge died with him.
I look back at my external knowledge reservoirs and a lot are still here and willing to share their knowledge with just about anyone who is interested. Some are still active and working every day, and some are working part-time because their employers still value their knowledge. These people are of such great value to our industry and, especially, to me. Since we can’t download their brains, we should value them — not discard them when they age or become a little ornery.
I think about this stuff often. I started writing a file called, “What my children don’t know about me.”
Sure, I leave out the more embarrassing stuff, but at least they’ll know more about me. Between working long hours, divorce and not living close, and them being busy in their own lives, it makes it tough. But they should know and they want to know. For example, they don’t know that one summer I worked for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission writing a three-dimensional computer simulation program to calculate the flux inside a reactor. Or that I have absolutely no musical or art abilities. Or that I once had a girlfriend named Melody who seemingly devastated me when she moved away when I was 16.
Work-wise, for 15 years, I have had my own company, working mostly by myself with lots of help from my wife, Randy, and an assortment of horses, ducks and cats. I have no other coworkers to whom I can download a little knowledge at a time on a daily basis. Many contractors in the water well business work the same way. In years past, trade shows featured seminars on how to get kids interested in taking over your life’s work. So, what is our end game for our knowledge? How do we pass along what we learned? Or will it just be that, upon our death, our knowledge dies too?
I find myself turning 68 years old, looking for my end game. Will I be able to transfer the knowledge in my head and files? Will some company find it useful? Or will I one day decide to really retire and just turn off the light and call the trash man? For those poking holes in the ground, will your work be continued, or will you just park the rig and call the auctioneer?