is an overabundance of serious mysteries in this old world today. True, most especially
for the young, inexperienced and ill-informed. That very aptly describes me growing
up in the 1940's and '50's during the time this story took place.
the summer of 1953. It was a very hot, sultry, August day across the Ark-La-Tex
area. My family and I lived in the oil patch near McLeod
in Cass County, in far NE Texas. There,
my father was employed in the Rodessa Oil Field and daily worked about the area
servicing the pumping units, gauging holding tanks and generally directing the
oil and gas operation for a small Louisiana owned oil company headquartered in
If any oilfield brats were ever caught riding the walking
beams they could expect a serious reprimand. Or most likely a whipping with their
father’s big leather razor strap. It was a brutal disciplinary instrument, detested
and highly shunned by all kids.
For years I had accompanied my dad around
the area tending oil wells. I knew many of the 'ins and outs' of the mechanical
functions of oil wells. I became familiar with names like: the gear box, the counter
balance weights, belts and pulleys, the walking beam, polish rod and sucker rods.
There was always the nearby slush pit and many times, a derrick and a unit foundation.
Oil spills were common and an abundance of salt water from a well would kill much
of the vegetation, grass and trees near the well location.
up on the walking beam, son”, he said. Dad often warned me of the dangers
of some of the operating equipment and to stay away from it. Since he was a pretty
strong disciplinarian, I knew to do as he said. Thus later, as a seasoned, ageing
teenager with untold experience, I was mighty glad I had been properly instructed.
My sense of danger was usually on high alert.
yes, because a friend of mine, a year or two my junior, had been seriously injured
and permanently disabled by a foolish stunt. It seems this kid had hired out for
summer work cleaning, degreasing and raking up around the pumping units. While
a unit was idle and not operating, he performed his clean-up duties before the
unit was restarted.
On this occasion the counter balance weights were
high in the air with the sucker rods “down” in the hole (well); a stroke position
for pumping out oil. Thus, with the unit shut down, usually that means all things
are in normal position. A brake is available to lock the unit down with weights
in place, preventing them from unexpectedly moving and accidently falling. With
a delicate balance, if the weights are a bit heavier than the string of sucker
rods, the weights will come down. That is why a brake is so important.
in this accident with my friend, the brake had not been set. Gross carelessness
perhaps! Or most likely it was because the brake was damaged, defective or inoperable.
I don't know! Either way, it was a dangerous situation and should not have happened.
He was a fine young man with a promising future.
Regardless, from all
accounts, he was in a very dangerous place under the weight and on the ground.
Maybe he was on his hands and knees cleaning up spilled oil and grease from the
gear-box. I don’t know! But suddenly the giant weight came spinning downward from
its elevated position, to the ground. It struck my friend hard, pinning him underneath
and mashing him to the ground, where luckily there was a few inches of space between
the weight and the ground. That may have saved his life. I don’t know, but this
is very hard for me to tell, knowing just how painful and miserable it must have
been for him. I have forever felt sorryfull this had happened to him.
he wasn’t killed. Upon recovery, the seriously disabling injury put him in a wheel
chair for the rest of his life, and at such an early age. Safety definitely
of my high school friends often said a good moon light night, whether it was August
or January, was an excellent time to ride the walking beams. And ride they
did! They would climb up the ladder to the beam and straddle it as it moved
slowly up and down; up and down like a rocking horse. They then could slide forward
toward the head of the “rocking horse”, or backward, high above the counter weights.
Playing with danger, it was a youthful mystery soon mastered by those participants.
But I must say, I never knew of anyone getting injured doing it.
raised and living around oil field equipment for years and understanding its function,
and danger, I never had any great desire to take a ride on the walking beams.
Not to mention a strong discipline and the threatening effect Dad’s razor strap
Honestly, I never took a ride on the walking beam. I really don’t
think I missed much.
© N. Ray Maxie
1, 2009 Column
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