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  Texas : Features : Columns : N. Ray Maxie :

Roughnecks and Rednecks

by N. Ray Maxie
N. Ray Maxie
Gretchen Wilson, a popular country music star, recently said, "If the only kind of seafood you like is catfish, you might be a Redneck." And I say from experience, you don't have to be a Redneck to be Roughneck, but it sure helps.

I was born and raised in the oil fields of Northeast Texas. The Rodessa oil field, to be exact. The Rodessa field was developed mainly in Cass County during the 1930's, although some of that field did extend into Northwest Louisiana around Rodessa, in Caddo Parish. Thus the field was named The Rodessa Field and in geological terms it was a pretty shallow field. The oil sand which that field was discovered in became known as the Rodessa Sand. It was a formation deep within the earth at about 7000 feet deep, or less.

Being raised around McLeod and with my dad starting his career as a hard working, full-time roust-a-bout, I learned first hand what oil-field life was all about. After working several years dad became a "pumper" and we lived on the Rambo Oil Lease for many years. In the oil patch my dad's nickname was "high pockets". He was tall with long legs and his back pockets were far from the ground. Before I graduated from high school at McLeod and left home, I did get to work some part-time with him. I learned a roust-a-bout is generally the bottom, starting position. He is a general flunky and is required to do anything that his supervisor(s) have for him to do. He works all over the oil field. Anywhere that his manual labor is needed doing a lot of maintenance, cleanup work and odd jobs. In oil-field lingo, he is called a "Bo-weevil", an unlearned beginner, and may sometimes be called a "green-hand", among other unflattering names. He gets mighty dirty and greasy doing his job. A job that many "rednecks" dearly love. And for a country boy, the pay is extraordinarily good.

Another job up the career ladder is "roughneck". Job qualifications; "Are you a redneck"? Now a "roughneck" usually spends his entire workday in one location. He is probably better qualified if he has grown up as a redneck. These are tough, rough and tumble young men. And an experienced redneck is not too offended when the hot oil splatters on his hard-hat and runs down his collar and on his neck. His job is on the "rig" platform where he will pull cables, chains and thongs around about the platform for eight to twelve hours. He will be splattered with water and oil quite often as he connects each joint of casing, tubing or drillstem going into the "hole" and disconnects it coming out of the "hole". He will stack it all to the side coming out of the hole, or he will pull it off the stack running it back into the hole. The platform is the area directly under the derrick where two or three roughnecks carry out their duties. The "hole" is just that. A hole in the ground at the center of the platform where drilling for oil first starts.

A variation of the roughneck is the "derrickman". A derrickman is needed to work way up high in the derrick to help with the pulleys/cables while connecting and disconnecting pipe during the drilling operation. His little work area is called the "crow's nest", having just room enough for one man to work. And you can be assured, with a cold winter wind blowing, it gets mighty, mighty frigid high up in that derrick. Very few men are willing to work that high up under those conditions. I have a redneck nephew that interviewed for a job and was asked if he was afraid to work at heights or at depths. He replied, "If it ain't no deeper than 'taters nor taller than corn, I can handle it."

The "driller" is the "boss" that runs the entire drilling rig and often needs an assistant. He supervises the whole operation on location. He is accountable only to the Field Superintendent.

As a young lad not old enough to seek employment, I remember walking daily with my two sisters about a mile to and from our school bus stop. Passing oil field rigs along the way, I often stopped to watch some of those drilling operations. My sisters weren't very interested, but I could just sit for hours under a big shade tree and watch all the activity. In doing so, I learned about it and got to know some of the oil-field workers pretty well. One or two might take a break occasionally during their shift while I was there watching and I would ask them questions about their work. If my parents were ever looking for me and there was a drilling or "work-over" rig in the area, they knew where to find me. By the time I got old enough to work and interested in seeking gainful employment, the Rodessa Field was seriously waning. Plus, my father had always advised me to train and seek better working conditions elsewhere.

My dad often told the story about several of the workers sitting down under a shade tree one day to have lunch. As they opened up their lunch boxes and paper bags, one looked over into a friend's lunch bag and asked, "What'cha got for lunch today?" To which the friend replied, "Ten ears of corn and a bat of alfalfa hay. Work like a mule. Eat like a mule!"
N. Ray Maxie
"Ramblin' Ray"
November 15, 2005
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