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Deadly Explosion in the Oilfield
The Day J. B. Taylor was killed

by N. Ray Maxie
N. Ray Maxie
This is a post World War II story.

"Get on home fast, Son", Papa said. "It's been an explosion! I believe something serious has happened up yonder at that workover rig and I'm headed over there to check it out"

"I just heard a really loud bang over there. What's happened, Papa?" I asked.... "I don't know yet. Now get on home", he sternly repeated as he drove off down the red gravel road in his old black 1939 Chevy pickup. And with those plain and empathic instructions, I knew Papa meant business, so I'd best walk briskly on home.

It all started as a normal workday morning for my dad in the Rodessa Oilfield of NE Texas near McLeod. There, I attended first grade at McLeod Elementary School, but it was a Saturday morning and I was out of school that day. Each morning when I was home and available, I was sent to our rural route mailbox to pick up the family mail. We lived about a half-mile off the mail route and we had a well-worn footpath passing by a cornfield, the cow pasture and through the woods. Our roadside mailbox was up on the main road at the little Tyson Country Store.

On this particular Saturday morning I had walked to our mailbox and was returning home with the mail. For a very short distance our trail ran alongside the red gravel road. That's where I was when I heard that awful loud explosion. I quickly stopped in my tracks briefly and very startled, trying to figure it all out. "Just what was that loud explosion, anyway?" Suddenly dad came barreling up the road and saw me standing there very noticeably shocked.

Walking on a short way toward home, I crawled through the pasture gate and continued my journey. Within a few minutes I arrived in sight of the house and mother was standing out in the front yard waving her apron and looking everywhere for me. She shouted, "What was that loud noise, Son?" I said, "I don't know, but I saw Papa up there on the road and he's headed over there to find out."

Sometime later, around noon, Papa arrived home for dinner and told us that J. B. Taylor had been killed. A really sad occasion it was. With big tears in his eyes, he could hardly tell us what had happened at the workover rig and the gruesome site he had witnessed. Papa had been promoted to oilfield pumper by that time in his career and never had to work around the workover rigs since. J. B. Taylor was dad's friend and fellow worker. It was a sad, heart rendering loss for him, all the fellow workers and the Taylor family.

The workover crew had been using small charges of dynamite to free up the tubing deep within the well. When a joint of tubing would not loosen up and turn freely in order to unscrew it, a charge of dynamite was lowered into the well and detonated in order to free up the tubing. They did this process over and over during the day as the long string of tubing was slowly, piece by piece, removed from the hole.

To assemble the charge of dynamite, the crew would sit or knell at the corner of the pad and very near a large tie down anchor bolt. It was there they would prepare the next charge to be dropped into the hole. All the while they were never aware that this time the battery wire was still connected. They were unknowingly working with a "live" wire. If any one of them had touched or grounded their prepared charge against that anchor bolt or any other metal object, it would likely have killed three or four of them right then and there. But that is not what happened!

After the charge was prepared and ready to be dropped in the hole, J. B. Taylor always took it and stepped upon the platform readying to drop it in the hole. Normally, with the charge dangling on long electric wires, he would insert it down into the pipe tubing for a distance. Then he would walk over to the battery and connect the "hot" wire, which in turn would touch off the explosion deep underground within the well. But that is not what happened!

Because of thoughtless, gross negligence the "hot" wire was still attached to the battery and had never been disconnected after the previous blast. This final time J. B. Taylor took the prepared charge and approached the wellhead. The "joint" of tubing was sticking up out of the "hole" about waist high. As he stepped up ready to drop the charge in the hole, he touched it against the pipe tubing. That grounded the electrical circuit detonating a tremendous explosion right in his face, killing him instantly. Had it been done properly and safely, it would never have exploded until it was deep within the hole and far underground.

The sight Papa described to us was very gruesome and in such graphic detail that I have never forgotten it. All the other guys working nearby the rig were severely deafened, some permanently for life, simply because someone failed to disconnect a live battery wire.

It was sad, sad news for everyone around the McLeod area in the Rodessa oil patch that day. A dark day this tender seven-year old barefoot country kid will never forget. I'm telling it here to the best of my childhood knowledge and recollection. I was just too close to this explosion for comfort and certainly could have lived these past sixty years fine without this unpleasant experience.
N. Ray Maxie
"Ramblin' Ray" >
August 17, 2006 Column
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