Ride along with Greig and his fellow roughnecks, exploring for oil and gas around Michigan’s oil basin. The hands risk life and limb in the most physically demanding industry outside of professional sports. The perils are often higher as the boys blow off steam away from the rig: dodging beer bottles, angry law men, and frenzied locals as the Oil Field Trash invade their towns and taverns. The tool-pusher frequently doubled as a bail bondsman, rescuing a hand or a whole crew from the clutches of law after a night of taking things a little too far.
So, do you think that you want to be a roughneck? Here’s an excerpt from the book, detailing what you’ll be facing in your new career.
No oilman ever forgets his first day, and it is their one common bond; everyone started out as a worm. It should be noted that worm is an actual job title for a vital position on a crew. Weevil is a more accurate title for a new guy: a greenhorn.
Training is the scourge of any profession and it was no different in the oil patch. Weevils were thrown in head first, baptized in salt brine and pipe dope—educated on the fly while makin’ hole.
The chain-hand is saddled with most of the schooling, and he knows all too well that the new guy will probably not be back tomorrow. Orientation was kept to a minimum until the prospect shows signs that he’s got the sand to make a hand.
A weevil is introduced to the make up tongs first: slabs of iron the size of a half-grown alligator—basically pipe wrenches controlled by the driller—for tightening or breaking out pipe. Then on to the rest of his primary tools: 170 pound drill pipe slips, collar slips, wedding bands, collar subs, elevators, sledge hammers, 48s, 24s, grease guns, scrub brushes, and a worm rod. He is told the basics: “Stand here. Don’t stand there. This will kill you. That will maim you. Push on this. Pull on that. Push harder! Pull harder! Make ‘em bite worm!”
The physical demand is the first hurdle to jump. A drilling day is easy money for an experienced hand but will eat most new guy’s lunch. Grappling with the tongs, wrestling the kelly, and jerking the slips. The noise and surroundings are mentally and physically overwhelming.
The true test for a weevil is tripping pipe; a task that can’t be performed fast enough. Crews are judged by their trip times and competition is fierce. You may spend hours or an entire shift stationed in worm’s corner with no breaks.
Tripping in the hole: you set the slips as a stand of pipe is plunged downhole, unlatch the elevators, holding them steady as the driller applies the throttle, sending them up to the derrick-hand, latch your tongs onto the pipe in the rotary table so the chain-hand can drape the spinning chain around the box, tail a stand of pipe as the derrick-hand loads it on the fly, keeping your feet from beneath the pipe—a snag will take off your toes or foot. Then stab the pin into the box, keeping your head down as the chain-hand throws five wraps while lifting your tongs up to the top tool joint, make them bite from the backside as the driller torques the pipe tight, unlatch said tongs, then reach down and jerk the slips with the chain-hand, and start all over as the driller raises the brake handle, sending the stand down towards China.
If you’re lucky enough to catch an 8,000 foot roundhouse, you’ll be repeating this procedure 250 times in six hours or less. If you’re fishing, 400 reps is quite likely. You won’t need to go to the gym after work to get your cardio. And those drill pipe slips are notorious for gaining weight after an hour. You had better be pulling as hard as your new buddy the chain-hand, or you won’t be friends for long.
This book was previously published as “Oil Field Trash And Other Garbage” without the stories, “I Can’t Drive Thirty-Five” and “Black Ops.”
- Greig Grey, March 2016
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