The Ball-Point Pen

What if you stopped off at the bank to cash a check and they wouldn’t accept it because it was written with a ball point pen? That’s what happened at our bank and many others in the 1950’s. As a tool being used in the transfer of money, the pen had to function in a near perfect manner to protect the banks from great liability.

The ball point pen was marketed during the late 1940’s but didn’t do well. They clogged and skipped and just weren’t satisfactory. At least two companies went out of business because they couldn’t make the things work consistently.

In the 1950’s, here they came again. The public was really enamored of them. The ball point was so much cleaner and more efficient than the old pens, ink wells, and blotters. There had been problems with the manufacturing of the balls and reservoirs and the ink itself. The pens clogged and skipped until you couldn’t figure out what the number or letter was supposed to be. There was even speculation that the ink might just disappear. This was giving the banks major headaches. When the pens skipped a few letters it might be impossible to read the date, the amount, or the signature. The pens were causing so many problems that our local bank and others finally said “whoa”. After World War II the world was hungry for new technology and we were being held back. The high-handed bank was keeping us from using these new toys. How dare they? This became a topic of conversation at the dinner table, at work, at school, and certainly at the barber shops and beauty shops of our town.

Over time, the kinks were worked out, the pens became reliable and the bank lifted the restriction against using them. However, this didn’t solve all the problems. Suddenly, there were chains affixed to the pens and they were being attached to the writing tables in the bank. The town was buzzing again! Doesn’t the bank trust its own customers? They think we are thieves! The problem was that the bank was buying high quality pens…much better than the public was getting at the dime store, so people wanted the good ones. Eventually it all died down and things became as you see them today.

Dave Thomas

“Employee of the Month”

I recently told you about Sam, our desert tortoise who was turtle-napped from our back yard. It was quite a loss in that we all enjoyed feeding Sam and watching him as he enjoyed his snacks. He was a quiet and gentle spirit and it was pleasant just to sit beside him and share his peacefulness.

Our next experience with desert tortoises didn’t go as well. Sometime after losing Sam, Pat was in the lunch room at work, enjoying her lunch and talking about pets with one of her co-workers. Pat had just finished telling about Sam and desert tortoises in general when a young man at the next table interrupted and introduced himself. He said he was a part-time employee and was having to move from a rental house to an apartment. A major problem was that he had 3 desert tortoises that had been with him for several years that he would have to give up. He wanted to be sure that the tortoises got a good home and would be understood and appreciated by those raising them. He said that he heard Pat talking about her tortoise and he thought she would be perfect to take care of his animals. They talked a little more and Pat agreed to take the tortoises. Pat gave the kid our address and that evening he delivered the 3 tortoises and told us a little bit about them. The largest tortoise was a mature male. The middle-sized one was a younger male, hardly more than a teenager, and the smallest tortoise was a female. We talked about caring for them and then the young man thanked us profusely for taking them and left.

The next day was a Saturday and we were all at home. Suddenly, from the back yard we heard these terrible sounds and my first thought was that something was killing our new tortoises. We went running to the back yard and were shocked to see the older male on top of the female and humping away like crazy. With every thrust he made, he would let out a groan that could be heard half-way up the block. It had never occurred to me that a tortoise could be such a randy S.O.B. as this guy. Over the next few days we managed to embarrass family, friends, and most of the neighborhood. This turtle was as regular as clockwork. It was as if he was carrying a lunch pail and showed up for work every day like he was bucking for “Employee of the Month”. I mean, he was on the job!

Prior to writing this, I thought I would review what I knew about desert tortoises. Here’s one sentence from the Wikipedia paragraph on reproduction: “The male may make grunting noises once atop a female, and may move front legs up and down in a constant motion, as if playing a drum.”

A few days pass and Pat is again in the lunchroom at work. She is at a table next to a young man who is telling a couple of employees of his future plans. He says he is only working part-time because he attends San Diego State and is majoring in zoology. He loves animals and is especially intrigued by the animals and reptiles of the desert. He said he  has a particular interest in the desert tortoise. He said he built a compound for desert tortoises in his parent’s back yard and though he only had 2 tortoises now, he hoped to acquire more very soon. At this point, Pat realizes her good fortune and interrupts. She tells the kid that she has 3 wonderful desert tortoises, 2 males and 1 female that she is trying to place in a good home. “Do you think you might be interested”, she asks? The kid can hardly talk fast enough to accept and thank her and tell her what a wonderful person she is. They discuss the details and he cmes to the house that night and picks up the tortoises. Good job, Pat!

Dave Thomas
September 24, 2014


Flight of the Goose

The Flight of the Goose

In the late summer and fall of 1956, I was roughnecking in the oil fields of eastern Colorado. That’s sand hill country and it’s a pretty bleak-looking place. Oil had been discovered and there were a few producing wells. The area was described as shallow-hole country because if oil was found it was generally at 3800 to 4400 feet. Since the holes weren’t very deep, we could move the rig in, drill a hole, and be out in a week.

I worked for a contract drilling company. We were hired to drill holes and hopefully bring in a well but it didn’t always happen. The rig I worked on drilled 20 dry holes in a row. We drilled where the geologist located characteristics that looked good but it was still just a SWAG (Scientific Wild Ass Guess).

There were 4 men on our drilling crew, the driller and 3 roughnecks. The driller was the boss and operated the controls of the rig and maintained the drilling logs. Two of the roughnecks worked on the “floor” of the rig and the third man worked up high, 20 feet above the floor, and was known as the derrick man. It’s interesting to know how the equipment works but I won’t go into it here.


Working the floor

The pipe is known as “drill stem” and each section is about 30 feet long. If your hole is 3,000 feet deep then that means you have used 100 pieces of drill stem. Actually, 1 piece might be 29’10″ and the next one 30’2″ so the driller records the length of every piece of drill stem before it goes in the hole. The 2 roughnecks working the floor are responsible for “strapping” (measuring) the pipe. They report the lengths to the driller.

The job of the derrick man can be dangerous so an experienced hand normally works that job. I won’t explain it here but you can find a couple of youtube videos that describe it pretty well.

The guy that worked the derrick on our crew was Bud Giese (geez-ee) and his nickname was “Goose”. The Goose was a year or so older than I and had been working in the oilfields since high school. The other two guys in the crew were married but Bud and I were single and shared a room at the hotel where we stayed. Bud was one of those guys that everybody liked and you could probably call him “charismatic”. We could go into a restaurant and in 2 minutes he would have a date with at least one waitresses and possibly two. Mothers would say that he was definitely a “bad boy”. It was fun being around him and watching him operate because to him, life was a picnic and he wanted to taste all the goodies. His “good time” attitude caused a few confrontations but when it was time to fight, he was right in the middle of it. His exuberance was something to see. There was never a dull moment.

This week, we were drilling a hole in the middle of what was reported to be a 100,000 acre ranch. This was the day we would know if we had a well or not. We knew we were close when the drilling got down far enough to hit a certain strata of sand because it had been established when the producing wells in the neighborhood were “brought in”. The night crew had pulled the pipe out of the hole and replaced the drill bit with a core-drilling gadget that would capture a sample of several feet of the strata and the geologist could examine it and determine if we had hit oil-bearing sand. When we got to work that morning, we finished bringing up the core sample and were just loafing around and waiting for the geologist to show up and check it. Goose was still up in the derrick so I climbed up to join him while we were killing time. We were leaning on the rail and looking over the countryside while we talked. All of a sudden, 4 or 5 cars full of people came over the hill toward us. The driller had notified our office by radio that we would soon know if we had a well and they had called the ranch owner and his family. The cars pulled up close to the rig and 10 or 12 people got out and were standing around and hoping for good news.

We watched as time dragged on and the crowd got bored and began shifting from one foot to the other. Goose says “Those poor people are getting bored down there. I think I’ll give them something to get excited about.” He was still wearing his safety harness and started tightening up the straps. He checked his tether to make sure it was anchored securely and he had plenty of slack. Then he climbed over the rail and moved to the outside of it. As he checked his position as regards the derrick legs and the pipe, I noticed that the people in the crowd were talking and a couple of them were pointing toward us. Goose glanced at the crowd, presumably to make sure they were all watching, and then launched himself off the platform in a perfect swan dive! I would swear you could hear the people in the crowd gasp. I was probably gasping or choking a little myself. The Goose had flown!

I would imagine that the faces of the ladies in the crowd turned red as they listened to the driller cussing Bud out. Bud took it with kind of a sheepish grin and didn’t worry about it too much. The geologist soon showed up and told us that we had drilled another dry hole. The rancher and his family wouldn’t remember this as the day they got rich but as the day the crazy roughneck did a swan dive off the drilling rig.

Dave Thomas
April 7, 2015

Derrick man