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.

roughnecks

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

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