Recollections of Texas
The Flying Man:
A friend had an old Chevy pickup with a built-up 454 in it. We used to cruise around at a hundred and twenty miles per hour, drinking moonshine and shooting at coyotes. I don't recall bagging a lot of them. We were miles from any house or town one time when a figure suddenly appeared on the road, a man staggering down the center of the lane. Jeff barely had time to react, cutting the wheel to the left and we flashed by him.
There was a tremendous bang as the mirror on my side disappeared and the window exploded. I thought a bomb had gone off. I looked back and saw the strangest thing: a man doing block-long cartwheels. Not just one, but two, three – I had no idea someone could bounce so high. Trying to connect the staggering man with the bomb and the flying man, I finally realized the flying man was the staggering man after taking the mirror clean off the side of the truck.
We went back and checked on him. He was sitting on the side of the road, dazed, thoroughly drunk and a little scraped up, but he didn't seem to have anything broken. He'd lost his shoes while he was cartwheeling, but he refused our offer of a ride and we left him sitting there.
Catching a Rattlesnake:
Another time we were just cresting the top of a rise through two cut-banks when we came upon what appeared to be a small telephone pole lying across the lane. Coming over the hump like that at a hundred miles per hour, we got some serious air bumping over the thing. As we soared over it, I saw it was moving. Not moving from being hit. Slithering.
There was a tack shop up in Slaton with a twelve foot long rattlesnake skin fastened to a board. It was supposed to be the biggest one ever seen in the area. We had just seen its daddy and I was determined to get it. The driver was raised in Texas and knew better than to be chasing around after such a snake. By the time I got him to turn around and go back, the tail with a long string of buttons was disappearing up over the top of the bank. I jumped out, grabbed the bumper-jack out of the back of the truck and scrambled after it, raising a cloud of dust as I scrabbled up through the rocks.
Pushing the top wire down, I hopped sideways over a barb-wire fence and waded out through the brush, looking left and right for that snake. I made it about thirty feet before getting hung up on mesquite thorns. Trying to get loose, I realized I was trying to catch a fifteen foot rattlesnake in brush so thick I couldn't see my feet – but he could. I picked my way out of there pretty quick.
Rattlesnakes on Location:
They seemed to be attracted to the drilling rigs, coiling up under the doghouse steps or any other place the rig touched the ground. They apparently liked the vibration. Coming down from the doghouse, you'd hear that familiar buzzing sound about three steps from the bottom, reminding you to jump clear and return with a shovel to cut them up.
We were moving the rig one hot summer day. I sat down to eat my lunch on a big clod on the fresh pile of dirt from one of the mud pits on the new location. The rest of the crew was standing around, eating and shooting the shit. The conversation stopped and I looked up to see why. They pointed at my feet. I moved my lunch out of the way, looked down and saw a scorpion on my boot. I kicked it off and went back to eating. Someone said my name and I glanced up again. They were still pointing, so I looked down again – and saw the rattlesnake crawling out from under the dirt-clod I was sitting on.
I don't remember jumping, but the next thing I knew I was about ten feet away. Looking back at where I'd just been sitting, I couldn't help but wonder, where else but West Texas could I be sitting there minding my own business, eating my lunch with a scorpion on my boot and a rattlesnake under my ass?
We were gathered around the front room window one night, watching a lightning storm. There was a tree in the yard, about fifteen feet from the window and it suddenly lit up, lightning spiraling around the trunk and sending electric tentacles across the yard in a brilliant crackling flash. We could feel the heat through the glass and the crack and boom nearly knocked us off our feet.
When I started working derricks, the thought of lightning worried me some. After all, lightning is attracted to a ground, and what is a drilling rig but a huge ground-rod? Fortunately, our rig never took a strike.
It was a hot sultry day in August or September. The air had a weird yellowish glow and seemed to be on the verge of snapping and popping all around us. The hair on my arms and head stood straight up and it seemed I could almost see sparks whenever I grabbed something.
I looked up towards the crown and saw a little ball of light pop out the side of the derrick leg, way up high. It expanded out to about the size of a basketball, then popped loose and started floating slowly down like a balloon does after you rub it on your hair and put it on the wall.
It was spinning slowly, first one way and then the other, as softly glowing colors flowed over the surface of it – red, yellow, blue, orange, green, purple. It was mesmerizing as it slowly floated down and it almost seemed like it'd be safe to grab. It compressed a little as it hit the floor, like it was going to bounce, then with a loud snap it broke up into a bunch of little balls that skittered away and disappeared like drops of water on a hot griddle. It sizzled a little and left behind that just-struck-too-close lightning smell, changing my mind about the wisdom of letting one alight on your hand.
One of the casing crew saw it and asked, “What was that?” There was another one coming down and I told him it must be ball lightning. He asked if it was safe to grab. “Sure,” I said, not thinking anyone would actually try to touch lightning. He reached out and before I could tell him, “No!” it snapped into his hand and shocked the living shit right out of him. He couldn't work the rest of the day and he kind of held it against me but damn, I thought he'd have more sense than that.
Freezing and Burning:
We got to the rig one day to find the location covered in frozen drilling mud. Drilling mud has a lot of salt in it. It has to be real cold for it to freeze. It was. Sleet was blowing straight sideways in a howling wind, forming horizontal icicles. With the wind-chill factor, it had to be more than fifty below. Exposed skin felt like it was being blasted with razors. The entire rig was encased in ice, several inches thick in some places.
The shift ahead of us had gotten the drilling string stuck in the hole and then blown the mud line. We repaired it, got circulation going then tried to free the four thousand feet of pipe that was stuck in the ground. When the pump motors blew, one and then the other, we put in a radio call, thinking that by the time they got new motors out to us, our shift would be over and we could go home.
Our relief didn't show up. The highway was impassable in the ice. Finally, well into our second shift, we saw lights approaching slowly through the storm. Ah, we thought. We can go home, get warm and get something to eat. But it was not to be. The lights were attached to a bulldozer pulling a mechanics' van up the highway with two new pump motors and a couple of mechanics. No relief.
The mechanics let us eat their lunches while they dragged some propane heaters out of the van, which wouldn't stay lit in the wind. We rolled up some paper mud-sacks, stuck them in five-gallon buckets, poured diesel over them and lit them on fire, standing in the wind-whipped flames as we unbolted the old motors and installed the new ones.
When our hands became numb from the cold, we'd stick them in the fire until they hurt, then work until they froze again, back and forth until they were burnt and frostbit at the same time. We were into our third shift when we got the pumps running again. The storm let off and here came relief, wanting to know why we hadn't made any footage in twenty hours.
Six months later, during the summer, we drilled a hole close to that one. It reached 127 degrees in the shade one day, too hot to touch metal bare-skinned. The hottest and the coldest places I've ever worked, within sight of each other in West Texas.
Where I came from, the hottest I ever saw it was about 108 degrees. The coldest I ever saw it was about 8 degrees, for a temperature differential of 100 degrees. In Texas, with that 127 degrees being the hottest and over fifty below being the coldest, the temperature differential was over 180 degrees. That's what it takes to boil ice.
Last edited by JustcallmeEd; 04-19-2014 at 07:54 AM..