It was the summer of 1923. The Texas sun was hot, and the crew that was up from San Antonio was beginning to mumble about whether or not there would be more work on that rig, or would the drill just shut her down.; If they were going to hit it they probably would have done so by then. They had already and then some drilled into where they had been told the reservoir would be. There were too many joints run down that hole, and so far, no show.
Conversation around the doghouse was getting tense. The drill had told the worms and hands that the well was good, but the guys working up on the monkeyboard didn’t buy it. When they were worms they had heard a drill many a time tell a whole crew anything, anything at all to get them to keep drilling. This was starting to look that way. The conversations in the shed between the drill and the owner were getting longer. The whole crew started to notice that, and that was when the Texas Panhandle sun started to remind them what they all did for a living.
Lee broke out from the catwalk to the monkeyboard at Texcal long before that. He had had enough of the topside drilling — roughneck gossip. He had come over with Frank from Texcal, so he wanted to have it out with him. The scuttle had gone from would they have a job on the rig at the end of the month to would they even get paid. That was enough, and it was time to have it out with Frank.
He went into to the shed and he didn’t knock. They knew he was going to have it out with Frank, and Lee had picked the owner’s shed for the place to have the conversation. It was too hot outside anyway and it was about to get hotter inside the shed. Lee and Frank went a long way back, but only Frank knew the owner. The mud kept flying from the drilling while all the men waited. The sound of the rig was deafening. Lee and Frank could have had a fist fight right on the catwalk, and it would have been like watching a silent movie.
After 30 minutes Lee stormed out of the shed. The door flying open and slamming into the side of the shed was like a piece a string attached to a cork floating in the water with a catfish on the other end. It was over. Would they get paid?
Lee told the other roughnecks that Frank and the owner wanted them to give it two more weeks. If they didn’t hit fluid, black or white, and if the well didn’t show, the owner would pay out, and he would recommend them to Texcal. The crew took it hard, but it was straightforward. The men respected Frank and the owner for telling them straight, although it should have come earlier from the drill — from Frank.
The next day the roughnecks all showed up to give it a go for two more weeks. Yet when they got there the owner was gone. Frank and Lee showed up in their trucks early, before most of the other crew had been through the gate. Stacy, one of the worms, was actually the first on site after Frank and Lee. There was nothing ambiguous about the situation. Lee had broken Frank’s nose. Blood was all over Frank’s shirt. Lee wasn’t mad for not getting paid. He was mad for Frank lying to him so that Lee would go back to the crew and tell them what the owner wanted the crew to hear. The owner didn’t have a dime, and was a wildcatter who had just run out his last dollar.
When the rest of the boys got to the rig early that day, Lee told them, “Boys, here’s the news. I bet the owner has already sold the rig out while you were still working it.; I don’t think Frank knew that, but he did stretch the truth about how long you boys would be on this rig. He and I sorted that out this morning before you all got here. But I was the one who they used to tell you. So, you got two choices. You can all take it out on me right here, right now, or we can all go into town and have a beer. I have enough left in the bank to buy each two rounds, then it will dry up faster than this well. Your call.”
The men were more quiet than anything about it. They just stared at the ground, swung their hats around in bewilderment, looked around, one or two kicked the dirt here and there. Finally one of the worms spoke up. “Ain’t your fault, Lee. The owner told you what he wanted us to hear, that’s all. I am not holding it to you. Sorry about your nose, Frank. You look terrible.” The rest nodded. One of the hands who worked the v-dock spoke up, “Yep, a beer right now would taste great, and I don’t care who’s buying. It ain’t me. I’m busted just like this Panhandle rig.”
They all piled into the three pick-up trucks and almost made it through the gate before the large trucks pulled up with the men who were there to take down the rig. Frank shouted out the window of his Ford as Lee and his boys pulled alongside in Lee’s truck, “How much you think that yellow-belly got for the rig?!”
“I don’t know,” replied Lee, “More money than I got in my pocket, that’s for sure.” Frank and Lee drove their boys through the gate.
Texcal took Frank and Lee back and put them on one of their rigs, but most of the other boys just went on down the road.
With 4 years as a chaplain’s assistant in the 82nd Airborne, a BA in English and a BA in Arts & Letters, TFAhan has studied Photography, History, English, Linguistics, German, Russian, Classical Greek, Swahili, Chinese, and Japanese. With an MA in Applied Linguistics, Tim holds Japanese certifications in classical Okinawan karate, Japanese traditional fencing, and traditional Japanese archery. Tim lived in Japan for 15 years and Kenya for 3 where he worked for the UN. Tim currently lives in a nice shack in Alaska; as long as the snow doesn’t melt too much, the walls stand reasonably perpendicular.