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Remembering Red

August 7th, eleven years ago, legendary oil well firefighter, Red Adair passed away.

Most of us old farts have our favorite Adair stories to tell and I have many. He was a good man and I admired him greatly. Many Oilpro members have recently recognized the character, 'Chance Buckman,' from the 1968 movie, Hellfighters, as being their all time favorite oil character on the big screen so I thought today, as a tribute to Red, I would write a story about the making of the movie. This is a story told to me by my dear friend, Coots Matthews many years ago. Coots was the best story teller of all time. I know that he would not mind me saying that, generally speaking, the more whiskey there was to be consumed the better his stories got. I recall very clearly the evening he told me this story, we were knee deep in the stuff.

For those of you who might be too young to remember, Boots Hansen and Coots Matthews worked for Red Adair from 1959 to 1977. Red, Boots and Coots were all trained by the "father" of blowout control, Myron Kinley. The Red Adair Company had a lock on the worldwide blowout business beginning in 1958 and anyone needing well control assistance called Red or Boots or Coots for help. The three of them acted as technical advisors to the movie Hellfighters, a movie essentially about the life of Red Adair.

Hellfighters Trailer, From the Presentation, The History of Oil Well Firefighting & Blowout Control

Red, Boots and Coots staged all the oil well fires and capping scenes in the movie, managed the fires during filming, and were very engaged in the entire production of the film. They were proud of the movie and the attention that it brought to their profession. Red was once quoted as saying the filming of Hellfigthers was one of the highlights of his entire career. Being involved in the film was also a great deal of fun for all of them. They became good friends with the star of the movie, John Wayne, and spent a lot of time with him on and off locations and in each other's homes in the Houston area. These were four very "colorful" men and it should go without saying there were lots of jokes played on each other, lots of drinking and a whole lot of storytelling.

I am pretty sure that I have seen every John Wayne movie ever made at least 43 times. I knew Red. I had the great privilege of working beside him once as a young roughneck on a well that blew out in S. Texas. Twenty years later, when I spent a little time working for Boots and Coots, Inc., Red remembered me. I helped produce a documentary once about the history of oil well firefighting for the History Channel and Red and I spent a little time together writing parts of the script that included him.

In conjunction with this documentary, Red, Coots, David Thompson and myself had lunch one time together at a steakhouse off the Katy Freeway in Houston. Coots and Red had not seen each other in a long time and we had a few drinks. Neither of them could hear each other very well because of all the big, blowing wells they both had been on most of their lives, so the more we drank the louder their stories got. At one point I thought it had gotten awfully quiet in the restaurant for some reason and I looked up and everyone in the whole place was listening intently to the stories these two great legends were shouting at each other, like an E.F. Hutton commercial on television; you know, when Red and Coots speak, people listen. It was awesome! When we finally left the place, some people actually applauded.

Coots Matthews was my hero. Working along side him was one of the great honors of my life. He was a very special man and anybody that ever worked for him loved him. I know there are some good men still engaged in the business of worldwide blowout control that could pay far better tribute to Red Adair than me but I am privileged to tell this particular story, about the movie Hellfighters, exactly the way that Coots would have wanted me to tell it...

IN THE MIDDLE of a fire scene being shot near Baytown, east of Houston, in Goose Creek Field, one day it turned off cloudy and drizzly, the lighting very bad for filming, so the director gave everybody the rest of the day off. The Duke, Red, Boots and Coots set around the set for awhile and shortly thereafter the whiskey came out. A couple of drinks later Red announced they were all going for a boat ride. He called ahead to Clear Lake and told one of his caretakers to put such and such boat in the water and get it ready; they were on their way. By the time they got to Clear Lake an hour later, it was noon and everybody was pretty much already hammered.

The four of them pulled up to the boat dock, piled out of Red's red Continental with the fire stickers on the front doors and stumbled over to where the boat was tied up. Red jumped in and fires the motor up in a big roar, like a 500 HP high pressure pump truck, and Coots climbs aboard and goes to the stern and starts making more drinks. Boots is holding the bow rope and trying to keep the boat tight to the dock for the Duke to get aboard. Its an old, rickety dock eaten up by worms and saltwater; planks rotten, boards missing, no guard rails; nothing.

Big John puts one foot on the boat and the boat starts sliding away from the dock; John half on, half off. Coots looks up and sees John "spread out like a big 'ol stork or something," he says. Red's hollering, Boots is hollering; things are looking like they may be going downhill for the boy's afternoon 'outing.'

Suddenly a board snaps on the old dock and down goes the Duke, one leg in the hole, straight down on the edge of the dock, straight down on his private parts, all 270 pounds of him.

Coots described the scene to me like this:

"I've got this drink in my hand and I see the entire thing unfolding like it was all happening in slow motion, pods ("pods" was Coot's slang for pardnor). When he hit the dock it sounded like somebody had dropped a pallet of drilling mud, or somethin'.

I'm thinking this isn't going to be too good, then it occurs to me, hell, that's John Wayne, man, THE Duke, a legend... the toughest guy that ever lived; that ain't gonna hurt the Duke! He'll be alright.

But then John painfully pulls himself out of the hole, tears streaming down his cheeks, and starts rolling around in the grass holding his privates and squealing like a stuck pig," Coots says.

As Coots is telling me all this he starts laughing and makes us another drink. I think maybe that's the end of the story.

I wait a few minutes and finally asked Coots what happened next.

He says, "well, we got drunk and went for a boat ride, pods."

Then he slaps me on the back and says,

"You know, Mike, I'd a cried like a baby too, but when I saw the Duke rolling around on the grass moaning, holding onto his huevos like that, well, ya' know... I never quite felt the same about the son of a bitch after that."


Reprinted from an article written in Oilpro in 2010 and included in the book, Butt-Up Turkeys and Other Short Stories For the Toilet. No part of this story may be copied or reproduced without express, written consent by its author, Mike Shellman.

This article was written in January of 2010 before Coots himself passed away in April of the same year. It is a story as much about Remembering Coots as anyone. Rest in peace, pods.


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