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Big Joe

Joe Carpenter; Burgan Field, Kuwait, 1991. D. Wilson, photo.

There are far better people than I to pay tribute to Joe Carpenter; he was well known in the worldwide oil industry and had many friends. My time with him was brief but special for a number of personal reasons. He'd occasionally call me a heathen, jokingly, I think, but literally saved me from drowning in a deep hole of scalding oil one time. I thought of Joe as a kind and gentle soul who had tremendous faith in God, who loved his family a great deal and was, forgive my oilfield language, the toughest sumbitch I ever saw in over 50 years of working in the oilfield. I say that with great respect. He loved his work, took enormous pride in it, and was deeply dedicated to Boots and Coots, Inc. It was a privilege to work with him the few times I did.

I believe Joe's faith prevented him from ever feeling fear around well control work. He seldom got excited about anything and worked in a slow, meticulous way that was calming and reassuring to others. I think it was his faith, too, that allowed him to be able to withstand more heat, to get closer to a well fire, than imaginable. Others that worked with him, like David Thomson and James Tuppen, know that far better than I.

James Tuppen & Joe Carpenter; Victoria, Texas 1993. M. Shellman, photo.

One time dragging pieces of a rig away from a fire in West Texas, Joe got so hot the zippers on his coveralls melted. When we got back to the motel that evening we had to literally cut his coveralls off of him with scissors. On a little fire rolling out of a BOP stack in the city of limits of Victoria, Texas in 1993, the kelly had to be cut to drag the substructure away. Instead of waiting on swab lines to saw the kelly in two, or a jet cutter, Joe laid down a couple of sheets of tin to stand on, built himself a kind of tin sombrero, got on the rig floor and whacked the Kelly off with a cutting torch, almost engulfed in fire the whole time. It was the damnest thing I ever saw.

Big Joe; El Campo, Texas 1994. M. Shellman, photo

Joe went to work for Boots and Coots in 1980, about 18 months after the company was formed. He was a master welder and fabricator and single handedly built all of Boots and Coots's athey wagons, pressure pumping equipment, etc. The man could build anything.

On this little job in El Campo, above, he built a wheel out of 3/4 sucker rods attached to a TIW valve so we could stab the valve over the flow and spin it on. It took him a couple of hours to make the wheel but in the end it was round enough you could have put it on a bicycle and rode the bicycle home... without spilling your beer.

Joe Carpenter, David Thompson & M. Shellman; Offshore Technology Conference 1994. C. Matthews, photo.

David Thompson, left, and Joe Carpenter were very close.

Big Joe and "Tiny;" W. Texas 1995. M. Shellman, photo.

Joe was convinced the bigger the well control hand was the harder and longer he could work, so he was always trying to fatten me up. On this job in West Texas in 1995, above, he ordered breakfast for me every morning in the local café; two of everything, including orders of pancakes. He by God made me eat it too.

The wind was shifting every 4 hours on that job and we played musical monitor stands, sometimes having to break down and move upwind two or three times a day. We got set up late one morning and started spraying water, the wind shifted and laid the fire down over a monitor stand I was in. I could not get out the back. I turned the water straight up to shower the stand and tried to wait it out. I thought I was going to spontaneously combust it was so damn hot. After about 10 minutes of cooking I was just about to panic when straight thru the fire walks Joe with a bottle of cold water and a sandwich, like we're going to have lunch! He sat down with a big grin on his face and said, hot, ain't it? You need to eat, son, your too skinny.

Big Joe; Syria 1995. D. Strong, photo.

A few months after the fire in West Texas in 1995, Joe Carpenter, Martin Kelly and Danny Strong were killed in eastern Syria working on a well for Al Furat Petroleum, a subsidiary of Shell. After successfully putting the surface blowout on diverter and skidding the rig, they nippled-up another diverter line to a large pit where the well was reportedly making over 80K BOPD and 400MMCF. With a relief well underway by John Wright and Larry Flak; Martin, Joe and Danny were released. On June 10th, the day they were scheduled to depart back to Houston they drove down to the well to check on some guide wires off the top of the Hydril and the well blew up killing the three of them instantly, along with two nearby Syrians. The photo of Joe, above, was taken several days before the accident occurred.

Joe Carpenter; 1941-1995. D. Thompson, photo.

One of a lot of things I learned from Joe, and will always remember about him more than anything else, was this advice he'd remind us all from time to time:

"...never leave home without giving somebody a hug, without telling somebody you love them. Even if you're just going down the street for milk, let somebody know where you are going and say goodbye. Because you never know."

God Bless you, Joe.


Dave Wilson's photo is copyrighted. I wrote this for Joe but is so often the case, Martin and Danny were heavy on my mind, and in my heart. As always I wish to acknowledge Boots, Coots, Sharon, David, James, John, Larry, Ace, Wayne and good men and women in the well control business everywhere, past and present.

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