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Chigger Brown

I suspect everyone has already seen this little film of oilfield vehicles and oilfield roads in the 1920's; if you have just skip it and move on to the little story about the brief, young life of Chigger Brown from Cisco, Texas. Otherwise it sort of sets the stage for Chiggers chosen profession.

Previously on Oily Stuff we've had a good look at men with big nuts that worked in the early oilfield as torpedo shooters, men like Tex Thornton from Amarillo, Texas, here, and like the great Myron Kinley, here. Shooters were a brave lot whose job it was to stimulate wells, mostly carbonates, with downhole nitroglycerine blasts. Frac'ing had not been thought of yet, pumping acid was new; why dick around with all that stuff when you could just turn the rock into smithereens and bring the well in that way.

Ten dollars per day was a lot of money back then and business was booming for glycerine shooters:

Ford Alexander and Karl Kinley, Taft oilfield, California, 1912. These two torpedo shooters were paramount in using nitroglycerin to blow the well head off a burning well in Midway Field in 1913 and extinguish the fire at the same time. The father of oil well firefighting, Myron, was Karl Kinley's son.

Once these fellas got to location to load and drop their torpedoes to stimulate the well, just about everything bad that could have already gone wrong, did or didn't. Actually shooting the well was a piece of cake. I have read, however, of times when wells would kick the torpedoes back out of the hole blowing everybody on the rig to hell and back.

It was getting to the location with this very unstable nitroglycerin in these old vehicles, on very bad, rutted up roads, that often killed them. I have some old notes and articles in my Alexander files that suggest the life expectancy of a torpedo shooter was about 28 years old back then...and 4 times more men in that profession died going to work than actually doing the work.

In the photo of the right the torpedo could be lowered to TD remotely with a slick line spool. It could be set off with a heavy, steel donut that slid down the slick line while you were hauling ass away from the rig.

And so it was with young, Ed "Chigger" Brown of Cisco, Texas. He was just 17 years old, had been a star football player and graduated from high school back in May. He had a girlfriend and wanted to get married. He chose oilfield work and a job that would pay him big money...delivering nitroglycerine to shooters working the new oil fields around Ranger and Brackenridge. On July 16th 1926, carrying 300 quarts from Cisco up to Burkburnett Chigger hit his first, and last, big bump along life's often bumpy road.

And that, sadly, was all she wrote.

Photograph by Basil Clemons; courtesy University of Texas at Arlington; July 17, 1926

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