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An Old Hand At 13

I was my dad's only son so when I was old enough to walk I was old enough to work. By the time I was thirteen years old I was an old hand in the oilfield. I could run a pulling unit, throw a spinning chain and drive the stick shift pickup, by myself, to check wells. I had to sit on a coke bottle box to see over the steering wheel. The local county deputy would call me dad now and then to say he saw me driving on the Farm to Market Road, or he was pretty sure it was me because all he could see was a little head sticking up above the dashboard..."tell Mike to stay on the damn country roads."

This photo is from 1964 and was my first blowout experience. It broached the surface casing and cratered, about 30-40 feet out in the field; there was no drill pipe in the hole. The rig eventually fell in the crater. My dad called Red Adair, just 2 years back from the largest oil well fire in history in Algeria, and he drove over from Houston. My dad and he talked over the hood of Red's red car with the fire stickers on the doors and then he drove back to Houston. There wasn't much he could do, Adair. My dad wanted to pay him for coming over but he would not take any money. I remember Adair coming over to shake my hand and wishing my dad luck.

This blowout was shallow gas, from around 900 feet, and not very feasible to drill any sort of relief well. It calmed down after a few weeks but boiled mud and made oceans of water for 3 months. The Railroad Commission was on my dad's ass mercilessly.

Mikey; 1964

My dad took my skinny ass out of school to help him and another man; we drug the rig out of the crater and constructed a bridge across the top of the hole to access the surface casing. We built gin poles out of 4 1/2 inch casing over the well, and a little rotary table with drive shaft on it, and drilled down to 900 feet with 2 7/8ths tubing, then another 50 feet with 1 inch wash pipe inside the 2 7/8ths.

We were making a connection one day with the one inch wash pipe and I dropped the elevators in the crater. My dad tied a cat line around my waste and I crawled down in the bottom, 35 feet, maybe 40 feet, head first, probing for the elevators in the mud. The well was still boiling mud and belching; I don't remember ever having the choice of being scared or not. I found the elevators and my dad pulled me back out of the crater with the cat line then hosed me off out a vacuum truck.

We eventually killed the well by pumping 200 sacks of cement in it and a mountain of cotton seed hulls, all of it hand mixed. We filled the crater in and let the mesquite take over.

We had bigger rigs and more blowouts over the years but this well changed my dad. He'd flown 20 bombing missions over Germany in WW II, his body still riddled with pieces of flak; this well almost broke him, financially and spiritually,

I worked with Adair down in the valley when I was roughnecking for Harken Drilling Co., six years later. A year later I worked with Coots on another blowout down in the valley. They didn't scare me that much, blowing wells. Maybe it was hanging upside down in a crater with mud boiling in my face, when I was 13; I don't know. I came back full circle 25 years later and actually got to work for Boots Hansen and Coots Matthews for awhile as a well control hand. Some of those wells would make your butt pucker; whoa Nellie.

I have had a long, oily life.


Mom and Mikey on location, 26 August 1951.

I was born the next day. Today, 69 years ago.

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