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Borger; 1928

When Chigger Brown blew himself to Kingdom Come near Cisco, in 1924 he was driving a single axle pickup truck and carrying 300 quarts of liquid nitroglycerine, in five gallon pails, in the pickup bed. Those pails were roped down tight and covered with wet blankets. He was 17 years old and hoping to make enough money from that trip to buy a farm and marry his high school sweetheart. The year before they had been Homecoming King and Queen. He might have been listening to Carl T. Sprague or Vernon Dalhart on the radio and driving 10 MPH when life ended in a blinding light.

After, there was a hole off the dirt road the size of a woodshed and in the bottom of that hole were some leaf springs from his truck and a piece of boot heel. The rest of Chigger was gone.

There were two men in their mid 30's driving a dual axle flatbed truck in the photograph above, carrying 13,000 pounds, over 6 tons, of gelled nitroglycerine when they hit a pothole outside Borger, Texas in the Panhandle in 1928. The blast blew out glass windows in Borger, four miles away. The men and the truck were vaporized. This crater was almost as big as a football field.

The average life expectancy of anybody associated with torpedo shooting wells in early oilfield history, and transporting explosives, was 37-40 years old. Tex Thornton, from Amarillo, lived to be 58 but was then beaten to death with a 2 x 4 by an irate husband.

I had a buddy that worked as a drilling consultant for Chesapeake, in Dimmit County, eight-nine years ago. They had safety meetings every morning; mandatory attendance for 19 rigs. Every accident had to be reported and he would always call to tell me the latest and it would always start sorta like this..."Mikey, you ain't gonna believe what happened yesterday...."

For example, a floor hand from Patterson UTI rig slipped on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the dog house floor one night and broke his wrist. Chesapeake spent $11 MM over the next 3 years requiring all rig floor surfaces across the country to be non-slip, and rubberized. When the very same hand rolled out of his top bunk in the sleep quarters six months later, hit his head and gave himself a concussion, safety engineers sent him to the house, permanently.

There were lots of wormy hands in the Eagle Ford back then; toes and fingers getting cut off constantly. A hand drove his pickup into the locking bar on a cattle guard onee and the end of the 2 3/8ths pipe came all the way into the cab with him and took out his kneecap. When he got out of the truck to call for help a big rattlesnake struck him in the same leg. While he was laying in the lease road feeling sorry for himself his pickup caught fire.

A bad day, but not near as bad as the day those good men had in the photographs above.

The oilfield has sure changed over the years.


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