top of page

Coots; 1968

On occasions when Coots was in his office he might go to digging around in his stuff, find something that rang a bell with him and holler down the hall, "pods!" Pods was Liberty, Texas slang for pard, or pardnor, and was not directed at anybody specifically but meant somebody, get in here, I got something to show you.

He'd have a photograph or a note, or letter in his hand and he launch into a story. The handful of times I'd be hanging around the office and heard him holler like that I go runnin' like mama scraping the skillet across the kitchen stove before supper. If I was lucky he'd give me a photo, at the very least I got another hilarious story to remember.

This photo is in his box marked 1968, nothing else. He was with Red then, of course. This is a gas fire blowing up and out a wing; I don't know anything about the job. I've seen it on the internet before, which may be my fault.

It looks like Coots is trying to hear somebody hollering at him, which of course, is not the case. Nobody can hear anything around these things so you don't even bother. You use sign language or you move away 200 feet and scream into somebody's ear that is stuffed with, in order of placement... an earplug, vaseline, wads of cotton, and more vaseline. If you could shove another earplug behind all that shit, it was worth a try.

At the end of the day it's always fun to watch hands dig that crap out their ears. Plastic spoons worked pretty well, actually.

In this photo Coots is out of any protective water spray, where its hot, and is headed away from the well, his hand is cusped behind the left side of his ear and neck because he is probably getting seared like a piece of tuna. Sometimes you can cock your head and use your tin hard hat to keep the fire off your skin; best always have no skin exposed, be soaking wet, look down, not up, walk calmly and try not to trip over something. Not because it's necessarily dangerous to trip, but mostly to not try and look stupid, or in a hurry, or excited to exit the hell outta there. People are always watching.

The category of people watching you do your work around a blowout or a fire, from front (closest to the well) to back (furthest from the well) are, in order, roughnecks always ready to help, well operators or rig owners watching their money go up in smoke and in the very back, way far away, engineers who likely caused the mess in the first place. Behind the engineers would be landowners, pumpers, and whomever of the general public that could get close enough to watch before gate guards could be put on the front cattleguard.

Royalty owners never came to a fire; they were generally already in their lawyer's office filing lawsuits and didn't have time.

Engineers would hang around in their little white company cars and try to corner you after the day was over. They felt it necessary to give advice from places of moral and intellectual high-ground. When they spoke at you they wouldn't get too close, obviously, because you'd be stinkin' dirty and diggin' shit out of our ears... they were clean and didn't like to be seen fraternizing with the hired help. But they'd always have an idea on how we could do it better.

So, we'd smile, listen, shake our heads in agreement and forget what they said within 3 seconds.

I mean, really, who in the hell wanted to hear what an engineer had to say about surface control work?! Phftttt.

Besides, it was almost always way past beer thirty.

“An engineer’s not going to put his hands on a fire, but he thinks he’s so much smarter than us,” Mr. Matthews said in an interview with The Washington Post in 1991. “And if they ever get a computer to cap a goddamn oil well, I guess I’ll be out of business. But I ain’t shakin’ in my boots over it.” The New York Times, 2010


bottom of page