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Taking Stock

Sixty nine years and 363 days ago my dad took this photo of my mom, a farm girl from Iowa, on a producing well location in S. Texas; hardhat on, sleeves rolled up... very pregnant. Two days later, today the 27th, the two of them drove to Victoria and had their first child together. I've been in the oilfield ever since.

My mom was kind, my dad flew 20 missions over Germany, had two degrees from U.T. and was tough. I come from good stock,

I was my dad's only son so when I was old enough to walk, I was old enough to work. While most of my class mates had birthday parties and took swimming lessons, I learned to throw a spinning chain and change swabs on a mud pump; I was driving a pickup to check wells, by myself, at thirteen years old.

The best I can say about my education is that I graduated in the top ten of my high school class; there were only 18 of us. I tried to go to college but could not afford it and gave up. My formal education was on a rig floor, in a log library, from reading book after book and by listening when people spoke.

I left home at a young age and worked from one drilling and workover rig to another, wherever I could; S. Texas to Louisiana to Wyoming. I operated dozers, drove trucks, worked derricks, became a driller, did hard manual labor... and saved my money. By the time I was twenty I owned working interest in oil wells, wrote checks out of my bank account and learned to keep books. I bought some stock in a Houston company drilling in Columbia; they hit a homerun.

At thirty one I began operating wells for other people; deep, shallow, high pressure, water floods...all over S. Texas. Famous Texas oil finders like Stanley Perkins, Malouf Abraham, Tio Kleberg, Reese Rowling, Dwight Cassell, Dub Yarborough and Arthur Seeligson taught me geology and basic engineering skills. I put my own deals together and sold them to industry partners. And I worked. I drilled 36 wells the year my daughter was born; we did not really meet, she and I, until her first birthday. I broke bones, never slept, put good men in body bags and fought the good fight against cancer, twice; the last one just about got me. In 1990, with $13 oil, I had 200 BOPD net to my interest. The war broke out in Kuwait and the price went to $36.

I can still keep up; dark to dark somedays. Its all I've ever known. Some will understand why I dislike the oil industry of today and why I now cannot wait to be done with it.

No, I won't win the Chief Roughneck Award, like Mark Papa, and won't ever be on CNBC, but my family will never have to worry about their financial security, nor will my employees, some I've had with me for 38 years. I've been around the world, seen some amazing stuff, good and bad, made endearing friends and always took care of others before I took care of myself. That none of it was easy came the good in it.

I sit a tall horse.


Left to right, Martin Kelly, Joe Carpenter, Danny Strong, Mike Shellman, Sammy Richmond; West Texas, 1995.

I found this photo last night in an old box. I'd put it that box and shoved it deep in a closet many years ago for a reason.

This was the last time we were all together. A month after this photo was taken Danny went on days off and I was back in the rotation with Martin and Joe when a job in eastern Syrian came up for Shell. I couldn't go because I was drilling a well in Flatonia. Danny went instead. I bumped the plug on that well 3 days after they left for Syria.

Martin, Joe and Danny worked on that Shell well for over week... skidded the rig and capped it. It was a big well. Everything looked pretty good save the diverter lines were high on the stack and causing a bad vibration as 80K BOPD ripped into open, earthen pits. They braced the stack up with pieces of iron substructure, set some guy lines and watched it another day, Shell was satisfied and released them.

The morning they were set to leave for Damascus, then home, they drove down to the well to check it one last time. The capping stack fell with them underneath it and the well re-ignited; the three of them and two Syrian engineers were burned to death instantly.

I was in Port O'Connor, Texas when James Tuppen called me with the news; we waited another hour and prayed they'd turn up at the muster point. They didn't. We were devastated. In one day, half the company was gone. Our friends were gone.

I am sorry, Danny. It should have been me.


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