OLD TIMERíS CHILLY THANKSGIVING!

By Norris Chambers

             Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for all the good things that have blessed our lives and to enjoy the company of family, friends and relatives. It is a holiday that should leave us with a feeling of fulfillment and a host of happy memories.             This joyous fulfillment has been a constant reminder through the years that we have, indeed, enjoyed a great life and have much to be thankful for.

            While recalling the happy experiences of many Thanksgiving days there is one that stands out in my memory as the most miserable day I ever spent. In a long life it should be difficult to recall a single day as the most unpleasant but I have no doubt about the veracity of my memories of this Thanksgiving Day.

            I was working for an oil company that had producing leases scattered over a large area of central Texas. My job title was generally known as Roustabout.  In this job it was my duty to do whatever needed to be done. We set up drilling rigs, laid pipelines from new wells to the tank batteries, installed rod lines from a central power house to operate new pump jacks, removed rods and tubing from wells to repair the pump cylinders at the bottom, made necessary machinery repair and performed any other manual labor that was required in the process of drilling wells and maintaining production.

            Maintenance and yard employees assembled at the main office and storage yard at the outskirts of town at seven oíclock every morning, including Saturday and most holidays. Thanksgiving Day was a work day. On this particular Thanksgiving Day in the thirties I arrived on time after the twenty-mile commute in my old 32 Chevrolet. The boss told Albert and me to take the pulling machine to a lease near Thrifty and put a well back on the pump. This meant that we had to pull the rods out of the well and replace the cups and valves in the pump. It might even be necessary to pull the two-inch pipe tubing and replace the valve on the bottom, known as the foot valve.

            On this Thanksgiving Day the weather was very cold. I donít know the exact temperature but it was below freezing and the wind was whistling briskly from the north. The piece of equipment referred to as a pulling machine was an old truck with a motor operated winch on the bed and a thirty foot steel mast that folded over the cab and was raised to a vertical position for operation. A cable from the winch moved over a pulley at the top of the mast and raised the rods or tubing out of the hole for repair of the pump as the bottom of the well. An old automobile engine powered the machine. The operator sat in an old farm implement seat and raised and lowered the load as required. Albert, being the older and a more senior worker, was the operator and I was the ground laborer who manually operated the tongs, wrenches and elevators for the removal of the rods or tubing. The rod and tubing elevators were similar. The rod elevator was smaller since the rods were only about ĺ inch in diameter and the tubing was a little over two inches. The units had a long loop in each side that attached to the cable and the bottom opened and fit around the unit being pulled from the well. The rods screwed together with threads on an enlarged end against which the elevator fit to lift the string. The tubing worked the same way with the elevator pulling against the connecting collar. An iron collar with two removable, serrated wedges held the string when the top joint was removed. The 21 foot joint was unscrewed and the ground worker ran forward with it as the machine operator lowered it to surface.

            We soon had the machine set up and began pulling the rods. I stacked them in a nice pile on the ground and kept warm from the brisk exertion. It was obvious that the tubing would have to be pulled since the portion of the pump on the rods was in good condition. Of course the tubing was full of fluid Ė either salt water or oil! When I unscrewed the first joint of pipe I was sprayed with several gallons of fresh crude oil. There were about eighty joints of pipe in the well and every joint was filled with oil. The north wind and the temperature soon had me believing that I was freezing stiff. Carrying the end of the pipe to the end of the pile and operating the elevator and tongs didnít provide any heat and I was soon very miserable. If the pipe had been filled with water I could have warmed around a big fire, but with the highly flammable oil saturating my clothes and skin an open flame was not an option. The only thing I could do was continue the miserably cold work.

            It was almost dark when we finished the job and had the well pumping. My clothes were still wet and I was numb from head to foot. I was shaking like a post oak in a whirl wind. I didnít find much relief until a couple of hours later when I got home. After removing all the oil I could, changing to warmer clothes and then hunkering in front of the fireplace I finally began to feel a little warmth.

            Was there any fun on this most miserable day of my life? Yes, Albert was sitting on a block, wearing a big heavy coat and eating his lunch. He suddenly complained that he had bit his tongue! Then he commented that the tongue tasted better than the sandwich!