Texas Historical Documents

Drilling Tales

"Willy's Lament"

Pipe wrench

I was working derricks on the Blue B- 5 rig outside of Wink, Texas in 1954. The crew looked like it was picked up off the corner of Highway 80 and South Grant in Odessa. Actually most of them were. The oil patch was hopping and good hands were hard to come by. The crew was a collection last hired first fired good for nothings, a few old timers like me, with a sprinkling of no nothing worms. We all lived in Odessa and the driller would pick up around 10:00 in the evening in his 1952 Buick Roadster four holer. It was great crew car and he could afford it. The company was paying him a nickel a mile just to drive us to the rig.

We had just TD'ed at 5,856 feet and the driller called everybody to the floor to pull out the drill string. I started climbing up the derrick 60 feet to the monkey board. All the floor hands took their places around the hole. Then the work began. We were coming out of the hole with the drill string with a skill and speed that says "If we get this done fast, maybe the day light guys will finish up and we can get tomorrow night off". Willie, our lead worm was doing pretty good, in rhythm and not slowing us down too much. Up go the elevators, in go the slips, throw the chain, puller loose, lift up the joint, hang it in the derrick. Up go the elevators ... over and over and over again, here we go, wee! Looking down from the derrick the crew was working like they knew what they were doing.

Then all the sudden Willie twisted his body to wrestle the double into the hanger when out of the back pocket of his bib coveralls jump a Ridgid 12-inch pipe wrench. He then just froze in his tracks. I thought "Pick it up Willie, your slowing us down". Then the Waukesha engines that ran the rig slowed to an idle. The driller put his ear down as if listen to the hole. Then it dawned on me. That damned fool Willie had dropped that pipe wrench down the hole. It clanged all the way down 5,856 feet. I started to jump out of the derrick without the Geronimo line. I thought better of it and climbed down the ladder. When I got down the driller was really giving it to "worm" Willie. I almost felt sorry for him.

We did get a couple of nights off. You see, when your drop something like a pipe wrench down the hole, you have to get it out, and that's just what they did. For two days they fished for that pipe wrench. They must have got it, because I got a call that we were going back to work. When the driller pulled up to the house that night to pick me up I was surprised to see Willie sheepishly sitting in the back. I was surprised they didn't fire him. And if they didn't, I was surprised he wasn't riding in the trunk.

We got to the rig that night went up the walkway through the doghouse to the rig floor. Every thing looked just like it had two days ago. The drill string was in the hole ready to come out. Willie just stared at the hole in silence. Out from the side the company man appeared with a mangled Ridgid 12-inch pipe wrench in his hand.

He walked up to Willie and said, "Son, do you know how many thousands of dollars you cost the company by dropping this wrench down that hole".

"No sir, I don't" Willie replied.

"Well it cost a lot more than you'll ever be worth". Then the company man gave the wrench to Willie and said, "You're fired! Get the off my lease."

What am I supposed to do with this wrench?" Willie asks.

"I don't give a darn what you do with!"

With that Willie walked over to the open hole and dropped the wrench down the well and walked off the rig.

;The last time we saw Willie he was walking across the pasture toward one those gas plant flares. Some people say he went back to school and became an engineer, or an OSHA inspector. I don't guess we'll ever know. That's the way legends are born in the oil patch.