Texas Historical Documents

Well Fire!

By Robert McSpadden

It started out as a bad day when Jim Boyd got the call from Slim Willis, the pumper of his Bates field just outside of Iraan, Texas. Sometime in the night nobody knows for sure why. Well 148 B had caught on fire. Was it dry lighting? It hadn't rained in months. Was it a dry packing gland? That little pump jack didn't move fast enough to cause that kind of heat. It didn't really matter right now.

"I don't have to figure that out until I file the Railroad Commission report." Jim said.

"Maybe it was spontaneous combustion." Slim replied.

The "spontaneous combustion" comment left Jim thinking that Slim must be into crossword puzzles or something. Slim was a man of few words and those words usually had no more that 3 letters and sometimes, like today, 4 letters.

Looking from the doghouse down to the well below, Jim tried to convince himself that it wasn't that bad. There was oil, water spewing up from the well head and a loud hissing noise of the gas escaping before it was all consumed by the fire.

It was small well fire by world standards, but for little Ken Savvy Oil Company it was big deal. It was also a potential economic disaster that Jim and his small band of investors could not afford.

Putting out the fire was too big for the company hands or even the local contractors to handle. Jim considered calling Red Adair to get a quote on the job, but he knew that as soon as he called, Red would call the news media. Something he and his investors did not want.

By now Bill Brown and his contract roustabout crew showed up for work and were at the doghouse waiting for the their day's work assignments. While the crew was outside cleaning tools, Bill, in the doghouse, was inside listening to the night's events and to the plans for extinguishing the fire.

Jim finally made a call to Boots and Coots to see what it was going to take and more important what it's going cost to put out this well fire.

"It's going to cost what? Nine hundred thousand dollars minimum!" Jim yelled. "Who do you think we are, Shell Oil Company?" Ok, Ok, Ok, I'll get back with you, bye."

"I'm not sure what we're going to do now Slim," Jim said.

"Mr. Boyd", Bill interrupted.

"Maybe we can let it burn itself out, that could take weeks, months…" Jim said thinking out loud.

"Mr. Boyd", Bill interrupted again.

"…then we would have that TV station from Odessa down here for sure. " Jim said talking to himself.

"Mr. Boyd", Bill interrupted again.

"Yes!" Jim snapped.

"Mr. Boyd, I'm Bill Brown the pusher." Bill said

"The what?" Jim asked.

"The gang pusher for the crew outside, we work for your pumper, your pumper Slim there." Bill said.

"So?", Jim said.

"I think I can help you out of this bind your in." Bill said.

"I doubt it." Jim replied.

Bill said, "I sure can, Mr. Boyd. Why, way back yonder when ole Red, Red Adair that is we huh, his bestest friend use to call him Red. We fought many a well fire together I think…

Jim interrupted, "You used to work for Red Adair, the famous well fire fighter, and you think you can put out this fire?"

"Yes sir, I do. Me and my boys can put it out," Bill said.

"What do you think, Slim?" Jim asked.

"He's a mighty clever feller" Slim replied.

"How much" Jim asked.

"Not much." Bill answered.

"How much. And remember your not Red Adair." Jim asked again.

"Well I heard what Boots and Coots was asking?" Bill said.

"Your not Boots and Coots either, you better tell me how much right now or forget it." Jim said.

"How about one hundred thousand dollars? Now I know that sounds like a whole bunch, Mr. Boyd, but…" Bill said

Jim interrupted "I agree"

"You agree?" Bill answered.

"I agree with conditions," Jim said.

"Conditions? What conditions?" Bill asked.

"You must complete the job before sundown tomorrow and you don't get paid unless the fire is completely out by that time. Now do you still want the job?" Jim asks.

"One hundred thousand dollars?"

"Yup" Jim answered.

"I've got till sundown tomorrow?"

"Yup" Jim answered.

"I'll shake on that, and well be here at sunrise tomorrow" Bill said.

"Tomorrow? That'll cut your time in half. You can't get it done in that amount of time," Jim said.

"Mr. Boyd, I was always t taught that there are only two "cants" in the oil patch. If you "cant" do it you "cant" stay. We'll getter done sir. See ya in the morning. I've got to go and get my stuff together. Nice meeting ya, see ya." Bill said hurrying out he door.

"Yeeee Haaaaaaw, wait'll the boys hear this." Bill shouted.

Bill was basically an honest person, but he might have exaggerated his well fire fighting experience a little. He had never worked for Red Adair, but he had met him once at the Oil Show in Odessa several years ago, and he did have a Red Adair gimme cap that he saved for special occasions. Oh, yes, and he had seen John Wayne in the movie "Hell Fighter" three times.

The next morning Jim Boyd and Slim were at the doghouse waiting on Bill and his crew. Jim had a bad case of buyer's remorse and had serious doubts if Bill could complete the job, but he had to let him give it a try. But before he let him near his well, he planned on having a "come to Jesus meeting" with Bill just make sure he knew what he was doing.

A little while later here comes Bill's gang truck down hill. On the back of the truck there must have been 15 men riding on the bed of the truck with red bandannas tied around their neck and a wet tow sack in each hand. Jim Boyd and Slim stepped out of the doghouse to greet them.

Through the windshield they could see Bill with a white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel and the look of fear on his face. The truck was moving way too fast for that lease road coming down the hill. When the truck reached the doghouse…it just kept on going. It kept going right down the hill, around the backside of the burning well and came to a quick stop against a pile of dirt.

That quick stop "unloaded" all the men standing on the back of the truck. Bill jump out of the cab and they all started yelling and franticly flapping those wet tow sacks at the fire like a bunch of moths flapping their wings around a candle. It was not long before all that yelling and flapping blew that well fire completely out.

After a while, with their truck still stuck in the dirt, Bill and his crew of "Well Fire" fighters started walking up the hill. Each one blackened, cloths scorched, hair singed, and still clinging to their tow sacks.

When they reached the doghouse Jim Boyd was standing outside and with checkbook in his hand and was hurriedly writing Bill a check for $100,000.

"That was the most amazing show of oilfield work and tenacity that I have ever witnessed in my life." Jim said excitedly! "You and your men really earned your pay today. In all the annuals of Oil Field lore…"

"Mr. Boyd", Bill interrupted.

…I have never seen a more amazing feat of pure …"

"Mr. Boyd", Bill interrupted again.

"…Courage and unadulterated gumption…"

"Mr. Boyd", Bill said raising his voice.

"Yes, Bill," Jim answered.

"Gimme my check," Bill said.

"Oh sure, sure, Bill here ya' go, I got it right here. What are you going to do with all that money? You really earned it!" Jim said.

"Well, the first thing I'm going to do is get those brakes fixed on that damned truck," Bill replied.

Jim Boyd stared blankly as Bill Brown and his crew continued to walk up the hill toward town.

"I'll give you a ride to town, Bill," Jim hollered,

Billed just waved his check at him and kept walking.

"Well what do you think of that, Slim" Jim asks?

"He's a mighty clever feller," Slim replied.