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The stories in this book chronicle my eight year career as a roughneck in the Michigan oil fields. I broke out in the boom year of 1981, when 4,500 drilling rigs were roaring and boring across this Great Nation. Nearly everyone (and their parrots) chanted “This boom is here to stay,” or “It’s different this time.” Or both. I have to admit that I bit on that bait, although sage veterans warned me to sock away some of that cash. "What the hell do they know?" I muttered as I handed a clerk $800 for a pair of Justin full quill ostrich cowboy boots. But that glorious boom evaporated when crude plummeted in 1986. Iron got stacked, wages were cut, and those goofy old vets had sure wizened up in five years.
The rigs that I worked on were land based, rotary drive, doubles and triples. Iron Roughnecks were an urban legend, spoken of from time to time—like a big foot sighting—but we knew in our hearts that a machine could never replace flesh and blood. The radio was our only contact with the outside world back then. Cell phones weren’t around yet. A smart phone was a pay phone that hadn’t been vandalized. Voice activation meant barking at the worm to get him motivated and GPS stood for Green Peace Sucks.
There were no applications to fill out, or background checks. You wrote your name and number on a scrap of paper and hoped for a phone call. Farm boys made up the core of the workforce, and convicted felons were some of the best hands in the business. But anybody from any walk of life could make it if they had the mettle, grit, and determination to handle working in the most physically demanding industry outside of professional sports.
Danger lurks everywhere on a drilling rig. Roughnecking has one of the highest accident rates of any trade. More fingers have been severed in the oil patch than by the governments of Singapore and Syria combined. You will be carried away, sooner than later without a profound respect of your environment as you exit the doghouse to begin your tour. Suspicious of every component: rotting cables, cracked welds, loose bolts, 440 volt electric lines, or human error. The list could go on for pages, any one of which could give you an extended vacation to a warm room, surrounded by women wearing white uniforms and rubber gloves. Or worse... The plot thickens if you drill into a pocket of gas. Ambush from below is now a real threat.
Working around this danger, this industry, and lifestyle, over time evolves into a source of pride—when you become part of the brotherhood of Oil Field Trash.