Explosion in the Oilfield
by N. Ray Maxie
The Day J. B. Taylor was killed
is a post World War II story.
"Get on home fast, Son", Papa said. "It's been an explosion! I believe
something serious has happened up yonder at that workover rig and
I'm headed over there to check it out"
"I just heard a really loud bang over there. What's happened, Papa?"
I asked.…...… "I don't know yet. Now get on home", he sternly repeated
as he drove off down the red gravel road in his old black 1939 Chevy
pickup. And with those plain and empathic instructions, I knew Papa
meant business, so I'd best walk briskly on home.
It all started as a normal workday morning for my dad in the Rodessa
Oilfield of NE Texas near McLeod.
There, I attended first grade at McLeod Elementary School, but it
was a Saturday morning and I was out of school that day. Each morning
when I was home and available, I was sent to our rural route mailbox
to pick up the family mail. We lived about a half-mile off the mail
route and we had a well-worn footpath passing by a cornfield, the
cow pasture and through the woods. Our roadside mailbox was up on
the main road at the little Tyson Country Store.
On this particular Saturday morning I had walked to our mailbox and
was returning home with the mail. For a very short distance our trail
ran alongside the red gravel road. That's where I was when I heard
that awful loud explosion. I quickly stopped in my tracks briefly
and very startled, trying to figure it all out. "Just what was that
loud explosion, anyway?" Suddenly dad came barreling up the road and
saw me standing there very noticeably shocked.
Walking on a short way toward home, I crawled through the pasture
gate and continued my journey. Within a few minutes I arrived in sight
of the house and mother was standing out in the front yard waving
her apron and looking everywhere for me. She shouted, "What was that
loud noise, Son?" I said, "I don't know, but I saw Papa up there on
the road and he's headed over there to find out."
Sometime later, around noon, Papa arrived home for dinner and told
us that J. B. Taylor had been killed. A really sad occasion it was.
With big tears in his eyes, he could hardly tell us what had happened
at the workover rig and the gruesome site he had witnessed. Papa had
been promoted to oilfield pumper by that time in his career and never
had to work around the workover rigs since. J. B. Taylor was dad's
friend and fellow worker. It was a sad, heart rendering loss for him,
all the fellow workers and the Taylor family.
workover crew had been using small charges of dynamite to free up
the tubing deep within the well. When a joint of tubing would not
loosen up and turn freely in order to unscrew it, a charge of dynamite
was lowered into the well and detonated in order to free up the tubing.
They did this process over and over during the day as the long string
of tubing was slowly, piece by piece, removed from the hole.
To assemble the charge of dynamite, the crew would sit or knell at
the corner of the pad and very near a large tie down anchor bolt.
It was there they would prepare the next charge to be dropped into
the hole. All the while they were never aware that this time the battery
wire was still connected. They were unknowingly working with a "live"
wire. If any one of them had touched or grounded their prepared charge
against that anchor bolt or any other metal object, it would likely
have killed three or four of them right then and there. But that is
not what happened!
After the charge was prepared and ready to be dropped in the hole,
J. B. Taylor always took it and stepped upon the platform readying
to drop it in the hole. Normally, with the charge dangling on long
electric wires, he would insert it down into the pipe tubing for a
distance. Then he would walk over to the battery and connect the "hot"
wire, which in turn would touch off the explosion deep underground
within the well. But that is not what happened!
Because of thoughtless, gross negligence the "hot" wire was still
attached to the battery and had never been disconnected after the
previous blast. This final time J. B. Taylor took the prepared charge
and approached the wellhead. The "joint" of tubing was sticking up
out of the "hole" about waist high. As he stepped up ready to drop
the charge in the hole, he touched it against the pipe tubing. That
grounded the electrical circuit detonating a tremendous explosion
right in his face, killing him instantly. Had it been done properly
and safely, it would never have exploded until it was deep within
the hole and far underground.
The sight Papa described to us was very gruesome and in such graphic
detail that I have never forgotten it. All the other guys working
nearby the rig were severely deafened, some permanently for life,
simply because someone failed to disconnect a live battery wire.
It was sad, sad news for everyone around the McLeod area in the Rodessa
oil patch that day. A dark day this tender seven-year old barefoot
country kid will never forget. I'm telling it here to the best of
my childhood knowledge and recollection. I was just too close to this
explosion for comfort and certainly could have lived these past sixty
years fine without this unpleasant experience.
N. Ray Maxie
"Ramblin' Ray" >
August 17, 2006 Column