Pockets" by N. Ray
and a Near Death Experience
air was real frigid across the Northeast Texas piney-woods when I
awoke that morning. A blue-norther had arrived over night. It was
Saturday and I didn't have to go to school. Everything seemed as usual
for an early December morning. There was a light frost on the grass
across the meadow. The rooftops were white with frost and little water
vapor clouds appeared before my face when I breathed into the frigid
air. To go outside, we dressed warmly with layered clothing and a
heavy topcoat. I wore a pull-over-the-head sock cap. My Louisiana
born and bred mother had always called that cap a "toboggan cap".
I believe that she had seen it called that in the Sears Roebuck catalog.
So, a toboggan IT was and that is what we kids always called it. It
was a very warm head cover and protected the ears quite well. Another
cap or hat could be worn over it. I had never heard it called a sock-cap
until I was in my twenties and had gotten off the front porch and
out into the world past the yard fence. Dad always said that you couldn't
lay around on the front porch and run with the big dogs.
My father was a pumper in the East Texas oil fields for a small oil
company that had come into the area and bought up many less than "gusher"
oil wells. Some oil people soon began to call those wells, "strippers",
since they had become very low producers and were only stripping out
what little oil remained. Dad had been known in the Rodessa Field
around McLeod for many years as "high pockets". He was a tall man
with long legs and hip pockets that were high off the ground. Thus
he was tagged "high-pockets" by fellow oil field workers. Most every
oil worker had a nickname. One was "grease monkey". Another was "bo-weevil".
There was one from over in Louisiana called "Cajun". Then, just to
name a few, there were others like, green-hand, lefty, big foot, jake,
hobo, or the boss called "pappy".
During our "down home" family breakfast that Saturday morning, dad
asked me to come and accompany him on his rounds in the oil field
that day. Something that I very seldom did. As we were finishing up
our grits, fried eggs, bacon, homemade biscuits and sweet milk, he
said that I seemed anxious to go with him and I was. Soon we walked
out and got into his old work truck, a 1939 Chevrolet pickup and headed
off to the oil field. Most all of that great breakfast we had just
eaten had come from right there on our little farm.
He and I first stopped at well W. D. Chew #1. Dad had to service the
engine, check some flow gauges and lubricate the walking beam. The
next well was Chew #2 and he did practically the same thing over again,
except he also slowed the engine down some. It was pumping too fast.
We went on to the Dawson well and the Rambo wells. Later, to the Tyson
wells that were a good three miles away, toward McLeod, down an old
deep rutted sand road. When we arrived there, Dad gauged the holding
tanks, checked the separator and made sure all things were operating
just right. The Tyson lease was on an old sand hill. That sand produced
plenty of grass burrs and bull nettles for an active young lad to
get into. There also was a very good chinky-pen tree on that lease.
I was always more than happy to pick up chinky-pens there in the fall.
But, by early December, they were all gone. The chinky-pen is a small
chestnut, no bigger than a marble; cracked with your teeth, spitting
out the husk you can eat the kernel. Many times I have carried a pocket
full of those tasty little nuts to school. Probably many other Cass
County kids did too.
Coming back, we stopped to check and service the Willis #1 and #2
wells and the Bogus well. By this time it was getting after noon and
I was pretty weary and hungry. Dad decided it was time to head home
for lunch. But, on the way, he had one more little stop to make.
Soon we approached a small two-inch pipeline that ran under the gravel
road. The high-pressure pipeline was laid on top of the ground out
through the woods along a well-kept and mowed pipeline trail. Those
small oil companies seldom went to the expense of burying their pipelines.
Dad parked the pickup along side the gravel road. He then took an
eighteen-inch Stilson wrench from the back of his truck and advised
me that he would return in just a few minutes. He disappeared into
the woods on the trail down the pipeline as I sat in the pickup. Dad
had gone to a gas-flow meter on that pipeline to change the charts,
check the gas pressure and install some mercury into the meter system.
Suddenly, as I sat there nearly napping, I heard an awfully loud explosion
and a tremendous spewing of high-pressure gas. It scared the wits
out of me and I instantly knew something very serious had happened.
Quickly jumping from the pickup, I ran "full speed" out the trail
to see what had happened. Dad had seen the need to reduce the gas
flow pressure to the meter and had taken along the Stilson wrench
to turn the valve. Those rusty old valve stems often became so stiff,
it was very difficult to turn the wheel by hand. It's called a "frozen"
valve. Some leverage was often needed. So the Stilson wrench was used
to turn the valve wheel. And it took a lot of force to turn it. With
extremely cold air temperature that day and the very cold gas pressure,
conditions weren't good. With extra force upon the old fragile two-inch
valve, it suddenly broke off from the pipeline. That caused the loud
explosion with nonstop spewing of high-pressure gas into the air.
With the pipe flopping uncontrollably on the ground like a loose water
hose, I tell you this frightened kid was mighty afraid that we had
lost "high pockets" right there.
Quickly I saw what had happened and searched the woods for my dad.
I found him blown about twenty yards away from the gas meter. He was
semi-conscious, rolling around and moaning incoherently. I did my
best to comfort him and I saw no bleeding or broken bones. The gas
was still spewing deafeningly loud and luckily it did not catch fire.
The explosion had blown dad away, out into the wooded area. I was
a highly frightened kid trying to comfort him as he lay there, still,
resting a bit and regaining consciousness. We were extremely fortunate
we didn't lose "high pockets" that day. He later began to talk coherently,
coming around a little. I then helped him to his feet. Dad leaned
on a tree for a while and soon leaned heavily upon me as we stumbled
back to our pickup truck. He sat on the tailgate a while regaining
his strength and wits. He managed to drink some water. Before long,
he felt like driving a short distance away to another gas valve. There
he turned off the high-pressure gas to the broken pipeline and meter.
That stopped the loud spewing noise.
Dad then, with my inexperienced help steering the truck, clumsily
managed drive the mile or so home. Arriving there, mother was, to
say the least, very concerned and totally shocked at what had happened.
She immediately attended to my dad's comfort and bruises. He later
felt like eating some lunch and recuperated in bed the remainder of
the day. Mom and everyone else was mighty, mighty happy that dad had
taken this kid along with him on that cold, frosty day. Thank goodness
the next day was Sunday and it was his regular day off duty.
We were once again very fortunate that dad was not killed or seriously
injured in this accident. There were other near misses for "high-pockets"
in the oil field, but he lived well into retirement. At age seventy
he passed away from a massive heart attack.
The oil field can be a dangerous place to work. You see, I knew that
from experience. So when I grew up, finished high school, wondered
off the front porch and way out past the yard fence, I sought other
kinds of "maybe safer" employment.
Nolan Ray Maxie
"Ramblin' Ray" July