N. Ray Maxie
Wilson, a popular country music star, recently said, "If the only
kind of seafood you like is catfish, you might be a Redneck." And
I say from experience, you don't have to be a Redneck to be Roughneck,
but it sure helps.
I was born and raised in the oil fields of Northeast Texas. The Rodessa
oil field, to be exact. The Rodessa field was developed mainly in
Cass County during the 1930's, although some of that field did extend
into Northwest Louisiana around Rodessa, in Caddo Parish. Thus the
field was named The Rodessa Field and in geological terms it was a
pretty shallow field. The oil sand which that field was discovered
in became known as the Rodessa Sand. It was a formation deep within
the earth at about 7000 feet deep, or less.
Being raised around McLeod
and with my dad starting his career as a hard working, full-time roust-a-bout,
I learned first hand what oil-field life was all about. After working
several years dad became a "pumper" and we lived on the Rambo Oil
Lease for many years. In the oil patch my dad's nickname was "high
pockets". He was tall with long legs and his back pockets were
far from the ground. Before I graduated from high school at McLeod
and left home, I did get to work some part-time with him. I learned
a roust-a-bout is generally the bottom, starting position. He is a
general flunky and is required to do anything that his supervisor(s)
have for him to do. He works all over the oil field. Anywhere that
his manual labor is needed doing a lot of maintenance, cleanup work
and odd jobs. In oil-field lingo, he is called a "Bo-weevil", an unlearned
beginner, and may sometimes be called a "green-hand", among other
unflattering names. He gets mighty dirty and greasy doing his job.
A job that many "rednecks" dearly love. And for a country boy, the
pay is extraordinarily good.
job up the career ladder is "roughneck". Job qualifications; "Are
you a redneck"? Now a "roughneck" usually spends his entire workday
in one location. He is probably better qualified if he has grown up
as a redneck. These are tough, rough and tumble young men. And an
experienced redneck is not too offended when the hot oil splatters
on his hard-hat and runs down his collar and on his neck. His job
is on the "rig" platform where he will pull cables, chains and thongs
around about the platform for eight to twelve hours. He will be splattered
with water and oil quite often as he connects each joint of casing,
tubing or drillstem going into the "hole" and disconnects it coming
out of the "hole". He will stack it all to the side coming out of
the hole, or he will pull it off the stack running it back into the
hole. The platform is the area directly under the derrick where two
or three roughnecks carry out their duties. The "hole" is just that.
A hole in the ground at the center of the platform where drilling
for oil first starts.
A variation of the roughneck is the "derrickman". A derrickman is
needed to work way up high in the derrick to help with the pulleys/cables
while connecting and disconnecting pipe during the drilling operation.
His little work area is called the "crow's nest", having just room
enough for one man to work. And you can be assured, with a cold winter
wind blowing, it gets mighty, mighty frigid high up in that derrick.
Very few men are willing to work that high up under those conditions.
I have a redneck nephew that interviewed for a job and was asked if
he was afraid to work at heights or at depths. He replied, "If it
ain't no deeper than 'taters nor taller than corn, I can handle it."
The "driller" is the "boss" that runs the entire drilling rig and
often needs an assistant. He supervises the whole operation on location.
He is accountable only to the Field Superintendent.
As a young lad not old enough to seek employment, I remember walking
daily with my two sisters about a mile to and from our school bus
stop. Passing oil field rigs along the way, I often stopped to watch
some of those drilling operations. My sisters weren't very interested,
but I could just sit for hours under a big shade tree and watch all
the activity. In doing so, I learned about it and got to know some
of the oil-field workers pretty well. One or two might take a break
occasionally during their shift while I was there watching and I would
ask them questions about their work. If my parents were ever looking
for me and there was a drilling or "work-over" rig in the area, they
knew where to find me. By the time I got old enough to work and interested
in seeking gainful employment, the Rodessa Field was seriously waning.
Plus, my father had always advised me to train and seek better working
My dad often told the story about several of the workers sitting down
under a shade tree one day to have lunch. As they opened up their
lunch boxes and paper bags, one looked over into a friend's lunch
bag and asked, "What'cha got for lunch today?" To which the friend
replied, "Ten ears of corn and a bat of alfalfa hay. Work like a mule.
Eat like a mule!"
N. Ray Maxie
November 15, 2005