This was a little blowout in Refugio County in 1997 for Anderson Oil Company, I recall, in some Frio sands on the flanks of Tom O'Connor Field about halfway between Victoria and Refugio, not far, in fact, from Greta. It was early February. I got the call about 3:30 on a cold drizzly morning from my buddy, David Thompson, and it took me 3 hours and six cups of coffee to drive down there from San Marcos.
Its hard to get lost going to a blowout. You can always stop at the nearest convenience store; they'll always know where it is. If it's on fire you can see the sumbitch 10 miles away; if it is a blowing well off a highway somewhere you can stop, turn your pickup off and listen for it. Most of time they'll already be an array of sheriff department vehicles on the highway and guards at the gate, the press, that sort of thing.
I went on a job one time in West Texas and the well was about 200 yards off a big highway and people would sit out in the bar ditch in lawn chairs and drink beer, watching. It was sort of cool; when we left the job every evening we'd stop out there, answer a few questions, shake some hands and bum a couple of cold beers for the ride back to town.
Blowout well is in the circle. McFadden Field is to the north and Tom O'Connor to the southeast.
David and Wayne Lansford were already on location in Refugio County talking to rig hands, waiting for daylight, when I got there. The well was blowing pretty hard, way over the crown. We tried to get up under the rig floor to see what was going on but it was hurling big slabs of dirt from around the surface casing and rocks as high as the racking board. BIG slabs of dirt; damnest thing I'd ever seen.
We backed off to watch this thing hurl chunks of earth into the sky and I ran back to the pickup to get my camera. We were all standing at the end of the cat walk when a slab of dirt as a big as pickup truck went up thru the derrick and slammed into the block. It ignited the well and the explosion blew our hard hats off. If we had been any closer we would have gotten burned, for sure. It took 15 minutes for the derrick to fall.
In a strong wind the fire laid down over the top of of travel trailers that were lined up on the location. We were watching all this unfold and saying little prayers for not getting hurt when the tool pusher came running across the pasture waving his arms and hollering his pet Cockatoo, Ralph, was still in one of those trailers and please could we go get him out!
The doors were already sagging when Wayne and I finally got in the right trailer; it felt like a microwave oven and insulation was dripping out of the ceiling like melted butter. This damn bird was still tethered to his perch and was roasting like a Cajun chicken stuck ass-down on a beer can. Most of his feathers were already seared plum off.
Ralph was plenty pissed off about the circumstances. We cut the tether and Wayne grabbed him by his legs and we hauled ass out of there with this damn bird pecking at us and squawking to beat hell. By the time we got the poor bastard far enough away from the fire Wayne threw him down on the damn ground and we both had bloody arms from where he'd been pecking at us. They've got beaks on 'em like steel chisels. The bird waddled off into the waiting arms of the tool pusher and that was that. About 30 minutes later that trailer house was as flat a pancake.
Later that morning we started covering dozers with tin, ordered out a couple of pumps from Houston, dug a big water pit. helped the rig crew lay water lines to it and began trying to save pieces of the rig that was fast disappearing into the crater.
Ace Barnes came down from Odessa and it became sort of 'old home' week for the four of us. We got rooms at the Holiday Inn in Victoria, commandeered the bar, asked old friends in from other blowouts we'd been around in those parts and had us several nights of large parties, Crown and lots of 'member-the-time-we-did-this-and-did-that... bullshit.
During the second night, while we were sleeping, the well bridged deader than a doorknob. About as fast as we were unloading pumps we were putting them back on floats and sending them back to Houston. We stayed another day or so dragging shit out of the crater, trying to find the top of the BOP stack. We never did. The operator released us and we scattered back home. They pumped the crater out, got a big track hoe out there and eventually found the top of bell nipple 50 feet below ground level. They tied into something and put the 'ol cement tombstone on it with the entire Texas Railroad Commission in attendance.
It was the last job I ever went on with Boots and Coots, Inc. This job occurred 9 months after Martin and Big Joe and Danny were killed in eastern Syria, when the well they were working on caught fire. This one catching fire, when we were so close, sort of unnerved me a little. I would have gone again, anywhere, anytime, but it was not long after this job that Adair's old hands bought out Boots and Coots and everything just sort of fell apart after that. Ace and James Tuppen stayed on with International Well Control, which ultimately became Boots and Coots again when Halliburton bought it; David and Wayne went on to work for Wild Well Control, Cudd and are now retired and on standby for Dan Eby at Blowout Engineers. I am a stripper well operator; I'll never get to retire. Too damn much work to do.
Everything is different now in the well control business; I got a few years of the tail-end of the good old days, days when Boots and Coots still went on a few jobs; when we got to run jobs the way we wanted to, not the way insurance companies told us to. A lot of times back then there would just be 2 or 3 of us on a job, not 10, and at the end of the day we all raised hell. It was fun. I would not trade it for anything.
In the end its not where you went in life, or what you did when you got there; most of the time it is who you did it with that you never forget. Most of these men on the business card, above, are now gone. What a great privilege it was to know them, and work with them.