Meet Elroy Steen, Sr., from Luling, Texas, down near Leesville, actually. He and I might have drilled fifty or sixty wells together from 1980 to 1990; he was a floor hand for Nixon Drilling Company and pretty much stayed on Rig 2, my favorite. I used Nixon rigs all over S. Texas.
I watched Elroy crack the handle on a 24 pipe wrench one time. And it wasn't aluminum either. No shit. If Elroy couldn't break it out with a 36 there was no use even looking for a cheater pipe. Step 2 was a big hammer to whop on it, or a cutting torch to heat it up. Elroy Steen was a hand; he could throw 4 inch drill pipe around like I can 3/4 sucker rods.
After Nixon bottomed out Elroy roughnecked around on other rigs in Luling and ended up going to work for Curtis and Aubrey Gibson running casing. Elroy worked till his late 70's and always came out, rain or shine, day or night, with a big grin on his face and a whazzup Mr. Mike?
Right, Elroy's boss, my friend, Aubrey Gibson, 89 years young just in the past few days. This man has drilled more oil wells than anybody, anywhere, ever.
We outfitted Rig 2 with a set of Cameron pipe rams below a Reagan bladder type closing unit occasionally in potential pressure situations; the bladder you could pump closed with drill mud, the pipe rams were manual with big round closing wheels hanging off the rig floor. We had it all figured out; if the well started misbehaving we could open this, close that, shut the bladder, turn the well to a choke manifold and into the reserve pit, then close the pipe rams, not necessarily in that order, depending on the level of "stress" and anxiety in the moment. With shit blowing in your face the best laid plans can sometimes go haywire.
So, Elroy and I and another Nixon hand were nipplin' up all this BOP crap one August afternoon while WOC on surface casing; it was 120 F even under the rig floor. We hung the closing wheels off the floor with chains and that was that. Elroy had never seen anything like manual closing rams before and asked,
"Mr. Mike, whasdeese here wheels fo ?"
I told Elroy that he and I had to close the wheels if the well started blowing out.
He thought about that a minute, sweat pouring off his face, got this sheepish grin on his face and said,
"Nu-uh, Mr. Mike; I be gettin' some yonder between me and dis rig if dis here well blows out, yes sur. This hand be out on the highway watching YOU close deese wheels."
Truth is the one time we actually had to implement that chicken shit blowout contingency plan, Elroy was with me the entire time, elbow to elbow, a potential catastrophe averted in the nick of time. So, we did what all hands do after a day like that, we drank some whiskey that night, Elroy and me...yes sur.
Catherine interviewed Elroy in this drilling rig dog house about 8-9 years ago as a surprise present for my birthday, along with other hands I'd worked with over the years. It was an amazing gift. It was a Hazelett Drilling Rig and the other two younger boys I've also known for a long time. They had to help Elroy up the stairs to the rig floor. He was tired by then and going down. Elroy is talking about a wet string we had to pull one time long ago, with a well sort of kicking and getting in our face; I drove down from the office in some nice clothes and went straight to the rig floor with mud blowing everywhere. The actual interview is 10 minutes, I think.
Elroy died about a year after this was filmed; there were 300 people at his funeral in the civic center there in Luling, half black, half white, all of us joined together in celebration of a good, long life and a man well loved. I was very fond of Elroy; he was my friend.