Givin' Her the Soup!


Basil Clemmons; U.T. Arlington Archives


This is a photo of torpedo shooters "giving her the soup" in Brackenridge, Texas, 1924. Soup was a term used for liquid nitro glycerin and these boys are getting ready to "stimulate" this well to make it produce better. By stimulate I mean they are getting ready to "frac" the snot out of it by blowing everything downhole to smithereens.


This a great photo for several reasons; in the background we see the bull wheel on this cable tool rig and there is actually a valve and flowline, nippled up to the last casing string. If the shots are successful and the well begins to flow, the well can be controlled. Unstable nitro-

glycerin is being poured into a tin, cylindrical tube, called a torpedo; there are two, two gallon cans of the stuff sitting in the foreground in the photo, above. The nitro glycerin is kept in these aluminum cans to stay cool and each can has an air vent on it.

In the photo above there is a hand holding another torpedo that will be run on top of the one now being loaded, in tandem. I am unclear what the fourth fella is doing just standing there on the rig floor. There are about three too damn many people around this nitro glycerin stuff to suit me, including the photographer.


On the left, a photo of an aluminum torpedo being held by the renown, North Texas well shooter, Tex Thornton, from Amarillo.




Photo by Y. Richie; SMU Digital Archives



Lore has it that many torpedoes were simply dropped down hole while everyone within a hundred yards hauled ass; I don't believe much of that actually occurred. Casing might have been out of gauge, or a collar crimped; in open hole, bridges or mud balls may have been strung up and down the hole and the torpedo set off prematurely on contact. This nitro stuff is not something a fella wants to dick around with.


Legend has it that Tex Thorton dropped a torpedo one time in Kansas and watched it sickle down hole where it hit a gas bubble coming UP the hole. The torpedo got blown completely out of the hole, half way up the derrick, whereby Tex caught it in mid air, thereby preventing disaster. I'm thinking that is a great story to tell over cold beers somewhere in a joint, but likely did not really happen. Tex, I am sure, liked the story. Me too.

In reality it was important to place the shot, or shots in the actual reservoir, or section of carbonate, or dolomite needing stimulating. So torpedoes were actually lowered down the well via the slick like and pulley system like the one in the first photo. That slick line was raised and lowered by a winch, on the back of a car, like the photo of the right, where it could be measured to reasonable accuracy. The lowering of the torpedo was slow, with your butt puckered and fingers crossed, in hope you didn't hit something before reaching TD.



Photo courtesy the Myron M. Kinley Family







Above the torpedo itself, a blast cap device would have been clamped to the slick line, left. When the shooters were fairly certain of their slick like measurements and ready to shoot the well a small donut looking metal device, called a "go-devil," was slid over the slick line and released downhole. The hand that drops the go-devil will run like hell after he has let go of the thing. It falls and hits the blasting cap, which sets the nitro-glycerin into the action. All that causes a big eruption downhole and in the well comes. Hopefully most the slick line can be reeled back in before stuff gets to the surface and the master valve shut.

Torpedo shooting improved over the years; more stable glycerin gelatin was used and blasting caps set on timers, and detonated with batteries, were shoved into the torpedo itself. Fewer people killed themselves that way.


The next post on Oily Stuff about shooting oil wells in the old days will be about a well that had 10 torpedoes, stacked one on top of each other and hung in the derrick, loaded and set to be lowered downhole, when tragedy struck killing many people.


Tex Thornton, 1936; carrying an extra time clock detonator and on the dead run when his torpedoes go off, near Borger, Texas. Y. Richie, photographer



Torpedo shooters from yesterday all had big nuts. Most of them did not live past the age of 35. They typically made a couple of hundred bucks a shot, if they didn't kill themselves getting the stuff to location first... like Chigger Brown.


It was a tough way to make a living.