H.L. Patton, middle; circ. 1936
Myron Kinley's principle competitor in the well control business from 1931 to around 1950 was a man from Houston named, H.L. "Pat" Patton. Both were tough sumbitches; Kinley spent much of his career scared by burns and barely able to walk because of a mangled leg, Patton lost an arm. Both lost brothers in the well control business.
As these two gentlemen picked their way thru hundreds and hundreds of blowouts and fires in that era they learned new techniques and found different ways to solve well control problems, each with their own personal style. Kinley, because of his experience with explosives, etc. caught most of big fires around the world and while he was off tackling those, often for months at a time, Patton stayed very busy in North America and Venezuela.
Patton had a turn at the famous Greta blowout in Refugio County, Texas in 1936; if you are not familiar with this blowout I strongly suggest you click on the story; its truly amazing. All Patton could do at Greta was pump water out the crater for three to four months but was never able to access the wellhead. He was released in November and Kinley assumed responsibility until it was capped in 1939.
In 1937 Patton got his ass kicked on a very similar well to the Greta blowout, this one down in Hidalgo County in the Texas valley. That well had cratered and was on fire, and much of Patton's initial work was from a boat inside the boiling crater.
Patton was known for capping wells with a big winch truck and a massive capping stack configuration he called a manifold, or "stinger." The bottom of this capping stack, above, could be fabricated to sting into, and over the top of, production or surface casing and he was always jacking with different pack off assemblies that would help seal the stack to the casing stub. Once capped he could try and then put the well on diverter or even pump down the stinger to kill the well.
His winch truck had big poles on it and a beefed up frame to keep the stack from getting blown around in the blowout flow. The truck itself had to be counterbalanced on the front, depending on how heavy he built his capping manifold and wing valves, etc. To run his main and auxiliary winches on the truck the engine had to be running, its exhaust directed forward to lessen the probability of igniting flows. In the above photograph we can see Patton's stinger assembly ready to be backed up to a well. This was Patton's signature capping/kill method; he and his winch truck were essentially inseparable.
A problem with Patton's capping methods was how he kept all of that shit from getting blown back off a high pressure well. That always involved a maze of casing clamps, anchors in the ground, chains and turnbuckles, as we can see in this photo, above. Here the truck has been backed into the well and stinger and overlying manifold stack, complete with diverter lines, etc. are in (on) the well and snugged down with chains. These chains and turnbuckles seemed to work for him...at least until 1939 when one of his stinger assemblies blew off a well in the Gulf of Mexico killing two of his crew members, including his brother, jerking Patton's right arm plum off.
Patton, some like Kinley, was a character and soon gained a lot of fame for his well control work. He snagged a sponsorship of sorts from Camel Cigarettes' in the early to mid 1930s.
Part of Camel's advertising back in the day was a series of comic strips that would appear in national newspapers and magazines, occasionally starring Pat Patton
In 1932 Patton was charged with arson on a blowout in Gladewater, Texas. He and two helpers were trying to blow a well head off an out of control well to get it go straight up, so they could work on it, which they did, but in the process it caught fire. Some smart folks decided Patton should be charged for creating the fire.
Patton had an enormous family, more cousins, etc. than people I know, and most of them went with him on blowouts and fires. He might have had a dozen people show up with him on a job.
Here is a photo of some of the Patton clan on a job, held together with more chains and more turnbuckles. That's Pat out on the end, his right arm severed at the shoulder. This photo was taken sometime 1942-1944. Patton continued to work on blowouts, with one arm, until about 1950.
He was born in Splendora, Texas north of Houston and once out of the well control business, sold lots of real estate, built the town of Patton Village and became its mayor. He became a constable and county commissioner, was known for pulling a cork and ruling with an iron fist and remained colorful and flamboyant right up the end.
He died in 1989 at the age of 100.
I have a series of stories to write about Mr. Patton and how he lost his arm in Louisiana, the job near Edinburg in 1938 that sank his beloved, capping truck in a crater of boiling water and another fire in West Texas in 1942.
Please stay dialed into Oily Stuff. We're not into cancelling oilfield culture, we're into celebrating it.
H.L. "Pat" Patton (1889-1989)
Some of the photos I used in this post were borrowed from the Sloan Gallery (Houston) website, whom I have bought numerous photographs from in the past.