The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 89, July 1985 - April, 1986 Page: 94
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Voices from the Oil Fields, a collection of twenty oral interviews, is a
snapshot of life in the production end of the southwestern petroleum
industry before technology and engineering wizardry replaced manual
labor in the oil fields after World War II. The book, edited by Paul F.
Lambert and Kenneth A. Franks, the executive director and educa-
tional director respectively of the Oklahoma Heritage Association,
draws upon interviews that Welborn Hope, Ned DeWitt and Dan Gar-
rison conducted during the depression as part of a Federal Writers
Project examining the oil industry in Oklahoma.
Unlike previous oil-field oral histories, this work contains lengthy in-
terviews that focus on the experiences of a single individual as repre-
sentative of an entire class of artisans. Significantly, the editors included
interviews with machinists, supply salesmen, well shooters, and tank
and pipeline builders-those usually forgotten peripherals of the oil
field. Others providing their own unique and sometimes tragic per-
spectives of life surrounding the oil field include a sheriff, a prostitute,
and a preacher.
What emerges is readable testimony concerning the nuts-and-bolts
particulars of early-day oil work and the transient, elusive lives of those
who composed oil-field culture. The editors' hands are present, con-
tributing brief introductions for each informant and explaining slang
and technical terms when necessary.
For most of the interviewees in this book, the promise of adventure in
the oil patch ended in unemployment and alcoholism during the Great
Depression. There are few happy endings. Nonetheless, each respon-
dent whose luck turned bad or whose body gave out yearned for the
excitement of the early oil field as though the era were a type of golden
age. Few of those interviewed recognized the significance their physical
contribution held for the standard of living in America.
The unanswered question is whether the hardluck stories are typical,
or whether they reflect, perhaps, a bias toward the sensational in inter-
view selection, either by the original writers' project or for this pub-
The overall introduction to the book is adequate but brief; the pref-
ace, sadly, provides little information on the Federal Writers Project in
Oklahoma. The illustrations are helpful, and the absence of a map is
only a minor flaw.
All things considered, the book is a good contribution to a growing
body of literature on the petroleum industry in the Southwest. It offers
excellent primary source material, especially for those researchers
timid about field work but interested in the typical duties of oil-field
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 89, July 1985 - April, 1986, periodical, 1985/1986; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117151/m1/120/: accessed June 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.