Heritage, Volume 6, Number 3, Fall 1988 Page: 21
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Roughnecks, Drillers, and
Years in the Oil Field
Roughnecks, Drillers, and Toolpushers:
Thirty-Three Years in the Oil Field. By
Gerald Lynch; University of Texas Press;
My grandpa was a colorful old wildcatter.
He had been a roughneck, fought in
three wars, lived with the Indians, ran for
the House of Representatives, earned a law
degree, and ended up as a wildcatter and
president of his own company. Grandpa
did not understand fractions. He thought
1/16 was a greater amount than 1/8. Now
that might have been a handicap to some
old wildcatters, but not Grandpa. You see,
Grandpa was a populist. He ran for the
Oklahoma House of Representatives as a
populist, and as a populist he always tried to
see that the working man and the little guy
got a fair shake. Therefore, when Grandpa
was negotiating for a lease or raising money
to drill a well, he always demanded that the
other participants in the well got the larger
percentage. He would be adamant.
Grandpa would take a measly 1/2 or 1/4,
and give everyone else 1/8ths, 1/16ths, or
better. I don't think he ever realized what
a heck of a negotiator he was.
Roughnecks, Drillers, and Toolpushers
tells the story of the oil patch from the
author's experience. It is an honest,
straightforward account of the men who
actually brought in the wells. Like
Grandpa, oil field workers were, and are, an
independent lot. Many came from farms
and small towns and took up roughnecking
because of the attractive pay. The good
money and independent spirits of the men
in the oil patch combined to give them the
reputation of being wild folks-oil field
trash. They were independent to the point
of cussedness, free to move from rig to rig.
They weren't given much slack in their
work, but then they didn't take a lot of guff
from the boss. Many would work on a job
and finish, quit or get fired, get paid, go
broke, then return to work. While Lynch
portrays himself as a steady hand, he relates
a few stories about the orneriness of some of
the hands. Like the one about the roughneck
who accidentally dropped a large
hammer down a well bore. The driller was
mad as hell, but being short-handed, didn't
fire the man. They fished down the well for
six or seven days before the hammer was
finally brought up. The driller grabbed the
hammer and confronted the roughneck
who had caused him all his grief. He took
the sledge, shoved it into the roughnecks's
stomach, and sarcastically asked, "Hereyou
want this?" The roughneck, being an
ordinary independent cuss, said "No,"
grabbed the hammer, pitched it back into
the well bore, got in his car, and left.
Gerald Lynch worked in the oil fields
from 1925 to 1958. He began as a roughneck
and ended his career as a tool pusher.
In those 33 years, Lynch travelled from
well to well, boom to boom, and lived the
life of an oil field hand. He generally liked
his work and was always looking for ways to
do things better or easier. Thus his book
goes into some detail about the workings of
an oil rig, improvements that were made
over the years, and the contributions he
made to the operation of drilling rigs.
Those years were one long boom. A
field might play out in a particular area, but
another would open up somewhere else. If
you look at a map of the era that shows
commodity and resource production
around the world, you'll see a ball of red
centered in Texas and covering large portions
of New Mexico, Oklahoma and
Louisiana. That mass of color shows that at
the time, Texas was the center of the
world's greatest oil producing region. It
also shows how a single industry can dominate
an entire region and color its culture
as well as its economy. While the industry
grew steadily, the roughneck adapted to its
fits and starts as fields played out and others
opened up. Throughout the period of
Lynch's narrative, there was always another
boom, and roughnecks moved from
boom to boom as the industry expanded
and technology changed. But over it all was
the spectre of the work finally drying up.
By the late 1950s, as Lynch was winding
down his career, huge fields were opening
up overseas, and the oil companies were
spending their exploration and drilling
budgets on areas like the Middle East. The
era that he had lived and written about
came to a close. It had produced not only
the world's major oil supplies, but a regional
culture that Lynch has ably documented
in his book.
Review by Tim E. Sorrells
Singing Cowboys and All
That Jazz: A Short History of
Popular Music in Oklahoma
Singing Cowboys and All That Jazz: A Short
History of Popular Music in Oklahoma. By
William W. Savage; University of Oklahoma
Press, Norman 73019; illustrated by
Rebecca Bateman; 185 pages; paperback.
Who is Elliot Charles Adnopoz? Or
Robert Allen Zimmerman? What was the
first recording of an electric guitar? And by
whom? Who was the first band to back up
Hank Williams? Who is John Hartford's
favorite banjo player? If you don't know but
want to find out, read Singing Cowboys! It is
full of good tidbits.
One of the things attempted in this
book is to place music within the culture
and society that produced it. This is most
clearly done in chapter one, "Culture For A
Song: Oklahoma's Musical Environment";
chapter two, "Black Music, White Music,
One Music"; chapter three, "Oklahoma
City and the Blue Devils"; and chapter six,
"Woody and the World". We can see the
diverse influences and energy that produced
Oklahoma music. Savage does a
pretty good job with this.
He also makes the excellent point that
histories of Oklahoma, especially as taught
in the public schools, make no mention of
the contributions of Oklahomans to
American popular culture in general. No
one is taught about the Oklahoma Blue
Devils and their influence on jazz. What
about Gene Autry, Charlie Christian,
Barney Kessel, Count Basie, Woody
Guthrie, Chet Baker, Earl Bostic, and Patti
Page for starters?
Here’s what’s next.
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 6, Number 3, Fall 1988, periodical, 1988; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45436/m1/21/: accessed December 14, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.