As you know Couch Oil was a family affair and my cousin Paul worked as one of the “pumpers”. A pumper was someone who went out to the wells to service and check them daily, doing things like seeing how much oil was in the tanks (“gauging”) and performing other tasks like greasing the pump jacks. In high school I was hired as a “pumper’s helper” and did other tasks as well. Perhaps this was my favorite job ever and hopefully this Note will give you an idea as to why.
On the weekends I went out with Paul to the oil leases and made the twice daily rounds to check everything. I was showed how to safely gauge a tank with the metal gauge line so I wouldn’t create a spark on the tank hatch and exploding the tank, sending us hurling and flash fried into the pasture and how to grease the pump jacks with the powered grease gun which was in the back of the heavy duty pickup serving as the “pump truck”. Once I blasted Paul with several bursts of grease which did not please him and Mom always hated it when I came home from doing that since I would be covered with oil and grease – she made me strip in the laundry room and I hurled by overalls into the washer. She also was scared I would get hurt in some accident but that never happened to me or Paul.
A couple of highlights of the days in the field were eating lunch at Sonic in Gainesville and finding discarded porn by the side of a country road. At lunch time we always ate big but a foot long cheese Coney and tater tots at Sonic was a huge highlight to the usually routine work of pumping especially on a cold winter day. We ate chicken fried steak at places too but that never had the significance of Sonic for some reason.
Finding the porn by the road was desert if you will. We would be cruising down some dirt road and spy a magazine in the bar-ditch and would simultaneously cry out “PORN” with excitement. Paul would stop the truck and I would hurl out my side of it, run back to pick up the prize, and return to the truck to view it. This happened more than once and we wondered who the materials belonged to. Was it some dirty old man that bought it secretly, read it, and then threw it out to keep his nagging, religious wife from finding it and castigating him? We’ll never know the answer to that but it was still fun to speculate.
The men who promote oil deals are a colorful bunch and brag to each other, if not outright lie, about how much a well might be making. They do this even though they go into each other’s deals and personally know each other. One time Uncle Kenneth sent Paul and I on a spy mission to verify the production of a well one of his oil buddies had just completed up near Lake Texoma. It was said it made 100 barrels a day but hell, they all said that including Kenneth. Regardless we went up there after dark to gauge the temporary frack tank being used to hold the oil until the tank battery was set up and to take pressure readings off of the flow line gauge so Kenneth could calculate what it really was making.
We did that more than one day but one night we stopped. We were there by the well and it was as usual pitch dark being out in the Cross Timbers and nowhere near a house much less a town with lights. We took the reading and gauged the tank and then we heard something very strange in the trees, some animal noise neither us recognized. Even though we grew up in the country and knew what lurked in the brush this was not familiar at all? Was it Bigfoot? The legendary Goatman? Aliens coming to capture us and perform hideous scientific breeding experiments with an anal probe for their dark, inhuman purposes? We did not stick around to find out and quickly fled back to Gainesville never to return on another informal production survey of that place again.
And not all of the fun was in the field either. Another Great Source of stories was the Sample Library. Kenneth bought the Wichita Falls Sample And Library Service and moved it to Gainesville. This business was a repository for drilling cuttings – the rock flakes that come up in the drilling mud circulation that are trapped by the so-called “shale shaker” on the mud pumps – which are washed and put into envelopes by the depth they came up from so geologists can study their characteristics. I started to work there after school and I learned more than just things about the rocks.
Kenneth hired two full-time employees to do the work during the day, two single ladies in their 20s he apparently found at some local bar. They weren’t too bright but nice looking and they were deemed the Simple Sample Sisters. They were fine to work with and what was funny was the fact that an older man who worked at the supply company next door, one Elmer Watkins to be exact, would bring over a case of Coors beer each day around 3PM. Obviously he was trying to obtain more than geological knowledge with that daily gift of booze but the end effect of that generosity was that I got paid to drink beer each afternoon. My parents wondered why I was so tired each day when I got home and all of my friends wanted to get hired on too – we did get one friend on board, David Vinson, and he enjoyed the work and cold beer as much as I did.
I could write a whole book probably about what I saw in the oil field but the business is really nothing like what you see on “Dallas” or in a movie at all. In fact we saw “Dallas” more as a comedy show since it was utterly inaccurate and was more of an insane media created satire than something based on fact even in some minute way. But the reality of the oil business is just as outlandish so maybe “Dallas” had the right idea but simply had the wrong story lines, eh? Reality is stranger than fiction as they say. And so it was once upon a time in the oil field for me.