Tong Operator 1972
“Hey Boy, When this job’s over I’m going to Kick Your Ass!” John Utley – Tong Operator 1972
When a young man is first employed in the Oilfield
And finds himself on a land drilling rig, an inland barge, or offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. He soon realizes he’s just entered a brave new world. Everything is “strange” and unfamiliar. The Twilight Zone has nothing on this. He is sent with his new crew, full of rough, tough, and irreverent Oilfield Veterans. To new places he would otherwise never have seen, if some oil company had not decided to drill a hole in that exact spot.
There’s a good chance he will take his first helicopter ride, his first 12 hour trip on a work boat through rough seas. Or his first 100’ lift in a personnel basket to the deck of a drilling platform. He will be exposed to monstrous and mysterious cold-hard-steel equipment of which it’s function. It’s purpose, he has no understanding – Equipment that will kill him in a heartbeat if he’s not careful – and sometimes even if he is. It was no different for me in the 1972 at the age of 18, and working for Frank’s Casing Crew. Except maybe for the fact that we got away with a lot more shit back then.
I could write a book about it and maybe someday I will but not today.
I’m only going to address one topic in this story, and it’s about all the times as a new hand in the Oilfield, I was told by some older, meaner, bigger, tougher, tobacco-chewing glorified roughneck, “Boy, I’m going to kick your ass when this job’s over!” Was I scared? Was I intimidated? Hell yea – I was!
On one job (I think I was still 17) North of Lake Charles, Louisiana, I climbed the ladder to the rig floor, headed straight to the coffee pot, and made the unforgettable mistake of pouring coffee into someone else’s glass cup. The first thing I knew I was “eyeball to eyeball” with this big, ugly, hairy, yellow-toothed, bad breath roughneck, and as he stared me down he said, “Hey Boy, that’s my God Damn coffee cup!” I said I was sorry and put that cup back real quick! I don’t think I’ve drank coffee, on a rig, out of anything but styrofoam since that day.
But let me go ahead and get to the point of the two attached photo’s. They are photos I took on an inland barge job out of Satunes Landing – Belle River, LA. The man running tongs was John Utley from Lafayette, LA. He was only about 6 foot 9 inches tall – and so mean – I thought he was the meanest old codger I had ever met.
I was the V-Door Man.
My job was pulling protectors and holding the rope as each joint of casing came through the V-Door. I had to hold the rope real tight, and stop the joint of casing from swinging in hard after it cleared the rig floor. Otherwise the momentum of the joint of casing could really injure somebody.
Well sure enough old John Utley was standing on the tong stands, about 5 feet above the rig floor, filling up the previous joint of casing with mud, waiting to make up the next connection, when that next joint of pipe came through the V-door too hard and too fast. I think the Driller picked up on the joint of casing way too quickly, but no excuses, I caught it with the rope, but my young ass and the rope didn’t stop it! It hit that set of tongs while old John was standing there holding on to the mud line and almost knocked him into the draw works. The mud line was the only thing that saved him from a cruel and bloody ending – sliced up in the Draw Works like a Thanksgiving Turkey!
Man was he pissed!
He never stopped cursing me for a second – called me every name in the book that I won’t mention in case even one lady is reading this. I had all kinds of emotions running through me, like Fear, Impending Doom, Shock, Embarrassment and Failure!
When he finally swung back over on that mud line to the tong stands and regained his footing but not his composure. He looked down at me from those tong stands, and being as tall as he was, his big old head was about 12 feet above the rig floor. Fire coming out of his nose and ears, tobacco spit flying out of his mouth, and yelled at me. “Boy, when we get off this job I’m going to kick your ASS !!! “ I believed him too! I was certain my ass was grass.
But as it turned out I had a friend on that crew named Tommy Brossette. Tommy was not as tall as John but he was big, younger, and just as tough. Right there on the rig floor he looked over at John and said, “No you won’t.” That’s all Tommy said and John shut up. I couldn’t believe it and I never forgot it.
Once again it was the ‘70’s, you could get away with more shit.
After that job was over our 5 men casing crew stopped in Morgan City at one of the many Honky Tonks on the main drag just off Highway 90. Bought rounds of beer for each other and watered-down drinks for the barmaids and titty dancers. It was Oil Boom Days! They were waiting on us. Everyone lightened up, including John Utley, and we all had a great time. It was the best part of the job. I knew then how Robin Hood and his Merry Men must have felt back in Sherwood Forest – in days gone by. It was “One for All and All for One” and I wasn’t afraid of anybody anymore.
Ray Peyton “Adventures of an Oil Man”