Thursday, February 21, 2008


This picture shows roughnecks working on an oil drilling platform, and was taken in 1939 in Kilgore, Texas. They are doing the step called "making a connection". This is the point where they are adding another 30 foot section of pipe to the drill stem. As the hole continues to get deeper, the roughnecks must continue to add more pipe to the drill stem. Making a connection is the most difficult and most dangerous part of the job. The men must first disconnect the existing drill stem from the "Kelly", which is the hoist like rigging that holds the drill stem in place. They then have to add another 30 foot section of pipe to the drill stem, and then reconnect the entire drill stem to the Kelly. There are lots of chains and cables and big heavy things flying around when this is going on, and this is the point in the job where most accidents occur. It takes a good crew about 1 minute to make a connection, and then it is about an hour until you have to make another connection. The "Driller" is the man in charge of the roughneck crew. He operates the motors, and has what is considered a much better and safer job. It is still a tough job, but a little less so than the floor roughnecks. The "Driller" is definitely one of the boys though.
Now the worst part of the job are the days that you have to "Come out of the Hole". These are times when you might need to replace the drill bit, which is on the bottom of the drill stem. The complete drill stem might be a mile deep. So to "Come out of the hole", you have to make one connection after another, bringing the mile long drill stem out of the hole 30 feet at a time. On days that you "Come out of the hole", you might spend the entire day making one connection right after another. This is truly backbreaking work.
The typical roughneck job is 8 hours a day (with up to a 2 hour drive to and from the rig), seven days a week, with good outfits giving you Christmas day off.
I worked on an oil rig during the summers while I was going to college. I will have to say that the people I worked with were the most crass, rough, and unrefined people that I ever ran across in my life. They used words I had never heard before, and most could curse in multiple different languages. I will also say that I never worked with a group of men that I would trust more than these men on the oil rigs. Routinely I would see these men put their lives in extreme danger to help a friend that had gotten hurt on the rig floor. Later on I worked in various executive positions at high tech companies. Having had the chance to work with both the highest of upper crust in society, and the lowest of the lower crust, I have to honestly say, I preferred the lower crust.
When I worked on the rig there was a popular poem, written by a roughneck. It was called "The Roughnecks Dream"
A Roughneck's Dream
(Author Unknown)

I was working in the oil fields one cold West Texas day,
And there on the rig floor a dying roughneck lay,
He said, "I am off to the Big Rig, the Big Rig I'm told
Where the crown is purest silver, and the kelly's made of gold
Where a diamond studded cat line hangs from a pearl gin pole,
And the the driller makes all the connections,
and you never come out of the hole.


  1. I just like you to know how much I appreciate this website. I am visiting every day and enjoying the high quality pictures and the so often very fitting comments. The descriptions are not empty fillers but many times are enhancing the photos and giving us a little taste of the "good old days". This surely is one of the decent websites (which are somehow more rare today). Thank you so much for your efforts.

  2. Hartmut . . . thanks so much for the kind words. I will work hard to keep interesting pictures coming.

  3. Good description of the rigging process. I had a similar career in that I started on a road maintenance crew and ended up in the executive levels. I,too,have more respect for the working men I started with.

  4. Littlepadre . . . thanks for the note. I had worked on a road crew as well. That is very hard work. I really respect the hard work those men do.

  5. OK, I have to comment on this one. Until today, I would have thought a "roughneck" was someone like cow puncher or a truck driver. I had no idea. Do these guys get a salary befitting the dangerous work they do?

  6. JD,
    These roughneck jobs pay VERY well. Probably one of the better paying blue collar jobs out there. The thing is that it is very hard and very dangerous work. One samll mistake and you lose a finger, another and you lose a hand. Lots of ways to get hurt on the Rig Floor.

  7. Eljon Curry - Felderhoff 10June 26, 2008 at 2:18 AM

    Howdy. I was searching for roughneck poetry from my PDA while at work, when I ran across your post. While I'd heard this poem many times before, I found your comments before it the most interesting. See, I am a driller in the Barnet Shale in North Texas and find the "low crust" comment a bit offensive. I myself have a BS in Computer Science from the University of Texas and prefer to roughneck. My entire family has done it for three generations. Im greatful for your explination of one aspect of the work in its descriptive nature. I work on a triple jackknife at the moment and we pull stands in threes. Cudos for sticking with the single you must have been on. Man killers are what I call them. As I said, thank you for the exposure of an industry I love. Im currently at work and it's almost time to come out of the hole for directional tools. Keep the photos comming.

  8. i so love the picture. looks really good. love it.