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
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.